The Gifts of Willow
Willow has many gifts. She offers pain and fever relief for those in need. She cleans the water and avoids soil erosion. She offers her body to make fish traps, boats and fences. You can make cordage with her bark as well as extract tannins to tan animal hides. You can even make brooms and paper with Willow. And of course… you can make baskets.
I use willow branches to make baskets. I have been weaving for some years now, but I still have so much to learn yet. I carefully intertwine each branch, spiralling all the way up, watching the basket take shape. The willow decides as much as I do about the end result. Some of my favourite baskets are the ones who look like a bird’s nest. They are not the most practical to use, but for me they are between the most beautiful. I am always amazed by how forgiving green Willow can be. How flexible she is. And yet, sometimes she’s not that forgiving… slapping me right on my cheek when I’m harvesting her branches! It reminds me how Willow is very much alive, and how I must treat her with respect, say please and thank you, and harvest only what I need.
I was taught by family members that Willow is only harvested during the Winter, when she has no leafs. During this time, the tree is asleep and therefore it is the best time to harvest the branches we need as we will not disturb her as much. Traditionally, people would remove (and use) all the branches so that Willow would grow new strong branches the next Spring. Nowadays, not many people need Willow as many don’t do basketry anymore, and have exchanged willow branches for plastic cordage when tying up greens from the vegetable garden. Many Willow trees are now ignored or abandoned, and the relationship between them and Humans have been degraded.
During the last years, my husband and I have been trying to reawaken this relationship with the Willow trees that his parents had a close connection to years ago. We have been slowly working with them, harvesting their branches, and giving them some pruning that will hopefully allow them to grow strong. This was the way it used to be done, and we wish to keep this good traditions and relationships alive. We cannot live displaced from the natural world. We cannot live in vacuum. We all need each others, and we need to relate as respectfully as possible.
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