A couple weeks ago, when the wind was sharp, the temperature was single digits and the ice was frozen, a daughter and I made a trip to a nearby lake. It is a double lake, bottlenecked in the middle with a bridge spanning that narrow opening and between the two sides of the lake, a path lined by tall cattails. We brought along a bag and made sure to wear our boots and mittens. Instead of traversing the lake, we hopped into the forest of cattails and started snapping. Snapping off the top spikes and snapping the stems beneath the fluff. A crust of icy snow kept us on top of the uneven mounds most of the time with only a few breakthroughs to snow up to our knees. The wind was calmed among the stems, almost as tall as I was.
A gentlemen walking past stopped and inquired after what we were doing. As we had already chatted with him on his first walk about the weather’s reluctance to give up winter, I considered his inquiry a friendly neighborly touch, quite in contrast to the very nervous park ranger who stopped me foraging last summer. Before we could answer, he told us we should be picking the cattails in the fall before the fluff starts to loosen. Then, he said, we could dye the cattails decorative colors and use them in table settings. I thanked him for his tip as he walked back the path again and we went back to our snapping.
With the stems poking through the bag, catching on my jeans and our bag starting to look rather full, we trotted back to the van, crunching white ice frozen in the street curbs on our way.
In the warmth of our home over a rug, I set up. One clean garbage bag for the pillowcase, one paper bag for the stems and one bag of cattails. Peeling the fluff down with my thumb, I could scrape a path in the seeds so I could bend the rest of the fluff off bit by bit. Last summer when taking pictures for the website, I stuck a stack of pillows under our grape vines and stained a pillowcase, but that left a perfect pillowcase for my purpose, especially as it was a nice, thick double knit one. Over an hour or two, I scraped and peeled the seeds into the case. Occasionally I stirred the fluff loose from itself so it would not stay clumped. You can imagine the beauty of the air around me when my almost 3 year started to help. Every wave of his cattail loosened little floating seeds that were as close as you can come to falling snow inside the house. Though the long winter’s afternoon when I let the kids shred packing Styrofoam in the living room to create a snow carnival was, hands down, a messier affair.
I slept on the pillow last night and the night before. I slept soundly and quite happily. For an adjustable fill pillow, the fill does not roll around when shaken like the shredded latex pillow, nor did I over stuff the pillow so that it would keep its shape like a couch pillow should. The cattails made the pillow flatish and softish, not firm, perhaps a little lumpy, though fill could easily be shifted to a new spot.
So if you want to forage your own cattails, get your waders on and go get them before the wind does. New stalks will be growing in May or June. I could share my spot with you as even our 100 cattails barely made a dent in the thousands that bordered this lake. If you ever want to plant some, take some seeds from your pillow as the seeds are viable for 100 years or so. And if you really want to get into cattails, look up when to eat them and their pollen.
Thanks to Tyler, a customer who bought a pillow case just for this purpose, for this idea.