In the cold of Haines, caring for Australia’s animals as wildfires blaze

Extreme cold weather warnings abound in the Upper Lynn Canal, while devastating wildfires threaten lives, homes, and wildlife across the globe in Australia. One Haines resident is donating her time and art to the relief effort.

To make a koala-shaped pendant, all Cassie Miller needs is jeweler’s wire, a few beads, her pliers … and a moment of quiet. She bends an arc in the copper wire with a practiced hand. A nose, then ears emerge out of the wire. After a few more deft bends, she clips the wire and tucks the cut end in on itself.

A koala necklace by Cassie Miller. (Photo by KHNS)

When the pendant is done it’s the wire outline of a koala bear. Thread a chain through its feet and it looks like the pendant is climbing along your necklace.

She’s made hundreds of these in the last few weeks in response to overwhelming demand. It’s a testament to her skill, and a cause. All of the proceeds from Miller’s koala pendant necklaces go to Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast, a relief organization in Australia.

“They’re kind of like the Chilkat Valley Community Fund of animal rescues in Australia,” Miller said.

“If I had done it by myself, I couldn’t have [donated] more than like $20 or $30. But I have lots of art supplies and people are responding well to it. And so far we’ve raised over $2,000.”

Counting her latest orders, it’s closing in on $2,500.

The mother of two is known locally for her wire jewelry, but now she’s gaining an international audience. She’s even had some orders from Australia. Getting all the pendants out the door is a challenge. Miller works in childcare and home schools her two boys. So that quiet moment for jewelry making comes after hours.

“When I should be sleeping!” she said with a laugh.

Miller makes her pendants at night, after the rest of the family has gone to sleep. She says she’s often sculpting wire for orders until well after midnight.

Miller was moved to take action one evening while reading with her son. His favorite book is the Australian Animal Atlas: A gift from his traveling uncle. Some news sources estimate more than half a billion of those wild animals have died in the wildfires. The juxtaposition between the book and the dire news on her Facebook news feed got her thinking.

“I was like, man, I really wish there was something I could do. I obviously can’t go over there, can’t donate much to make any difference. And then, it just kind of fell together really nicely,” she said.

She says things just fell together. That is, ten years of jewelry making, a campaign of Facebook posts, enthusiastic community support, and long hours bending copper and silver wire added up. Her fundraising is doing well and, though it’s a lot of work, she says it feels good.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s definitely a passion of mine and this has really helped with my confidence level in that my art can help and make a difference in a way. And it’s been really nice,” said Miller.

Out in Australia, Wildlife Rescue Sunshine Coast is a little closer to their fundraising goal. Miller says she will continue to make pendants until she runs out of supplies. Or, there’s no longer a need for donations.