Emerging From the Covid Cocoon

With a year of plague-induced seclusion under our belts, we are ready to start venturing out.  We are still patiently waiting to be vaccinated, however. Just today, Maine extended vaccination availability to those under 70, so we are hoping to be jabbed before the month is out.  Although we are eager to see our family again and to savor the pleasures of eating inside a restaurant, moseying around stores, and browsing through the library, our year at home has been productive, creative, and satisfying.  And it has changed us. 

I have an even deeper appreciation of the life we have created here, shed layers of stress, embraced my reclusive nature, and have less itch to travel.  I have become far more attuned to the weather and the seasons, to the point of following the sun as it tracks across the room—morning weaving at the big loom in full southern sun,

midday weaving tapes and spinning wool as the sun hits the eastern side of the room,

and afternoons at the flax wheel, which sits in the western dormer.  It will be interesting to see what long-term behavioral changes come out of this upside-down year. 

Our weather these past three months has been as unsettled as the political scene (my fear that our democracy might not survive this year turned out to be well-founded—but we did squeak by).

We have had a few snow dumps—which make the dogs crazy with joy—

followed by melting back to bare ground. 

We had one spectacular ice storm,

some frigid patches,

warm patches,

and lots and lots of high wind. 

A December wind even blew the outdoor shower off its foundation. 

It is well-secured now. 

Christmas was quiet, but lovely. 

With the cold weather, George moved his projects indoors. 

When we had our garage built, the plan was for George to use one bay for a woodworking shop.  He finally had the time to get it fully up and running this winter. 

He made a bookcase for the bedroom,

installed an additional shelf in my loom room,

and has been working on my spinning wheels, including making a curvaceous treadle for the pendulum wheel

and fixing the wooden axle on this more-than-200-year-old bobbin winder.   

For me, winter means spinning and weaving. 

I finished a small coverlet that had been in the works for years.  It started with a lustrous Nash Island fleece that I brought home and washed two summers ago. 

I spun it last winter and spring and dyed the yarn late last summer with madder, woad, and Japanese indigo from my dye garden, and goldenrod, which grows wild here.   

The final step was picking a traditional coverlet design—pine cone blossom, also called pine burr—and the actual weaving.   

Alice approves. 

I have also been weaving more fabric for clothes,

weaving tapes,

and doing lots of spinning—wool and flax. 

I have added a few wheels to my collection, but do not have them yet.  They are being fostered with other wheel collectors until we can really start traveling again.  I am fostering several wheels for others, too, so there is going to be a lot of wheel railroading going on this spring. 

As if my wheel collecting is not enough, I discovered the world of Conder tokens recently.  A weaver posted a photo of one on Instagram and I was instantly intrigued—a graphic piece of history captured in a coin. 

The bobbin winder on this 1790s token looks very much like the one George repaired above

Because of a scarcity of small denomination coins in the late 1700s due to increasing industrialization and population growth in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, business owners, merchants, and local governments started minting their own. 

They are often intricately designed, representing local industries and trades,

anti-slavery pleas, and political satire.  I have collected a few of the textile related designs and one political one, which I will be using as weights on orifice hooks for my spinning wheels.

We are still eating food that we put by from the garden—we have enough winter squash, frozen and dehydrated vegetables and herbs, tomato sauce, carrots, and ginger to last until spring.  

In fact, we had so many pumpkins and winter squash that we donated them to a local farmer friend for her pigs.  Sadly, we had to give up on greenhouse greens this winter, because the mice kept devouring them.  We have not had any signs of mice in the greenhouse for the last six weeks, though, so I planted seeds for spring greens.  We will keep the traps well peanut-buttered, spread the minty mouse deterrent, and keep fingers crossed. 

Pruning and outside spring chores are just around the corner. 

The mourning doves are coo-cooing, foxes are barking and looking for places to den,

and I put wool on my apple branches in hopes of keeping the spring-hungry deer from nibbling the shoots.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the final month or so of hunkering-down, while planning our reemergence into society. 

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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