I've wondered for a long time why, when talking about easy courses, often elective, one would say with a mischievous smirk that they were "underwater basket weaving." Looking to entertain myself one sunny afternoon while spending time at my grandparents' wheat farm in Kansas, I pulled out a worse-for-the-wear cardboard box that had probably belonged to my mom. On the front, a picture of a lovely, dun-colored basket of long, round plastic reeds practically called out my name and said, "Come on, you can make me. I mean, it's only basket weaving, right?" So I pulled out the perforated base and the yards of plastic spaghetti, and promptly sat down to work, sitting on the floor by a window.
It certainly was basket weaving, and it was infinitely harder to manage than what I'd originally thought to be the most difficult challenge on the farm: getting Snookie, the Shetland pony, to start walking again after taking what seemed like an hours-long poo. That was the day my confusion began, the confusion that would give me pause when the term "basket weaving" was equated with an easy, fluffy class.
Walking through the market today, down a tarp-covered aisle where stands boasted herbs and eggs and Day of the Dead candles, a woman sat on a thin, space-claiming blanket and worked plastic strips into a black and white basket. She had half a dozen in various hues displayed on the floor around her slight figure, and the basket-to-be was well along the way. It seemed almost miraculous, the nimbleness of her fingers, working as she chatted with the woman at the adjacent stand.
I, myself, bought a number of baskets last Friday, from a woman who runs a shop just over the mountains in Toluca. Her husband was the weaver, along with other family members, and the shop has opened its doors to customers for 62 years and counting. He passed away two years ago, but his wife still keeps its shelves piled high. Not a little overwhelmed by the thousands from which to choose, I held and turned and lifted through dozens, filling up a table with the ones I decided should be mine, my brother's, my mom's and my mother-in-law's. It was a feast for the eyes, the hands and even the nose; the heady, grassy scent of the tule rushes used in the weaving gave immediate cause to breath deeply and savor.
My admiration for basket weavers runs deeply, as well, especially when it seems that fewer around Toluca are continuing to learn the art. Industrialization, pollution, and urban sprawl have diminished the tule's marshes, and the furniture trade has become a more lucrative artisan endeavor. Underwater basket weaving isn't offered at the university there, but I hope it still is in a number of old family homes.
In my case, basket weaving began and ended at the farmhouse all those years back. And I've chosen to practice weaving with words instead. Someone's paying me to do it now (read: job!), translating texts from Spanish into English, typing little baskets of interesting knowledge on the computer screen page. It may draw me away from blogging a bit, but certainly not entirely. Blogging is such a treat for me, just like those visits were to my grandparents' farm in Kansas.