When I come back to weave in my workshop at night, the familiar room feels like a different place, where something unexpected might happen. Night is always a fertile time for me to weave. One summer night, when the air was humid, cool, thick, and velvety, and the darkness was inky black, I was weaving a length of 3/4 inch tape, and about to quit. It was a few minutes after midnight, but I thought I'd weave just a few more inches before I shut off the lights, locked the door, and found my way back along the dark path, cross the creek, and back to the house. The air was still, but a cool draft came down the east valley from the ridge, through the open screen, with fireflies lighting the course of the small creek behind the workshop, a chorus of night trilling tree frogs, and a dog barking at a short distance.
I'd been hearing all of this while I was weaving my tape, but the dog barking had caught my attention.
The bark was sporadic, not urgent. I knew whose dog it was, and her name, Maggie, and that she was an old spaniel that would sometimes decide to chase me when I rode my bike by, trying to nip my feet. Sometimes she and the other dog that live at that house came up around my shop, chasing rabbits together, in the morning, but she never bothered me then. She was Daryl's dog. Daryl had a farm welding shop a half mile away, in a shed behind his house, across the West Fork. He welded equipment for farmers at night, after his day job. He wasn't married, and lived alone. He was still at work. The lights from inside his shed glowed brightly through the wide open doors, lighting the willow tree tops across the river. I didn't have to look to see that.
This dog's barking was so familiar, a summer sound I remembered listening to when I was a little girl, on summer nights, trying to fall asleep, after long, dirty, barefoot summer vacation days, hearing all the night sounds: crickets, cicadas, barking dogs and trains at a distance. All the sounds mixed up in the dark, across the swamp and field, where we built our forts, fought with the boys, and exhumed old farm dump piles in search of treasure during the day. At night we played a wild game of sheep and wolves in the dark neighborhood, and pretended we didn't hear when our parents called us in. I've always loved the mystery of the night world, and always found it hard to fall asleep. Daryl's dog barking this night made me suddenly wistful, and long for one more evening of my own childhood. Instead I thought, I'll weave this. How? I picked up a shuttle, and there was a quill of thin, cobalt linen yarn in it already, and I thought, that will do. I hate to pick colors at night. I decided I'd weave one blue thread every time Maggie barked for five minutes. I watched the minute hand, and then started. Bark, bark, bark. Quiet, quiet. Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark.
Whew! I was falling behind. A pause followed, quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet. I may have missed a few of the barks, but in the end I had a 2-inch section of tape, with some random thin blue lines crossing it. This was my record of 5 minutes of listening to a particular dog barking after midnight, at the confluence of the West Fork and Seas Branch river valley, July, 2015. I had a new measure on my tape without measure.
I have a conflicted relationship to measure, and measuring. I usually have a tape measure, hanging around my neck, like a yoke, or a choke. A weave is one length on the loom, stretched tight. Relax the tension and the length shrinks. Tense up, and beat too hard, and the weave compresses. Cut it down, and it shrinks again. Wash it, dry it, and it grows smaller, or not. The task to weave a square, or two equal panels to a 1/2 in window width, or a pair of equal length curtains is fraught. Measure is a burden!
I started to weave my own measureless tapes, partly in response to my father, an engineer, who tried to instill in his family, along with his Lutheran faith, the idea that if a thing can't be measured, that thing does not exist. It was long ago, but I have been refuting that untruth for most of my life (also the Lutheran faith). Actually, important things do exist that can't be measured, love, hope, fear. Emotion is real. How we feel about our human experience may be the most consequential part of our living. Consequently, my tapes without measure hold marks of actual and conceptual events, but all of them ephemeral. Nothing that exists ever lasts, not even memory, is my corollary theory. On my woven tapes, I've incorporated marks for my actual waist size, my cat's long tail, the width of the stripes of woolly bear caterpillars crossing the road on the autumnal equinox between Avalanche and Bloomingdale, simple actual observable measures. One tape has the height of the largest morel mushroom we found this spring. It was a significantly big one. Recording and marking events is a human practice, an activity we engage in, to get ahead of the game. On ancient Scandinavian rune calendars, the marks may have told when to plant seeds, when to cut hay, when to spin flax, when to expect a spring thaw. What the marks originally meant fade as centuries pass, but the marks are still there, though we don't know who made them, and the meanings are lost. The desire to make these records is a record of the persistence of human need to try to capture the present, the thing we experience as reality, and carry it into an unknown and uncertain future. What persists, over time, is not the knowledge, but the enigma.
What happened is that Daryl became ill, and died of cancer. His farm, and some others in the floodplain were purchased by the county. His house and sheds will be torn down. I don't know where Maggie and the other dog are, if still on the planet. He lived there, and the memory of him is now disappearing. But, each time I weave that 2-inch pattern of blue lines into my measureless tapes, I'm back in that night, when Daryl was welding late at night, across the river, and Maggie barked. The meaning is mine, and will end when I end. After all, I listened to the barking, breathed thick, midnight summer air, and lived five minutes of my existence, with all of my senses alive, trying to keep it alive in weave, warp and weft, weave, weave, warp and woof. Amused that it was the first time ever I wove a woof.