Friday, 3 August 2012

Elephant No. 306: Grapevines

It's about time to cut back my grapevines again, so I thought I'd see if I could make some kind of woven elephant today from the clippings. I made a grapevine wreath once, and a sort of basket another time, so I hoped this wouldn't bee too far beyond me, nor take too long.

This is what my vines look like in their natural state.

And this is what the clippings looked like, both before and after I removed all the leaves. I left a couple of tiny leaves at the ends of one or two vines, and a few bunches of grapes, just in case.

Having absolutely no clue how to make something that wasn't round and/or able to weave easily around itself, I took the longest piece and made a sort of elephant shape, looping the finer end around itself and locking it under a piece of vine.

This seemed to hold well enough, so I added a few more pieces. There are two things that appear to keep the vines in place: the tension that builds up in the holes between interwoven vines, and the thinner and more flexible ends, which you can use to twist and wind around other vines.

Next, I added some vines to the topline of the head, down through the trunk, and out through the back of the head to create the suggestion of an ear.

I didn't want the middle of the head to be completely blank, but I also didn't want to heavily fill in the whole thing. I wanted it to have a sort of rough and rustic look, so the next stage involved adding some more vines here and there through the middle of the head. The more vines I added, the more some of the previous vines wanted to pop out of place, but it wasn't as frustrating as I expected it to be.

To finish up, I added a piece of vine with a small bunch of grapes attached, entwining it so that it hung down a bit to suggest an eye. There happened to be a small piece of twig sticking up at precisely the right spot, so I wound the stem of the grapes around the twig to make the eye more round. I also added a trio of short twigs for a tusk.

From start to finish, this whole thing took me about an hour, including clipping the vines in the first place. It probably looks laughable to anyone who actually knows how to weave grapevines, but it actually holds together quite well. I'm also quite pleased that I didn't use any glue, twine or wire to make it hold its shape.

When I was done, I set it aside to dry. I don't know if the vines shrink as they dry—which would probably make this whole thing fall apart—or if they sort of mould to one another. Either way, I like the way it turned out. Once it dries to a nice brown, I may even trim it with glass beads to make a table decoration.

Elephant Lore of the Day
The grapevines I used today bear Concord grapes in the fall, which I'm told are good for making wine. Interestingly, winemakers sometimes use elephants to crush their grapes.

In 2008, over a glass of wine at the Boplass Winery in South Africa, winery owner Carel Nel wondered aloud why the hard work of crushing grapes has never been given to an elephant. Ian Withers, owner of the Knysna Elephant Park, happened to be sitting at the same table, and decided to run with the idea.

A short time later, a 22-year-old elephant named Harry was brought to the winery. Because Harry had been around humans for so long, he was quite amenable to their strange requests. More to the point, because keepers at Knysna checked his feet every day, Harry was very familiar with commands such as "foot up", "foot forward" and "foot down".

Harry the elephant crushing grapes at the Boplass Winery in South Africa, 2008.

Harry apparently showed great talent for grape-crushing from the start. After his feet were sterilized, he was placed before a large trough filled with grapes. He had no problem understanding what to do, and with feet that are close to 60 cm (2 feet) wide, Harry made much shorter work of crushing the grapes than the humans who normally did the work. In fact, Harry's only real problem was comprehending why people don't just eat the grapes instead.

In honour of Harry, the Winery issued a successful special-edition wine called Boplass Elephant, which also helped to raise awareness of the need for elephant conservation.

Harry gets to eat some of the grapes he's been stomping.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)

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