Sunday, May 2, 2010

Willow Harvest

Originally posted by Donna Kallner 3/25/10 at Two Red Threads.

I'm a wimp. Yesterday was one of the most pleasant days I've ever had for the spring willow harvest. Today, the wind was raw. I could have cut, and would have if I'd been planning to leave again soon for a teaching gig. Since I'm home for a while, I decided to play the odds that we'll have enough nicer days to get the crop in before it starts to leaf out. There are pussies on some of the willow now, but I think it will be OK. So today I had a lovely time in the studio, although I spent a good part of the morning wondering why I hadn't been doing hamstring stretches to get ready for harvest.

Everybody has their own way of working the harvest. Mine is to work backward along a row, straddling the willow and using my bum to hold the withies out of the way so they aren't poking me in the eyes as I cut (most of the time). I have a bad knee, so this works better for me than squatting or kneeling.

I hold the willow to apply some tension with my left hand and "pick" with the knife in my right hand. As long as the knife is sharp, the knife does most of the work. I make a very slight "forward" motion with the knife, followed by the cutting motion.

When my left hand is full of willow, I walk to the end of the row to drop the handful onto the pile and to stretch my legs and lower back. By the time I reach the far end of a row, I need the longer walk to the pile.

At the end of each row, I generally stop to sharpen my knife and carry the pile into the studio for sorting, if there's still room for it. If not, I pile it on top of the picnic table. I've learned not to leave piles of willow on the ground. Let's just say I prefer the fragrance of fresh-cut willow to the, um, aroma of rabbit droppings.

As you might have guessed from the piles, yesterday it felt so good being out in the warm sunshine and fresh air that I ignored years of experience: I just kept cutting until I had enough willow piled up to be worth taking a picture. If I had taken more frequent breaks, I'm sure I would have bounded out of bed this morning with fewer creaks and groans.

The forecast for tomorrow through the weekend looks ideal for harvest. After the day warms up, I should be able to cut for two to three hours, which long enough to clear one of my beds and about as long as I want to be bent over. Then I'll spend a few more hours sorting willow, which I'll tell you about next time.

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