There is a patch of wild rhododendrons that grows in the San Juan Islands. They grow along the edge of a small lake -- where there's plenty of moisture -- protected from winter frost by a dense canopy of Douglas Fir and shore pine. The birds love it there in the spring. Trout rise on the water. Lily pads hover around the margins of the marsh. And then the wild rhododendron blossoms pop open. It is a piece of heaven.
We try to make it up there every year for the bloom. The place is only accessible by boat, so we have to hope our old outboard stays running long enough to make the 12 mile journey to the secret cove where we hit the beach. An old trail winds steeply up the hill, but we don't mind -- the pink blossoms are worth it. Of course, we would never dream of chopping down a rhododendron, just to make a broom. We go there to relax for the day, get some fresh air & maybe find some inspiration.
One day last summer, a friend brought me a wild rhododendron branch he had pruned away to clear a trail. It is hard to find a nice, straight branch like he had. It was just the right thickness, and not too heavy. So we took it. The branch dried for a year in our shop -- and yesterday I finally brought it out to make a broom. Whittling on the bark, I started day dreaming about our secret spot in the islands. It's been a little while since we have gone there, and we really miss it. As I carved out an interesting knot, the rhododendron wood started to really look cool. I thought to myself, "This branch is going to make a cool broom, and someone is really going to love using it. And looking at it too."
In a way, we feel like servants making brooms on natural branches. It's quite a challenge introducing a natural element like a rhododendron stick to the functional world, without creating tension. So we let our minds drift off to the lake. We tie and stitch broomcorn as nicely as we can. We're the first to try every broom in the shop, making sure they are just right. Certain ones like this rhododendron broom -- we're sad to see them go.
Luckily, someone nice will purchase this broom, and embrace the whole story it has to offer. They will sweep floors & porches, and appreciate the way it looks hanging on wall. Then we've done our job... and loved every single minute of it!