Joann Kelly Catsos makes her baskets from black ash 50 to 70 years old.

An Ashley Falls neighbor has land bordering the Housatonic River, and in the swampy stretch along the river bank, ash trees grow.

Earlier basket makers have cultivated ash groves. The Shakers, she said, tended stands of ash trees. Polly Ogle, a black ash basket maker living in Richmond, once told Catsos that she had found a stand of them on private land that had once belonged to the Hancock Shakers.

But how many 50-year-old ash trees are left in the state?

"White ash only masts, bears fruit, every 11 years," said Pittsfield basket maker Ann Clark. "Supplies are dwindling."

Catsos worries more about the Emerald Ash Borer.

It is illegal now for her to harvest a tree half a mile down the road and bring it to her workshop, she said, because she lives less than half a mile from the Connecticut state line. Connecticut has the insect and is trying to control and prevent its spread.


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