Saturday, November 24, 2007

Baskets Galore

In my free time during the last month I've been working on three different types of basket. It's been especially enjoyable to work on them because I've been teaching Rosy how to make them and we've been working together.

In gathering the material I've been very opportunistic. Some of the material I brought home from hitches we've worked on. Others I've gathered in town. Since almost all the material is from live plants, I've also had the opportunity to practice caretaking. I try not to take the best piece, but the one that being removed, makes the environment better.

The first basket of the three I contructed from pine needles. It's my first pine needle basket. I gathered the needles from the Northern Red Pine tree in my front yard. The basket consists of a coil of pine needles bundled together with thread. I suppose if I wanted the basket to be composed completely of primitive material I could have used yucca fibers instead of thread. These pine needles were very dry and brittle so I had to use green needles at the start where more bending was required.

The basket before I started taking the coil vertical

I wove together the second basket from yucca leaves that we cut during our second hitch. The leaves pointed out over the trail and needed to be trimmed back. Since we only cut them back as far as needed, the longest pieces were only about 18 inches long. We had a lot of them though so I played around and came up with this small basket in about an hour. It is my first woven basket. This type of yucca is very dry, thin and stiff and not ideal for basketry or cordage even after soaking in water.

My last basket is a melon basket. This is the third I've made of this style. The material for this one came from many species and locations. The wood rings comprising the handle and rim are scrub oak from hitch two. The darker colored yucca near the sides of the basket is the same as in the basket above. One wooden spoke is from an unknown tree in my back yard and the other came from sycamore gathered on a hike in Riverside, CA. The roots making up the God's Eye lashing on the sides were pulled during hitch three. Finally the yucca making up the middle of the basket came from the hills by home. I'm pleased with the basket's balance. It sits without leaning like my previous baskets of this style.

Here you can see the God's Eye lashing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hitch #3: Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

It would be hard to find back to back hitches that could be as opposite as these last two.

Hitch 2
Elevation: 5000 ft.
Climate: dry, desert
Work: strenuous - hauling heavy rocks
Accommodations: tent/sleeping bag

Hitch 3
Elevation: sea level
Climate: humid, ocean
Work: easy - pulling plants/roots, raking dirt
Accommodations: beach house with the first bed I've slept in in two months

Fortunately, our location for hitch three had equally as beautiful scenery as hitch two. After all we stayed in a beach house on a peninsula with a lighthouse. How many houses have you stayed in where walking out both the front and back door gives you a view of the ocean? Have you ever had elephant seals living on the beach 40 yards from your bedroom window? It was awesome.

On top of Piedras Blancas lighthouse looking north.

The lighthouse and surrounding area is currently undergoing restoration to become a historical site open for the public. For a history about the site including invasive plant removal and native plant restoration check out this BLM site. Our job was to create parts of a developed trail accessible to wheel chairs. This basically means that the trail can only be so steep and required flat rest areas.

Our work was made easier because Jim, the caretaker and lighthouse keeper, already marked out the trail for us. We also had the use of mechanized vehicles to get and spread the decomposed granite as well as level the trail.

We ate good meals and watched a movie each night. It was pretty cushy. Next hitch we'll be backpacking again in the Santa Rosa mountains where it might snow. Yikes!

Piedras Blancas lighthouse viewed from the coast (I enhanced the purple sky using software)

One of the Piedras Blancas ("white rocks") at the tip of the peninsula. It is typically covered with hundreds of pelicans and other birds as well as seals and sea otters.

This is a portion of the trail we worked on. It was covered in the woolly yarrow plant you see on each side. In the distance is the house we stayed in.

Young elephant seals on the beach close to the house. The adults that are closer to 14-16 ft. long won't be around till December.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hitch #2: Walker Pass

My crew and I worked on our second and third hitches without returning home in between which explains why I haven't posted in so long. Our second hitch lasted 8 days. It was our first backpacking trip. Luckily we had mule packers haul in water, food and other tools. We still had to pack in some tools as you can see in the picture below.

Here we unleashed our war cry as we began our 5 mile hike up to base camp. The rock bar I'm brandishing like King Leonidas of Sparta weighed over 10 lbs.

We set up a base camp where we were given special permission to have a fire. This was very nice because the nights were cold, windy and dark by 6pm or so. The fire gave us the ability to stay up till 8pm or later instead heading to the tent early. One night we even made S'mores for Kevin's birthday.

A lady named Suzanne (green hat) who volunteers on the PCT came and helped us for a few days.

Our project was to repair sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Many volunteers help repair and maintain the trail during the year, but we were given this particular section because of the terrain. It is simply a cliff in many parts and difficult to work on. Many parts of the trail were eroding and collapsing and needed a rock wall for support.

To build a rock retaining wall we first dug out the trail until we had a solid platform to lay a foundation of large rocks. The ideal situation is when the platform is solid stone, but half the time we had to just make a platform out of the soil and hope that it would stand up to erosion.

All the stones we used were gathered from the immediate area along the trail, uphill or even downhill. As you can imagine it wasn't easy to find many large, rectangular shaped stones and then move them to the site. Each stone we laid had to fit snugly with no wobbling next to or on top of other stones since we were not using any kind of mortar.

After building up a wall we filled the trail side in with smaller crushed rocks. Then we piled the dirt back on the trail to finish it off.

Rosy, Miz and I worked on two projects. The before and after pictures are shown below.

This project took the three of us five days to complete. It is a 7 meter stretch of trail. What a relief it was to finish that sucka!

One of the best parts of the day for me was lunch time. We were privileged to have a beautiful view the whole time we were working, but during lunch I had time to relax and enjoy it.

In the valley in the distance is the town of Ridgecrest where two other crews are stationed.