Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Counting my blessings: one, two.

It must be the light, or staying up too late,  because I never "fall back" from Daylight Savings Time easily.  My intuition is off.  To simply tell the time of day requires focus.  My father in law said about his Parkinson' s disease, "transitions are hard."  He was mainly talking about making it through a doorway without freezing up, but I take it as a truism,  the human condition.  Change is hard.

Possibly, since it's the season of giving thanks, and I'm feeling pretty disheartened politically,
I have been trying to keep track of what I am thankful for.  I get lost in that, because everything
is nuanced, good, but then again,  maybe not so good.  Sometimes it takes decades to know what the true blessings are.  I weave paper and linen, and call it a House Blessing, because I think it's a good idea to make something to attract blessings, if possible.  Like my daughter, who staying home from school one day, bored and sick, wadded a bunch of tin foil around some rabbit ears antenna on my old black and white TV,  and brought in the miracle of a snowy, vaguely distinct picture.
To see TV in our valley we needed a satellite dish,  and we opted out.  Even after Sofia tinfoiled the antenna, we still saw every program through a snowstorm.  It was years before we knew what the cast of "Friends" actually looked like, not braving a blizzard on their couch, in their coffee shop.  Jennifer Aniston! Get your parka on!  By that time we'd upgraded our system to an old 10-foot tall antenna, leaning in a spruce tree in the front yard.  One of the kids, usually Carl, had to go out in any weather, and twist and turn it, until we yelled from inside the house that the picture was pretty good!
Is it any wonder that all my children have decided being urban dwellers suits them very well, thank you.

But I have blessings to count, at least 2 of them, very unambiguous ones.  First,  my magic wet-dry, tangle free, hair brush from Bed, Bath and Beyond (my brothers-in-law call it Bed, Bath, and Boredom). The brush is amazing, even miraculous, and was worth the trip, guided by my daughter, Ursula and her smart phone, to a BB&B store on the crest of the ridge in Duluth.  The Brush looks like nothing special, with flimsy plastic bristles, a little cheap.  But after I'd tried hers in my long, thick, strong hair, and it went through like butter and soft scrambled eggs, I was a Believer.  This brush allows me to wear my long hair in a "messy bun" on top of my head,  a good style  for a weaver, without dreading the brushing.  I'm  also pleased to wear a recognized hair style, as opposed to my usual "hair style"  which, if noticed at all,  surely prompts the thought, "Oh, too bad, she's letting herself go."  Oh, vanity!   Now I love to brush my hair, morning, noon and night,  no tangles, no tears!  Bed, Bath, and Beauty.  Word.

The second blessing was a gift to me from my 3 children, who pooled their money,  years ago, and bought me an iPod Shuffle, in palest aqua blue, engraved with the words, Singing Teacher, which is another story, but which makes me weep a little just seeing it.  The thing is, I don't know how to use stuff like this.  I've kept it like a little shrine, but never hoped to be able to figure out how to get any music on it.  Recently, one of the children asked to have it back,  if I wasn't ever going to use it!

 Just like that I got music, iTunes, my computer syncing, docking, etc. all figured out.  With music on the damn thing at last, I plugged in the earbuds, and took off up the road, riding my bike, empowered.  I can still hear the river, cars coming by, the wind in the trees, distant planes, but now there is a soundtrack.  It's like riding in my own music video.

I peddle along the river,  hearing "Let's Go Down to the River to Pray",  and I feel like I'm the star of something.  In the next few minutes I'm hearing "I'll Fly Away," just as an honest to goodness bald eagle flies off a branch, floats down in front of me, and glides over the river, and off across the corn stubblefield.   A crow or a red-tailed hawk would have sufficed.   Hallelujah! (I have to buy that and put it on my play list!)  You know what? Just getting to live my normal, everyday life is the blessing.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Things to Come

The walk to my studio from my backdoor is just 50 yards, on the old milking path, all that remains of a long gone 6 cow barn, and over a small creek on a wood foot bridge. It's not a strenuous walk.

I have come to believe, that in my own best interest,  I need at least 45 minutes of dedicated Exercise each day. To persuade myself to do this,  I decided to take my bike out, on my way over  to the workshop, and ride 4.5 miles up County Hwy S,  to the next town, Bloomingdale, and back.  I call it my commute.  I do it everyday,  not "every-other-day" or "3 times a week" or some other euphemism for "maybe I'll just skip it today".  What I get from this "exercise" is to see the beauty of the river and the valley, in every light and weather, day by day, and to notice so many amazing details of life along the river, each day that I ride.  My body appreciates the workout, and I am energized.  All positive, and the cherry on top is that I get to weave when I get back!

It's working pretty well, and the season isn't over yet, though I have needed my down jacket and  mittens once already.  Once I'm on my way,  I'm glad to be riding.  I rode my bike so much this summer that I actually broke my pedals off, and had to replace them!   Lately, among the blackbirds and robins gathering to migrate, there have been so many other sights and signs of the season change.  Woolly bear caterpillars have started to make their annual pilgrimage across the highway. I see them frequently, booking it across the road, some traveling east to west,  while other caterpillars  are equally determined to make that road trip west to east.

I don't know what makes the woolly bears cross the road.  In country lore, the woolly bear caterpillar's rust-to-black fuzzy band width is supposed to foretell the duration and quality (bitter or mild) of the coming winter.  I've been interested to measure their bands, and set about to do this on one of my trips to Bloomingdale.  I have an interest in measurements that I can record for use when I weave my Tapes Without (numerical) Measure (which are my attempt to measure nothing less than life as it is).

Measuring woolly bears turned out to be a more difficult task than I expected. As soon as I parked my bike, took out pencil and notebook, chased them down, held the paper in front of them, to crawl across, so I could mark the band width, they would curl up, and refuse to uncurl while I stood, waiting.  Of course, it was likely,  that my uncooperative curled up subject would disappear under the tires of local traffic before I could even make my record.  (I'm happy to report, all of my subjects survived).

After a setback of a broken pencil lead, and a trip back home to replace it, I was able to collect 13 measurements, last Sunday.  Eleven of my subjects  had very similar width bands, black head band, rust mid-sections, and black tail bands shorter than the head end.  Two outliers: one caterpillar was all rust, and one all black, so cancelled each other out.  It was a small sample, but I was satisfied.

I don't know what to make of the woolly bear measures with regard to the severity of the coming winter, but they all seem to agree.  I know I will make a new set of Tapes Without Measure, woolly bears included, and also add them to my Key of other Vital Measures, which now includes my cat Mikey's long tail, my own true waist measure, and 5 minutes of Darrel's dog barking across the river at midnight, in mid-July, when I wove one blue weft thread into my tape each time the dog randomly woofed.  In the old cautionary tale of the ant and the grasshopper, I'm a true grasshopper when it comes to preparing for winter.  But looking at that little code of blue threads on a future winter day, will bring me right back to that warm and muggy, soft, summer night when I listened to Darrel's dog barking and wove.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

blue rail

So much for summer.  Blue railing,  Amelia Bassano Lanier, most likely the true author of Shakespeare, benignity, continency, Lowell Observatory, Bill Pike harvests his honey, linen on the line, and Mina Perhonen, too hot. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

on weaving

When I have finished weaving a small collection  of 4 or 5 scarves, that seem to belong together, because of the warp and the color  and design combinations, I list them for sale in my etsy shop.  This most recent batch  has materialized around old school, plaid dresses, that came to mind as I wove.  I remember the school dresses my mother sewed for me at this time of year, no doubt, with white collars and cuffs,  and me impatiently standing on a chair, turning slowly, while she pinned the hems.  The afternoon light has shifted to a warmer tint,  a light golden wash, end of summer.

This is how I weave, always. Colors come from memories of light at different seasons, different times of day.  There are combinations  in my brain from my mother's kitchen curtains, or the wallpaper in my best friend' s bedroom.  But the memory of color can come from anywhere, or anytime. I weave to hold it down, to see it better, to get closer to an emotion connected to the color. Often I can't identify where the color comes from that feels so familiar.  Cloth carries feeling with  its color, texture and design. We hold it, and it conforms to our human shapes.

I never thought weaving would be so important to me.  I'm a little self conscious to be so
obsessed with it, and  always wish I were a truly gifted weaver.  I've been weaving many years, but I often feel clumsy at my looms. What I may lack in technical virtuosity, I make up for in feeling. I hope that feeling carries to whoever owns it.  I want there to be something in the cloth that expresses the ideas that went into its making,  even if the keeper has no idea who made it.  I keep cloth like that, made by someone unknown to me,  that radiates another human's imagination, and excites me.

So, I make a series of scarves and put them up for sale, happy to think of them worn by real human beings,  in places I may never get to visit.  The workshop feels so empty then, and I wonder if there is anything left to look forward to.  Then, slowly, something takes shape in my mind's eye, as I pick up colors again, and throw my shuttles. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

summer things

Amish built oat ricks on Salem Ridge this week look like shaggy beasts that might roam around
when the moon is bright!  I wish we would hear whippoorwill calls again in late summer evenings, especially since I'm not trying to get a small child to sleep.  I hope they are only temporarily away.
Some people who live in Crawford County, to the south, have told me they often hear them, and that they are incessant and obnoxious. 

 I ride past this abandoned farm house and the old shed on my bike some days.  At noon on a bright day, it's so dark inside the shed.  Just this summer, the roof  has caved in. The work in here stopped a long time ago. In the dim light, I see old tractor tires, winches, chains and dusty calendars pinned to the wall, coffee tins of tractor parts, and old cans rusting on plank shelves and window sills.  It feels like a sunken boat.

 The curtain in the farmhouse window moved ever so slightly to the left as I was taking the picture, as if an unseen hand were moving it slightly to see who was outside looking in.  I felt a cold shiver down my neck!  I went around to the back side of the building then,  and found a broken window letting a breeze into the old room,  stirring the curtains!

New weaving in my workshop, which is filled with a whole lot of  summer light in the mornings.  Also, there is my small savu-sauna wash cloth, included in the Deep Roots Exhibit, at the Craft Museum of Finland, until August 23, 2015.  I am so pleased to show these weaves in Finland as part of this Scandinavian-American artists exhibit. My cloths are my tribute to my Finnish grandmother, Impi's life, in Finland, where she lived as a girl and young woman,  before coming to Minnesota in 1917.  I never knew her, because sadly,  she died young, leaving her 4 children, and her husband.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


A loud crash on the porch after midnight,  woke us up,  but we didn't investigate.  In the morning we saw the bench  overturned, and the porch broom knocked down.  My good cat, Mikey, did not show up for breakfast.  Mikey is an orange striped tabby with polydactic paws. He has many toes, in fact, he has almost 2 sets of toes on each front foot.  His paws are oversized, and fan shaped.  On the points of his ears are several long sable tips, like fine haired paint brushes, that remind me of a cougar.

He did not appear that day, or the next.  I  began to wonder where he'd gone, and walked all around to the sheds where he normally sleeps during the day, calling "Mikey, Mikey?"  There was no sign of him, not hide nor hair.  I rode up and down the road on my bike, looking into the ditches.  No sign.  He'd vanished, who rarely, if ever,  in 2 years had missed a cat food dispensation on the porch.  Mina and Mama Kitty were still there, but I realized now, I loved him best.  There was none other like him. And now he was gone.  Another day, and another, and I stopped calling for him, or looking for him, or expecting to see him. Deer wandered through the yard, the stray black, tailless cat came to sneak food, but no Mike.

No Mikey looked in the kitchen window past the toast counter in the early morning.  No Mikey annoyed us when he hooked his claws into the porch screen door, banging it open and shut to get our attention.  No Mikey threw himself down in front of our feet as we tried to walk into the kitchen. My husband came home from the grocery with a smaller bag of Meow Mix.  Mikey's disappearance was so mysterious, and sudden, timed with the fracas on the porch.  What did it mean? We've lived here so long, and there has never been anything  frightening on our back porch.

Day 5. I decided it might have been a cougar attack in the night. I looked in the newspaper for possible cougar sightings in our neighborhood, but for once, even though this is the season for unverifiable cougar sightings (and UFOs), there was no mention of aliens or wild cats.

 I called my mother on Sunday.  She is old now, and  losing her memory.  I talk to her about things she doesn't have to remember.  I told her my cat disappeared. It felt so good to tell her, because she has always reassured me.  That wart on my  foot will go away.  No,  the Russians will not start a nuclear war, during the Cuban missile crisis. How to shut down a 5th grade boy who was bullying me.  She was sorry.  She said, "Don't give up hope."

"But Mom," I said, "Country cats disappear.  Your cats in Northern Minnesota didn't last too long."  "No, they didn't"  she said,  "Pa wouldn't let them stay in at night, but Marion and I fixed up a place for them under the porch, and sometimes they stayed there."  She used to tell us how her cat's ears would freeze in the frigid N. Minnesota winters,  and get rounded-off, like mouse ears.

That night,  just before I turned out the lights,  one week after the incident on the porch,  I heard a small meow at the screen door, and I knew it was that gone away boy-cat, Mikey, come back from oblivion.  Oh, joy!  I let him in, and he seemed fine. No slashed ear,  missing fur, or mark on him.  He must have been on a sabbatical, or kitty rumspringa, trying out new worldly ways.  I was so glad,  I  rubbed him, scratched his chin, picked him up, carried him around, squeezed his fat paws.   I love the moment when the story turns,  after all hope is lost.  I love when the cat comes back!

Of course, you know my story is about how my mom is disappearing, and that story doesn't have the twist, when her memory suddenly comes back.  She will keep fading into the fog that gets denser all the time. Another time, and  this good cat will disappear, and I will disappear, all good things, and bad, will.

But, it was a pretty good week, my best cat came back, and my mom and I had a nice talk on
Sunday. I'm starting to understand.

Monday, June 8, 2015

I think it might rain

In case it rains in the afternoon, I ride my bike up the road this morning.  It's perfect weather now, with a soft summery breeze still damp from the rain last night, and fresh smelling, blooming phlox, wild wood geraniums, columbine, and ferns.

A half mile up the road, a bald eagle swoops down and circles back across the river, scouting the fresh killed racoon, that already appears to have been dined on. I swerve around the carnage, and look into the clear, flow of the water of the stream beside the road now. Because I ride this way everyday, I know every curve and twist of it.  I have it memorized.

Next, I come to the circle curve, by Mary Lee's place, and now I'm high above the river that
has gone straight.  I call this the Zuider Zee. I've never seen the Zuider Zee, but I pretend I'm
in Holland now, and there are some black and white cows on the polder.  The river bank is straight along here, and grassed.  It reminds me of a dike. I decide I don't have time this morning to ride all the way up to the abandonned blue school bus, with its faded, hand painted banner  "Amnesty" and "Let Freedom Ring".  I usually like to ride up as far as the Let Freedom Ring bus, but not this morning.

Instead, I turn around at my favorite bend in the river, where there are rapids and open sky and clouds reflect in a smooth elbow of the flowing West Fork.  I also see remains of a dead gray cat have nearly disappeared now,  two weeks since I first saw it dead, beside the road.  Dead animals are a sad fact of country roads. Once, when Ursula was still riding with me, in her seat on the back of my yellow Schwinn, we came upon a cow that had fallen out of the woods, down the shale slide, and rolled upside down into the ditch.

She was struggling.  We rode to the next farm up the road,  and told the farmer.  That was so sad, and happened over 30 years ago.  Still, I remember that cow every time I pedal by that place. And I miss my little, heavy bike passenger!

Maybe this afternoon I'll head up the road again, and see what's new.

(also, some colors of cotton and linen I'm looking at, and of course, my peony in full bloom!)