Thursday, December 24, 2020

More Sky than Wind

 In every walk no matter how pleasant there comes at least one moment when the thought of turning back rather than carrying on occurs. Walking with friends means the decision is negotiated; walking on my own means something else determines the roll of the dice. This morning's walk is pleasant in its familiarity, but the cold wind prompts re-thinking. It is a three-layer cold. My sturdy layers of windproof nylon overtrousers and thermal leggings and thinsulate lined gloves and a beanie under the hood of my anorak canot cope with the ancient wind that finds any weak spot in my latter-day armamentarium.

My windproof trousers keep the wind out, but, perhaps out of spite, the wind leaves its chill behind. I can feel my legs reddening. I pull on another layer for my head and remember a cousin who said the best way to deal with cold is not to get cold in the first place. He admitted to wearing ladie's tights underneath his gear on a fishing boat. He is the kind of bloke whose choice of wardrobe would not be challenged even among what he described as 'rough characters.'

The advantage of solo walking is that my mind can wander while my feet keep their own pace. I notice the snow on the verge. If I were a girl back in Indiana I'd be disappointed in it. It has gone over to ice--little tiny ice cubes rather than soft flakes suitable for snowballs. It is also the kind of precipitation that would ruin the ice on our skating pond so that instead of gliding, we'd chunter along.  I had to be very careful on such ice that the little edges of my blades didnt catch and send me headlong onto the ice. More than once my brother picked me up from the ice and chided me at the same time he brushed off the snow and the hurt. 

I've climbed the second hill on my little walk toward the loch before I realise that somewhere/when I decided to carry on walking. I was reminded that we have more sky than wind. The big sky that shelters over us--whether the long black of a cold night, the pearly grey of loose cloud cover, or those rare blue sky days--encourages the keeping on not only of our feet but also of our heart and imagination. 

And so on this eve of Christmas, 3 three days past the shortest day, may you find your way to keeping on wherever your feet take you.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

A Pair of MIttens

 Every textile has 1001 stories to tell: personal, technical, cultural. These mittens were a gift from my grandson. I was back in Chicago for a family Christmas. He came into my daughter's flat from a Christmas fair or a church sale or something and immediately gave away what he had won or bought, clearly enjoying the giving. I am missing him terribly. The ex pat tax is sometimes very high. A decade ago he was a generous teenager; now he is a man. I have no doubt he is as winsome now as then, but I will never have that decade of watching him grow into a man. I have the mittens and memory.

Chicago is a city of neighbourhoods. The mittens might have come from the part of Chicago settled originally by Swedes. The mittens are in the Nordic style. I like to think a Swedish grandmother passed along to her daughter or grandaughter how to do these mittens. Some knitting friends and I put together Northen Loops Intergenerational Knitting to foster, among other things, the sharing of the knowledge not just the specifics of this mitten or any other single thing, but the power that comes from knowing how to make things of your own design. I like to think also that the church sale gave the mitten-knitter a reason to knit. One of the best legacies of Northern Loops was to get an older woman who carried in her head how to knit a glove back into knitting because we gave her someone to knit for.

In addition to the shape of the mitten, the design motif speaks of northern countries--compass rose. I've seen it in Norway visiting family there and in my Fair Isle pattern books. The pattern in the palm--using two yarns of different colours is also part of the Nordic design.

The mittens are wool. If I had purchased them locally I would probably know the knitter, the spinner, perhaps even the sheep who gave her fleece for them. Those are all stories that these mittens might reveal if they had not travelled so far from Sweden or Norway to Chicago to me to now be featured in a photo along a road in Caithness on the first double-cold day of this winter.

A double-cold day is one that requires--no, make that demands--two layers of clothing everywhere. So I put on my thermal leggings beneath my walking trousers and these mittens over my fingerless gloves--so I can liberate my fingertips to take photos. The mittens, themselves, however, are two layers. If not for photofingers,they would have kept me warm enough on their own. The designer knew what northern cold is like. The tweed-effect of the design across the palm is the result of the red being carried along behind the grey while waiting for its appearance on the outside. This 'stranding' results in a double layer of wool.

 Finally, take a look at the thumb. The thumb shows off not only the skill of the knitter with its design but also something every mitten needs--a gusset. Take a look at your hands. In kindergarten, you put your hand flat on a piece of paper and drew around it and called it a mitten, but our thumbs--that marvellous evolutionary achivement in a digit--means that our hands are not flat. Our thumbs want to hang out on the inner side of our hands. This mitten knows that and hugs the thumb in its own swaddling.

I like to think that these mittens, like me, feel a connection with this northern land even though it's not where either of us was born.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Seeing Through the Dark

 The one thing we have in abundance right now is dark. There are the pandemic-related ones and here in the North are the geographical ones. If you sit very near the top of the world, as we do, light balances the seasons differently. We will have more light than we know what to do with come June, but for now the sun is tucking itself away.

And growing things need light, so this is the season of seed time and sleeping underground. For a gardener it can be a bit daunting saying goodbye to your veg patch and the perennial bed. I still have the wee solar fountain in my pond gurgling instead of plashing, and some flowers refuse to give up on the season yet. A few bold calendula are defying not only the dark and the cold but also the wind. 

If not for the gardening magazines that have to have something to say during the dormant season, I would have missed what was right in front of me--elegant seed heads.  We value the obvious: the splash of colour, the fragrance, the birds and the bees that come to admire them, but the raison d'etre, the pinnacle of any plant's achievement, are its seeds. 

And so today I noticed the seed heads of plants along the hedgerow and discovered a grace, an elgance that is overlooked during the show-ier season.  I gathered a fistful of these erstwhile weeds, which I was artfully arranging as I went along. 

I brought them home and put them in a humble, hard working jar instead of a vase and they seem to be enjoying the attention

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

The Crown No One Wants

Magical thinking. None of us is immune. We are all the more susceptible when technology falls short. I had thought that La Corona might miss us. So many other things do. The hedgerow in photo above is rosa rugosa to feed the birds and scent the air and hold the wind at bay--or at least slow it. It is also a boundary of garden versus the comparatively wild moss or moor on the horizon in the photo. A flowering currant, a relic of someone else's garden, blooms incongruously, tenaciously among the peat and the reeds and the gorse. I dont think anyone digs their peats from there any more, and the old road which once passed along somewhere near there has gone without a trace. I mention that as if to justify my magical thinking.

But La Corona is here. Three cases in the hospital. Given the thousands elsewhere that hardly seems worth a mention except that there are so few of us. I don't know who they are. Without much difficulty I could ferret that information out because we are connected up here--not physically but socially. I will know someone who will know someone who will know who to ask. I don't want to know. I grieve for them and their family and friends whoever they are. And I have friends and family in the NHS gowning up to do battle against this new beast.

The promiscuity of La Corona means any of us is vulnerable. So those three in the hospital are just like us everywhere. Like John Donne's poem the bell tolls for us all.

The grey skies and 'little rain' of the morning are what my husband calls a good growing day. Spring is coming. The frittillaries that were just edging into
bloom are now chatting among themselves in a quiet corner as if nothing were awry.

And so we garden and we wait.

La Corona is as old as Life
and as new as today
her protean self is jealous
of the living things
and takes their breath away
We know her only
by her deadly passing
through the mead hall
no one sleeps easily now
where is Beowulf ?

Monday, April 06, 2020

Ti ann am muga and a single leaf of spinach

It is the hungry time of year. A sparrowhawk and another hawk were seen in the garden. I think they were looking for worms--I've been told despite their hunting prowess that the diet at least for the hawks that sit looking fierce on the fence posts along the road are actually worms. And the garden birds have been devouring the seeds on and around the bird table.

the wooden table-tree sitting proud
above stunted, whip-like trees
their leaves fodder only for the wind
Oh look a chaffinch
visitors single out favourites from the flutter of wings
you have a blue tit a robin or
I used to know the name
and always
there’s a blackbird

For her their names are their own
it was enough to know they were hungry
scoop by scoop she fed the tree, the birds, herself
knowing there would always be more hungry birds.

Like the poet persona, I've filled the bird table once already today. And watered the seedlings and tidied the kitchen and made the lunch and now it all needs doing again, but I take a CD-length break.
Today it's Yo Yo Ma on his cello with the soul of the tango. The richness of the music helps to feed my own hunger. As does the tea and the knoweldge that after 90 some days of DuoLingo I can say tea in a mug in Gaelic.

Anxiety is a kind of hunger gnawing away at us all just now. I try to keep myself busy. The tea and the music and enforced leisure are meant to be an antidote. Years ago my brother bought a static electricity generator. It was a relic from a time when electricty was thought to be helpful for all kinds of maladies. He experiemnted on me (of course..what are sisters for?). I dutifully held a handle from each side of the machine in my chubby hands while he cranked. The feeling of the low level of electricity coursing through me is how I often feel these days, except I can't drop the handles or make the generating stop.

Despite the music, I begin thinking of all the things that need doing--fill the table again put laundry on the line what will I make for tea will it stay dry enough for a walk what did I want to remember to add to Wednesday's grocery list? Is it safer to get cash from village post office or the ATM?

And I am rescued by one of my cats. She curls up on my lap and obliges me to be still for her sake. In that stillness,  the music makes its way in and smooths the electric hum of my fretsome self.

In the calm I think of the spinach in the cold frame. Almost big enough to take a leaf from each of the baby plants. And I have pots of younger ones waiting in the wings. We cannot do or make everything for ourselves, but we can take up arms against the hunger. One leaf at a time.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Snow Day in April

Of course it snows in April. My chldhood April came in like a lion and out like a lamb to describe the last difficult birthing of spring; here snow comes to make the frantic season of lambing just that more difficult.

I'm not lambing, so I revert to childhood memories of snow days. The shoop shoop of my snow trousers with their smooth water-resistant surface is like the leggings we wore under our dresses on schooldays or the smooth denim of the flannel-lined jeans of Saturdays and snow days.

Snow was either packing--suitable for snowballs, snowmen, snowangels or sledding; or not. I didn't need the fine differentiations ascribed to Inuit peoples.

The tell tale squeak beneath my boots tells me this is packing snow. I smile even though I probably wont make a snowman.  But I could, and that knowledge cheers me as I watch the snow curling neatly into little pom poms as it comes off the front of my boots.

I like the democratising of snow. It falls equally on things. I like the shortening of the horizon that comes with a full snow sky such as today, not the desultory flakes or the hard almost-hail that flies in like wasps.

These snowflakes are steady, large, feather-like, and the sky is full of them. As I try to make out the horizon, I understand the old tales of farmers out in the snow and lost. Even on this road that I know so well, it would be easy to miss the landmarks.

And snow that keeps on coming reminds me of the stories of ewes and their lambs hunkered up against a dyke and found safely days later because they had created a little pocket of air.

But today the snow is benign. The breeze is still. The sun is climbing higher and peering through the milky sky.  Already the snow is softening. The shoop shoop has changed tone as the snow has melted on the insides of my trousers.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Little Garden Walk

It's cold. The wind is blowing like it still holds a grudge from an old argument, but the garden is stirring into life. So here's a bit of a virtual walk about in the garden today.
Why start with a sleeping cat? Thanks to my hard working cats, I dont have too much to worry about with mice, and I keep the birds out of their reach. Sheba has earned a wee rest.

OK, now my garden pals, I am sure that your fingers will twitch into the compulsive weed pulling, but look aside from that if you can. I offer first a weed-free photo to get you ready. Primula and daffodils do well up here. These brave little daffies have been going strong for a month now and the primula, which starts out as a squat flower to take a reading of the weather, has stretched out. We can take that as a good sign--all of us who like to look for optimism in our gardens.

Not surprisingly, Hellebores, which cheerfully bloom in January, do well here, too. They enjoy the company of the  primula that started them all--primula veris or cowslip.

My wee pond has a newt! I accidentally disturbed him when twirling for pond scum (aka filamentous algae). I hope for more wildlife this year. It would make very happy if some frogs decided to make this their home and avoid crossing the road from the lochans on the moss on the other side. The welcome mat is out to amphibians of any persuasion. (I have a toad in the chicanery somewhere. He shows up from time to time.)

The 'garden room'-- a rocking bench--as close as I can get to a front porch. The green man looks after us here in this sheltered spot. It is possible--occasionally--to sit out of the wind and find sun. Not often, but that makes it all the more welcome.

Lastly, two photos of hard working Jackie, the former shower, jacuzzi, steamer thingie from the bathroom. Disassembled and reassembled she is doing yeoman service as a cold frame. She doesnt stay warm enough to be a proper greenhouse, but look at all the wee green things she is keeping comfortable.