Friday, July 31, 2009

Square 44: Going greener

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Tomorrow is moving day, but then I will have lots of extra hands to help and it will be easy compared with what I have to do today: finish packing! This week in the midst of madness it has been good to continue focusing on why I'm doing this. It will be a change for the better in many ways.

For one thing I am going greener. I've been concerned about environmental issues since childhood when I formed a Nature Club with my neighbourhood friends. We tested Lake Erie for pollution (it was surprisingly clean where we lived) and went for hikes. Ranger Rick magazine inspired me to dig a compost pit (which didn't work very well because it didn't get enough air) and plant an organic vegetable garden. For the school science fair in grade eight I built models of a solar house and a geothermal generating station.

It's a long road from youthful idealism to adult practice. Growing up involves discovering the sacrifices involved in living according to your values. Even organic gardening has been a challenge, as I wrote about in Square 8. I'm the first to admit that I haven't always walked the talk.

The past few years as I have become more deeply rooted in my Guelph community and spent more time downtown. More and more frequently I've made that five-minute drive from my apartment. It's only a 40 minute walk or a $2.50 bus fare, but when you make the trip five or six times a week the time and cost add up. Driving costs, too, but that is easily ignored when considering the convenience. But my laziness about this issue has frequently pricked my conscience.

One of my main reasons for moving is to address this problem. I have lived closer to downtown before, and walked more frequently then, and the new apartment is closer still, so I know I'll take advantage of the opportunity to get more exercise and save the atmosphere from my emissions. So many things are within a 10 minute walk: the farmers' market, my pharmacy, several good café's, many good restaurants, my favourite bookstore, an excellent used book store, Out On The Shelf, and the list goes on.

So here's the question: how can you nudge your life toward living more responsibly on the Earth? Or maybe you recently took such an action. Tell me about it! Write about it, knit about it, and talk about it at your own knitting group.

Yarns in this square: green Lamb's Pride, anonymous blue-green yarn from St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, deep blue-green Patons, pale green yarn from Philosopher's Wool, some two-ply handspun purple and green yarn, bright green Létt-Lopi, olive Cascade, variegated gold and green Malabrigo, Tupa, handspun single-ply variegated sea-green yarn from The Black Lamb, grey and aqua Noro Silk Garden, and pale green Briggs and Little.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Square 43: Lorraine Roy

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The last time I saw Mom—we knew she had only a few months to live, but didn't expect it to be our last visit—she gave me $1,000. Two weeks later she died, and I wanted something to remember her by. In a situation like that you learn what you value. I bought a couple pieces of original art, which I could not normally afford.

It was easy to choose the artists. One of my favourites is Lorraine Roy, who makes art quilts depicting the interface between nature and human consciousness. My attention had been drawn a few years ago to a project she did in conjunction with University of Guelph Arboretum: Saving Paradise, a collection of 17 quilts depicting rare and endangered tree species of Southwestern Ontario. It was a subject close to my heart, and a medium that appealed to me.

More recently she has worked several series of quilts to portray tough little trees growing in rugged environments such as the Niagara Escarpment. These pieces speak of the fragility and tenacity of wild habitats, but also of the human spirit. Having hiked many stretches of the Bruce Trail I am familiar with these scenes, and it was one of these quilts I decided to purchase: Burning Bush 8.

I chose to knit this square at a time when I cannot actually see Lorraine's quilt. It is packed along with most of my other belongings in preparation for moving on Saturday. That considered, I'm surprised at how accurately the yarns selected somewhat randomly from my stash pay tribute to colours and textures of "Burning Bush". Had I set out to describe the piece in words, I could not have done as well.

I am beginning to feel that each of these squares is a painting (and Lorraine's work would be appropriate inspiration for that). A picture says things words cannot, and yet the words of this Yarn are also an essential part.

The yarns in this square: purple Cascade, unknown single-ply gold yarn, variegated green and gold Malabrigo, wine-coloured Patons, some interesting rusty purple wool-mohair-acrylic-alpaca Karen by Filtes King I've had in my stash for ages but not used before, deep orange Noro Kureyon, bright orange Létt-Lopi, chocolate Tupa from Mirasol Peru, and a frosted green remnant of another Noro yarn.

Square 42: Verdant

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When Daniel mentioned that the green yarn from Tanis Fiber Arts reminded him of ferns, the first thing I though of was a place near my cottage. It is not far, perhaps 100 metres, but we rarely go there. You have to cross the road, pick your way through overgrown brambles, penetrate a wall of maple samplings, navigate of maze of ephemeral streams through the leaf litter and climb steeply uphill, all while fending off a host of mosquitoes from the nearby swamp.

Beyond all these barriers lies a deep forest sanctuary against a north-facing granite wall perhaps 12 metres high. Many tall hemlocks stand there. Others have fallen over the years. The ground is jumbled with jagged boulders and trunks. In the deep shade, ferns and lichens encrust the exposed rocks. I did not discover that particular grove until well into my teens, and I suppose the reason it enchants me is it reminds me of the Pacific Rim forest I wrote about in Square 12.

I never find evidence that any other humans have visited that part of the forest, but I have occasionally taken friends and my daughters there. Everyone wants to climb the cliff. The first time I climbed it was with my friend Mary and her younger brother, Rob. They were small and lithe and moved rapidly upward from handhold to foothold. I followed, but got stuck somewhere halfway up, unable to move forward or back. Mary had to describe the unseen purchases above my head so I could feel my way, finally reaching the top.

At the crest is a different world, equally magical. The same hemlocks dominate the canopy, but it is bright and open, breeze swaying the branches. At certain points you can see through the leaves to distant low stretches of lake like sapphire under the sun. The ground is soft, covered with reindeer moss and true mosses. It is tempting to sit and let the forest massage your senses.

I haven't visited the place in a while, but during this week of life change—rushing, packing, trying to remember everything that must be done—I often find my mind wandering there, scrambling through the verdant shadows to find a quiet place far from the madness.

As the blanket progresses, I am particularly intrigued with squares that use many different yarns to create a watercolour effect. This square utilizes eight yarns: an unknown grey remnant, Cascade 220 Olive Heather, blue Patons Soy Wool Stripes, Moss from Tanis Fibre Arts, a similar lichen green colour from Briggs and Little, some dark green-brown yarn handspun by Danny, some brown yarn I hand-dyed with black walnut, and dark auburn Tupa from Mirasol Peru.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Square 41: Farmers' market

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This is the last weekend before the move, and my consciousness is on high alert. I've been waking early without aid of the clock alarm. Yesterday morning I took the opportunity to drive down to Guelph Farmers' Market at 7:30 before the big crowds hit.

It isn't a larger farmers' market and remains essentially unchanged since the 1980s when I was a university student, but whenever you mention it, a Guelph person will smile or start speaking with a ringing warmth in his or her voice.

Some vendors haven't changed in 20 years: there's the meat counter, the cheese counter, the same family selling produce by the north entrance, and the machine that makes sugar cinnamon doughnuts. Others are more specialized, but also long established: the Amish pie lady, the salsa lady, the woman who makes the famous jams and relishes, the baklava guy, and the potter in the back corner (I have one of her plates with dragonflies that I gave as a hopeful gift to Mom the Christmas before she died).

In the back parking lot is much, much more produce. Yesterday I brought home early peaches, blueberries, a big bunch of basil, fresh garlic, red potatoes, two cobs of sweet corn, and black kale. I always stop and gaze longingly at the fresh flowers.

Many artisans come and go: photographers, jewelers, sellers of gewgaws and sentimental art. Years ago I spent my winter Saturdays manning a table of my own in an attempt to sell handmade paper, usually making enough money to buy coffee and a warm cinnamon bun. Then there are always buskers, people selling some new fad, eternal youth and health, political ideas or religious propaganda.

One new booth sells homemade gluten-free baked goods. I easily drop $12 there. The bread and focaccia are not bad, maybe a little gritty, and the brownies and cupcakes are alright, but the butter tarts are heavenly.

Yes, essentially unchanged in 25 years, the farmers' market still manages to offer something new and interesting every week. But perhaps more important is that all the nice people go there once in a while so you can count on running into a friend or four, and there are familiar faces, even the ones with no names attached but a ready smile or greeting.

After next Saturday I will live half a block from the farmers' market. I can hardly wait. It won't take much persuasion to climb out of bed on a Saturday morning, pull on some clothes and sandals, and shamble across the street for a dab of community, beauty, fascination, nurture and worth.