Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mangroves- A love story

French knitted pneumataphores

Poor old mangroves are unfairly maligned and horribly threatened, even though they play an essential role in maintaining many food-fish stocks, and filtering out human pollution and sediment on its way to the sea. But they are neither as picturesque as we like our coastal landscapes to look, nor understood to be useful for the resource extraction model of capitalist economies. Yet I've long loved mangroves, since the summer of 96 when I was taken on a gentle tinnie* trip through some Coromandel wetlands: gliding calmly between these enigmatic trees at dusk felt romantic and soulful.

Blocking my mudflat (stretching while damp to dry flat)

A few years ago my intuitive appreciation was given intellectual reinforcement when I was asked to help give a talk to some school children about mangroves, prompting a crash course in mangrove ecology. Finding out about their extraordinary biology and essential ecological nurturing role turned me into an advocate for mangrove preservation and restoration.

And last year, in Queensland, I was aesthetically seduced by the other-worldly, diverse and abundant mangroves of the tropics: I often think about how, why and where I could represent their sinuous patterned tangle of buttresses, roots and snorkels. Mangroves and vines are the motivation for my burgeoning collection of french knitting spools, but I've been preoccupied with making other environments, so the mangroves had to wait for the right opportunity.

My newest, and favourite, french knitting dolly/spool

My motivation for finally making some mangroves now can't be revealed until next year. Suffice to say that for the past couple of weeks I've been french knitting Avicennia marina pneumataphores- the oxygen breathing snorkels that enable mangrove roots to survive in salt water- the only tree that can live in the sea. Avicennia marina are the only mangrove species in New Zealand, and their pneumataphores look like sticks poking up out of the mud at low tide. If you stand on one in your bare feet it hurts, which is enough to make some people want to get rid of mangroves from their local beaches. But I think mangrove snorkels are one of nature's wonders, and I want to make a piece to help people appreciate them as beautiful and remarkable.

Pneumataphores on the crocheted squares

Each french knitted snorkel is attached to a small crocheted square. All my yarn was acquired by chance; some left over from the coral, some gifted and some found in second hand shops. I am determined not to buy any new yarn for this project so luck determined the colours and textures I could choose from. Luckily I am delighted with the colours of my snorkels, and managed to find three odd sized balls (that had obviously been unravelled from some previous purpose before arriving at the Salvation Army store) of natural grey wool, the exact colour of mangrove swamp mud at low tide.

Today I finished stitching the squares into a small rectangle, and experienced the wonder of blocking: transformation from wonky and misshapen to flat and square just by wetting and stretching while it dries. My next step will be to wire each pheumataphore so it stands up straight and stiff, then to mount the whole thing for wall hanging. I'll show you the finished piece, and reveal its destination in a few weeks.



Carol said...

Can't wait to find out the secret destination for the pheumataphores. They look splendid. I love the way your art is developing.

weathergirl said...

Love mangroves! You have to admire the way they can grow in the most inhospitable mudflats.

Carol said...

I've managed to produce a blog post - first for ages. Hoping next year I'll get back into the groove and produce lots of things. Have a wonderful New Year and I hope 2010 will bring you peace, joy, good health and great creativity. Carol

Ngaio said...

I used to find mangroves a tad boring until afew years ago when one of my daughters did a project on them for school - well, it is the old story, do abit of research and low and behold ... I now admire not only their strengh but also their beauty and extremely important job they do soaking up all the rubbish that flows off the land into our harbours - their seeds are cool also.I can`t wait to see what you do with this piece of art !

Kay McKenzie Cooke. said...

This is so creative - I love it. Happy New Year to you!
(and the mangrove swamps and coral beds).

Kim said...

I too love the mangroves, though I do not live near them. I so enjoy reading your blog, even when I do not comment... and the Antarctic piece is coming along, yes? Something about great sweeps of untrammeled snow....

Sandy said...

OMG I love that knitting spool. I used to have one made out of a wooden thread spool, but now thread is on plastic, so you can't bang in nails. Ella's is plastic (although it has a cool mechanism for holding the wool in frot of the "nail."

Where did you get it??