The porcelain berry paper

I have spent the last two months trying to make paper in my tiny, tiny cottage. This was in part to fulfill my promise of a sheet of porcelain berry paper to the first workshop participants. (They prepared a lot of porcelainberry vine for cooking last summer that we did not have time to use at the workshop.)

I moved into the cottage on West Island at the end of October. Most of my equipment was next to the shed, still in the blue totes I brought home from Philly at the end of August. The 23 inch blizzard buried it all pretty well, so the first act of papermaking involved a shovel, a tool Philly folks are intimately acquainted with this year.

Some things I won't try again. For example, thawing the giant ice cube of frozen fiber in my showerstall turned out to be a truly bad idea with surprising consequences.

And although it took many more weeks than it should have, I have made the porcelain berry paper. In addition to being lovely it is also sized and am about to try to print on it using images from GROVE and from Bill's butterfly garden. Stay tuned.

GROVE: Prediction for 2010 - More weeding to take place...

The still intense competition for survival that continued between the original non-native Japanese Knotweed and the native swamp white oaks that we planted in the spring of 2008 continued in 2009. The rain during the growing season was a welcome relief from the drought conditions the trees faced in 2008 but it rained on the plants we didn’t want as well as the ones we did. Tending the GROVE in 2009 consisted of repeatedly pulling the copious growth of the non-native plants such as ivy, knotweed, garlic mustard, mile-a minute (eek!), lady’s thumb, etc. Removing the non-natives repeatedly also helps to support the more prolific native volunteers such as poke weed, jewel weed and trumpet vine. If given a fighting chance these plants seem to be able to successfully compete with the non-native plants.

Of the five oaks we planted one has died. Two others lost their top foliage but still had healthy scrubby growth at the bottom. We altered those to shrubs in the hopes that they will survive as such. And surprisingly two more oaks seem to be surviving as single trunk trees. We have also found multiple young oak and tulip volunteers. (Protecting these and other tender young plants remains the reason for limiting foot traffic to the inner planting area.)

We have applied two simple strategies in our efforts to establish a diverse array of native plants to replace the previous monoculture of Japanese Knotweed. The first strategy was the intensive planting of natives in 2008 and the second is the repeated pulling of non-natives while protecting native volunteers. And as reported earlier this year, we are having some success, but it is an uphill battle. One must return to weed the invasives over and over again, while limiting foot traffic. More weeds, fewer hands!

My goal is to replace the original monoculture of Knotweed with a more biodiverse GROVE full of native trees and plants that tends itself. However, since that day is not here yet and may not be here for a while, in 2010 I plan to continue to travel to Carpenter’s Woods multiple times during the growing season to do battle with the invasives, just as I did in 2009. Look for me occasionally in the woods from April to September where you will find me muddy and tired from weeding but happy to continue to support the trees, insects, and wildlife in Carpenter’s Woods through the project GROVE.

Happy New Year to all, from West Island, MA, fondly, treemaker9

Incursions like these

Last week we saved the knotweed we pulled for papermaking next month at Rittenhouse Town Papermaking Barn. (see GROVE Part 3: Incursions like these.)

GROVE seems to be surviving fairly well this year. Two of the original five oak trees are doing well. Many of the natives we planted last year are also doing well, especially the winterberry, the red-osier dogwood, the box-elder, and the ferns. Native residents jack-in-the-pulpit, pokeweed and jewelweed are thriving, as are several species of tree volunteers, including baby oaks. We have roped off the area to limit foot-traffic as the profusion of growth can hide tender plants from view. Erica Brendel and Marsha Jones (pictured on the home page...) know more than anyone else what grows there so ask them to give you an update when you see them in the woods.

March Light

We returned to Carpenter's Woods this past Saturday to clean up, to remove invasive plants, and to build habitat with brush. The woods were drenched with light and the tree trunks looked like candles. We pulled winged euonymous and privet out next to the trail down to GROVE from the bus stop. GROVE was quiet and able to wait a little longer for care this spring. It was full of robins however, all scooting around flinging up brush and having as good a time as we were. We will be working in Carpenter's Woods every third Saturday of the growing season, with the help of volunteers receiving work credit from the Coop.

September GROVE

When I returned to the GROVE on the 7th of September, the oak trees looked tough but the GROVE itself looks great. I spent the entire day weeding the pink weed in the company of warblers, cardinals, catbirds and wood thrushes. The box elder had new growth, the winter berry had berried, and deer had only nibbled one of the red-osier dogwoods. The oaks looked dead and or dying but were still alive as of the 7th. Even if they do not come back to life next spring I am heartened at how successful we have been in reclaiming the space from knotweed. The knotweed that was there was small and spindly. Remember that only one year ago the space was completely given over to a mature knotweed forest! There are no easy ways to reclaim forest and GROVE taught us that the way is paved with native and non-native pitfalls, such as how much jewelweed to leave at the feet of the oaks, and whether the pink weed was native or not-native. (In the end it had to be pulled so it didn't overgrow the whole site.)

What eventually succeeds in GROVE may not be the original vision of oaks but it will be NATIVE for sure. However, when I returned to plant on the scheduled workday on the 27th, one of the oaks had re-leafed! Dave Bower, a volunteer coordinator for Fairmount Park pointed out buds on the other trees. Four of us, (two volunteers and two Fairmount Park staff) added more at least 30 more shrubs and plants including joe-pye weed and marsh marigold. We got a lot done but could use more help on these work days...Stay tuned for more planting updates including how you can join in.

Erica Brendel brings forest restoration expert to GROVE

She writes: "On Wed 7/9 Sarah Low visited Grove with me to give us a progress report.I'm happy to say that her impressions were generally favorable. She  thinks the leaf damage we are seeing is part of the adjustment process  and therefore to be expected, especially in trees undergoing bare-root  planting.  She felt that these trees had probably had a stressful  winter even before we planted them, and their roots need time to get  established.  Their prognosis is still good, although it takes about 5  years to be sure of their long-term survival.  So far she thinks  they've been adequately watered, and our plan of 5 gallons a week per  tree should be fine.  If we get into drought conditions later in the  summer, maybe 10 - 15 gallons (the recommended amount for street  trees) would be better.  She was impressed that we've done a good job  of fighting back the knotweed. There are a few other invasives at the  site that we may need to control : English Ivy, Mile-a Minute Vine,  Garlic Mustard - but these haven't made a major impact yet.  The other  plants growing there are mostly natives - PA Smartweed, Jewelweed,  Skunk Cabbage, Jack-in-the-Pulpit - and they should coexist happily  with the new trees and shrubs.Fortunately we don't seem to have a deer problem.  She thinks the  winterberry and dogwood bushes would be showing signs of deer browse  by now if that were going to happen, and they appear to be doing  well.  The rubbing against the bark that deer do usually happens in  November, and the bark protectors now in place should prevent that.Sarah thinks we are in good shape to proceed with the planting of more  trees and shrubs at the Grove site in the fall, as well as in some  other locations in the woods with canopy openings. She will be in  touch with us through Friends of CW to identify more sites and make  recommendations about plantings.It was very helpful to visit Grove with Sarah, and reassuring to have  her input.  I look forward to seeing everyone in the woods soon."Erica Brendel

How can I love you if I don't go away?

This week I moved back to Massachusetts after 12 years in Philadelphia. My cell phone doesn't work and the only internet is at the public library so I am a little disconnected but I am occasionally reachable by email at and occasionally by cell at 267-688-3694. On one level the change seems to be helping already. Philly looms lovely in the rearview mirror and I can suddenly and clearly see and appreciate everyone who helped Bill and I this last terrible and difficult year. Everyone has been very kind. But my friends Katerina, Ralph, and Flash are deserving of awards for their help in emptying 6812 McCallum this spring. From March to July we tossed, schlepped, donated, boxed, and distributed glasses, clothes, books, medical equipment, records, and furniture. We gave everything away except for the two opened cans of pet food, a bag of compost, and a small metal trash can that we lost track of in the middle of the final morning. Inscrutable gifts for the new owners to decode...I miss my garden, the oaks, my friend and neighbors, canine and human, but I don't miss the endless cleaning while the house was on the market. I think my energy and focus are starting to return. Today I followed a monarch butterfly around and wondered where my camera was packed. I look forward to working again.

Grief is unexpectedly muting

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear." C.S. Lewis

I was unprepared for grief's angry force and desperate apathy. Everything has changed and I don't know who or where I am. I can't hide my feelings so all I can do is hide myself. GROVE has continued but not as I had thought. For the last six months I can barely bring myself to do anything. So, I apologize to anyone for my absence, my bitterness, my sadness, and my lack of updates to the site.

I do go to GROVE and work in GROVE. I water, I weed, and I monitor its progress. But organizing is difficult in this state of loss and I feel I have lost my courage. There is so much sadness here for me that I feel I must leave in order to breathe again. I am moving to a studio near the ocean in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I am sorry to leave everyone but I hope you will understand. I don't know when I will get there but my new address will be The Ropeworks Building, 123 Sawyer St., New Bedford, MA.

GROVE will not be neglected. The Friends of Carpenter's Woods have raised funds through Linda G.'s owl photo sale and through Louise H.'s grant from the Coop. We have received free winterberry and red-osier dogwood from Dave Bower. A recent visit by a tree expert has further informed us and inspired additional plantings for the fall. Erica B., the original and most vocal supporter of GROVE has stepped up her efforts in pulling knotweed and monitoring tree health. We have also been offered additional funds for a sign and more trees through Glen B. of the Weaver's Way Coop. And I thank the many people who walk by and check in, pulling a little knotweed as they visit. GROVE is well cared for and will continue to be well cared for by our community in Carpenter's Woods.

The Friend's of the Wissahickon's Summer Newsletter is focusing on Carpenter's Woods. Don't miss it!

GROVE breaks down slowly

GROVE is something and nothing all at the same time. When you enter the small clearing off the trail with ten or so small mounds of dirt and paper, you might not see much happening. It is only when you look closely that you can see the changes. The paper swells and freezes repeatedly. The dirt and paper are trampled into the ground. A dog dug a hole in one of the mounds - luckily not the largest mound which holds the only paper tree I think of as Bill...This large tree was also the only tree to crumple and fall at the Fringe show at the Media Bureau.

Bill was like a large oak tree – appearing so invincible until it falls in a passing storm and reveals the weakness at its core. Bill worked so hard to try and stay here with us, denying over and over that the disease had any power over him – until in the end it couldn't be denied any longer.

The day after

The day after we installed GROVE in Carpenter's Woods, all the trees collapsed. That same night my husband collapsed from a reaction to chemotherapy and died two weeks later. I dedicated GROVE to Bill the day we put the paper trees in the ground. Two weeks later, on the day after he died I found the trees to be transformed into gentle hills of dirt and paper covered by leaves and snow.

What we learned together yesterday - shape, weight, paper and dirt

What a beautiful day we had to install GROVE. Today is full of medical appointments for Bill so I appreciate your patience while I process the hundreds of photos and video from three weeks of transformative work together. What I can tell you is that I think we all learned something about shape, weight, paper and dirt. The next trees will be shorter and bigger. I hope to make five of these new shapes to replace the current GROVE in anticipation of the five oak trees in the spring. More later on that.

For now, I thank you all who came out over the last month and shared in GROVE. I feel like I have invited you into my studio and now we are all learning and creating together. There never is an ending for an artist because every project reveals the next. I invite you all to continue with me as we respond to this - the first draft of GROVE as it moves toward its new life as an oak grove. Love, Treemaker9

Sons of Toil Buried Under Tons of Soil?

Let's hope not...Yesterday the dirt for GROVE arrived at the bus stop. Those of us who have seen it were surprised at how perfect it looks. Who knew I would fall in love with two dirt piles? Photos later...

My apologies for the gap between postings. My husband Bill's disease has now spread to his brain and spinal column and we have had a three week ordeal in the hospital which has just ended with his return home. Our world has turned upside down and even if you are expecting terrible things, they are still terrible when they happen.

GROVE is happening still because of the kindness of our friends, many health professionals and my mother who has come to stay with us. On Saturday we will move the dirt from the bus stop down to the GROVE with buckets, spades, wheelbarrows, and tarps. On the 11th we will bring the trees and the process of letting go will begin.