We woke on Christmas morning to fresh snow, so I went for a walk to watch the light come up. The snow felt very congruent with my general plan for the week, which was to stay home and do very little. It’s been a good plan, the last few days filled to the brim with very little.
Happy solstice, dear readers. I celebrated the shortest day with a long walk (a day early). This time of year usually feels like it calls for introspection, but introspection in motion was even better this year. I walked twenty miles on the local rail trail, flat and cruisy (boring if I wasn’t so recently charmed by it).
Twenty miles in midwinter was long enough that the stars were still bright in a clearing sky when we started and the sun was slipping below the treetops when we finished eight hours later. In between, we savored the slow dawn and soaked in a relatively rare winter day of clear blue skies.
There were a handful of us, a mix of existing and new friends, which made for long, interweaving conversations. I came home deeply tired and filled up in a way that I didn’t realize I needed.
It’s hard to get long days of fresh air when the days are so short. Or more truthfully, it’s so easy not to make them happen. But I need them just the same, and it’s good to be reminded of that.
It’s also good to be reminded that there is time, if we just take it. This December has meant less bustling and more long walks and visiting friends and meditating. And a marathon making session this past weekend to get packages out the beginning of the week. We still don’t have a tree, but we have plans to change that on Saturday. The necessary things will reveal themselves and they will be done. Or so I’m trusting.
Hello from a pale December day at 48 degrees North. I’ve been a bit of a failure at December-ing so far this year, I just keep thinking there will be time for everything as the days evaporate and I blithely putter along, making a few things here and there and then making time for another walk. Walking feels necessary these short days, especially when the sky is blue.
Tonight I did a little sewing and listened to an On Being conversation with Rebecca Solnit and collected a few flickers of candlelight for the mind on a winter night…
“People in this culture love certainty so much, and they seem to love certainty more than hope, which is why they often seize on these really bitter, despondent narratives… they know exactly what’s going to happen. And that certainty just seems so tragic to me. I want people to tell more complex stories and to acknowledge that sometimes we win, and that there are these openings. But an opening is just an opening; you have to go through it and make something happen. And you don’t always win, but if you try, you don’t always lose.”
And a reference to this quote from Michel Foucault: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”
A gray drizzly December day is not ideal for homestead modeling, as you might have noticed. The knitwear to be modeled is not ideal, either. But I finished both of these projects in early October, so they are well overdue to be captured and cataloged.
First up is the cardigan, which I thought was going to be a no-brainer and turned out to be a yarn lesson. It is also the first time I have re-knit a pattern for something bigger than a hat or mitts. I knit a brown version of this very simple, lightweight cardigan five years ago and found it surprisingly wearable and versatile, enough so that it is looking rather worse for the wear.
I had good notes from that first knit, so picked out some new yarn and set about replicating the sweater. I knit it to the same measurements, on the same needles…. same same same. You can guess where this is going. The resulting sweater is not the same at all.
The brown one is knit from a merino silk blend that wants to drape. This gray one is from a tightly spun cormo that wants to recoil into the smallest possible shape. You can see what that looks like in these:
It rides up and I tug it back down. On repeat. I was sure that I had just made it too small but I laid out the old and new sweaters on top of each other and they are the same size. It’s just that this yarn wants to contract. I imagine that it would be great for something like a t-shirt that you would want to have plenty of stretch while maintaining a fitted shape. But it was a terrible choice for an open cardigan. I think it’s still wearable over something like a sundress (where it’s more of a shrug than a sweater), but it’s definitely a failure as an all-season cardigan.
Happily, I am delighted with the second finished knitting project in those pictures.
The pattern (from 1966) calls them nether garments, which I think is pretty charming. The reality is that they are usually housepants, because I live the sort of charmed life where cozy tights knit at a gauge just loose enough to be immodest are a totally valid wardrobe choice most days.
These tights were very nearly never to be. They languished in my knitting basket for almost two years and didn’t seem terribly promising. The yarn is my familiar nemesis superwash merino, so I hated knitting it. (All left over from a baby blanket project where I grossly overestimated the required yardage.) I thought the stripes were tedious to knit, until I started weaving in all the ends and had to recalibrate my scale for tedium.
All that said, they weren’t all that much knitting and they fit great and they have been in heavy rotation since the day they came off the needles. I am certain there will be more in the future. And the next time I’ll choose yarn that I don’t need yearlong timeouts away from.
We just returned from North Dakota, which was all pale November light. I wonder if I’ll ever bore of every permutation of vast sky and weathered prairie. It doesn’t seem likely.
As the train approached our stop this morning, running along the shore of Puget Sound, Dean asked me where I felt most at home. I answered, “North Dakota is my homeland, and the Pacific Northwest is where I belong.”
Almost related but really not: The fateful whims of long library hold lists meant that I read Sherman Alexie’s memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me this week as well. It’s brilliant, and I recommend it.
I took these photos last Sunday morning, when we got more early snow. Shortly after I returned from my morning walk, I tried to post them here and discovered our internet was out. The snow lingered for a few days but was still gone before our internet service returned.
Tomorrow we send the pigs off to freezer camp. Never easy, and I’m afraid I’m more attached to this batch than any we’ve had. I’ve been feeding twice a day for the last couple months, fretting over their rations and measuring their growth. Scratching around ears, patting backs, and ok, using a few well-placed knees to encourage a hungry pig that outweighs me to move aside. A few days of frozen hoses and troughs were a good extra reminder that it is time.
So tomorrow we’ll wake up with pigs, feel the complicated feelings that go along with raising animals for meat, and end the day with pork to process. It’s never easy, and I hope it never is; but in the end it’s mostly gratitude that I’m left with, and that’s a pretty good place to end up.
I decided at 5p Thursday that Friday would be a mental health day, a bit of compensation for all the extra hours at my desk over the last month. Without too much more thought, I determined that a day for myself meant going for a hike first thing, enough of an effort to come home tired and really enjoy settling into my couch nest for an afternoon knitting session.
I wasn’t expecting to wake up to a dusting of snow. But it was just that, a dusting on the roofs and cars. According to the Gaelic view of the seasons, winter began three whole days earlier, with Samhain. It felt like summer lasted right through September this year, so I guess I missed autumn while tethered to my desk.
I considered changing plans, but it looked like it was clearing. Maybe I’d have an extra-special view of a snowy morning from the top. Or maybe not, as it turned out. The dusting at home was a couple inches at the trailhead and gradually grew to about four up the trail. Clouds wrapped tightly around the mountain. The forest was almost utterly quiet, my breath competing with my footsteps for the loudest disturbance. At some point, the snow filling the air was coming from the tree branches above instead of the clouds. Periodically, some branch would get just heavy enough to dump it’s load with a satisfying “woosh”. Beautiful and disorienting.
And best of all, I returned home the perfect level tired where I couldn’t manage anything more than knitting and old episodes of Victorian Farm all afternoon.
Hello out there. I’m so glad you’re still there. By which I mean, I’m so happy that I can remember that the world outside my little bubble exists today. There have been lots of days when that wasn’t the case of late.
So I’m a little bit delighted and a little bit chagrined to realize that I popped in here with a little something to share and it’s exactly the same topic as the last time I was here. My worn clothing. (Because that’s fascinating enough to warrant multiple posts?)
When I turned my closet over a few weeks ago, I pulled out a bag of socks that needed mending and was surprised to discover it had somehow grown to eight pairs of hand-knit socks that were out of circulation. A week later, a deep dive into my knitting basket (for unrelated reasons) turned up a further three pair that I had completely forgotten existed. Eleven pair! That is either a testament to my powers of procrastination for letting so many pile up, or to the excess of my sock supply that I was still getting by with that many out of commission. Maybe both.
I finally sat down with the monster pile this weekend to see what I could do. Two pair were deemed beyond repair and retired. One pair that was little-worn but riddled with tiny holes from a wool moth attack several years ago was unravelled to salvage the yarn. Most needed a darned patch or a few areas of duplicate stitch reinforcement. And then there was this pair (in sorry enough shape my camera didn’t even want to focus on them):
One of the first pair of socks I ever knit, and the blue merino really wasn’t durable enough for socks. As I was debating whether I could justify another layer of patches or not, I realized that this sock construction, one I never repeated, lent itself to heal replacement. A couple careful snips and a bit of unraveling later, they were back on needles…
And some leftover sock yarn filled in the gap nicely.
I actually have a few new knitting projects to share if I ever get pictures taken. Soon, I hope. And in homestead news, the pigs will be off to freezer camp in less than two weeks but in the meantime, they are making adorable afternoon nap pig-piles.
I turned my closet over today, a little semi-annual task that I enjoy enough it feels more like a seasonal ritual than a chore. I pulled my linen, along with my summer skirts and most of my short-sleeved shirts, and packed them away in the off-season side of my closet. At the same time, I revisited the stash of long johns, long-sleeved t-shirts, and wool sweaters that had been tucked out of the way since spring. As I sorted, I did a quick cull. There are always a couple things for the thrift store, items I thought I might wear six months ago but I haven’t even considered doing so since. And this time, there were a few old gems that I couldn’t put away for next year, it was just time to bid farewell.
First up, the best flannel shirt I have ever owned, purchased circa 2008 at the Senior Citizens’ thrift store in Beulah, ND for $1. It was perfectly soft and worn when it came to me, all brown plaid and pearl snaps. I never “wore” this shirt, I just threw it on over whatever I was wearing when there was any bit of chill – pretty much every morning and evening of every summer day for the last decade.
I patched the elbows last summer, but it was obvious then the situation was less a hole than the generally disintegrating state of the fabric. I managed to squeeze another year out it, but I’m afraid it’s time to love this one fondly from the rag pile.
Next up is a very close relative of the house flannel, the brown house sweater. This one came to me as a hand-me-down from my brother-in-law in roughly the same timeframe, maybe 2010.
It, too, has seen it’s fair share of shoddy mending jobs over the years. The left elbow went first, of course. (It’s a bad habit of leaning my left arm on my desk while the right operates a mouse for endless work hours.) But I needle-felted an orange elbow patch and liked it better for the character. Then the seams started to give in the armpit, but that’s easy to hide so it got a quick stitch back together. By the end, the left elbow was two patches deep, the right had a matching one, the armpits were hopelessly ripped out, and I loved it.
There simply isn’t enough fabric that isn’t falling apart to hold any more mending, so it will get felted and recycled into some future sewing project. Maybe my next hot water bottle cozy.
And finally, an unlikely addition, a pair of gray hiking shorts. A pair of shorts I bought just before leaving for New Zealand in December 2005. I wore them every day for more than four months on that trip; they were the only option I had except for a questionable skirt I wore while doing laundry. And for most of the years since, they have been the only pair of shorts I own. A bit like magic, the nylon seemed impervious to wear and they fit perfectly regardless if I gained fifteen pounds or lost it.
The thread was always the weak spot, I made the first hem repairs in a backcountry hut on that initial trip. There have been many more, and these days it all seems to be breaking and falling out. And it turns out that even nylon does wear, and these days it’s a bit… translucent. So another relic of another life, made by a company that no longer exists, is retired.
In summary, it was a good shirt (and sweater and pair of shorts).
If you’ve actually read this far, you deserve some sort of prize. Unfortunately, all I’ve got for you today is the satisfaction that there are people in the world who are moved to eulogize ordinary articles of clothing, but you’re not one of them.
The first weekend of October. Two whole unscheduled days, my first since August. I have been hanging on, waiting for the chance to take this deep breath for the last few weeks. I need a few deep breaths of the sort that you just quietly watch come and go.
I spent some hours in my couch-nest, newly feathered for fall weather, while I knit and listened to rain on the roof. Yesterday I ventured as far as the garden and today I made it a few whole miles away for a long walk in the woods with a couple of friends. In between, there were plenty of visits to the pigs and hours in the kitchen, processing fruit, cleaning a carrot harvest, and general puttering. The kind of simple days that just feel spacious the whole way through, and I feel so grateful for that. I needed that.
Spaciousness as a state of mind has been in short supply of late. Instead, my mind has mostly felt busy and tight, ceaselessly trying to figure its way through the puzzle of things. The usual puzzles of balancing too many interests with all the requirements on my time, of tending the homestead and adventuring in the world, of spending and saving. And the less usual puzzle of making all the required arrangements for an entire season of unscheduled time.
It’s been nearly a decade since Dean and I returned from our last extended trip and started building a cabin, and I think that means we’re due. But gah, we’ve complicated our lives in ten short years.
The plan is that we’ll take a break for half a year, and spend most of that time hiking the Appalachian Trail. I can only vaguely remember how much space to breathe there is during a trip like that, but I can’t wait to be reminded. In the half a year between now and then, though, we’ll be trying to get everything in order and stay sane, which might be a far less glamorous but equally daunting challenge.
May all that is unforgiven in you
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.
May all this is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
Hello from the other side of September. I’m bleary with tired, but somehow this little patch of sunshine on some very old marble tiles is making me feel a bit more hopeful.
September was absurdly full here, every weekend day booked from start to finish with off-homestead activity, every weekday seemingly overflowing with two extra things on the schedule. I decided at the start that my best strategy for coping was to just keep moving, and aim to be as present as I could with the constant motion. It mostly worked, I think, but I have some serious plans for sustained sitting in October.
Clearly I’m in no state to write coherently today, but perhaps we can start with a few postcards from the last month…
Greetings from the northwesterly most point of the lower 48! For our anniversary, we spent a day exploring the Makah Reservation, which has a fabulous museum and this gem of a little hike.
The University of Washington, with the quad as quiet as an actual postcard. I attended a conference that happened to take place at the UW in Seattle. Due to the quirks of ferry schedules, I had some time to kill and I discovered that a Saturday morning between terms may be the quietest time on campus. I hardly saw another soul while I wandered around, and it was seriously good soul medicine to just take in the quad, the big old trees, the beautiful buildings, the library filled with stained glass, the gardens, the whole pedestrian scale of the place. Just to remember that such places exist and they have existed for a very long time.
Everyone loves pigs! At least everyone in our neighborhood, which is a relief. Our go-to pig-sitter moved away last month, so we had to figure out new arrangements in advance of a ten-day trip to the east coast. In the end, three separate neighbors pitched in to share the load, we have a stronger web of connections, and the pigs are still happy and growing.
And… it turns out I took surprisingly few photos this months, so that’s all I have for postcards. More words soon.
As I sit down to type, I see my purple-stained fingers and imagine that there’s some evidence of berries on my face as well. It’s sort of a constant right now, when the blackberries are ripe.
The Himalayan blackberries, to be more specific. The ones that crop up in the untended verges, all the compacted, abused, spent… humanly impacted places. And not just grow, their thick vines grow impossibly long, arching up and out and forming a tangled mass that quickly overwhelms fences and given the chance, swallows small buildings.
Which is precisely why, for 50 weeks out of the year, I curse the blackberries and cringe at their sight. But then there is that window in late summer when the berries are ripe, and our relationship becomes so much more complicated.
For those few weeks, the overgrown corners and unkept edges hold the abundant, sweet taste of late summer. We have plenty around the homestead but I always smile to see people picking along roads and around town, braving a tangle with the vines to fill a bucket or a bag. The berries are free, but not without cost. Payment will come by way of shredded shirtsleeves, time with tweezers spent extracting festering thorns from tender fingers, and the tell-tale marks of forearms criss-crossed with bramble scratches.
I love wild berries for the ways they taste wild – their tang, tartness, complexity mixed with the sweet. But there is none of that in these blackberries, they are just big and sweet and juicy. The sort that will drip down your chin if you’re not careful.
I baked a peach-blackberry crisp last week. When we finished it off on day three, I washed the pan and made another without bothering to put it away empty. As we were finishing off the second one, Dean subtly mentioned that there were just enough peaches left for a third. If you find yourself in possession of peaches and blackberries, I highly recommend you make one for yourself. (My only modifications were to cut the brown sugar to 1/3 cup and use AP wheat flour.)
In summation: Himalayan blackberries, love and hate. Which seems alright, I should undoubtably spend more time considering how nothing is as simple as my judgments of it.
There is probably no more thoroughly documented rug out there, but here for it’s final celebratory appearance, is the braided wool rug project.
I love everything about the completed rug. I love how it’s thick and squishy underfoot, how it entices me down to sit on the floor, something I didn’t realize I didn’t do in our house until I suddenly started. I love that it’s sort of wonky but perfectly functional. I love the balance of tones and patterns. Most of all, I love the story of this rug.
I fell in love with the idea of making braided rugs years ago… probably 2009. Sometime after that, I started working on the shirt cotton rug, as a “practice” for the wool one I really wanted to make. And then my sister came across one of the all-time best thrift store finds, a giant appliance box full of wool, most of it cut into strips and sewn together and wound into wheels, all ready to be braided into rugs. So many hours invested in rugs that someone never got to make. She paid $5 for the whole box. We were still in the cabin, and storage space was in very short supply. So I jammed as much as I could into one Rubbermaid bin (a fraction of the box) and tucked it away in a back corner of our shed. After I finally finished the cotton rug, that bin found it’s way to the house just over three years ago. I braided the first few feet of it on the living room floor before we had any furniture in that room. I quickly realized wool was a different animal than cotton, and the glory of the internet introduced me to Braid-Aid folders and the braider’s table clamp. I made slow progress that first winter, but then it fell into hibernation. Last fall, I convinced Dean to make it a joint project. We rarely worked on it for more than an hour at a time, or more than a couple hours a week. But all winter and through the spring, one of us would ask “are you up for sewing this evening?” and we’d make a little more progress. Dean started out sewing strips into workable lengths from a few wheels that had no seams, then switched to lacing. I braided and braided and braided. And together, we made a rug.
It’s just a rug, but it’s a rug that is a story, and I am most at home when I’m surrounded by stories.
Another backpacking trip in the books. It feels too ordinary to write about – a few days of cruising on fine trail into the high Olympics, a day spent doing nothing more than watching marmots and clouds and exploring a creek, and then back out. Sunny summer days, shady old forest, huckleberries that Dean declared the best he had ever tasted, and the simple joys of having an alpine meadow all to yourself for a day. Well, except for the marmots.
There’s nothing ordinary about it at all, I suppose, but it speaks to the richness of this life that I can find it so. It’s a mark of a good trip when we spend the drive home daydreaming all the possible itineraries for our return. It was a short hour-long drive, but long enough to know that we found another backyard gem.
August arrived with a heat wave and skies filled with smoke from distant wildfires. It felt like I would be admiring the flowering herbs and watering the garden every other day forever. Because August is time, suspended.
Until it’s not. I can’t help but notice that after these several long months of waking up and falling asleep in the light, or at least semi-light, darkness is once again encroaching on both ends of my days. After finally stripping down the bedding to it’s lightest summer configuration, the cooler nights this week required I add a layer back. We got rain overnight Saturday after almost 60 days of none. And today, as I was casually walking the perimeter of the pig enclosure, I noticed this:
Looks at all those leaves. The ground nearly carpeted with them, and more fluttering down in the sunshine while I stood there dumbfounded. That is not a scene out of high summer.
I know that it’s the drought. But I also get the distinct sense that this summer may end as abruptly as it began, that it may be time to brace for impact. Bam, autumn. Just like that.
I’m not ready. But tomorrow, we’ll hike into the mountains for one more stretch of days sleeping on the ground in the high country, the closest thing I know to slowing time.
I finished a sweater! It’s a pretty fabulous shade of green!
This sweater had a completed body with one and a quarter sleeves when I set it aside during the Olympics (yes, the summer 2016 games). I let it sit for months, before I was finally prepared to face it again. And after a nice smooth start, it fought me every step of the way from that point. I ripped out both sleeves and started over on those. The button bands and collar required similar trial and error. It felt like a lot of one-step-forward-two-steps-back. It ended with a cliffhanger where I wondered if I was going to run out of yarn.
Through most of that, I was still pretty excited about the kelly green sweater I would have in the end. But in the middle of summer, even that wasn’t motivation enough to weave in ends and sew on buttons for the last month. I’m relieved to finally call it done.
The fit isn’t what I was aiming for, somehow my gauge swatch was pretty impressively off so it is a size or two wider than I planned. I think it’s still totally wearable, especially on the homemade sweater scale, but short of the ideal I imagined when I set out. But I’ll take done over perfect.
Dean and I backpacked around Mount Hood last weekend. We planned the trip as another in the series of the “loop trails around a Cascade volcano” we seem drawn to, but it ended up being a surprisingly nostalgic trip for me. Which really shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was.
Mount Hood is Portland’s backyard mountain, and Portland was the first place I lived out west. Mount Hood is where I learned to ski and snowshoe. It’s where I took my first real backpacking overnight. I volunteered for the Forest Service there, and came to appreciate what capital-W Wilderness means in modern public land management. We also walked about 15 miles of PCT tread, which is pretty much memory lane.
In the end, it wasn’t our favorite trail. It was dusty and busy. But we saw all the faces of Wy’East (the traditional name for the mountain), under cloudless blue skies, and he was looking good in his summer finery.
The bench that I built last summer, only to finish it just when summer ended, finally found a home. It is tucked up above the orchard under a big leaf maple. A spot to watch the sun rise over the far-off mountains or to enjoy the cool shade on a sunny afternoon. I finally moved it up there a couple weeks ago, and then properly leveled it a week later.
It’s a simple thing and it is giving me so much joy. Another perspective on this homestead, another excuse to just be outside, another reminder of how powerfully our environment influences our days.
I used to think that I excelled at efficiency, that I got things done. But I think I mistook what I thought I should be for what I was. I meander, I get distracted, I come back. Usually. It’s only about a year after I thought I would have that bench, but there it is, giving me joy. I’ll take it.
Permission to wander.
Permission to go outside.
Permission to be gentle.
Permission to rest.
Permission to feel.
Permission to feel sad when you “should” be happy.
Permission to feel joy, even when you are sad.
Permission to be confused or scared or both.
Permission to ask for help.
Permission to tell the stories.
Permission to be quiet.
Permission to evolve.
Permission to not know the answer, and to live in the not-knowing space.
Permission to be messy, inside and out.
Permission to be.