The boiled inkweed was a dark grey-green, not black
as I expected. I’ve stirred it quite a bit, hoping
that it will oxidize and turn black.
Mike is testing new versions of his pens.
I headed out to the hills in a four-wheel drive vehicle
and really needed the four-wheel drive. The sound man
with us (yes, we always have a camera and sound crew,
plus a director with us) covered his eyes as we wound
our way up a steep, narrow road complete with rocky
outcrops on one side and a precipitous drop on the other.
It really wasn’t so bad, but my driving was honed
when I worked in the Amazon regions of Ecuador and Brazil.
Slick Amazon clay with 100 ft drops on either side of
the road and bridges made of two single logs barely
wide enough for each tire were par for the course. They
made for nerves of steel.
In any case, we made it into the hills, collected sagebrush,
and were about to head out when I spotted cochineal.
Granted, cochineal isn’t a plant - it is an insect
that lives on certain species of cactus - but cochineal
dye has been known for centuries. It was once only second
to gold in terms of value. Peru exported 640 tons of
cochineal last year as a natural food and cosmetic colouring,
as well as for other things requiring a brilliant scarlet
red. Female cochineal insects are pretty sedentary on
cactus pads. Males have wings, fly around and mate with
females, and die after a few days. Females live by sucking
the juice out of the cactus with their mouth parts.
They are covered in a white, waxy substance that helps
hold in humidity, while reflecting sunlight, so they
are well adapted to arid, sunny areas.
I collected as many as I could in the short time I
had, before I had to get back to the mine. It wasn’t
much, but cochineal is quite concentrated. I also collected
one cactus pad infested with cochineal to show Kate
how they live, though I don’t think I will tell
anyone about them until I find out how the inkweed works
out. It is good to have a surprise up my sleeve if needed.
I also found a sufficient supply of apricot mallow
leaves. It was crazy, going around looking for thin
stems with few leaves, but I did find one hardy plant
with lots of leaves. I’ve got them in to boil
in water for several hours. The liquid should thicken
I also ran across tansy mustard in fruit, so I collected
its teeny-weeny seeds to grind up and use as a starch-based
thickener. We’ll see which one works better in
Mike’s ball point pen.
I also collected several Joshua tree leaves as possible
nibs for the capillary action. The Joshua tree “forest”
(it is actually more savannah than forest) is so striking,
the quintessential silhouette of this area.
The sagebrush is useless as an ink.