NBO member Sherri West sent along this wonderful story to share with the basketry community:
The Basket Weaver
by DeAnn Rasmussen
August 1, 2022
I learned to weave baskets in the early 1980’s, when I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There were a lot of little stores in the area that sold a large variety of commercial basket weaving materials, and taught all manner of basket styles. It was a great learning experience. Shortly after that, I moved to a very small town in northwest Wisconsin that was surrounded by lakes and forest. Quite the change from the big city. There were no stores in the area that sold basket weaving materials, and no one teaching any classes. However, I still wanted to weave baskets, so I decided to see what I could find in the woods to use for baskets. It was quite the learning experience. Lots of trial and error. It took me a few years to figure out just which indigenous materials would actually work. I learned what season to gather things in, how to prepare and store them, and how to put them to the best use. Being self-taught in such a large undertaking, is daunting to say the least.
I became known as the ‘basket lady’, and people would bring me things that they thought I might be able to use. One of the best things that someone brought me was a large popple log. My neighbor was cutting firewood, and thought the log might be some use to me. I cut the outer bark off with a draw knife, cut the cambium layer into strips, coiled them up to dry, and had beautiful flat reed to build several wonderful baskets. The worst thing anyone ever brought me was a road killed porcupine. I had been using quills for some of my baskets, so it seems like a good idea. However, it was a very hot summer day, and when I got home from work, the porkie was stinkin’ to high heaven. I shoveled it into a cardboard box, took it out to the woods for a decent burial, put down tobacco and wished it a safe journey to the spirit world.
Red Willow became one of my favorite materials to use. It was abundant, accessible, renewable, and beautiful to work with. One, day, some friends of mine who had friends that were expecting a baby, asked if I would make a red willow basket for the baby. I was thinking that they wanted a nice little basket to put on a shelf to hold baby powder and other little things. Oh no, they wanted a bassinet! I accepted the challenge, and gathered willow and wove on that basket for well over one week. As I worked, the essence of the willow entered into my very pores and became a part of me. It soon became a song in my heart and soul. When I finished making the basket, I wrote down the words that were in my heart, and “Basket Song” became something to remind me of the days, when the red willow became a part of me. It is not often that we create something that becomes a treasured memory. The red willow bassinet is one that I will always hold in my heart. I didn’t think to take a picture of it, and it was shipped to the couple at their home in Florida. I never even got to see the sweet baby in the basket. I can only hope that over time, the basket has held many babies, to cradle them in dreams, “of dancing stars, and singing streams.”
Listen closely, baby dear,
while spirits whisper in your ear,
and softly sing a woodland tune,
as you slumber ‘neath the moon.
For from our gentle mother Earth,
the willow seed has given birth,
and nurtured from the sun on high,
it reaches out to touch the sky.
The downy little songbirds know
a song to make the willow grow.
And so the song is ever there
to lull you as you nestle there.
The soft warm breezes hear the tune,
and late at night, beneath the moon,
the rhythm of the cradles born
to rock you gently until morn.
Thru moonlit nights and sunny days
the growing willow marks the ways
of all the things that make it strong
and adds them to its inner song.
Now the circle is complete;
a basket for the baby sweet.
A place to cradle you in dreams
of dancing stars and singing streams.
DPT May 13, 1986