CANTON — From invasive to creative, an all-ages group of people turned out for a years-long, Nature Up North paper-making workshop Saturday that continues to evolve.
Standing outside Wachtmeister Field Station Saturday afternoon, the event was the epitome of Nature Up North’s mission to foster a deeper sense of appreciation for, and connection to, the north country environment through bioregional literacy and an understanding of place in the north country and a connection to our backyards.
Led by Valeria Maldonado, a summer naturalist intern and a junior studying Psychology and Environmental Studies at St. Lawrence University, participants were first introduced to phragmites, the invasive common reed that would become their paper. They then picked a variety of wild flowers that they would later pick apart and decorate their paper with.
Nature Up North Project Manager Emlyn Crocker said that while educating the public about invasive species is certainly part of what the group does, this was a way to show that it can also be useful in a fun way.
Picking some Birdsfoot trefoil and daisies, Annie G. Thomlanson and Kira S. Molnar were laughing and enjoying a break from the rain that could have easily plagued the outdoor activity.
An anthropology student from London, Ms. Thomlanson is on a month-long stay doing what she called some informal field work and is staying with Ms. Molnar.
“I quite like arts and crafts, so that was probably the main thing (that brought her to Saturday’s event),” she said. “I was interested in the work that Nature Up North did, because I’ve spoken to Emlyn quite a lot about it, so I kind of what I wanted to see one of her things they organize.
Ms. Crocker said while they like to do a variety of different programs, this one allows people to engage in the outdoors in a different, more unique way.
The program was developed by a summer intern in 2017 and was brought back this year by Ms. Maldonado with the addition of elements of collection of wild flowers and using the invasive plant to make the paper.
“I kind of went off what past interns had done and put in my little twist as well. I made paper before, but with recycled paper, not with plants,” Ms. Maldonado said. “I just thought it was really interesting, sustainable and really easy. I think people can look at the plants in their back yard and just create something new out of it, especially with invasive plants where a lot of people don’t see a use or it. I thin this is just another perspective they could have.”
To expedite the hours-long process, Ms. Crocker and Ms. Maldonado had the materials prepped.
While the whole phragmites plant can be used to make paper, they only used the leaves, which were cut into one to two-inch pieces and were cooked overnight in a crock pot with washing soda to break it down.
Normally it would take about three hours of boiling, Ms. Maldonado said. With the stem she said it would take twice as long.
After cooking it, the softened plant is placed in a blender and turned into a slurry.
For Saturday’s program, there were several wash basins with the slurry prepared and Ms. Maldonado demonstrated how to sift the slurry through a makeshift sifter she created from two picture frames. A piece of screen was stapled to one of the frames while the second frame had foam attached to it for use as a spacer.
Once the slurry was scooped up and the water was drained from it, she removed the foam-frame spacer, flipped the screen onto a foam mat and used a sponge to both press the fibers and absorb any remaining water.
She said it could take anywhere between 24 to 48 hours for the paper to dry.
After everyone made their paper, they got to decorating.
Madison G. Laubscher, Potsdam, was dissecting flowers that were placed in between pieces of paper and were pressed and used for decoration.
“The girls are so great with all the things that they do and I just never had this opportunity and I would love to learn new skills with them and learn about the plants and make paper and all of it,” Ms. Laubscher said. “I like paper and I like flowers, making this very, very appealing. I am into this. This is my jam.”
For Ms. Maldonado’s internship, she developed a Waterfall Yoga program that will take place 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Harper’s Falls, off County Route 27 on Donnerville Road.