…high tide come and we wanna go home…
It’s a long day in the marsh. The air is as thick as tomato soup, the sun relentless, and any fickle breeze which occasionally stirs is rebuffed by a wall of 7-foot cattails. Above us, higher than the swaying inflorescence of the cattail heads, a chatty raptor has been working the marsh all week. His call, to our ears, is half-complaint, half-whine: Where are you rodentia? Who are these foreign beings invading my kingdom? We personify this hawk because it is we who are tired and our bones and backs whine and chirp at us. In our time–sampling the world with the click of a mouse in the comfort of an artificial environment–strenuous and repetitive outdoor labor has a way of bringing about musings of things greater than ourselves, of rhythms and cycles and the very tide coming in at our feet.
We consider ourselves fortunate to go to work amidst such an unspoiled environment and to harvest thatch in this traditional manner. Our experiences here along the river are themselves bundled and carried back alongside the cattail to be opened and shared with our museum guests. It’s a unique opportunity to be able to directly translate our labor and its fruits into an historical interpretation.
It’s liberating to be tied to seasonal and tidal pulls. These larger cycles have the knack of freeing us from our personal vicissitudes. When the cattail is ready and the tide is right, we head to the marsh; when our museum opens up for another season, we don our doublets and dialects and interpret our labors to our guests. Visitors and rivers ebb and flow and our labors follow along. No use swimming against the current.
We’ll get back to house-frame construction soon enough. We haven’t forgotten the oak which awaits us back at our site, some to hew, “some to saw, some to rive...”. For now, the 596 bundles drying at the end of Plimoth Plantation’s main parking lot would cover only about half of Francis Cooke’s new house. The cattail is ripe for the reaping and we are making thatch, as it were, while the sun shines.
From cattails to oak, plants are at the center of our work. If you have even the slightest interest in things botanical, The Riven Word strongly suggests you check out Irina Kadis & Alexey Zinovjev’s amazing and informative site, http://www.salicicola.com/ It’s a gallery of local flora, beautifully and thoroughly illustrated with native plants and lists of invasives. Even if you are from away, Salicicola will give you a sense of the natural world which the Wampanoags inhabited at the time of English settlement. The science and observations behind Salicicola are presented in a user-friendly form, both entertaining and educational. There is even an annual plant quiz which is guaranteed to inform and delight. Simply put, this is a superlative resource which we will draw from again and again. The Riven Word expresses great thanks and sincere appreciation to Irina and Alexey for their generosity and willingness to advise and share information.