Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Tender Growth

All seasons have their beauty but summer is a riot of color. The world, from the green in the garden to the bright flowers, is beautiful. Now at the height of growing season, the plants are at their sturdiest. Or are they? According to Emily Dickinson, the news from Nature comes with "tender majesty." She wrote:

This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me
The simple news that Nature told
with tender majesty.

Her message is committed
to hands I cannot see,
For love of her, sweet countrymen
Judge tenderly of me.

To read Dickinson's poetry is to invite questions. Some of her poems existed in several versions. When it came to choosing words, she was a stickler and would rework a poem in order to make it appropriate for the person receiving it in a letter. In this poem, the most salient feature is Dickinson's metaphor of her poems as "my letter to the world." I do find it noteworthy that she speaks of Nature's "tender majesty." I think she chose tender for a good reason. She also commits Nature's news to "hands I cannot see." How many generations into the future did she imagine? I think she realized the earth was tender and needed care of many hands. 

Honore' invites us to link our reflections on the word we chose for 2020. At the end of July, tender raises more questions while reminding me of the power in a poem. Tender, though fragile, is not necessary weak.

So today tendril from tender. Tender and tendril share the same root word. Tendrils, those thin coils of sensitive stem that stretch out in an effort to attach a plant to a secure support. They look fragile but once attached they have quite a grip. Tendrils of sweet pea, cucumber vine, and justice stretch out with hope. For me, taking care of the natural world and realizing its tender majesty is one of the paths to justice and peace.






 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Pickles and Jam


After thunderstorms, summer has returned. Neighbors and friends leave zucchini on my front porch but I'm not complaining. I don't plant them so I enjoy everyone else's harvest. The cucumbers are rolling in from my garden. On Monday, I made a second batch of bread and butter pickles. I cranked up the music while I sliced, diced, pickled and thought of my Mom. I learned to can by working beside her and this is the recipe she used. Her heart and her kitchen were often filled with music. My voice has aged and I can't hit the higher notes. Still high on vinegar, cucumber, spice fumes, I sang to my heart's content. Singing is good for the soul.

I finished Norah's little mitten ornament. The yarn is a little rustic but the stitches didn't unravel when they fell off a DPN. The sticky wool would wear like iron if it were knit into a pair of socks. Last night I finished the second hand of the raspberry colored mitts but didn't take any photos.


The scrappy shawl is back on my needles. Not being one to give up, I searched my stash one more time and discovered a skein of sale yarn. Who knew this shawl wanted to be blue instead of purple? Of course I had a skein of blue yarn - several in fact. This Corriedale yarn is a base different from the other scraps, but it works well. The other good news is I have knit parts of the pattern so many times I know the stitch patterns I prefer. My shawl isn't going to replicate the designer's pattern but as Elizabeth Zimmerman wrote, "I am the boss of my knitting." She was a wise woman.


I listened to Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather while I put the shawl back on the needles. It's an old-fashioned story and like several other of her novels, death is part of the plot. The ending, while not of the "happily ever after" variety, is satisfying and well done. I admire the way she layered and repeated themes. I also finished Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Linda Brent. I can see how it was shaped to influence abolitionists at the time it was published, 1861. The glimpse into one community and family living in slavery is worth reading. I plan to look for more details on how the book came to be written and published. Literacy is a powerful tool. I'm not sure what I will read next.

As always on Wednesday, I am linking with Kat and the Unravelers. Ripe nectarines wait for me on the counter. I've never made jam from nectarines but I'm going to give it a whirl. Cue the music.









Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Summer's Pause

After a sultry Tuesday, rain fell early this morning. Instead of my early morning walk, I stayed in bed, listened to the rain, and read a few pages of Curlew Moon. Such decadence. I love the poetry woven throughout the natural history of the bird and its habitat. A walking tour offers a wonderful perspective. This is a book to savor.

My daytime reading is an autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Linda Brent, pseudonym for Harriet Jacobs. The book was edited by L. Maria Child and published in 1861. In The Source of Self-Regard, Toni Morrison wrote that some of her literary history was autobiography by former slaves. She also discussed this book in connection with her novel, Beloved. Jacobs, in order to protect her children and ultimately escape to freedom, spent seven years hiding in a tiny crawl space in her grandmother's attic. Her life is a tribute to her spirit as well as the family/community that supported her in North Carolina. I am about half-way through and recommend it to anyone wanting to better understand history. I look forward to reading about her escape and subsequent experiences. The story is compelling and well written.

The scrappy shawl is resting although I may have found a skein in my stash that will finish the piece. Stay tuned for more of the shawl saga. In the meantime, I finished the striped socks and tucked them away as a Christmas gift. It's nice to have those finished.

I cast on a pair of fingerless mitts from a great free pattern with nice attention to details. I like a ribbed mitt because it snugs up on the hand while providing flexibility in size. I've knit this pattern previously so it is good evening knitting.

My spinning continues. My singles are becoming more consistent. Plying them together is another story. It will come with practice.

Three years ago, I knit one little advent mitten for each of Norah's brothers. I put some small gifts in them as a getting-ready-for-Christmas gift /ornament. Now Norah must also have one, I am knitting hers out of the nontraditional lilac color. I find color work takes a certain mindset. I have to slow down to find the rhythm.

Before going out to pick cucumbers, I will link to Kat and the Unravelers. Click on the link for summer inspiration. In the meantime, fellow mask wearers, keep up the good work and stay safe.




Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Never Say Never


July is warming up. I walk around 8:00 a.m. each morning to beat the heat. I zig zag my way around the neighborhood to stay in the shade. Sometimes my husband walks with me and sometimes not. I picked the first garden cucumbers on Monday. The hollyhocks are glorious. Several evenings I walked over to visit them with a camera. I usually walk without my phone but I made an exception.


Once I said I would never take up spinning because I didn't need another set of hobby supplies. I am eating my words and learning to spin on a spindle. Sarah inspired me with her projects and made a few suggestions to my inquiry. I am amazed and grateful to the generous makers who post how-to-videos on YouTube. This week I tried plying a couple of my small bits. The first three attempts went in the trash but yesterday I made one little thick and thin skein of yarn. It's not yet knit-worthy but I am keeping it as a record of my beginning skills. Even if I never get proficient, I have added something to balance the losses of the pandemic. 


I am linking with Kat and the Unravelers today. Yesterday I unraveled a good portion of the scrappy shawl. I finished it up to the picot bind off (thank goodness I have some sense) before listening to the knitting voice in my head. I let it rest for a few days. I looked at it in the daylight, not making a decision after 8:30 p.m. Once I wrote these scraps were two different hues of purple - one with more blue, the other with more red. I kept knitting thinking, this is going to work, blocking will make a difference. In the end, it was too busy for me. It was as if I had knit two different shawls and put them together. I learned some new stitch patterns and whiled away some evenings. I saved the beginning section because that's the part I like. It's back in a bag resting. If I want to finish it, I'll need to buy a skein of yarn. Oh darn!


So I am knitting on these socks and hope to finish them this evening. I have another shawl on the needles but it is not calling my name in this July weather. A small project, like socks, fingerless mitts or mittens, is more appealing. Spinning with a spindle is also a good way to play with fiber that isn't in my lap.

I am about half-way through Curlew Moon, a book of nature writing. This story is another account of industrialization and intensive agricultural practices bringing about the decline of a once numerous species. Of course there are some individuals working to save the European curlew. Sadly, this is a universal story of our time. Some passages are beautifully written and Colwell weaves poetry and musings by other writers into the narrative about her long walk through the British Isles. I am unfamiliar with many of the other birds named. I also looking up unfamiliar vocabulary. Some words are scientific while others must be specific to the British Isles.

I am also reading Jane Hirshfield's new book of poetry, Ledger. Her accounting contains very interesting and thoughtful metaphor. I love the way she makes a poem out of everyday objects. "Spell Against Hatred" is very appropriate for this time. These poems come from the vantage point of an older woman, a viewpoint sometimes hard to find.

I hope this July day finds you in a cool and sheltered place with a project or a good book. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Summer Gardens


Rain fell during the night making the first morning of July cooler. The air is full of humidity but I won't have to water the garden today or tomorrow. As I walked this morning, the sky cleared and I discovered a row of hollyhocks I didn't know existed. What a bright surprise. Four or five years ago a neighborhood church had hollyhocks all over the property. Then they chopped down the flowers and replaced them with traditional landscaping. Today I found the row of several colors tucked behind evergreen bushes along the church parking lot.

Hollyhocks were the favorite flower of my Great Grandmother Charlotte Jane. Charlotte came to Nebraska as a young bride in 1888. She loved to garden. After a broken hip didn't mend well, she fashioned a crutch from an old broomstick. According to family story, she propped herself up on the crutch in her garden and continued hoeing. She also used the crutch to shoo chickens out of her garden. There were years when she fed her family of eight children from the garden, the chicken house, and a milk cow on the farm. She was tougher than I, that's for sure.


My garden is growing. I am using cayenne pepper to keep bunnies and squirrels from the parsley and an organic liquid fence (very stinky) spray around the zinnias. I didn't want to spray anything edible with the spray. The cucumber leaves are now big and rough enough to repel the critters. And what is this? The first tomatoes are setting on the plants. I look forward to the first garden tomato ripened by the sun.


I am happy to be back linking with Kat and the Unravelers. I finished this little baby sweater. If you are looking for a fingering weight pullover, I recommend this pattern. Today I'll give it a wash and then weave in a few ends. I knit the six month size but shortened the body just a bit. Fingers crossed it isn't too small by late Fall when an August baby needs a sweater.


I am dipping my toe into spindle spinning. I love the idea of learning a very old craft. Charlotte's mother, Elizabeth Jane, was a spinner, a knitter, and a quilter. Sarah's posts about her gorgeous proficient spinning are my inspiration. As she wrote in answer to my questions, spinning is probably easiest to learn with an "in person" teacher. She is right but for now I am making do with the internet and a book. My goal is to spend 30-45 minutes each afternoon with the spindle and roving. These first little bits are very uneven and I am clumsy. Yesterday I thought I might have figured it out for about five seconds. My mantra is: I am not making yarn, I'm learning to spin. Learning anything is a process. Physical coordination is not a strength for me but creating new pathways is good for my brain. I have no idea whether I will stick with this but for now I am giving it a "whirl."


I finished reading Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life. This beautiful book, a revision of the earlier edition, is full of photos of the Dickinson museum grounds. McDowell wove Dickinson's poems into text arranged by seasons. She included lots of botanical information. The well written book is another window into Dickinson's poems and life. I enjoyed it. As I read, I couldn't help but think of young black girls growing up in slavery during Dickinson's lifetime. Women with few or no opportunities. Poets and writers lost to us forever.

I have just begun Curlew Moon by Mary Colwell. The opening chapter was lovely. This book is a natural history of the curlew, an endangered species, and the story of one woman's 500 hundred mile walk to learn more about this bird. More later.

Happy first of July. 




Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tender Slivers

June sunset
Once a month Honore' invites us to check-in with the word we chose at the beginning of the year. This last day in June, the heat and humidity are oppressive.

My thoughts about "tender" are scattered. They nag like a sliver under my skin. Extending tenderness to others encourages me to pay attention to others and myself. As well as I think I might know a friend, I don't know all of the minor slivers under the skin or deeper cares hiding in a heart. They may not care to share all of their story. Of strangers, I know even less. Judgement comes more easily than tenderness. Extending tender thoughts to the driver who pulls out in front of me, the walker with no inclination to yield six feet on the sidewalk, the person with opposing political views is challenging. 

Elizabeth Alexander's poem, Praise Song for the Day.* comes to my mind this morning. See the link for the entire poem. Her prose and poetry are worth reading. This poem begins:

"Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other's
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking."

and then continues with a description of ordinary activities. Later the poem takes a turn in these two stanzas.

"Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take more than
you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance."

*Alexander, Elizabeth. Crave Radiance  Minneapolis, Minn: Graywolf Press, 2010., (p.247-248)

One of tender's origins, "tendere" (Latin) means to extend outward, stretch, spread out, direct one's course. I continue to think about how to stretch into and extend tenderness as we turn the calendar to July.

And "What if the mightiest word is love?"







Saturday, June 27, 2020

Wild and Crazy

Where was I? Oh yes, last Monday my vintage 2013 computer started typing magenta letters and the battery wouldn't charge. I masked up, packed wipes for sanitizing, and visited Computer Hardware, the local Apple affiliate. I had the new machine home less than 24 hours when the pull-down from the battery icon indicated the machine needed a new battery. Back I went. Three days later, the new laptop with a new battery and desktop is performing well. The service in that local store is excellent.

This morning I have been watching young house finches learn to navigate the feeder. There is a clutch of three little ones with tiny tufts of down sticking out from their heads. They wait for the Mama to feed them rather than brave a perch on the feeder suspended from a shepherd's crook. I wonder if the slight movement of landing and take-off deters them or if the darn thing looks odd to them. Now and then one of them twists her body sideways to look at the feeder.

I continue to knit along. This scrappy shawl is a little crazy. I took out one light lavender section and faded some darker scraps up to the solid periwinkle. I hope to remember some of the stitch patterns the next time I set off to knit a scrappy shawl. 

I reknit this cowl and like it much better. Sometimes gauge in a small project really does matter. Once the pattern was set-up, the knitting was intuitive. Knitting a large cable-looking pattern without cabling was fun.


I cast on a baby sweater. A young woman who grew up in the neighborhood is having her first baby. This simple pullover practically knits itself. I bought a mini skein of bright lime green for stripes but then discovered it wasn't superwash. I didn't read the tag very well. The main color is a superwash yarn. I pulled the white superwash out of my stash for the stripes. It seemed silly to knit stripes from a non-superwash.


Last year I thought I planted some low-growing coreopsis in the front yard. This might have been another tag I didn't read carefully. Last Spring seems like so long ago. This year the flowers are taller and a bit wild and gangly. I might dig them up and put them somewhere else this fall or I might leave them and call them wildflowers. I like wildflowers. Our approach to landscaping, if it can even be called that, is easy care, drought resistant, and informal. They fit right in to our less than manicured front yard.

How did we get to the last weekend in June? That seems wild and crazy to me too. Wherever you are, I hope the weekend brings you some bright summer hours.