“I was told there would be a handbasket.”
This meme, popping up everywhere it seems, made me chuckle when I first read it weeks ago. Yet lately it hasn’t seemed so funny. Looking at photos and videos from California, Oregon and Washington have more literally brought “the flames of hell” to mind. My sorrow over orange skies, toxic air, human suffering and the loss of five million acres to wildfires has made the already-full well of my grief overflow.
Good thing I have had lots to do amidst my intermittent crying. And some of it involves handbaskets.
I’ve always loved baskets, ever since I was a kid. For me the Easter basket was as much a gift as the candy inside. Our picnic basket felt magical, as Mom lifted out goodies held in its many niches. Every basket, even the simplest, was beautiful to me. I loved that they were woven of “sticks” or “grass,” admired their construction and wondered how they could possibly be made. I was intrigued by how such a light vessel could hold so much weight.
Over the years my appreciation has grown. I never tire of examining the exquisite baskets designed by both ancient and contemporary basketweavers, some with added beads, sticks, feathers, or other decoration, each one a work of art. I marvel at the skill of indigenous women who could weave baskets so precisely that they could hold water.
I am not a collector of objects, but if I were, I think I would collect baskets from all over the world.
Today I understand that baskets evoke for me women’s ancient and traditional wisdom and deep connection to the earth. For at least 10,000 years, women have woven baskets from natural materials they collected, as a necessary part of food gathering, storing and preparation, caring for children and making clothing.
Woven baskets also intrigue me because they allow both air and light to permeate the space within. And they are equally compelling when they are filled and when they are empty. They can serve as containers for necessities like food and blankets, or as vessels for treasures like flowers, feathers or gifts.
I use a basket to hold several decks of tarot cards during readings. Baskets hang on my walls, sit on display. They hold vegetables, bread, plants, crystals, stones. I’ve even wondered about a woven basket instead of a pine coffin (or cremation) when my time comes.
Whatever you put into a basket, even a “plain” one, seems richer, more valuable, more extraordinary. More sacred.
Oh—could I imagine placing my grief in a beautiful basket? Would I hold it more tenderly, pay more attention to it, even as the tears escape through the gaps in the woven lattice?
When I was young people referred snidely to “underwater basketweaving” as the ultimate frivolous activity. I didn’t like those “jokes”—was I even then dimly aware of the way they trivialize the feminine (baskets, weaving and water!)?
Now I say NO. It is NOT trivial to create little slices of beauty, to infuse love into “ordinary” things and places. Especially amidst all the chaos and suffering these days, each hand-made pot, basket or knitted scarf, hand-drawn picture, well-tended garden, loving message, song, meal–created with care and love—each is a little island of heartfulness. Whether I am creating it or receiving it, each is a place where I can rest for a moment and find my smile and hope again. A source of strength for the road ahead.