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. 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”*

A storm walloped us last night.  The house vibrated and shuddered in the strongest sustained winds that we have seen since moving in.  Sometime after midnight, we started hearing thwacking and whumping sounds, as if some large creature wanted its way inside.  George investigated and found flashing had broken apart and was flailing wildly against the roof and gutter. 

Nothing we could fix in the storm, so we sat snug in bed, warm and dry, with the dogs snoring at our feet, wondering how much damage we would see when the sun came up. The noise and worry kept me mostly awake and I could not help but think how the night felt much like the past months—worrying about a whirlwind of damage, while we are tucked up in our little sanctuary.   It has been a terrible year in so many ways, but also, for us, one with rich moments of contentment and joy. 

It is a little disconcerting to feel overwhelmed with worry, disbelief, and disgust on the one hand and feel oddly happy on the other hand.  But this grim year has given us two things that we never had before—luxury of time and stability of place. 

We had endless uninterrupted weeks at home to really dig in and do things the way we had planned and dreamed, but never quite had the time to pull off.  And, after a lifetime of moving around, we now live in a place where we can make long-term plans.  This has been the year in which our plantings and plans are coming to fruition. 

So, covid and crazy politics be damned, we made it a satisfying and fulfilling summer and fall. 

For example, George built a garden shed. 

I have long wanted one, but we never had the time or place to build one before. 

He designed and built the shed of my dreams, small, but with plenty of shelves and hooks for storage and tools and a workbench where I can look out the window while potting, wreath-making, and puttering. 

To top it off, it is adorable, with a red door topped with a rabbit head. 

It has saved me loads of time to have everything in one convenient place.  And, for the first time this year, I feel caught up. 

Everything was harvested on time, my garden paths are properly mulched, my compost is turned, my bulbs are in the ground, my perennials are divided and put to bed, and I’m ready for winter.   

But winter has yet to arrive.  The weather continues its weird ways—an unsettling harbinger, perhaps, of much worse to come.  Our drought continued into the fall—days on days of unvarying sunshine. 

Even the trees were suffering.  Several strong windstorms whipped through.  One uprooted the beautiful old wild russet apple that George had left as a signature tree at the top of our driveway and tore off a side trunk of the giant oak that frames our view. 

George planted a flowering crab where the apple had been and, because the damage to that oak trunk was on top of previous damage, we had to have it taken down.  

Our stately oak now looks oddly amputated and bereft of its other half. 

November was freakily mild, feeling more like September, or even May.  We had one hard frost that took out the tomatoes and peppers, but the garden continues to produce lettuce, carrots, chard, spinach, and brassicas even though it’s now December.   

September garden

Overall, we had a good year in the garden, especially for squash, pumpkins, and the carrots that the mice did not taste test. 

Despite the Japanese beetle damage to the leaves, the edamame did really well

Because generations of mice continue to plague us.  They taste tested almost everything, but liked my precious peanuts best, leaving only a trail of shells behind.  For the first time, they got into the greenhouse, decimating overnight the seedlings for our winter greens. 

Greenhouse in September–the ginger and turmeric are on the right

The greenhouse must have seemed like mouse heaven—abundant food, warm, dry, safe from predators.  When I cleared the dense greenhouse tomato vines, I found an empty mouse nest of cotton and milkweed hidden behind them. 

A few mornings later, I found a mouse drowned in my watering can.  I was not happy. 

Some mouse relief came in the form of a Cooper’s Hawk that moved in for several weeks in October, patrolling the gardens and yard.  One morning he disemboweled a mouse on a fence post right outside our window.  After eating every bit, he daintily wiped his beak on the post, one side,

then the other,

before taking his hunting stance again.

Fortunately, the mice did not touch the greenhouse ginger and turmeric and we had a bumper crop. 

We used a dehydrator this year for quite a few vegetables and had enough ginger to dry some for our own ginger powder, which packs amazing flavor.  Our little ginger patch grows enough to keep us in ginger all year. 

Aside from making powder, we freeze it, cover it in vodka and refrigerate, and have enough to give some away.  It is one of my favorite crops. 

My flax also did well this year, even though it was so hot and dry. 

I’m getting more knowledgeable about processing it and this year’s crop has been the best yet for spinning—long, smooth, and much less hairy than previous years. 

I’ve been weaving fabric for a dress

and am working on a small overshot coverlet with the wool that I spun and dyed earlier this summer. 

I have been happily immersed in collecting, repairing, researching, and writing about (in my other blog) antique spinning wheels and textile equipment and am always spinning—right now some beautiful Gotland, Cormo, and Clun Forest fleeces.

Sadly, my bees, which had been a good strong hive all summer, swarmed at the end of August, which is not good for the bees left behind (or those that swarmed).  Although the remaining bees left continued to bring in pollen, their numbers dwindled as the queen was not vigorously laying.  The weakened hive was robbed clean of honey by other bees—a quick but ugly ending.

As usual, October and November brought vivid sunrises

full moons

and golden light pouring in our windows. 

Capp continues to be healthy, which is a great relief. 

He is packed with personality and enriches our lives every day.  And our quirky, sweet Alice is now a celebrity mom.  We bought her when she was three years old from a breeder, who was retiring Alice from breeding after one litter.   

We were a bit stunned to learn that one of her pups from that litter, Click (aka Grampian’s Up on the Rooftop (it was a Christmas Day litter)), won Best in Breed at the National Dog Show.  The show was televised on Thanksgiving Day and Alice sat in my lap and watched her son Click on TV.  An extra Thanksgiving treat. 

Despite that excitement, we really missed being with our kids and grandkids on Thanksgiving.  Next year we hope to toast to vaccines, a change in government, and a new year that isn’t quite so memorable.  Cheers to all (and *apologies to Charles Dickens for using his amazing opening line from A Tale of Two Cities to title a blog post). 

Transformations

IMG_3950

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.

IMG_3753

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.

IMG_3777

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

IMG_3103

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.

IMG_3233

While George was busy building, the butterflies moved in.

IMG_2525

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails appeared first

IMG_3314

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

IMG_3690

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

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

IMG_3175 (2)

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

IMG_3196

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.

IMG_3208 (2)

Ouch.

IMG_3222

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

IMG_3550 (2)

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.

IMG_3500

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.

MVI_3510_Moment(2)

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

MVI_3510_Moment(4)

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.

MVI_3510_Moment(5)MVI_3510_Moment(8)

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

IMG_3528

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

IMG_3738

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

IMG_2579

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

IMG_2581IMG_3267 (2)

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

IMG_2716

Flax

IMG_3466IMG_3440

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

IMG_3473

Passionfruit flower

IMG_3726

Curing sweet potatoes in greenhouse

IMG_3864

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.

IMG_3822

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.

IMG_3433

Capp sunbathing

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

IMG_3117

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.

IMG_2999

Samuel Morison great wheel

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

IMG_3240

Gotland fleece ready to wash

IMG_3590

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.

IMG_3046.JPG

Simmering goldenrod

IMG_3058

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.

IMG_3086

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.

IMG_3045

IMG_3136

Dyer’s Coreopsis

IMG_3346

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.

IMG_3812

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.

IMG_3858

IMG_3825

Cape Breton wheel needing work

Last week I finally warped up my big loom.

IMG_3869

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

IMG_3921IMG_3877

But, winter is coming.

IMG_3888

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

IMG_3795