Transformations

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As usual, summer whirled by.  We took on too much, but are feeling the sweet satisfaction of transforming our slice of hillside into our long-dreamed-of ultimate home.  It feels good.

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George capped off a summer of building projects by finishing the sauna.  He put an amazing amount of time, thought, and work into it.  And it’s a beautiful creation, with gorgeous wood inside and out, nestled in the trees, promising hours of bliss—soaking in heat, hot cedar fragrance, and the flickering light of the woodfire.

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To accompany the sauna, George also built a deluxe outdoor shower.

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Beginnings of the shower (with the dye garden and fleece washing station behind)

There’s nothing like watching eagles soaring overhead while showering.  Getting clean has never been so sweet.

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While George was busy building, the butterflies moved in.

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The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails appeared first

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar–the only time I’ve seen one–the “eyes” and swaying head were a bit creepy

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Black Swallowtail caterpillar

We were besieged by monarchs.  In their caterpillar incarnation they ate our milkweed to desolate skeletons, every tender bit devoured.

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We were fortunate to catch the moment of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis while the grandchildren were here.

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Attaching to form a chrysalis

I hope it didn’t give them nightmares of alien transformations.

IMG_3205Lots of writhing and pulsing, as a massive chrysalis (where did that incredible hulk come from?) shed the vivid caterpillar skin, leaving a shriveled bit of tissue-paper debris in a matter of minutes.

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Ouch.

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By August, Monarch chrysalises were hanging everywhere—from perennial stalks, siding, windowsills, and even a wheelbarrow.

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As good hosts, we left them alone—no cutting back of perennials or bumpy wheelbarrow rides during chrysalis-hood.  On the final day before butterfly emergence, the chrysalis becomes a deep blue, with wings and colors visible.

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But the actual emergence is very fast—it’s over in minutes.  Although I kept on eye on ripe ones, I kept missing the magic moment.  I finally camped out on our deck steps shelling tiger beans, next to a chrysalis looking about to burst, determined to wait until the moment of emergence.

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After about an hour, there was a sudden twitch and the chrysalis listed to one side.

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Then, in an eerie similarity to the caterpillar-chrysalis transformation, in minutes the butterfly shed the chrysalis and burst out—BOOM—into a crumbled color of wings with an outsized body.

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After a few hours drying, it was off, feasting on nectar for the migration south.

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Some evenings more than a dozen would be dancing over our Joe Pye Weed.

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They stayed well into October.  I hope they made it to Mexico.

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It was a good summer for growing—monarchs, flowers, and vegetables.

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The gardens produced wonderfully and I swear the vegetables get tastier every year.

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Flax

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In the summer, we filled the greenhouse with tomatoes, cotton, a fig tree, passion fruit vines, bay laurel, herbs, turmeric and ginger.

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Passionfruit flower

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Curing sweet potatoes in greenhouse

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Hoping for tomatoes into November

Now it’s also planted with greens for fall, winter, and spring.  I’m looking forward to seeing how much it extends the season for us.

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Sweet Alice

The dogs and bees are thriving, too.  Capp appears to have recovered completely from his mystery illness last year, which is such a relief.

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Capp sunbathing

He and Alice are our best buddies, making us rich in love and dog hair.

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My adopted bees settled in beautifully and are going into fall as the strongest hive I’ve ever had.  I’ll wrap the hive next month and hope they make it through the winter.

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Samuel Morison great wheel

Much of my summer was textile-related—most of it outdoors.

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Gotland fleece ready to wash

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Dew retting flax

I went to two natural dyeing workshops, washed fleeces, spun a lot of wool for dyeing, worked on wheels, grew and retted flax, and taught a class on antique wheels.  In late summer, I set up my outdoor dye kitchen for two dyeing sessions, using plants from my dye garden and our land.

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Simmering goldenrod

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Japanese Indigo–notice the blue tinge to the water

What a range of colors emerged: blues from Japanese Indigo and Woad; yellows from Weld, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace; gold and orange from Dyer’s Coreopsis; and green from overdyeing the yellows with the blues.

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Dye day one, Woad, Japanese Indigo, Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace and overdyeing for greens

There’s a wonderful sense of witchy-ness in hovering over a brew of plants transforming them to potions of color.

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Dyer’s Coreopsis

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Dye day two–Japanese Indigo, Dyer’s Coreopsis, with overdyeing and afterbaths of washing soda and iron

I was so busy with outside activities that I had little time for weaving.  In September, however, an antique wheel friend offered to sell me her Leksand loom, a beautiful 19th century Swedish loom for weaving bands.  I was thrilled.

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Beautiful old Leksand–I’m very fortunate to have this loom

They are very hard to find and really fun to use.  It took some time to figure out how to set it up and weave on it–all the helpful books were in Swedish.  I also rescued an old Maine tape loom that had been covered with 70s-era painted flowers and have a line-up of spinning wheels waiting for my repairs.

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Cape Breton wheel needing work

Last week I finally warped up my big loom.

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It’s still too beautiful, though, to spend much time inside.  The leaf colors are spectacular this fall.

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But, winter is coming.

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And I plan to be a recluse—home with George, dogs, snow, wheels, spinning, sewing, and weaving.  And the sauna, of course.

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34 thoughts on “Transformations

  1. So nice to see your post, Brenda. What busy bees you two have been! George is a master builder, that sauna and shower are beautifully made. And look at all those fibers, naturally dyed in beautiful, rich colors–wow! Once the snow flies, you’ll be snug in your weaving room, contentedly working, living the good life. 🙂 Best to you all.

    • Thanks Eliza. I’m savoring our slow, colorful fall, but am really looking forward to this winter. I took on too many obligations this year and now am craving uninterrupted hours of weaving, watching the snow falling outside, with one of the dogs snoring nearby on the floor. My idea of a good time.

      Enjoy this lovely fall weather.

  2. I am majorly impressed with your sauna building. A sauna is not my thing, BUT it sure would make a great potting shed. 🙂 I hope we’ll hear more about your greenhouse because that would be my dream project. Your Monarch experience is truly amazing. Love the photos. I’ve never tried dying anything except a t-shirt years ago, but your experience looks first class. I went to a quilt show this morning, and one of the blue ribbons went to a gentleman who had dyed the fabric using dyes and ice. I wish I could attach a photo because you would love it.

    • During a sauna, I was having visions of future owners of our property wondering why someone would build such an odd little outbuilding in the woods and filling it with their unwanted junk–little knowing how much pleasure it gave to us. I would feel much better if they used it as a potting shed!
      I will have more on the greenhouse in the next post. I’m holding off as long as possible on digging up the turmeric and ginger. The greenhouse is unheated, so I don’t have a good sense yet as to how the greens will fare this winter. I’m going to cover them with agribon, hoping that will protect them through the coldest weather. We’ll see. I sure had fun with it this summer.
      When do you head south again?

  3. Wow, what an amazing and full summer you’ve had. Loved seeing the monarch appear and the dyeing process. I used to be super allergic to goldenrod, but maybe I’ve outgrown that. It gives a good colour. The bees are booming. Yay!

    • A little too full. I was always just a week or so behind in the garden. Next year I’ll have everything under control. Ha.
      We have a ton of goldenrod growing wild here, so it’s very convenient for my dyeing. It gives a good colorfast yellow. I remember lots of people being allergic to goldenrod when I was young, only to find out later that goldenrod wasn’t the culprit, but ragweed.

  4. You have created a beautiful paradise there. The sauna is gorgeous. I am so impressed with what how beautiful your fabrics are. You hit the jackpot with the butterflies this year! Glad to see Capp and Alice!

    • Thank you Beth. I will always think of this as the butterfly summer. I always knew about their life cycles, but have never been able to witness it–up close and personal. It was quite an experience.
      Capp and Alice are their lovable selves and enjoying the cooler weather. We were going to come down to St. Simons in November, but postponed it. Crazy seeing that cargo ship grounded offshore, isn’t it?

    • At times we felt as if we were raising butterflies. It was fascinating to get to know their habits and life cycle better.
      I was delighted with the colors that I got from our own plants. You never know exactly how they will come out. I will be weaving with the dyed wool this winter, and will post an update.

  5. Wow! You have been busy! And productive, which is entirely different. Love the beautiful colors, and I am so jealous of the outdoor shower. I had one at my old house and I miss it.

    • It is nice to have something tangible come out of a busy summer, isn’t it? We are about to shut the outdoor shower down for the winter and I’m going to miss it. Since it was finished, I think I’ve only taken one shower indoors! Saunas are best in the winter, though, so I have that to look forward to.

      • You definitely have something to show for it! And good planning to have a sauna and a shower, something for each season.

        I wish I could describe to you the look on the contractors faces when I asked for a shower outside. I was having a ton of work done in the kitchen, and it included plumbing, so it seemed an opportune time to have the shower done. “You want hot water? Outside?” Well duh! I had a hose, didn’t need their help with a cold shower! I explained that yes, hot water, and not only that but easily accessible shut offs for the winter. They did it but I am sure I became a crazy woman in their eyes.

      • Ha. Our plumber took the outdoor shower explanation in stride but I may have become the crazy woman when I said I’d also be using the outside hot water spigot for washing fleeces.

  6. Thank you for finding the time to update us on your extremely busy and productive summer. Those monarch butterfly photos are amazing. I remember Wwoofing on a banana farm back in our travel days with Matilda and they had a sauna in the back yard. Much appreciated after a busy day picking and packing bananas. It was rather rustic no were near as beautiful as the one George built. Pleased to hear that the lovely Capp is fully recovered.

    • I had to wait for a rainy day to do the blog post! I’m curious to see if we have so many monarchs next year. A farm the next town over had thousands this year and were featured in news article. It was a little crazy.
      I’m a huge sauna lover since my early days in Alaska, when we all lived in cabins without running water. This is the first time I’ve had one of my own, though.
      Capp is thriving and such a happy-go-lucky dog. It’s hard to believe we almost lost him, he’s such a presence in our lives.

      • No monarchs here but when we lived in NZ almost every child had a swan plant covered in the monarch caterpillar, they were everywhere. I wonder if they are still so prolific over there

  7. Wowsah, you have been busy! Lovely, lovely sauna, and how nice to see those two dog buddies. But most impressive to me were the monarchs and that fabulous sequence of the emerging butterfly. Gives me hope that they are indeed making a comeback.

    • Everyone around here seemed to have a huge upsurge in monarchs this year. Did you notice an increase in your area? We had more swallowtails, too, but nothing like the deluge of monarchs. They were everywhere (including on the roads around here–I hit a few with the car, unfortunately).

  8. Every time I read a post from you, I get a little light-headed! You’ve made such a beautiful place for yourselves! George is a wonder at building fantastic things and your textile adventures always impress me. Those colors from your dyeing!! And of course, I am envious as can be about the Leksand loom–it got itself into the best possible hands. I’m looking forward to winter, too, for many of the same reasons–just a good excuse to hunker down and enjoy the good things we have.

    • I knew you’d appreciate the Leksand. I feel honored to have it–as if it’s a treasure that’s been entrusted to me. Oddly enough, an antique Swedish band knife came up for sale on eBay about two weeks after I got the Leksand, so I was lucky enough to get that, too. Both have seen A LOT of use and I love to imagine where they’ve been and who used them.
      The loom is somewhat like the Glimakra band loom, except that it has the rigid heddle with a treadle for pick-up weaving. I see that Becky’s newly designed bandloom at Vavstuga is offering a Leksand heddle/treadle add-on. It’s a great way to weave bands. Are you taking any Vavstuga classes next year?

  9. What a wonderful productive summer. The joys of owning a garden all of one’s own, to experiment and enjoy…that is how we feel anyway. I loved all the photos of the emerging butterfly…..I wished I was still teaching, I could have shown that miraculous progression to my students…and to think the butterflies fly to Mexico! Also lovely to see Caps and Alice are hale and hearty and are good friends. Congratulations to George for building that sauna, it is state of the arts…I don’t think it will ever be a potting shed!

    • It’s a first for me to have all the garden space I need. As you said, it’s such a pleasure to be able to experiment with growing unusual things and to grow enough to eat through the winter. I always feel rich this time of year because of all the goodies stored up from the garden. And, I’m already planning next year.
      I will send George your congratulations. He’s building a state of the art woodbox now for the sauna.
      Have a good summer down there!

  10. An amazing post! Love the Monarch pictures. Incredible captures of the chrysalis forming. I have never seen an eastern tiger swallowtail cat, but it was a good year for butterflies around here as well. Your field of flax is really stunning. And George does beautiful work – I’m jealous!

    • Thanks! I had never seen an eastern tiger swallowtail cat before either–I had to look it up to see what it was. We were really lucky to catch the chrysalis forming–my son-in-law was checking on it periodically and caught it at just the right time. A pretty spectacular process to witness.

  11. What a pleasure it always is catching up with you. You have certainly been busy!!! Just lovely hearing about all the progress and successful projects! I was stunned seeing all the chrysalis and butterflies, your garden is working a kind of magic! Good to know all are thriving in your corner of the world!xxx

    • We felt as if we were raising caterpillars and birds this year. Lots of areas were off-limits to protect nests and chrysalises. We had a pair of mourning doves that nested several times in a birch right in front of the house. Their nests are very flimsy and when the nestlings get big, the parents shove them out. Twice we came upon the nestlings on the ground trying to figure out what to do, with the parents standing guard. Eventually, they successfully flew away, but we had to make sure that we kept the dogs away from them. We have planted lots of butterfly and bird attracting plants and they seem to be working–we have our own little nature sanctuary.

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