I’m the Finance and Operations Director at Wild Earth. I’m not the one splashing around in the mud or working on friction fire or building shelters in the woods. I’m the one behind the scenes, making sure our staff get paid, our families feel supported, and just about everything in between.
Since I’m usually in the office instead of in the field, every opportunity I have to get my hands involved in making something with Wild Earth is special.
I recently participated in a birch bark basket class with Wild Earth guest instructor, Nick Neddo. I’ve been fascinated with birch bark baskets ever since I received one as a gift over 20 years ago, and this was my chance to make a basket for the very first time.
Nick talked to us about the history of birch bark basketry, and how the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of birch make it a perfect material for storing foods.
In areas like North America and China, the bark was mainly used in sheets, while Russia, Finland, and Scandinavia used weaving techniques like plaiting, which is what we would be learning.
I got chills when I heard this.
My heritage is Danish and Russian, and the thought of making something that my ancestors might have made was incredible.
We each picked out sheets of birch bark, and measured and cut the bark into strips. Then we delicately peeled the layers from each strip, trimming and oiling each one to make them easier to weave.
Each strip of bark varied in color, from white to reddish brown to grey to pale pink and even the lightest green.
The whole process was incredibly labor intensive and, as Nick had promised, we had moments when we thought our basket would never come together and we’d want to throw it out the window.
Each step offered a learning lesson, and every student took the time to help others when we needed it and offer words of encouragement along the way.
After of a full day of hard work, with oily hands and little scraps of bark covering everything in sight, each of us had crafted our own beautiful, perfectly imperfect birch bark basket.
I want to offer thanks to Nick for sharing his knowledge and decades of experience with us.
If you ever have a chance to take one of his classes, please do!
And I’m grateful for my ancestors, who I can imagine smiling and laughing at my little birch bark basket.
Sarah grew up in Michigan, where her first introduction to the “wild” was through YMCA summer camps. She looked forward to exploring and getting dirty, and would jump into any body of water that she could find. Her passion for the outdoors led her to the Pacific Northwest, where she spent nearly 20 years on the shores and slopes of Washington State. Sarah has a Master’s Degree in Natural Resource Management and has worked in the fields of environmental conservation, food justice, corporate accountability and civic engagement. A desire to build community and share her love of the outdoors with young people led Sarah to spend nearly a decade volunteering as a mentor and snowboard instructor for Seattle youth. Sarah moved to the Hudson Valley in early 2017 to be closer to family and is proud to call Wild Earth her home. She still loves to get dirty and will still jump into any body of water she can find. More about Sarah's work.