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A Treasury of Imagination

Can you make a grass blade whistle? In her 1987 book Honeysuckle Sipping, Jeanné Chesanow describes the technique: hold it taut between thumbs side-by-side, with just enough space between them to blow through. The best blades are wide, for example leaves of decorative ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea).

With a split dandelion stem you can produce trumpet blatting and wailing; with a pumpkin leafstalk, mooing that cows respond to. If you take a sedum leaf (called a "frog's belly"), pinch it gently to loosen the skin on the lower side, and blow into the hollow, the leaf will burst with a satisfying pop.

If you hold a dandelion or a buttercup under the chin, and ask "will I be rich?" a yellow glow on the skin predicts yes. Dandelion flowers shoot off their stems if you flick them with your thumb; whoever's shot goes farthest, wins.

To fashion darling teacups for fairies or dolls, hollow out acorns and attach bent-twig handles; the caps serve for saucers. Cherry-tomato sized Rosa rugosa hips make good tea sets too.

Lilac bushes, box hedges, and other dense shrubs offer great hideouts and private places. Peach stones and hickory nuts are good for carving; also willow and hickory branches, which make whistles. Iris leaves become miniature sailing ships. Take the seed from a winged maple pod and stick the empty part to your nose, to mimic pince-nez eyeglasses. Fuchsia flowers provide gorgeous earrings.

"Between the ages of two and six," Chesanow reminds us, "children's inventiveness flourishes." Play with plant materials stimulates creativity by leaving room for the imagination. To gather the plant lore children have taught each other, Chesanow used historical sources as far back as ancient Greek times, and letters she received by asking for people's memories, which run up to the 1950s.

That's when I remember making hollyhock dolls (by carefully inverting the flower: the stamen tube became a ballerina's slender head and body; and the petals, her spreading skirt — much like the dancers on the water in the section of the Disney movie Fantasia set to "Dance of the Reed Flutes" from The Nutcracker Suite).

Television arrived when I was in grade school. I never watched much; still, of the hundreds of ideas Chesanow relates, few passed on to me. I only learned about honeysuckle nectar in the 70s from my daughters — so they received some remnant of this heritage.

And children today?


© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 9 December 2005

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For more information
  • Honeysuckle Sipping, by Jeanné Chesanow, is out of print, but you can buy it through one of the networks of bookstores selling used books; for example here I have searched for it in Abebooks.com.
  • Here's a fancier way of making a Hollyhock doll. Chesanow describes others, too.