Bulrush of the Estuary

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I’d like to make a chair whose materials all come from within walking distance of where it is made. We live in West Sonoma County, California, on the Salmon Creek watershed. Ideally, I’d like to find a market within this bio-region as well, including the surrounding watersheds of Tomales Bay and the Russian River for starters.

This leads naturally to the first principle for a deep craft manifesto:

Market = Material Provenance

My assumption is that if something is designed to work within the ecosystem that helped bring it into being, that the thing will demonstrate a natural elegance.

I’m approaching this experiment seasonally, trying to match the activities of foraging, harvesting and making with their appropriate time and place on the calendar.

Today is March 21, marking the rare convergence of Good Friday, the vernal equinox, and a full moon rising under clear conditions about an hour after the sun sets. Ideal conditions for an exploratory sunset paddle.

The nearby Estuary is flooded after the winter rains, which means easy access to bulrush (scirpus maritimus) in the shallow, brackish marshes. I’ve been studying the basketry of the Coast Miwok from this region’s past, and have been wanting to experiment with the various marsh grasses, eel grass, thule and kelp for possible use as woven material in my chair. I’ve been in consultation with The Bodega Marine Laboratory, who have assured me that minimal harvesting of these plants is not harmful to the environment, that they are neither endangered nor invasive.
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Ene, Bernie and I launched at about 6 PM and paddled West, about halfway to the coast, 3 miles or so, looking for a landing spot with a healthy stand of bulrush and access to a picnic spot to watch the sunset. We bucked a headwind as we steered along the meandering contours of the flooded estuary. The banks were fairly steep, with grazing cattle and deer silhouetted on the barren slopes. We finally found a protected shallow on the northern bank, the Sonoma side, and spun the kayaks around to sail in with the wind.

I harvested a small bundle of grass to bring back to the workshop, while Ene and Bernie hiked up the slope to find a good vantage for our meal. I cut the grass as deep as I could reach in several handfuls. It was easy going work and I estimated that I could fill the cockpit in a full day with about four such landings. The grass smelled like a new straw hat and had the remarkable lightness, strength and flexibility I had imagined.

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I changed into a dry wool sweater and joined my companions for a feast of boiled eggs from our chickens, olives, dry salami, miner’s lettuce and cheddar cheese, all held together with some crusty bread and a splash of pinot grigio from just up the coast.

We talked and laughed while the sun set, and dined into the twilight until we were chilled enough to want to paddle again. The wind had completely died and we launched the kayaks onto a glassy black mirror, surrounded by peeping frogs and a crispening night cool. Stars were beginning to appear as we got in the rhythm of paddling, reflected in our steady ripples. At the first turn due East we were greeted by a rising moon, flushed pink from the sun’s rays and the soft haze. We paddled in silence, getting lost just enough to make it an adventure in the dark, testing our animal eyes.

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