Monday, September 22, 2008

The Root of All Progress

As I put together a last minute gift recently, I was reminded of a story that I read in The Right Stuff. The author tells the story of a man who was lazy so rather than do the simple thing, he did something that seems to the listener more complex. The story winds on into parable form to reach the inevitable conclusion that all progress comes about as the result of laziness.

The analogy with me starts from the fact that I do not like wrapping presents. The invitation to the party said to buy a little present and to have it "nicely wrapped." I have a friend who loves wrapping presents. She once persuaded me to volunteer with her at one of those charity events where you wrap presents for customers for a donation to charity. I have done many things because I could not say no. Perhaps that is another aspect of the lazy person's parable. At any rate, I went about the job workmanlike fashion--neat corners, not too much extra paper on the ends, and a pre-made bow as my piece de resistance. Voila! And then I looked over at my friend who was making the Mona Lisa of Christmas bows. I looked back at my own package, which was now looking decidedly frumpy. I learned (but quickly forgot) how to do a reasonable approximation of the Mona Lisa bow and even, under my friend's tutelage, got creative with ribbon.

On my own, I knew I was just not up to "nicely wrapped." I managed to duck the whole issue until the day before the party. Inspiration! I had a felted clutch bag that just needed a handle and perhaps a fastener and something on the front to match the theme of the party. Now I don't have wrapping paper and conventional ribbons, but I have a wonderful assortment of textile things. I plumped upstairs to my studio/playroom and found the purse. I also found dyed wool tops in the colours that I needed and collected my felting equipment.

With all this under my arm, I trotted down two flights of stairs to the kitchen and put the kettle on--this time for my "wrapping" rather than for me. Boiling water would give me a good hard felt. I spread out the wool tops, splooshed the water onto it and made a handle and fasteners. Soap, hot water, and friction in the kitchen might be scrubbing, which would be work. In this case, however, it was getting the wool to felt properly, so it was playing.

While I set those pieces aside to dry, I plumped up the stairs again to find my button boxes. I had the idea to decorate the front of the purse with buttons. I wanted a heart shape, so I scurried to find the heart stencil from another project and then dumped about a zillion buttons on to my work space looking for inspiration or buttons that matched or both. Sorting the buttons would have been work, but this was play.

I left the candidates and the runners up for the heart shape on the table while I stitched the handle on to the purse. To make sure the handle and the purse are well joined, I set my iron to steam and used a cloth to steam the purse into shape. Ironing is work, but this is more playing.

Finally I stitched buttons into place around the heart stencil and steamed the purse again so that all the elements were well and truly joined into the fabric and the shape of it all. And that is the lazy woman's answer to wrapping a present.

Below is a photo of the workshop where I learned to do felting. A bag of mine is on the right. Not the one in the story, but my first project.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sheep Walking

I called this post sheep walking because it captured a cluster of ideas. Sheep walking might be walking with sheep. I once had a flock of renegades follow me for about half a mile. Like Mary, I had no idea what to do with them and they eventually went home on their own.

It might also be walking a sheep as in trotting around the ring at the County show in a white jacket and a staff competing for a prize.

It might be walking where only sheep have created a path as they follow each other single file up a hill. I have done this at the Yarrows site scrambling up a hill to see a broch or at Dunnet or Portskerra to take a photo of the places that usually only sheep can see.

It might also be walking like sheep--not necessarily on all fours but for the simple pleasures of life--good green grass, conversation with another sheep, or running away from an errant sheep walker.

As I walked along the road to Strathy Point lighthouse, I ambled among the sheep. They paid no attention to me unless I got within an arm's reach of them. If they had known how slow I am, they would not have bothered even with that little skitter. You have to be fast to keep up with a sheep. I recently watched with considerable respect a young woman monitoring her sheep around the ring at the local auction. Faster than thought--mine or the sheep's--she moved to intercede or to redirect them. I'll never be that kind of sheep walker.

Today I was walking among the sheep. Along the walk to Strathy Point, sheep and rocks predominate. I had been thinking too much and wanted to enjoy the sun struggling between coming out from behind the clouds and falling below the horizon to make the dark blue horizon line that seems a likely boundary for the end of the earth. I needed some un-thinking time beneath the broad blue horizon so I walked alone imagining how lonely it must have been when Strathy Point lighthouse, the last lighthouse built in the UK was created. All the lighthouses now are automated, but when it was created it was home for someone. A bonny spot, but certainly a lonely one.

As I was heading back to the car, I encountered a group walking to the lighthouse. I greeted them and prepared to keep ambling when one broke from the group and came up suddenly asking in the accent of the middle of England,"Was it worth it?" I was startled and not interested in assessing what the walk might be worth to someone else. I smiled, shrugged and said "It was for me," which is all we can honestly ever say.
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Saturday, September 13, 2008

View from Betty Hill Hotel

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Yesterday offered up a late summer golden afternoon so delicious that it had to be enjoyed. We obliged by a drive into the west, which if you are familiar with this blog, you know means more into the country. The day was warm, the sun is still long in the sky although the days are getting noticeably shorter. All the more reason to enjoy the sun while it is here.

The green of the open hills is beginning to bronze as the bracken turns brown, the reeds start from their green-brown into their red-brown phase. The heather is still blooming here and there but the lush oceans of purple are now more like tidal pools.

Beyond the village of Reay, past Halladale and Portskerra, the car is warm, the traffic is light--unless you count the squadron of three ewes who took over the left lane just before the road became a single track. Once onto the single track, I knew the road belonged to the sheep and so gave up any claim to right of way or the rules of the highway code, which the sheep have not read.

Betty Hill, supposedly named for Elizabeth Sutherland, was a clearance village. Now it has a wee shop, a post office, a pool and fitness center, and a hotel. Betty Hill has one of the most beautiful beaches you will see anywhere--the photo above does not do it justice. The hotel overlooks the beach. When we stopped for tea, the hotel was full of bicyclists enjoying the day.

In the past we have met surfers there. Thurso, Betty Hill and the areas around here are becoming known now among surfers. The surfers we met described the beach in terms of wave production and, I guess, surfability.

As we lingered in the warm sun of the large bay window overlooking the beach through dinner and coffee, I watched the change in the beach. At first the waves were as active on the little bay as on the larger beach. In time that moved from waves to winkling--wavelets like a sigh. As the sun dropped toward the hills, the winkling gave way to a mirror flatness. By the time we left, the bay had swallowed the sun and only the submerged glimmer remained.

As we drove back home, the sheep had settled into an early evening of conversation in groups settling in for sleep. The night shift, the birds of prey, were just warming up for their time in the twilight. The softer light subordinated the bronze to the rich green of the heather and the gorse.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Re-Writing a Life

I believe in the power of writing to help us make sense of our world or to see more broadly into the world than our single perspective allows us to see unaided. I could wax lyrical about that in the language of the academy that granted me an MA in English, but now that I am a farm wife I have a more pragmatic perspective.

Someone I love has lost his memory. More like it has been stolen from him. The mysterious plaques and tangles of Alzheimer's have blocked the pathways to the file cabinets where his memories are kept. Our minds, I am convinced, are vast unkempt libraries where nothing is lost, but the path may be obscured. For most of us, we can wiggle around and find another way into the file we want when we want it--or shortly after. In my brother's case, the pathways to the memories are more overgrown than for the rest of us. Also, the flexibility of mind to seek out other paths is encumbered. Something dumped out the card catalog to the library of his mind.

On bad days I think that Alzheimer's is the cruelest disease. It can turn someone into a real life zombie. It can destroy not only the person but also those around him or her. It can create a black hole where a person used to be. But my loved one has the good fortune to be loved by several hard headed women. They look after him and refuse to let him go. One of the things to keep him in this world with us is to provide an external route back into the file cabinet of his memory library. That is a convoluted way of saying writing down the memories we share. The stories have been a hit with him and they have also helped to give him back to me. When I remember the stories, I remember. And remembering no matter how or when we go about it is a good thing.
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