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. 

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Two words for this spring—cold and wet.

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Late snows, hard frosts, frigid mud, and a miserly portion of sunshine delayed our yard work and gardening, again and again.  When the weather finally began to warm up a bit (only a handful of days have teasingly felt like summer), we were in catch-up mode, trying to get everything done at once.

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Preparing the greenhouse pad.

Although I held off on planting, the ground remains unseasonably cold and wet.  My potatoes and flax have stunted patches and the warm weather crops are struggling to get established.  New growth for deer browse was late and some deer—looking for spring nutrition—girdled several of the apple trees that I planted last fall in the lower orchard.

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They didn’t touch any other saplings—that sweet young apple bark must be especially tasty.  I tried to do some cleft grafting to save them, but it doesn’t appear to have taken. So, we will plant more in the spring and fence them well.

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I was hoping the grafts would take, but it doesn’t look good.

I also had another fail with my bees this winter.  They had swarmed last June and the remaining bees in the hive never seemed to get up to full strength.  I was happy that they made it into January, but then I lost them in a long, deep freeze.  I reluctantly decided to take a year off from beekeeping for several reasons:  I would be out-of-state when the bee packages arrive; we want to move the hive to a new area that won’t be ready until later in the year; and we want to do perimeter work around our fence (near the hive) to keep our tick population down.

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There are other hives in our area, and plenty of bees came to pollinate our wild apples, but I really missed having our own.  I put off cleaning out and storing the hive and in a wild, unlikely hope that maybe a swarm would take up residence.  And, sure enough, that’s what happened.  One morning in mid-June, I noticed some bees at the hive.  I could not tell if they were robbing the little honey left or if they might be scouts for a swarm.

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A few hours later I heard a massive buzzing sound and the air was filled with a bee swarm descending on the hive.

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It was pretty exciting.  They now are happily established.  So much for moving the hive—I’m so happy to have these new arrivals, it’s staying where it is.

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The other insects of note this spring are the brown tail moths that are invading midcoast Maine.  They make ticks seem like pleasant little nuisances.  The moth caterpillars have toxic, barbed hairs that become airborne and can create a nasty itchy rash and a cough if breathed.  They favor oaks and apples, of which we have plenty.  Up until this year, they weren’t a problem for us and we did extensive pruning this year on our old apples—not worried about moths.

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Early spring pruning on the wild apples in the yard.

Unbeknownst to George, though, one of the trees was moth-infested and when he was cleaning up the downed branches, he developed a horrible rash.  To finish up the job, he has had to hose down all the wood and wear a moth hazmat outfit.  Yuck.

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Despite the cold and toxic moth hairs, we have never had so many nesting birds.

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Sparrow nest I stumbled on when clearing orchard weeds. Fortunately, I didn’t scare the mother, she’s still sitting on the nest.

The birdsong has been amazing—it goes on from earliest pre-dawn until the evening.  We have nesting wrens, cardinals, sparrows, phoebes, chickadees, mourning doves, yellowthroats, thrushes, catbirds, vireos, towhees, various unidentified warblers, woodpeckers, robins, goldfinches, waxwings, evening grosbeaks, and a a very vocal melodious Baltimore Oriole for the first time this year.

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We put up two nesting boxes with trepidation, hoping that our pugnacious bluebird wouldn’t return.  He didn’t.

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Bluebird fledgling about a minute before his first flight.

We had a friendly bluebird couple take up residence and a gorgeous pair of swallows.

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George has been going non-stop all spring with pruning, putting up next winter’s wood, improving the drainage down the driveway and around the new garage, building beds for my new dye garden,

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Dye garden and fleece washing tubs.

building screen houses for the brassicas,

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The screen enclosure in the background has been wonderful to protect the brassicas from cabbage moth caterpillars.

working on the sauna, planting trees and shrubs, preparing foundations for a new shed and green house, on top of the usual yard, trail, and house maintenance.

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I’m in love with our new greenhouse.

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While George has been giving the tractor a workout, I’ve had a textile-rich spring.  With help from a friend, I put together an exhibit highlighting weaving, spinning, flax production, and antique textile tools for the local library, which recently acquired a trove of new books on these subjects for its craftsmanship collection.

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I didn’t take photos of the exhibit, but we had antique wheels and a tape loom.

In late April, Jan and I also did an evening presentation on antique spinning wheels at the same library, hoping to gain converts to rehabilitate the old wheels and get them spinning again.

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Current herd of great wheels.

Soon after, I went to Vavstuga weaving school in western Massachusetts for a course in Swedish Classics.

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Learning rosepath.

It was wonderful to be back there, immersed in a week of nothing but weaving.

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Monksbelt variation.

When I returned, I got going on taking and collecting photos for a presentation on Connecticut wheelmakers for an Antique Spinning Wheel Symposium at Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont in early June.

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The presentation also involved countless hours of genealogy research and deciphering probate records and inventories from the 1700s, to try to track down the identity of wheelmaker J. Platt.  I still don’t know who he is.

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But, we had magical weather for the symposium and what a treat to get together with a bunch of antique wheel nerds.  The talking was non-stop, it was such a rare opportunity to all be speaking the same language of scribe lines, double-flyers, hub shapes, spindle supports, chip carving, maidens, mother-of-alls (mothers-of-all?), and, on and on …

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At Lone Rock Farm in Marshfield.

I stayed over the next day for a flax workshop with Norman Kennedy, the 86-year-old grand master of weaving, flax, stories of textiles in Scotland, and song (among other things).

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Norman dressing a distaff.

And I stayed at a wonderful farm B&B, where I got to enjoy morning visits with the cows, pigs, chickens, and kittens.

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Marshfield was beautiful, I loved being with “my people,” and enjoyed an amazing three days, but—as always—it was so sweet to get home—with flowers and dogs to greet me.

IMG_2536IMG_2221Capp is doing wonderfully now.  It’s such a relief to have him back to normal.

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Throughout the spring, I’ve been spinning and weaving,

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and finished up processing last year’s flax.

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Bottom batch was dew retted (twice) last fall and the top batch was retted on snow this winter.

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I bought this wonderful flax break at auction last month for $10. The auctioneer had no idea what it was.

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Snow retted flax being hackled. It’s a lovely color.

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From left to right: early dew retted (under retted), tub retted, double dew retted, snow retted.

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I was engulfed by lilac fragrance while processing the flax. We had a bumper crop of lilacs this year.

Now that summer is officially here, I’m just about caught up on spring chores and hope to have a less busy, more relaxing summer.  We’ll see.

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Spinning on the porch, watching thunderstorms and rainbows.

Textiles and Dog Profiles in Two Parts

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Winter is here, our fence is completed, snow is settling in, and we can finally take some deep breaths and relax a little. But we have not been idle. I am immersing myself in textiles and we have been on another dog hunt–navigating the maze of doggy adoption. This is a long post, with two entirely different topics, so it is divided into two parts.

PART ONE:  TEXTILE DREAMS

Winter is the time to indulge my long-simmering love of textiles.   When I was young, I sewed, spun, knitted, and wove, but during the years of child-raising and working, I seldom had time to do more than an odd project here and there.  Now I have all the time in the world.  I wake in the winter-dark mornings, anticipating the pleasure of a day in which I can indulge in making things. It is a seasonal occupation, solitary, soothing, slow-moving, and satisfying a creative itch.

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This year, my preparation for winter textile time started early.  In full summer, when plants were at their most lush,  I learned ecoprinting–the process of transferring plant dyes directly onto fabric to create almost fossil-like impressions of plant materials. I was introduced to ecoprinting through Amelia Poole’s beautiful fabrics at the Common Ground Fair.  The post Wood, Fabric, and Water has a section about ecoprinting and Amelia.

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In July, I attended a day-long workshop at Amelia’s studio, Ecouture, on Cape Rosier (not far from the Nearing’s home in the previous post Good Life).

It was pure pleasure. I gathered plants from home the night before and we spent the day experimenting with different plant and fabric combinations. I drove home a happy woman, with a bundle of fabrics imbued with my own garden.

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Rolled and tied for steaming

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Oak leaves and geranium petals

I decided to buy some mordanted fabric from Amelia to do ecoprinting with our grandchildren on their August visit. So, George and I combined our trip to the Nearings’ home with fabric pick-up at Amelia’s studio. To me the whole process is a kid’s dream–gathering leaves and flowers, laying them out in designs on fabric, rolling it up, steaming it, unrolling it, and magically, your own personal botanical fabric is created.

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After the grandkids made their fabric, we sewed it into doll blankets and sachets with garden lavender.

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Another summer-into-winter textile activity involved my spinning wheel. After stripping layers of crud from the little antique flax wheel that I bought for a song last year, I was able to spin, but still had a few issues to address. I only had one bobbin and it had a broken piece. In addition, many of the hooks on the flyer were missing or badly bent.

Fortunately, I attended Maine’s Fiber Frolic this spring, an event celebrating all things fiber-y, and met Mudd Sharrigan, an 89-year-old competitive swimmer and former hot-rodder, who makes sought-after boat rigging knives, and also, occasionally now, repairs spinning wheels. Mudd’s wife, Esther, is a spinner and she had a collection of antique bobbins. We found one that fit my wheel, and Mudd took home my flyer and broken bobbin for repair. A few weeks later, George and I stopped by their house in Wiscasset and picked up a beautifully repaired flyer and bobbin. Where but in Maine would this have happened? My antique wheel now is as sweet as can be for a winter of spinning.

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The shiny hooks are the new ones that Mudd inserted.  There are more on the other side.

I have been spinning and working on quilts for my niece, who is expecting twins. Later this winter, I will start knitting my spun wool and pull my loom from the basement for some significant repair work before I can start weaving. Enough to keep me busy and contented in the cold and snow.

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PART TWO:  DOG DREAMS

On to dogs. While we continue to enjoy gorgeous sunrises, to watch turkeys and assorted other birds on our walks, and to do some snowy cross-country skiing, we are looking for another dog to add to our little pack.

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Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be so difficult to find a dog. Years of education and rigorous spay and neuter programs apparently have had an impact on reducing the number of dogs in shelters in Maine. Most dog rescue agencies here import dogs from southern states or even from other countries. I am thrilled that the number of unwanted dogs has been greatly reduced, but it makes for a sometimes bewildering process of competing for rescue dogs.

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When we lived in the Atlanta area in the 90s, we adopted two golden retrievers from the Atlanta Golden rescue group. One was 9 years old, with medical issues, and the other a fearful young girl who had been abandoned and living on the street. We had such a good experience with those dogs, that we thought we’d look for another.  Atlanta’s too far, so we applied to a different, local Golden Retriever rescue organization, filling out an extensive application and submitting a $25.00 application fee. Within two days we were informed that our application was denied because our yard fence height did not meet their 4 foot requirement.

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Capp enjoys our totally inadequate fenced yard.

Now, I understand the reasons for the fence requirement and that the group does not want to have to quibble and negotiate these things with every adopter. Nevertheless, the group indicated on their website that they will grant exceptions to fence requirement. So George and I both sent polite emails explaining that our fence is only 4 to 6 inches short of their height requirement (depending on the slope), that we are home all day with our dogs, we don’t leave them alone in the fenced yard, we walk them daily, we are loving, knowledgeable owners, yada yada yada.

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Birdwatching

The response was immediate, negative, and rather rude: “Our fence exception is for experienced owners who may live in apartments or condos and cannot have a physical fence. They have to give us a glowing vet reference and tell how they will exercise their new dog. We cannot grant a fence exception just because someone is unwilling to raise the height of their fencing.”

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Capp and the fence

So, let’s see. We are experienced owners (we have had four Goldens, with two special needs rescues), live in a house (no worries about changing landlords or angry neighbors), have almost seven acres with a fenced area of an acre, can provide glowing vet references, give our dogs daily walks, bring them swimming regularly, hike with them, and are home all day. But because we are “unwilling” to raise the height of our fence, we are summarily dismissed.

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Well, that makes all kind of sense. Actually, I was spitting mad. Some dogs are fence jumpers and climbers and the higher the fence, the better. But our fence height is more than adequate for most dogs. This group obviously has plenty of homes for its dogs, but you would think they would be more careful about alienating potential adopters. Aside from wanting to adopt, we would have donated and volunteered. Now, nothing would induce me to help this group.

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Instead, we found another rescue group here in Maine, with people who really seem to care about finding the best homes for their pups.  They think our fence is just fine.

Capp, of course, enjoys his only-child status and is thriving.

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Capp in the pink light from the sunrise below.

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I am worried about my bees, though. We have had huge temperature fluctuations, with temperatures warm enough for the bees to fly in the day, followed by hard freezes at night. I have quite a few dead bees on the hive bottom board and around the entrance. I suspect that they have been caught out from the winter hive cluster and freezing.

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On sunny days, we have had flocks of bluebirds checking out the bird houses. I love to see the bluebirds in the winter. Next spring, we will put up two more houses in hopes of attracting more bluebirds and swallows.

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We are looking forward to solstice and Christmas this week. Have a wonderful, festive holiday season.

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