Basket Case

There is a special kind of beauty in handmade items, particularly those that have stood the test of time.  I have long been a collector of things old and venerable, and love the part I play in keeping and protecting them.  Perhaps it is the rushed nature of time in our lives today that draws so many of us to collectibles such as baskets,  created by people with physically harder days but longer empty hours.

 

The baskets I love are Nantucket Lightship baskets, crafted by the calloused hands of sailors, sea-toughened men whiling away wet and salt-sprayed hours on a ship that rolled and dipped with the pitch of the ocean beneath it.  The baskets that survive are precious now, perhaps all the more so because once they were not.

When they were new, they held bread and sewing and berries gathered from the hedge beside the cottage.  They were made by men who worked hard with their hands, and used by people who did the same.

 

cottage photo courtesy of Nantucket Preservation Trust

Today, Lightship Baskets are a collectible treasure so valued on Nantucket Island that they have a museum dedicated to them. Located at 49 Union Street, the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum is dedicated to the island’s rich history of basket making, as well as a nod to the history of the Lightships.

In the 19th Century, Lightships were sentinels stationed at dangerous off-shore shoals, warning others in the waters of treacherous shipwreck sites.  The first lightship was stationed at Nantucket’s South Shoal on June 15th, 1854.

Whale oil supplied the warning lamps in early years, seen at most at a distance of a few miles on a clear night, far less when the weather turned grey and stormy. Nantucket Lightship crewmen were basket makers for diversion from boredom, as well as a way to earn extra income.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It was after 1900 that work on the the baskets moved off ships and onto the island.  In the late 1940s, Jose Formoso Reyes, one of the foremost basket makers of his time, created the “Friendship Basket,” a cane woven basket with a lid and a carved ivory whale mounted on top.  It is the model for the popular handbags sold today.

very early basket by Jose Reyes

In my many years as a Nantucket Islander, I have frequently found myself unable to resist these treasured baskets.  My collection was written about in a blog post that you can read at Connecticut Cottages & Gardens.

My Madaket living room; Lightship basket on table.  Photo courtesy of Terry Pommett

My kitchen in Connecticut, Lightship basket on island; photo courtesy of Durstan Saylor

Perhaps this post will inspire you to start a basket collection of your own, or to find the space to display with grace and reverence the ones you already own.  We are so blessed to live in a world where such treasures can be found.

 

Lightship basket collection displayed on built in shelves; photo courtesy of Terry Pommett

Connecting the Dots

There’s so much information about health risks bombarding us every day, warning us to avoid things or add things, do this and don’t do that.  It can make your head spin.  Scientists and environmental physicians agree that exposure to chemicals can be dangerous for your long term health.  The problem is that illnesses, including cancer and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, can take decades to develop.  We’re all exposed to thousands of toxins both inside and outside our homes:  how do we connect the dots and protect ourselves and our families from harmful chemicals?

You wouldn’t take a bath in paint thinner or breathe gas fumes for fun, as Mehmet Oz, M.D., and Michael Roizen, M.D. said in a recent article they wrote for Real Age.  But little risks, such as breathing paint fumes one day and cleaning with ammonia another, may add up.  Melanie Haiken wrote a wonderful informative piece on how to cancer proof your home, including how to replace seven carcinogens you may not have recognized for Yahoo Health.

To keep it simple, here are my top five things I believe everyone should do.  Remember that a healthy home is the ultimate luxury!

1. Make your bedroom the cleanest room in the house.

During sleep, your body works to remove any toxins you were exposed to during the day, and to restore energy and health for body and mind.  Replace your mattress and bedding with an organic mattress, made with natural latex, wool or organic cotton.  Be sure your pillows are all natural as well.  Non-organic cotton is grown in fields soaked in insecticides; dyes and color fixers use heavy metals such as chromium, copper and zink.  You can request “no fire retardant chemicals” be used on your mattress; this requires a prescription from your doctor.

2. Keep the air in your house pure.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America rates indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks.  Clear and purify your air by adding a room air-purifier, or go further and install a central filtration system.  Models are available that can remove particulates such as dust and pet dander, along with molds, spores, pollen and chemical gases such as sulfuric acid, ammonia and formaldehyde.  Commercial cleansers are often overlooked culprits in polluting indoor air; some of their ingredients are carcinogenic and toxic to the lungs, liver and kidneys.

3.  Reduce or Eliminate VOCs with Water-Based Paints.

That just-painted smell is actually the off-gassing of chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and zylene.  The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from paints last far longer than the odor does, as can vapors from floor stains, finishes, sealants and caulks. According to the EPA, some of these VOCs are known to cause cancer.  Low- or No-VOC products use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, reducing the levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde. Even low VOC paints, though, can contain fungicides and biocides, used to prevent mildew growth and extend shelf life.  A product I use and recommend is EnviroSafe Paints, which uses no fungicides or biocides at all.

4. Be Clean and Green with Non-Toxic Cleansers
Many conventional cleaning products, rather than cleaning your home, actually pollute it with a toxic mixture of petrochemicals. Experts say chemicals inside our homes may have concentrations of up to 100 times higher than outdoor air. Synthetic fragrances are added to mask the odor of chemical vapors, implicated in headaches, dizziness, skin rashes and respiratory problems, as well as deadly diseases.  There are many good green cleaning products on the market made from natural ingredients, such as Seventh Generation:  look for products containing citrus oils and enzymes.  You can also make your own from items you have in your pantryI’ve given instructions on an earlier post.  Read it here.


5.  Protect your lawn and garden from contaminants.

Once you’ve made your home a safe-haven from fumes and toxic chemicals, you won’t want to live surrounded by pesticides and harsh fertilizers.  Lawn and garden chemicals are poisons to things that live, including you and your pets.  The residue from these products are too easily tracked into your house, polluting your pristine space.  A study from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested.  Many of these chemicals are linked to cancer, birth defects, and liver or kidney damage.  Learn to tolerate a few weeds, or get the family outside in the fresh air to dig them out by hand.  Healthy soil is “alive,” so boost your soil’s health by spreading organic compost or alfa meal.

To do even more for your health, be vigilant about BPA in plastic bottles and pitchers, and in canned goods.  Cook with glass, cast iron or porcelain or ceramic-coated pans rather than old nonstick cookware.  And choose skincare products made from natural and organic ingredients.  Doing just these few things will help to minimize the effects of unavoidable exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes.

Finally, believe, like I do, in the Power of One:  the power each of us has to make an impact, create change, and help heal the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

Save the Nautilus!

One of the most beautiful shells in the world, belonging to the nautilus stenomphalus, is facing a stunning decline in recent years.  Sold as a cheaper alternative to pearls due to its lustrous shell, there are no regulatory protections in place for this vulnerable species.  This softball-sized mollusk is a slow growing animal that takes fifteen years to reach sexual maturity, so a perilous situation has been created through overfishing.

“A horrendous slaughter is going on out here,” said Peter D. Ward, a biologist from the University of Washington, during a recent census of the marine creature in the Philippines. “They’re nearly wiped out.”

“In certain areas, it’s threatened with extermination,” said Neil H. Landman, a biologist and paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and the co-editor of “Nautilus:  The Biology and Paleobiology of a Living Fossil.”  Scientists began a formal census in 2011 in at least six regions to find out just how endangered the Nautilus is.

The nautilus has been around for about 550 million years, and hasn’t changed much in the last 200 million.  But it has a new protector:  Josiah Utsch, a 12 year old boy from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was forwarded an article about the animal’s peril from his grandmother, and decided to take action.  He contacted Dr. Ward, and when he found that there was no organization devoted to saving the nautilus, he and his friend Ridgely Kelly, age 11, launched Save the Nautilus.   

Today, news of Save the Nautilus has spread from the United States to Canada, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands.  The boys are using social media, including Facebook, to continue their efforts. The majority of donations have come from other children, but recently, the boys were able to take a flight out of Portland to personally hand Dr. Ward a check for $9000 in his office at the University of Washington.

Years ago, I chose the chambered nautilus as the logo for Dujardin Design Associates, and I have always had a deep love for this sea creature, along with artists who have for years immortalized it in poetry and paintings. I wrote about it in a post in August, 2012, sharing examples of how its spiral has influenced the world of art and design.

Its name means “boat” in Greek, and it first fascinated collectors in renaissance Europe who saw the logarithmic spirals as reflecting the larger order of the universe, as well as the curved arms of hurricanes and distant galaxies.

 “Chambered Nautilus,” by Andrew Wyeth

Thanks to children around the country who have responded to Josiah and Ridgely’s pleas, more attention is being focused on the animals’ plight.  In February, Dr. Ward will conduct research in the American Samoa to determine how fast the nautilus can swim and how long it takes for the creature to reach its natural habitat, 2,000 feet below the surface.  Josiah and Ridgely will join him.

“These boys, out of the blue, show up in my life and they’re doing what I hope all their generation does,” Ward said.  “Start thinking scientifically.

Marine biologists are lobbying for protection of the nautilus.  You can help by spreading the word, and sharing your concern with others.  And of course, donate to Save the Nautilus; Josiah and Ridgely will appreciate your support.

This issue first came to my attention through E Magazine.  You can read more here.

 

The Chambered Nautilus, by Oliver Wendell Holmes 

THIS is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main, —
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
 
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed, —
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
 
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
 
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings: —
 
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!