Wood, Fabric, and Water

Waking up this morning, I felt as if I had been pounded all over by a baseball bat.  I was aware of most every muscle, including those in my fingers and feet. George’s elbows were trashed. The aches and stiffness were brought on by age and our previous day’s activity–splitting our winter wood supply. IMG_1484.jpgAs we hobbled about today, we were mocked by images our younger selves, splitting all of our winter fire wood with an ax (mostly George), with no discernible physical after-effects. Not any more. Yesterday we rented an industrial strength log splitter. IMG_1487.jpgEven with the splitter doing most of the work, after five hours of heaving logs about, it was a good workout.


Four way split for big logs


We are fortunate to have about five acres of woodland, with some aging trees that need to be culled. A wood stove supplies most of our heat and our smoke this winter will be a fragrant combination of cherry, apple, poplar, and oak. The cherry and apple wood was so beautiful when we split it, it seems a shame to burn it.


Wild cherry (pin and black)



We did have boards cut from one cherry tree to use eventually for new kitchen cabinets. The beauty of the wood is a constant.  But you also never know what you will find when you split wood.  Colors, insects, rot, fungus–all exposed.  IMG_1493


The green elfcup fungus produces an intense blue-green color


George had been felling trees and chainsawing them into stove lengths over the previous months and, to give the wood enough time to season before winter, we needed to get it split. IMG_1483.jpgIt was an enjoyable, rewarding job on a gorgeous cool day. There’s a hypnotic rhythm to working the splitter and the smell of the split wood–especially the cherry–was almost intoxicating. It was a good day.IMG_1529.jpg

Earlier this week, I had another good day that also involved harvested tree and plant products, but in a very different way. Last fall, at the Common Ground Fair, I was gobsmacked by a booth selling fabric imprinted with the shapes, shadows, and colors of real plant parts–leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds.  IMG_1601.jpg

I had never seen anything like it. The incredible fabrics were created by a Maine textile artist, Amelia Poole, who graciously explained the process for imbuing the fabric with the patterns of living plant parts and allowed me to paw through her wares. IMG_1599.jpg

I had a hard time choosing, but eventually brought home four fabric pieces, two of which I made into a dress yoke. IMG_1609.jpg06071609490607160949b.jpg
Happily for me, Amelia gave a presentation this week at a local nature center on her eco-textiles. Her process is called eco-printing, or botanical contact printing, and involves first treating unprocessed natural fabrics with alum, ferrous sulfate, and copper sulfate–a process called mordanting. Then fresh botanicals are arranged on the fabric, wrapped up, and steamed to fix the colors and patterns on the fabric. Amelia brought recently steamed fabrics for us to unroll.


Before unrolling


Opening up the fabric

Because the colors, clarity, and design are all affected by the particular qualities of the plants when harvested, the colors and shapes transferred have endless permutations. So there is an anticipatory wonder in what will unfold with each piece. 0607161311a_Burst02.jpgSeeing the imprint of the plants to fabric felt a bit magical. 0607161311.jpgAnd it evoked a sort of timeless, ancient feel, perhaps because the ephemeral plants will be long imprinted in the fabric in a fossil-like way. 0607161311a.jpgAmelia’s website link is at: Ecouture Textile.

As someone long in love with plants and fabric both, I’m hoping to take one of her workshops. I don’t really need more interests, but this is one that I cannot resist. 0607161328_Burst01.jpg

Finally, in all our spring activity, we have had some watery relaxing downtime. IMG_8284We wanted in retirement to spend time on the water messing about in boats. So, for starters, we bought a lightweight kayak this spring. I can easily lift and carry it and it’s short enough to fit on our truck bed with just a strap to hold it.


The seat is a first class upgrade on our previous kayak

We have a lake below our home that is about an eight minute drive to the boat ramp. IMG_8314.jpg


IMG_8331.jpgThat lake is part of the St. George River system, allowing us to paddle upstream to another lake and then slow-moving, meandering river. IMG_1015IMG_1012IMG_0980.jpgEagles, beavers, loons, and lots that escaped my camera.    The current, you know, really.IMG_0988IMG_1005.jpg


A loon …


snorkeling …



for baby eels

I did fry my cell phone after several hours in the greenhouse-like waterproof pouch.IMG_0974.jpg  It died.  Stupid.  But, nevertheless, our new boat has been a sweet diversion, with much more kayaking to come.


Pollen alert


Oriole nest?


Someone else’s woodpile


35 thoughts on “Wood, Fabric, and Water

  1. I had to chuckle, reading this. We can relate, big time. After more than 34 years of heating with wood, and splitting it ourselves, we moved to using a splitter also. Then, next step for us: gas stoves. We have no central heat, so I love these and at 10 years older than you (I think), we were ready for these. Lovely material, btw.

    • I’m still sore. I guess I’ll watch you and Bill as a gauge as to where we’ll be in ten years! I suspect we will have turned the splitting over to someone else by then. Alternatively, we have central heat, so can cut back on the wood if we need to–although there’s nothing quite like the cozy warmth of a wood stove. Despite the creaky muscles, I really enjoyed our day splitting.
      The material is gorgeous isn’t it? I’m looking forward to trying the process out myself.

  2. We’ve always let someone else do the tough part of our stove wood – I’m impressed that you and G. did all that!
    LOVE that hand-pressed fabric and the dress you made – I think the bee material is great.
    How wonderful you get to see and hear loons. I bet you’ll really enjoy your kayak this summer – the water looks so enticing. 🙂

    • George worked for years at a sawmill (in his younger days) and we both love handling the wood. If we hadn’t rented the splitter, we could have done the work more gradually but, as it was, we had to tackle it all at once. At least we didn’t get injured!
      Amelia’s fabric is quite extraordinary and I’m looking forward to wearing the dress. I still have to finish sewing the lining and hem. And the bee material–I was a goner the minute I saw it!
      Loons are at the top of my favorite bird list. There’s nothing quite like their call. Put me in a boat and I’m happy. The kayak will get a lot of use!

  3. Pains aside, your physical efforts are impressive. Two years ago I could work all day in the garden without noticing it. No longer, I fear. Your dressmaking skills are equally commendable, as is your photography. Some excellent wildlife shots.

    • Thank you Derrick. One of the reasons we are doing so much physical work this year is that we know it will only get more difficult in the future. At least in retirement we can spread the physical work into manageable chunks and don’t have to do it all on weekends.

  4. Hi Brenda, wow you’ve been busy. That’s a LOT of logs to shift, split and stack. No wonder you’re a bit done-in. The foliage-dyed fabric is beautiful and your dress so pretty – how clever you are. I love the choice of other fabrics (the bees and whales). I’m sure it looks fabulous on. Now, you have me slightly green with envy over your kayaking trip – bald eagles, beavers and a great northern diver (which is what loons are called here) – how absolutely brilliant. I’m wondering whether we can arrange to have a similar lifestyle to yours… 🙂 Have a lovely weekend and I hope you’re both soon ache-free! Sam x

    • Splitting the winter wood was our last real time-sensitive job for the summer. Everything is planted, the wood is seasoning, and now we can move into a lower gear.
      We have some wonderful fabric stores here (lots of quilters around) and I had a hard time limiting my choices. Except for the bees, which were a must.
      I was thrilled to see so much wildlife from the kayak. I also saw two beautiful Great Blue Herons, an Osprey, and a Red -Tailed Hawk on my trip up the river but couldn’t get decent photos.
      Happy weekend to you Sam!

    • We are fortunate to be surrounded by water here–lakes, a river, and the ocean. It’s a kayaking paradise. There are quite a few eagles around–we even see them soaring on the updrafts from our house. But I managed to get up close with the kayak. I’m not sure how hardy we are. I’m still hobbling around.

  5. I am always amazed when I work outside for four or five hours and have to hit the ice packs or heating pad instead of just bouncing right back as in my younger days. We still get the job done, it just takes longer and takes a toll. 🙂 The fabric is amazing, and I’m off to check out the website. Love the water photos but sorry about the cell phone. Have a great weekend but add a little down time so you can go back at it next week. 🙂 I don’t know if you got that wicked wind yesterday but oh my gosh what a day. I had to take my plastic hoop down before it came down and now it will have to be put back up. A gardener’s work is never done. 🙂

    • I know, the bounce-back is gone! I’m taking a day off today. Nothing more strenuous than visiting the farmers’ market.
      Isn’t the fabric lovely? It’s perfect for quilting. Amelia’s studio is about an hour and a half from here, so I’m hoping to get into one of her workshops. Are you coming up to Maine this summer? She is conducting a course at the Fiber College in Searsport, too.
      We did get the wicked wind and it blew down a poplar right near where I was working. Blew my agribon cover right off the potatoes, too. My potatoes and tomatoes are thriving, but my eggplant and peppers are not too happy with the crazy weather fluctuations.

  6. Wow. That fabric is beautiful. And I can relate to the soreness you have from splitting all that wood. I just can’t do everything in one day like I used to. I have to break up work into several days now or I won’t be able to move! Love the kayaking photos. Hate to hear about your fried phone.

    • I have been pretty good about spacing out work, but we had the splitter for one day only. Next year, we may spring for a two day rental! I wasn’t very happy about the fried phone. I should have known better. But I bought the cheapest smart phone available for a replacement and am very happy with it. Now that I’m not working and traveling all the time, I really don’t need the phone for much.

  7. Wood, fabric, and water! Such busy and creative lives. The finest kind. I absolutely love the fabric. What a beautiful addition to your dress. Now, get some rest and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

  8. Question(s). Now you’ve got all the wood split how will you store it? In open air like the last pic? Will it dry sufficiently that way? Ours is currently all stacked outside, but we may get more rain than you. We’ve far too much (already) to store under cover.

    • We stack the wood about five feet high on pallets in an area with lots of sun and air circulation. We cover only the very top–not the sides–with a tarp. We have a moisture meter to check the seasoning and use the wood when there is a 20% moisture content, which can take anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the type and size of the wood.

  9. Wow, I did not know you could get something to split for you! That apple wood will smell good, but I always thought it made a poor, cold fire. Mix it with something that burns hotter. Your kayak trip looks heavenly. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a loon. Wow. And that fabric: it’s a photographic printing process! So gorgeous.

    • The splitter was a beast! We’ve never burned much apple, but there seems to be split opinion on it (the pun was NOT intended). Some love it and others, like you, are unenthusiastic. We have plenty of oak left from last year’s wood so can mix the apple with the oak if the apple’s a poor burn. I’ll keep you updated.
      The river kayaking was especially sweet with loopy horseshoe bends, up-close wildlife, and slow drifting on the current.
      The fabric speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I just love it.

  10. Your wood working was most impressive. I discovered the wood moisture meter this year for the first time. They are very handy instruments. I am very envious of your boat and your lake.

    • Not nearly as impressive as your bike rides. George loves the moisture meter–it takes out all the guesswork. One of the reasons we settled here in Maine was the proximity to so much water. We didn’t realize when we bought this house, however, just how close we were to a wonderful lake and river system. There are enough other lakes around to keep us occupied for years. And while you may be envious of our lake, I’m envious of your wide open hills (dales?).

  11. I’m not surprised you are aching after cutting all that wood! The trip on the boat was fantastic the water was so blue and the range of wildlife! Sorry your phone didn’t enjoy your trip! Sarah x

  12. You and George are far more ambitious than I. I’m happy to buy my wood already split and get my workout from stacking it. 🙂
    I can’t believe I missed Amelia’s booth at the Fair. Gorgeous stuff! I’ll definitely look for it this year.

    • All of our fire wood this year is from trees we had to cut down from our land. So, unless we hired someone to come in and split it, the job was ours!
      There was so much amazing stuff at the Fair last year, I’m sure I missed all kinds of things. But now you know to look out for Amelia!

  13. I did enjoy reading this. Working five acres of woodland does sound exhausting but what a fantastic resource you have. We have a (vertical) log splitter here as we rely on wood for heating throughout the winter. Our axe is mainly used for the kindling! It’s very interesting to see the wood you like to burn.
    The fabric is beautiful – exactly the sort of thing I’d be drawn to and fascinating to learn about eco-printing. I really love that dress.
    Your boat trip sounds wonderful (despite the phone) and with such great wildlife on show.

    • Thanks Wendy. Our wood choice this year was based on trees that need to come down–or in the case of the apple, a tree that was blown down. Last year, we bought our firewood and had the usual mix here of oak, maple, ash, beech, and cherry. We have a wide range of types of trees on the property, so our firewood will vary from year to year. I’m curious as to what you burn. I’ve heard of vertical log splitters, but never used one. How much wood do you go through each winter?

  14. This brought back memories Brenda. We house sat for a property that had one of those wood splitters and Jack really enjoyed seeing how the wood just fell apart. That material is magical. I’m always amazed at the imagination and creativity of people who do this sort of work. Finally that kayak down the lake and river looked so relaxing. Life sure is good in your part of the world.

    • The big splitters are tremendously fun to use. The material is magical. I used to love to press flowers and plants when I was a child. This is just an extension, only better, because it’s on fabric. We are doing our best to enjoy this part of the world!

  15. It’s always such a pleasure to visit you and read your interesting posts. Oh….so glad you got the splitter, I’ve never been any good with an axe! I just loved the fabric, how original and pretty.I love your kayak, as you say, you just can’t beat messing about on rivers….you have me missing my narrow boat. I’m SO envious of your eagles, what magnificent birds! I’m glad I don’t have to hand feed their chicks though!xxx

    • Thank you. When we lived in Alaska, there was a local columnist, Elise Patkotak, who wrote about volunteering at the Anchorage Bird Treatment and Learning Center. They often rehabilitate eagles there and I seem to remember her writing about the challenges of feeding the chicks!

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