Monday, June 21, 2010


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I am not now nor have I ever been a numbers person. Oh, I am not phobic and I can do the necessary arithmetic for groceries, knitting pattern adjustments and converting Centigrade to Fahrenheit and so on, but given my preference, I'd estimate or rely on a quantitative assessment that was more of a summary--"too much" "too big" "too little" etc. More than that is just well, details. And I tend not to be fond of details unless they get swept up in one of my big ideas.

An aversion to details and numbers is going to be very hard to avoid in describing why or how Northern Loops is going to be successful. So rather than the poetic description I have used of the relative density of Caithness and Sutherland--more sheep than people, then more rocks than sheep is a perfectly good description of population density of the Caithness-Sutherland area. In its own way, it sums up perfectly the situation. However, in an attempt to be more quantitative, I found myself looking up the population density of Caithness-Sutherland. The 1999 statistics gave a population density for the two counties of 5 inhabitants per square kilometer. I assumed they were not counting sheep in their total. And I was chuffed, although not surprised, to discover that gives us the honour of being "one of the least densely populated areas of Europe." I'll check the numbers in a minute, but my hunch is that puts us in the running with places like North Dakota.

One of my other concerns about saying 5 inhabitants per square kilometer is that when I say something I want to be certain that it is precise. Estimates and numeric hunches carry with them enough wiggle room to allow me to be certain of the veracity of the statement. So in keeping with that honesty, I want to add here a disclaimer. If you calculate the population density of Caithness alone, it is more like 14 inhabitants per square kilometer.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Orchid Season

It has been a too-long, too-cold winter. And a reluctant spring has been damp and coldish with occasional mild days just to remind us that it is not really winter or to tease us with what we are missing. Recently the air hung so heavily that nearly everyone had headaches. Remarkably, it has been a good season for orchids. Here in the north of Scotland we have grand scenes of rocks and shorelines but our flowers tend to be of the quieter, ground hugging variety. So it is with our orchids.

A friend invited me to have a look at the orchids that are flowering along her driveway in a profusion of Lady Gaga notice me pink. Each orchid is a queen in her own right, hence the photo below of Her Majesty the Queen.

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Not to diminish their majesty at all--rather to show their sensibleness, I offer this photo from a close up view of the Lilliputian world over which they hold sway. The daisy lady in waiting is duly miniature in keeping with court protocol and good sense in a kingdom where the wind can roar and bluster the larger, brasher things that seek to reach above themselves in a windy treacherous world.

And of course I see in their gladsome season a metaphor. A reminder to us all that no matter how grim the situation, there is something that can thrive and we need to be mindful to notice and to cherish it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why We Knit in Public

It was World Wide Knit in Public Day June 12, ergo we knit in public--on the pedestrian precinct in Thurso and in the education room in Caithness Horizons--to be precise.

The whimsy of a holiday based on knitting is enough to compel some of us to take to the streets, especially if we have already been known to knit in public.

The baby boomer feminist/knitting nana/poet and former part time amateur cattle wrangler now reinvented as late blooming social entrepreneur persuaded some like minded friends to join me for fun and gentle rabble rousing.

We wanted to provide a prompt for some of those closet knitters to take up their needles once again!

We wanted to find those timid I-always- wanted- -to- knit-but first timers.

And we found a few in each category. One young woman learned knit, purl, rib stitch and casting on and off in one lesson! That much took me years.

Another woman joined us in the museum after the rain drove us into the exhibit that Louise had put together almost single handedly. She sat in, knit a flower and held it triumphantly up to the camera. The look on her face says much about what we hoped to accomplish with the day. I'll add her photo here if she agrees to it.

In the formal language of the social entrepreneur, Knit in Public Day was the launch event for my hopeful idea for an intergenerational knitting programme. Northern Loops has survived two rounds of funding cuts as the idea has been refined from its original concept. According to the NESTA folks who gave me a bit of money to test the idea, one of the nice things about Northern Loops is that it is scalable. Its USP in fact is that it is scalable. In everyday language that means the idea is appealing because it can easily be replicated in other places. I am glad that our idea is scalable, but the first step was to sell it on the precinct.

We gave away knitted flowers (Team mates and I used to love flowers. Perhaps in time we will again but having knitted enough flowers to cover a float in the rose bowl parade I have seen enough for a while.) We also gave out brochures and I must have said intergenerational and all age and partnership between senior knitters and young people about a thousand zillion times.
Everyone liked the idea. Maybe we can translate that into action. Maybe we can sustain that action. Maybe. That's what these next three weeks are going to be all about.

Tomorrow two of us are going into the high school to help a beleaguered home ec teacher convince some students that there is some useful reason to learn to knit. Next week I'll be working with older people to hear their concerns. With a little luck and a fair bit of hard work we may get them together and see if Northern Loops intergenerational knitting programme is destined for the big time.
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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On the Road Again

I like travelling. I do. I like trains. I like Edinburgh. I like the folks I'll be seeing on this next part of the NESTA take-an-idea-and-make-it-into-a-project journey, so why I am going about packing like a reluctant school girl dragging my feet on the first day of school?
I am tired. The kind of deep down tired that needs more than one night's sleep or a massage--although both of those sound pretty good right now. The kind of tired that comes from knowing that no matter how much success and good support from a handful of hard working folks we have already accomplished, there is much more to be done and much of it has to be done by me by myself.
I saw a bit of TV program last night about a man who had an exquisite but excessive vision of a garden he needed/wanted to create. You might doubt the man's sanity and certainly his ability to pull off the grandiose scheme but you would never doubt his pleasure in his creation. So when he was working flat out and things were looking up and the TV interviewer asked him how he felt about a piece of good luck, it shook me when he said he was too tired to get the pleasure of it. He went on to say that in 6 months he knew he would be very happy about it but just now he was too tired. Not too tired to be grateful or to continue to work or even to believe in the long term goal, just too tired to be exuberant.
When I finally read Don Quixote, I was surprised to see how much the very same characters who tried to make him abandon his madcap ideas were desperate to get him to believe when his melancholy took over his whimsy. So yesterday a friend told me to keep up with the patter, so I'll rattle down the road on the train and doze and dream and keep tilting at windmills.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Al Fresco Day in Caithness

What is rare as a day in June.... A day warm enough and still enough to sit outside with the umbrella up. An al fresco day in Caithness is rare indeed.

Today I got to share it with several friends. We had lots of work to do, so naturally we had chocolate and tea and coffee and some grapes to make us feel less guilty about the chocolate.

And of course knitting.
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Lessons in a Bog

We teach what we need to learn. Peter Elbow, I think, said that. He was one of my heroes when I borrowed courage from someone more wise than I to walk into a class full of adults and presume to tell them how to do something. Telling folks how to do something is usually pretty easy for me--unless it has to do with directions; telling them why they should do it has always been more difficult.

It is easier in a classroom to tell them why they should complete their essay or read the textbook. They have already made the decision to be in the class. I am just a signpost along the way to carrying out their own decision.

Leading, Drawing out. The classic definition of education.

This morning Morris was reading to me from some old diaries he has been transcribing. He noted a different use of leading, with reference to grain. It struck me as an apt motif for my work just now.

Back in the States my friends and I could go into gales of laughter when I would say, "I have an idea" because I was rarely without one or more. Now I have an idea that might be just like this tiny heath spotted orchid--a lovely wee blossom in a large open field--or it might be something that I grow on. To do that I'll have to explain first to myself and then to other people why we should do that.
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