Wallowing in Creativity

The Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat was held over the President’s Day weekend in Tacoma, and I attended for the second year in a row.  It’s a smaller conference with classes and a yarn and fiber market for knitters and spinners.  More importantly, Madrona is a chance to spend a few days with creative people, learn new techniques, and get inspired by what other people are doing with fiber.This busy mother of two young children is making an afghan with complex 3-D trees and cables – wow!  I feel like a wimp.

I caught a few photos in the yarn market before it got too crowded, with lots of hand-dyed higher-end yarns, spinning wheels, and specialty notions.All the different colors and yarns and samples were mind boggling, and it’s such a treat to be able to touch the yarns and see the colors in real life.  We don’t have a yarn shop on the island so I have to mail order yarn for projects, and hope the color on my computer screen is remotely similar to the real color (it usually isn’t – don’t ask me how I know that).

The classes were excellent – from the shorter technique workshops to the more in-depth sessions.  I learned how to deconstruct a knitted garment to make pretty significant changes to it (ninja-knitting!), and how to use embroidery to embellish knitting (level 2).This hat is an example by our teacher… my embroidery skills need a lot more practice before I could execute something as nice as this! 

The teachers were superb – encouraging, enlightening, energetic.  Franklin Habit – one of my very favorites – a teacher, writer, artist, and all-around interesting guy – was thrilled with our embroidery attempts so he sat on the floor to photograph our practice pieces.  I won’t tell you which one is mine – but we all have to start somewhere.Many of the teachers are colorful characters, fun and funny as well as talented.  I adore the Yarn Harlot from her hysterical blog, so my friend Katey and I had to pose for a photo with her while we wore our newly knitted sweaters…

…and I was happy to get into a class taught by Lucy Neatby, another great teacher who happens to look like a unicorn vomited all over her.The photo doesn’t show her mis-matched Doc Martens in equally vivid colors, but after listening to her for just a few moments it’s easy to forget that she’s a walking riot of neon color.  I love to be around people who are comfortable in their own skin, and I love that the knitters and spinners just go with the flow and accept everyone on their own terms.  I think the world could learn a lot from the knitters.

I’m pulled in a million different directions with knitting – so many techniques and challenges I want to explore or dive deeper into, but my favorite class was the Fair Isle Color class with Janine Bajus.  It was 6 hours of hands-on work beginning to learn how to choose the gradient colors and combinations unique to Fair Isle knitting, such as these examples from our teacher:The yarn we were using comes in 212 different colors – enough to achieve the subtle variations, though all those choices makes it harder to choose well.I think it’s important to challenge oneself, no matter what the context is.  It’s so neat to see all the different ways that people create things – texture, color, design.  We might not like the colors or styles that someone else chooses, but we can appreciate that they are expressing themselves and we appreciate the effort they put into their creations.  There’s joy in sharing, helping one another, and in the discomfort of learning something new.

It doesn’t hurt that the conference is held in the Hotel Murano, loaded with art glass of every style and technique imaginable.  Inspiration is everywhere – exciting and energizing, and I’m so grateful that I could attend.

One more thing that makes Madrona special is that it puts an emphasis on supporting charities.  Knitters bring caps, scarves, and baby sweaters to donate to local charities, and the Thursday evening program is a Teachers Talent Show with an amazing array of “talents” (we are sworn to secrecy – if you want to know what happens there, you have to come to Madrona), all in support of three major charities:  Doctors without Borders, Heifer International, and The Global Fund for Women.  I can tell you that amazingly trivial and silly things are auctioned off for these charities, and the generosity of the knitters and spinners would shock you and bring tears to your eyes.  The teachers willingly embarrass themselves (and worse) to raise money for these charities, and the enthusiastic support of everyone involved is a great reminder of all the goodness in our world.

Winter Beauty

Daylight is increasing by five minutes per day now… it really makes a difference!  As much as we all look forward to spring, people around here actually like the winter – hoping for snow for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and taking snow machines up on the logging roads.  We have different birds in winter than in summer, including some trumpeter swans that are frustrating to photograph.  They eat weeds and things on the bottom of the creek and they can hold their breath for a long time, which is a good thing if you’re a hungry swan but a bad thing if you’re a photographer holding a heavy lens.  I was lucky to get one marginal shot of an adult swan with two cygnets (young swans, still in their light gray feathers), but most of the time they just looked like headless lumps in the water.While I watched the swans a little squirrel chittered loudly at me, as though I was invading his personal space!  I was enjoying the first sunny day in a long while, amazed at how vivid the world looked after two weeks of very gloomy, rainy weather.  The arrival of sun also meant that the temperature dropped, but the crisp clear air made everything sparkly with frost and ice.  I went crazy looking at all the patterns at the edges of frozen water.Of course the funny part of admiring the ice is that it looks black and white, even though the photos were shot in color.Frost touched everything that the sun couldn’t reach, making everything in the landscape sparkle.I had a marvelous day out the road, visiting with the swans, squirrels, ducks, mergansers, grebes, goldeneyes, buffleheads, and kingfishers.  Winter hiking is peaceful, and it’s a treat to be able to savor the quiet and the beauty.

On the way back to town I had to stop and admire the view from South Harbor.  With so many overcast days we don’t get to see the Devil’s Thumb peak as often as we would like.Cold clear days also mean cold clear nights, and a chance to see the aurora.  The forecast for activity was higher than usual last week, so I ventured out after midnight.  We’re lucky that we live at a latitude where we can see the aurora, but it means bundling up in warm clothing, scraping the frost off the car windows, and hoping that I remembered to set the camera up correctly.  It’s no fun troubleshooting a camera in the cold and dark – don’t ask me how I know that.  I watched and waited (and shivered) until 0130 and the lights never lived up to the forecast… but still, it’s a beautiful sight.A few days ago we had some wicked NE winds, but Tammy and I were determined to go for a long walk to enjoy the sunshine.  We got out to the point and found some nice sized bergy bits grounded on the beach at low tide. You can see Tammy standing to the left of the long bergy bit, just to give some perspective of the size of these things.  You just never know what you’re going to see around town.

Four Minutes

We live in a place with a lot of extremes.  The tide ebbs and floods twice a day, but here it changes by about 20′ each time.  The sun rises and sets, but it doesn’t stay around too long in the winter, and it almost never goes away in the summer.  Right now our daylight is increasing by four minutes every single day.  (It’s even more than that in higher latitudes.)  These things are just some of the ways that makes Petersburg a pretty interesting place to live. 

I apologize for being absent on the blog for so long.  We’ve had some sad and difficult things happen – losing a dear friend to a rare disease (CJD), and a very bad diagnosis to someone else close to us.  It has been a tough time and it’s not over, but we’re trying to be a little normal while we deal with things.  We say a lot of prayers, and stand by to fly to those we love when we’re needed again.  My friend Richard Thieme has a quote that I particularly like: “We are all embracing reality as best we can but sometimes reality hugs us back with a surprisingly strong bear hug…. OK, we say, that’s nice, I love you too, reality … OK, you can let go now … but reality, bless its heart, hangs on … (what is reality, you ask? Philip K. Dick said reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away …)”

The beauty of a winter day here is also reality, and looking out across South Harbor to see the Coastal Mountains and the Devil’s Thumb peak is good for the soul.  We’re so lucky to live in a place like this.  But its beauty is not just skin deep.  It seems like we have so many talented people on the island – more per capita than anywhere else I’ve lived.  Just for an example, we have a metal guy who’s also a musician and artist, and this is the “sign” he made to advertise his boat repair business.This sign is mounted on the ramp down to the North Harbor dock, and there’s another one like it in South Harbor.  It’s shaped and cut to fit perfectly around the ramp stanchion.If this is the skill and care he puts into an advertising sign, imagine what he can do for your boat!  Of course, no detail is omitted.  There are little figures in the pilothouse, but there’s too much glare on the windshield to see them in this photo.My favorite talented person in town is Miss M, a seventh-grader, National Junior Honor Society member, knitter, crafter, fisherwoman, musician, and taxidermist.  She’s amazing!  I love to see what she’s up to – it’s always something pretty cool… like playing the violin, flute, and teaching herself to play the erhu (a type of Chinese violin with 2 strings).  She also taught herself German and last year it was Russian – just because.  The other day, Miss M showed me a birthday card she made for her friend… who also learned Russian just because.It’s just another day among the wonderful people here.  We had the annual Meatball-palooza at the Sons of Norway this past weekend, and now everyone is looking forward to the annual Lutefisk (and ham) dinner in two weeks.  It’s a very Norwegian thing, and the best part is going early to help roll lefse – a Norwegian crepe.  (We have the easy part – our harbormaster Glo first takes 50 pounds of potatoes and transforms them into perfect balls of silky dough for us to roll.)  We’ll set up long tables and the experienced hands will help the new ones learn to roll the dough very thin with just the right amount of flour, and cook them on special round griddles, flipping them with thin wooden turners decorated with rosemaling on the handles.  It’s a community event, hands and hearts.  We help one another, and then break bread together.

Although many of the town’s events are traditional, we still keep up with current events.  Both the bear statue and the fishing boy statue were sporting pink pussy hats this week, showing their support for equality, and opposition to racism, hatred and harassment.

Winter Sparkles

Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year.  The sun will rise around 8:30 in the morning and it will set around 3:13 this afternoon, though it actually starts getting dusky earlier than that since the sun drops behind the tall mountains that surround us.  At the Summer Solstice we have over 18 hours of daylight, and today it will be less than 7 hours.  We celebrate the Winter Solstice in these high latitudes since it means that from now until the summer, every day will get longer.

The holiday season is in full swing here in Petersburg, with band concerts and the biennial performance of the Nutcracker by 150 young dancers from town.The dancing and costumes and organization of so many children, ranging in age from 3 to 18 is just amazing, and so many of these dedicated dancers are also top students and athletes in school.  I particularly love the inclusion of so many little ones… While our hearts have been warmed by these lovely performances, our toes have been chilled by a long stretch of unusually cold clear weather.  Over two weeks the frost has built up daily, creating the most amazing crystal formations.This may look like snow, but it’s only frost that has coated everything in a thick layer.The delicate crystal structures are infinitely varied and beautiful… everywhere you look.  Even the Christmas lights on our boat grew long formations.Day and night the harbor was steamy because of the difference in temperature – the sea water never got below 42 while the air temperature dropped to single digits overnight.  It made for a magical scene when the sun kissed the mountaintops in the morning.We don’t get long stretches with temperatures that stay well below freezing very often, but when we do the hockey club fixes up a skating rink by the ball fields so people can ice skate.  The slough also froze solid and made for excellent skating.Because we don’t get these skating conditions very often, many children experienced ice skating for the first time.  Winter in this part of Alaska isn’t what most people imagine!  But the beauty of winter here… takes my breath away.

Zooming Across the Country

We’re calling this “From Sea to Shining Sea Tour”, since we departed with the camper from the shores of Chesapeake Bay, bound for the shores of Puget Sound in Washington.

Our only break from a brisk pace across the country was the stop in Great Smoky Mountains and Chattanooga, and though we were captivated by all the sandhill cranes we were also reminded of an important historical event – the Indian Removal Act of 1830 where President Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokee and other native tribes to give up their lands east of the Mississippi River.  The Cherokee Nation’s people were marched westward via two different routes to what is now part of Oklahoma in 1838-1839, enduring tremendous hardship as well as thousands of needless deaths, on top of the injustice of being forced from their ancestral lands.  The Trail of Tears is the name given by the Cherokee people to the horror of this forced migration, and it’s one of many important examples of discrimination that should never be forgotten or repeated in any form.  There’s a small memorial and museum dedicated to remembering the Cherokee Removal near Chattanooga, and we made a stop there to learn more and to appreciate the historical significance of the path we would be taking as we headed west.The memorial has the names of the heads of each household and number of family members to be forcibly removed, organized by state.  It was very sobering to see so many families… innocents persecuted for the color of their skin and their beliefs.

As we drove west into Arkansas and Oklahoma we saw many signs highlighting points of significance along the Trail of Tears, and it meant more to us after spending time at the memorial.

We’re used to waiting for weather when traveling by boat, but didn’t think we’d have much trouble taking a southern route with the camper… until a huge weather front bringing snow to the mid-western states also brought high winds to the south-central and southwestern states.  We had to wait an extra day in Oklahoma City since it wouldn’t have been safe to drive with 50 mph winds, and we couldn’t help but notice the tornado storm shelters at the campground.We’ve been through hurricanes, but tornadoes scare us much more so we were glad to keep moving westward… through Texas and into New Mexico where we had our first night below freezing – a not-too-gentle reminder that winter is on the way.  I was amazed at the number of hawks we spotted along the road, though many types are very hard to identify without some time to study details… not easily done zooming at highway speeds.  Windmills to generate electricity were more prevalent as we moved westward, and stereotypical tumbleweeds bounced across the highway in an odd juxtaposition of the modern and something we think of from old cowboy movies.

The colors of the land became more interesting once we got to New Mexico, and it’s easy to forget that the relatively flat sections of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah are really high plateaus several thousand feet up. It reminds me of hiking on the high plateaus of Utah years ago, looking down and finding thousands of small sea shells on the ground – this whole section of the country was once part of a vast inland sea!

We paused at the Navajo Bridge in northern Arizona, crossing the narrow Marble Canyon section of the Colorado River, and savored the beautiful colors and shapes of the rocks.We spent a lot of time on the road driving up and down mountains, some with pretty scary grades!  We don’t often think of the desert as mountainous.  There’s no better way to learn about geography and history than to travel the paths of those who came before us, to see the land up close and imagine what life must have been like in the past.

Sadly our timing didn’t allow for much savoring this trip, but it gave us a taste of places we’d like to return to.  Southern Utah, known as “Color Country” didn’t disappoint, and we just about wept as we zoomed past Zion National Park and a few other favorites from when we lived there in the early 90s.  We paused for Thanksgiving with friends in Walla Walla, WA and for a visit to one of my cousins in Oregon, then completed our “From Sea to Shining Sea Tour” arriving in the Seattle area.  We started this trip on the shores of Chesapeake Bay in Virginia……and ended up on the shores of Puget Sound in Washington.  It was a good road trip, despite the fact that we had no time to stop and smell too many roses.  In all we covered over 5000 miles (not all towing the camper), traveling through 23 states and (counting the trip to see polar bears) 3 Canadian provinces.  It was a long time to be away from home, but we spent some time with people we needed to visit, and we missed a lot of people we wanted to visit.

Sandhill Cranes

We were in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains just a few weeks ago, so it’s shocking to see the devastation from the wildfires in places where we stood so recently.  We had an increasing amount of smoke from the wildfires in the region as we explored the park, and even more so when we headed down to Chattanooga to visit boating friends for the Veteran’s Day weekend.20161113-3385-hiwassee-fall-color-rThe Tennessee River level was down quite a bit due to the long drought, and everywhere we looked was hazy with smoke.  We came to see our friends as well as the mass of sandhill cranes arriving – some resting on their way farther south and some to spend the winter.  So many sandhill cranes come to the Tennessee and Hiwassee River area that the state hosts a huge festival for them in January.  We arrived just in time for the first mass of birds to arrive.20161112-3640-sandhill-cranes-landing-rWe scouted a few places by car, but the best access to the birds was by boat – and our friends were generous enough to take us along for an overnight aboard so Carol and I could hunt for birds with our cameras.20161112-3600-sandhill-cranes-2-rWe anchored the big boat and headed out in the skiff, with Richard and Jim paddling us quietly close to the birds.  Cranes were everywhere!!  Overhead…20161112-3733-sandhill-cranes-in-flight-r20161112-3719-sandhill-crane-flying-mouth-open-r…in the marsh…20161112-3563-sandhill-cranes-opposing-r…pointing to the sky and calling…20161112-3594-sandhill-cranes-skypointing-3-r…putting their “landing gear” down…20161112-3780-sandhill-crane-pair-gear-down-r20161112-3819-pair-of-sandhill-cranes-landing-r

…and best of all – “dancing”!20161112-3927-sandhill-crane-wings-up-dance-2-r20161112-3603-sandhill-cranes-dancing-rWild turkeys appeared on the far shore, and a number of little killdeer were grazing and doing tail displays while the cranes surrounded us.20161112-4027-pair-of-killdeer-2-rCruising farther up the Hiwassee we found flocks of coots and white pelicans, as well as more clusters of cranes.20161113-4195-white-pelicans-2-rAs the sun was setting we spotted a nice hawk or golden eagle flying by, roosting in a nearby tree.20161112-3753-sunset-hawk-silhouette-rThe haze from wildfire smoke made our throats a bit raw, and it made the sunset feel moody.20161113-4207-chattanooga-smokey-sunset-rWe were so happy to see all those cranes – our timing was great since they were just beginning to arrive, and our friends report that there are many more in the area now.  The birds mean a lot to us since we only get to see the sandhill cranes in southeast Alaska for a two-week period in the fall and spring as they migrate.  We have so many tall mountains that the flocks fly very high, though we can hear their odd calls when they fly over.

For the people of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina – we just hope some steady rain will fall to quench the wildfires and help the region recover from the drought.