Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 22 May 2015

Got Rhythm? Sometimes Not!

I plan my travel knitting carefully. I choose something simple, in hand spun yarn, suitable for knitting in all kinds of weather. The stitch pattern must be simple, familiar, easily worked while sitting in the trailer loft/bedroom or in a campground or while visiting. I throw in a back up project (always a simple sock in self-striping yarn) so that I avoid boredom. I've done this countless times over decades of travelling to conferences, campgrounds, family visits. I'm a seasoned pro who could organize travel projects in her sleep. My system is fail proof.

A few posts back, I talked about choosing this road trip project, a simple lace wrap. I've knitted it before. There are four rows in the pattern, including two purl rows and one knit row. Row Three is an easily memorized pattern of yarn overs, two stitch stockinette columns and a few Purl 3 Togethers, which should be no challenge for loose lace knitters (or lace knitters who knit loosely). The borders are garter stitch. Nothing to it, right? "Ha!" said the Knitting Goddesses.

Apparently, the KG's have snatched away my ability to count to three. Or five. Expecting me to get through one row of fifty-one stitches without ending up a stitch short or over seems to be out of the question. Even garter stitch alludes me. It may look as though I've made progress (and I have, I guess):

The problem is that the piece should be twice as long. When I'd knitted about 25 cm, I discovered two things: a mistake in the stitch count which misaligned the columns and a dropped stitch, at about 10 cm, which didn't ravel until I stretched out my knitting to check the approximate size. Then, the stitch kindly made itself known by running back as far as it could get. (Lifelines? I don't need no stinkin' lifelines!) There was nothing for it but to tink back to the beginning of the run at about the 5 cm mark. Sigh. Meditation Wrap, indeed.

The problem was discovered on Day Three and repaired on Day Four. It's Day Ten and I finally mustered up the courage to pick up where I left off. (Of course, it's been too hot to work on the fuzzy, woolly sock I chose for Project #Two.) Things seem to be going well. There may be a minor error about 8 cm back, but I'm choosing to ignore it on the grounds that it is really a blocking issue. (It will be, one way or the other.) My daughter's neighbours may be wondering why the newcomer on the patio counts continually and in such a strange rhythm: "1, 2, 3, 4, 5," for the border; "1, 2," then silently to myself, ending with a triumphant "51!" and another count of five when I manage to keep the stitch count straight, or a muttered curse when I do not. Perhaps they'll be relieved to discover that I'm not a permanent fixture.

On the other hand, my tiny travel book of watercolour paintings is coming along splendidly, perhaps because I have no expectations when painting. I'm an amateur and content to be so. Unlike knitting, flaws are an expected part of the process. When watercolours run in a rhythm along the paper, they are known as "Happy Accidents." The same does not apply to my knitting:

I can't be too upset, though. Not with a view like this, of the night sky, as we sit with our ciders outside our camper door:


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Down Dog!: Meditation Two

It's a beautiful morning. While Mr. DD and his daughter ran errands, I have been in charge of Morris. We headed for the backyard, which has become Morris's favourite spot. I practised The Ten Mindful Movements and some gentle Sun Salutations and other asana on the patio until Morrie decided I needed coaching. Since his idea of encouragement is to lean his full weight up against my body while I attempt to balance in Vrksasana, yoga came to an end rather abruptly, although there was something fitting about my Tree toppling in such a lovely urban forest.

I sat. I did nothing - no writing, no painting, no photographs. I listened to the birds - the resident mourning dove, a few quails, a raven who stopped to chat. I watched yellow butterflies the size of small birds waft their way through the yard. The neighbourhood is always busy with people attending to their properties, so I concentrated on incorporating the sounds of mowers, weed whackers and chain saws into my practice.

I watched a dog worry a stick. Morris has claimed a large branch cut from Young Ms. DD's lilac bush. For the better part of two hours, he chewed and carried and worried that branch from one end of the yard to the other. He brought it to show me. He balanced it on my chair for better chewing action and, sometimes, he tried to balance it on my leg, which is not a great idea, given his big, sharp teeth. (He's not very good at playing fetch; he knows how to fetch, but doesn't like the concept of "Drop It!" He let me throw the stick 3 times before that game ended. It might be a record.) I sat, while Morris remained focused on that stick and I reflected on what it must be like to give something such undivided attention.

I became aware of the beauty of the neighbour's trees, the smell of the neighbourhood, the buzz and hum of the few mosquitoes out and about. I noticed the lichen on the lilac bush and recalled that the presence of the increasingly rare, slow growing lichen is a sign of clean air.

I saw a small, tattered butterfly decoration tucked in another bush and I smiled. It reminded me of myself.

Just for a moment, I felt my heart rest. Just for a moment, all is well.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Cloud Bustin': A Meditation

We made it through the prairies and the Rockies to the gentler, more distant mountains of Kelowna. The week has been busy with moving Ms.Young DD, cleaning (new place and old), unpacking and keeping multiple cats and Morris separate. (It's working well: the cats are inside and pouting, while Morris has a big back yard to patrol as he supervises Mr. DD's handy work.) There have been trips to home suppliers, meetings with the neighbours and even a spa morning for Mother/Daughter pedicures. (Thanks, Young Ms. DD!) Outings must be planned more carefully; what was a ten minute walk downtown is now a forty minute bus trip one way, although it's a cheaper ride than home and a pleasant, scenic tour at that.

I've been the slacker of the bunch. Mr. DD is always happiest when he has projects on the go and Young Ms. DD wants to organize her own household, so I've continued to write and paint and read while I stay out of the way of the busy ones. Today, though, there is work for me. Level 4 of the Master Spinner Programme is a month away. I have supply orders to finalize and class plans to outline. There are changes to the Level 4 requirements which will be implemented this year; emails have been flying back and forth to reach consensus on that. So, here I sit at the computer, procrastinating - er, contemplating - before the work begins.

I think of our journey and the wonders of mountains and wildlife. There are flowers and shrubs and trees in bloom on every corner here. Roses are popular hedges of choice and the colours are spectacular - reds, and pinks and yellows, highlighted by fluorescent green-yellow bushes whose colour sears your eyes in the sunlight. I've spent every day watching the shifting skies. Days begin with clear blue; clouds build and billow and darken, bringing downpours and then rolling out again over the mountains. Photography doesn't quite capture the poetry of it all. I've turned instead to my tiny sketchbook and watercolour set to record my memories. The paintings are nothing much (and the photos of them are a step down from that), but they remind me that change is constant and, no matter what, change carries a beauty of its own:

We rolled across the prairies, watching the expanse of skies.

When stuck in traffic in the Rockie mountains, what better thing to do than record the scene?

Kelowna mountains remind me of the Qu'Appelle Valley back home.

Huge storm clouds build on the mountain tops.

By mid-day, the sun sears everything with a shimmering glow.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Take Me To The Mountains

I am not good at multi-tasking. Efforts to accomplish several things at once end, if not in tears, at least close to the possibility. I either feel like a headless chicken or that I'm ready to bite the heads off chickens. People tell me things multiple times, but whatever is said never sticks in my head. I lose track of what I'm doing, misplace items, trail off my train of thought in mid-sentence. I'm simultaneously annoyed and annoying. It's not pretty.

We've been packing for our extended road trip back to the mountains and forests. Our little camper is looking cozy, a hand spun and dyed blanket on the bed, a couple of hand woven dish towels tucked away in drawers and my art supplies and fibres stashed everywhere. (I claim that I take so much in order to have extra protection against the jostling that happens when you pull a camper through the mountains. I'm not sure Mr. DD is buying that, but that's my story.) We'll be away for a while and, in the mean time, I have supplies to order and more planning to do for Level 4 of the Master Spinner programme. A good part of our time travelling is spent in campgrounds which have few or no services. Internet access is out of the question. That's the way we like it, but it does mean that I have to get as much done as I can before I leave.

On top of that, there were medical appointments to keep and yoga classes to teach. On Saturday, I led two stretch breaks at a "Spice Up Your Life" event hosted by The Canadian Cancer Society. It was a first for me in several ways. There were approximately 75 people attending; I'm used to teaching a maximum of around 20 people. I had to wear a microphone pack, which for a moment, made me feel as if I should be leading a hot yoga class in a fancy studio somewhere. (The phrase, "When Hell freezes over," springs to mind here.) I had to devise two practices which would allow people to move despite the fact that they were in street clothes, sitting in rows of chairs, with limited space between them. Some people had mobility challenges; many people were balancing plates of food on their laps. I went in feeling pretty darned nervous, but everyone played along and we did quite well, although I must apologize to Thich Nhat Hanh for my Simon Says/Hokey Pokey version of The Ten Mindful Movements.

By yesterday, I was toast. When I feel so overwhelmed that one more thing will send me over the edge, what do I do? I do one more thing, of course. In this case, it's a good thing - I choose some hand spun yarn from my stash, cast on some stitches and begin to knit. Whatever I knit to calm me is simple, with a basic shape and a stitch pattern that is easily memorized and rhythmic, calming, meditative and relaxing. For this piece, which will also be my road trip knitting, I chose a silk/wool yarn, fairly fine at approximately 25 to 28 wraps per inch, firmly spun and plied with a twist angle of about 25 degrees. The stitch pattern is from my Iris Meditation Wrap, which has only one simple pattern row. I've cast on 61 stitches and I've used a provisional cast on to allow for more options in what I make from the fabric - it may be a rectangular shawl or it may decide to be a more structured wrap or garment. I spun the yarn a couple of summers ago and dyed it a rich golden colour with my brother in law's marigolds.  The gold, stunning as it was, was not my colour, so I over dyed it in a leftover cochineal dyepot to produce the brick red colour you see here.

The yarn crunches pleasantly between my fingers as I knit; the sensation soothes and calms me, as does the colour which shimmers in the yarn. The pattern is simple, but that one pattern row forces me to pay attention; there are rows of tinking to pay if I don't keep my mind on my work.

Here she is, all packed up for her road trip, tucked in the bag my daughter gave me from the Humane Society Cat Rescue benefit we attended a couple of weekends ago:

Soon she'll join me on the road. Morris knows something is up; he's seen his giant dog house (as he seems to view the camper) in the driveway. I'll be away from televisions, phones and social media, which is calming in itself. I can smell those mountain forests already. See you on the other side.


Saturday, 2 May 2015

Release the Bats! An Evening's Entertainment

Last night, I decided to wander over to the Science Centre for a free event involving some of my favourite creatures, bats. Dr. Mark Brigham, a professor at the university and our local Bat Man, gave an entertaining and informative presentation on bats around the world, prior to the release of the bats who overwintered at the Science Centre.

Did you know that most bats have excellent vision, giving the lie to the expression, "Blind as a bat?" I did not know that. Did you know that bat guano can be used to make gun powder? I did not know that. Did you know that a bat giving birth is equivalent to a human female delivering a 35 pound baby while she hangs by her thumbs (mom, not baby)? I did not know that (and would prefer not to think about it). Dr. Brigham's passion for bats was apparent as he passed through the room, holding a Big Brown Bat for the crowd to inspect. Approximately 200 people packed the tiny theatre for the talk, with so many more unable to get in that they were taken upstairs for a talk by one of Dr. Brigham's students. The scientists were overwhelmed by the turnout, which made releasing the bats - all eight of them - a bit problematic in terms of providing peace, quiet and a non-threatening environment. Everyone was cooperative and two of the bats were removed from tiny sacks to fly away before I decided to head home.

I don't have any photos of the evening for you - my camera doesn't like the evenings. I do have some fine photos of a male teenage Big Brown Bat who landed in my backyard in the summer of 2008. He was injured and disoriented and Dr. Brigham sent one of his Bat Rescue Team out to save him. A young woman rode up in the Bat Mobile, transferred the young lad to a cage, then entertained the local children with bat stories before taking Mr. Bat back to the Lab (Yes! They have a Bat Cave, er, Lab!), where he was found to have a sprained right wrist (ahem). After allowing him to heal and rest up for a few days, the team returned him to the park, where as far as I know, he's still living happily and well. (The oldest bat known was 35 years old. Dr. Brigham has tagged bats who lived to be at least 21.)

Isn't he a handsome fellow?

Bats do wonders for us, from consuming massive amounts of insects to pollinating flowers and they are facing destruction from White Nose Syndrome, for which there is currently no solution, and from wind turbines, for which the solution is simple: turn off the turbines for two hours at dusk during the six week bat migration period. The next time you see a bat, look up and wonder. If bats get in your belfry, don't panic and don't call the exterminator. Instead, see if your local university or museum of natural history or someone can put you in touch with a rescue squad. You'll be doing the bats, and all of us, a huge favour.

We don't know why bats hang upside down.