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October 19th, 2020
This is an excerpt from the Fall/Winter 2020-2021 issue of the Upstate Advocate, Upstate Forever’s twice yearly print newsletter. To read the entire newsletter, click here. If you’d like to be added to our mailing list to receive future issues, please email email@example.com.
I moved to the Upstate about 30 years ago to discover more about my Cherokee heritage. I will stay here for the rest of my life.
I came here to find the elders and they have taught me the stories, culture, and traditions of our ancestors. I have been weaving with longleaf pine needles now for more than four decades. I came here to get those, too, but when I went into the forest to get the pine needles, I found kudzu.
Kudzu is an amazing thing. It doesn’t care if there is a drought. It can grow 12 inches a day. Parts of the young plants can be eaten (I use the roots in a stir fry and the leaves in a quiche like you would spinach). But when the plants become bigger is when I use them in my work. I turn them into paper in the barn in my backyard, which is constructed from bales made of kudzu. I have a loom set up and I have even woven kudzu cloth. And, of course, I weave baskets and five-foot or larger shades from kudzu. There is so much you can do with it — the possibilities are endless. It has taught me to find what you think is a nuisance, and turn it into a treasure.
That lesson is so important, especially for kids. I teach Cherokee culture in the public school system, helping children connect to nature. It’s really important they understand that everything has a purpose, even what you think may be ugly or nasty. I teach students to weave a bird’s nest with kudzu. They come to respect birds and their habitats and nature better, and at the end of four days, the freeformed kudzu basket that they’ve made themselves will hold four jelly beans!
I believe it is so important to go outside often and immerse ourselves in nature, to get to know what is available in our backyards. If you can’t get outside every day, you’re holed up. In order to be whole, we need to be outside.
You can view more of Nancy’s work at NancyBasket.com.
Portrait of Nancy Basket courtesy of The Firefly Gathering.