Friday, October 31, 2008

Fending Off the Cold with a Good Book

A good book is an excellent antidote to cold weather. Especially if reading it involves curling up somewhere comfy and warm with a cuppa in hand.

After years of reading everything from comic books and cereal boxes to dog eared paperbacks tucked into pockets or purses, I am being dragged into the 21st century. My reading now includes authonomy--an online web site where good writers (and some maybe not as good) compete for the attention of the editors of a publishing company. For a good read--even though it is harder to get comfy with a computer, I recommend this link on authonomy:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

First Snow

I am at home at my keyboard wrapped in several layers of wool. Outside there is a dusting of snow hiding in the corners of the hedges and the bushes, blanketing the bright yellow blooms of the primrose, a hearty variant of a local native plant struggling to thrive in a cold spate.

The ferry did not run yesterday. I was relieved. When the sea and the wind fight with each other to see which can outdo the other, I prefer to watch from some cozy living room. It is a remarkable spectacle but definitely not one that I like to see up close. Seeing the snow on the ground today is like picking up the broken glass after the brawling winds have settled in to sleeping it off in a corner.

Although relieved to have the wind abated, the snow this early in the season is worrying. In my four years here, I have never seen snow this early. Four years is not a long time, but it is all the time that I have in my weather data base. It may be a short never, but this anomaly rattles around in my brain--what does this betoken? When I ask my husband, he speaks in simple syllables that speak volumes, "Cold." "Early winter."

The geese that come down from the arctic to the relative warmth of Caithness have been and gone already. That can be seen as a indication of an early winter. This gust of cold is also a gift from the arctic. I prefer the geese, even though they eat the grass that our cattle need. Like the primrose, braving smiling through her blanket of snow, and the geese who moved to warmer if not greener pastures, I'll find a way to accommodate this arctic visitor.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hoping for Smooth Sailing

The standing stones of Stenness, Paleolithic monuments, on the main island of Orkney.

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The wind has eased, which up here is always good news. The temperature has dropped sharply and the rain has given over to hail or freezing rain intermittently. For some weeks now I have been looking forward to visiting Orkney with two of my women friends.

Fair weather makes everything more fun, but in this case it is particularly important to have moderate weather. Between here and Orkney is the Pentland Firth--the often stormy union of the North Atlantic and the North Sea.

So tomorrow I may be on the ferry from Gills Bay to Orkney or, depending on the weather, sitting right here at my keyboard in several layers of wool.

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Entrance to cemetery at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. The cathedral was built from 1137.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Double Rainbow Day

The geese have come and moved on south without lingering, which everyone says is a sign we will have a long and bitter winter. It is already sharply cold and there has been a skifter of snow in the high places. Today began, however, with a clear sky and two rainbows arcing across the full 180 degree horizon.

The first rainbow, the stronger of the two, led right into the bay at the edge of the farm--trust those leprechauns to put their pot of gold some place very safe.

Today one of my early posts, polished up a bit, saw the light of day in the local paper, the Caithness Courier. If I had not been blogging for --whessht, I think it must be two years now--I would not have had the nerve (or the material) to do that--rainbow or no rainbow.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blame it on the Buzzard

Buzzard is another one of the words that does not mean the same on both sides of the Pond. When a birder friend pointed and said, "Look at the buzzard" on a woodlands walk, I was looking for the featherless head of the hard working scavenger bird. It was some time later before we managed to clarify the confusion by referring to the proper Latin name--Buteo. "Oh, I say, as the light dawns--hawks."

I see the hard working hawks perched on fence posts as I drive along the road. Sadly, I sometimes also see them on the road. If they are doing street cleaning of a rabbit or somesuch, they are very slow to get aloft. A careless driver, either not noticing or not caring that the hawk is not going to get out of their way as quickly as usual, can leave both hawk and his erstwhile meal on the highway.

These smallish hawks may cause some grief for small lambs, but they are more likely to show up to harass the hooded crows, which can and do hrm the lambs, or wood pigeons or gulls. Thus, I was not unhappy to see a hawk show up on one of the fence posts along our farm road shortly after the arrival of a batch of crows.

This hard working hawk, however, reverted to buzzard in my estimation as I saw him sitting on the roof over the back door where my cats wait for me in the morning. Two kittens have recently joined the throng and they might be hawk meal size. Perhaps the hawk was merely taking refuge there to catch his breath from the 70 mile per hour gusts. I would not begrudge him that. Perhaps he was the one who picked up the little mouse that Runty, the littlest farm cat, left there as a gift for me when I brought his breakfast out to him. I would not begrudge that to the hawk either.

These charitable interpretations of the buzzard's appearance, however, were tempered by my recent readings. My husband is writing a fictionalized interpretation of the Battle of Raudabjorg. It opens with a soothsayer making dire predictions. So that lowering buzzard became the focal point, the explanation for all of today's mishaps: a missing piece of paper that I had put someplace safe and had now become invisible, burning the black eyed peas that I had bought because they reminded me of home, an email that came back orphaned. I attributed it all to that poor hapless buzzard trying to make his own way in the gusty winds.

The wind has roused itself to a more consistent rowdiness--the occasional gusts have become the norm with more frenzied peaks. Inside safe and comparatively warm, I can forgive the buzzard for his influence and hope that he finds a safe haven from the winds.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Four Cats and A Fascinator

I have some serious things on my mind--a serious short story, the financial crisis gobbling up what little money I had on two continents, a freelance contract with the time ticking and the scope galloping, and a deadline for my fiction writing, so I am going to write a wee post about knitted cats and the foibles of British fashion.

I recently read a great novel (Writing in the Sand by Angus Dunn) and at one point when the universe is in danger of falling apart, three characters take up their knitting--the logic was impeccable--anything that increases the coherence of the universe at that perilous moment would help the universe and--as the character explained, it would help them think. I am convinced that I am saving some part of the universe when I pick up my needles, and, if not, it helps me think about hard things while my hands do easy work.

Now if I have some knitting project that requires mastering more of the arcana of the craft then I cannot think about the other hard things. In that case, I am running away and hiding in the yarn. That has its merits, too. I almost always have several knitting projects that do not require such concentration on the go for the same reason that women (and men) have done so. There are times when you just have to wait for someone or something to happen and in those moments you can knit.

Shetland women are famous for managing to do their complex pattern knitting on the go by inserting needles into a little leather pouch worn on a belt as they walked and watch children or cattle or sheep. I don't think I will ever get there as a knitter. My nearest approximation was the day I had to stand in the driveway just to dissuade any cattle who might make a wrong turn on their way from the field to the barn. I stuck my little ball of brown yarn in the pocket of my giant cardi. As I stood in the gate waiting for the sound of the hooves pounding around the corner, I knitted a few more rows. The wind--a gentle breeze on that day--caught the trailing yarn and arced it out away from cardi at just the right tension. I knit until the clatter of hooves demanded all my attention.

Like most knitters, I rarely follow a pattern exactly. I picked up a pattern for one of those "Calling all knitters" charity events for tiny teddy bears and decided in an instant that I would make cats instead and that I would make them for all the great nieces coming for a family wedding. Because I put the pressure of a deadline on the poor hapless cats, it became another deadline driven moment in my life rather than a saving the universe meditational moment--until yesterday.

Supecting that children, being children may lug these cats around by their tails.I decided to put a little bit of fusible interfacing --reinforcing material--on the inside of each cat where the tail and the body are attached. I did this yesterday just before flying out the door with my husband to the AGM of a local history society. When I got home and saw the cats lined up obediently on the ironing board with their rumps in the air, the coherence of the universe came flooding back into me. It was impossible to take these guys too seriously.

So that's four cats. Here's the fascinator--I'll find some photos if I can. I may even post one of me in the particualr article after the wedding. A fascinator, as I learned, is the littel proto-hat with odd feathers and beads and bows of various material stuck on a comb or a clip or a little hatlet base. When I first saw them--before I even knew the word--I was astounded at how silly they were.

When I learned they were called fascinators, it occurred to me that perhaps it was something somehow derived from the times of the empire in India learned from the cobra tamers--something like they used to captivate the attention of the cobra. I chuckled at my own little idea until I sat behind a woman at a wedding with one of those fascinators. It had feathers that quivered in the slightest breeze--it was a drafty church, so there was a fair bit of quivering--and coils of ribbon looped back upon itself. If we had not been obliged to stand up for the bride, I might have been fascinated into a hypnotic state.

Perhaps as a defensive maneuver--a counter hypnotic trancing device, or perhaps because the hat the woman first showed me looked so like a scene from Alice in Wonderland with me as the Mad Hatter, I now own my own fascinator. I was told it looks perfect with my dress--a story for another day.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

And the Wind Lingers

The worst of the gale has passed--the hail, the little plumps of rain, the long grey clouds hovering just above ground level--were not much more than inconveniences this time. But the wind lingers. Not the fierce unrelenting throbbing of the full gale, but now a persistent, stronger than normal, gusting with cold behind it wind that tells me that winter is staking its claim.

I have tried more or less successfully to ignore the closing in of the light. The long days of summer softly gave way to twilights and later dawnings. We can and do have wind in every season up here. A friend once commented that the best description of Caithness is the place where the winds begin. I think from time to time of Odysseus traveling to the cave of winds. I think that was to appease Poseidon, but no one is likely to write a saga about walking to the car or collecting the mail in this cave of winds. On some days it feels like a heroic effort.

The winter wind is the most formidable of all the season's winds because it carries a deadly chill. The wind blowing off the north sea is always cold, but the winter wind has a distinct bite. It manages to cut through the most dedicated layering of clothes. Even with a hat scrunched down about my eyes and a scarf pulled up to my nose, the wind can bring tears to my eyes.

Now after three bouts of shingles, I fear the wind even more. The cold winds can trigger the post herpetic neuralgia--the self-induced antics of the trigeminal nerve on the side of my face. For as fond as I am of my new home, I have spent the worst of each of the winters away from here and as the wind blusters around the house for the fourth day in a row, it is beginning to seem like a good idea.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Weather in the Waves

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The weather from the bedroom window looked sunny and clear. The wind was very quiet. In retrospect, too quiet. We walked to the end of the farm road and as we did so, saw the grey cloud over the ocean. It muffled the sound of the waves. Only after we were on the return leg of our walk and the cloud had moved closer to us could we see the deep grey rolling waves of the ocean. A storm was coming. How big and how soon was not immediately apparent. The waves take their own time in coming.

The deepest waves are more quiet than the scuddering white caps or the short, heavy seas that sob their way to shore like La Larona, chronically weeping for her lost love.

By the time I was leaving Thurso at the end of the working day, the waves were great, grey rollers seeming to come from the very bottom of the sea. They broke in white froth, still several feet tall, and looked for all the world to me like the gnashing of teeth.

I shuddered with the thought as well as the cold wet wind and hurried home. The "near gale force" winds tugged at the wheel as I drove home. The weather was no worse here but the wind was huffing unabated off the ocean. It had already wreaked havoc with the mesh and plastic construction I put in place yesterday. It was designed only to curb a flirtation with an early frost. I reassembled the mesh and boards and set about securing them with rocks--which are never far from hand up here. I worked quickly against the cold that bit into my hands and the wind that seemed always one step ahead of me. I watched resolute as the first rocks--only the size of my hand but dense granite were rolled off as if they were a pebble. More rocks. Larger--two-handed rocks only would do.

The cats peered cautiously at me from the protection of the garage. Only Solomon would venture out of the safety of the walls. Even he was skittish. As a kitten, he shook as the winds soughed around the house.

And then to the house--power still on but for how long? Can't say, so I am writing fast. The water that appears in the corridor when the wind blows like this is back again. It has been "fixed" --oh, perhaps three or four different times now. I sigh and put the bucket in place. For now that is all I can do.