Search This Blog

...a glimpse into life on Vancouver Island, needle felting, photography, food, gardening, etcetera...etcetera
"Happiness always looks small when you hold it in your hands, but let it go, and at once you learn how big and precious it is."
Maxim Gorky

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Here's to them...

Last spring we took a road trip through Normandy, France 
 and in particular
to visit the Vimy Ridge Memorial.
It sits on a hill overlooking the Douai Plains of France.
A former 250 acre battle field, now peaceful and green.
Rising up 30 metres are two pylons,
One for Canada, one for France...
Today is Vimy Ridge Day in Canada.
A day dedicated to the men, mostly very young, who fought
and died in the battle 
and to those whose bodies were never found after WW1.
They have no known graves and so this is their memorial.
(preserved in concrete, a trench at the memorial)
The attack began at 5:30 AM on April 9th 1917, 
Easter Sunday.
By nightfall on April 12th the Canadian Corps had defeated the German Army
but had lost more than 3,600 men in the fight.
(tunnels where the soldiers spent much of their time)
It's impossible to imagine the horror of these 4 days and 3 very long nights.
The mud, the cold, the dark, the fear that so many faced. 
In fact, the naivety of the soldiers who fought for the freedom
and beauty of countries such as Canada, France and indeed so much 
of the Western World, is beyond comprehension.
As we walked around touching the letters of the names of the dead, a sense of gratitude became so overwhelming 
that there was nothing to do but to be quiet and to be with them. 
To thank them silently.
The only danger here now are the fenced off areas of 
rough ground, old fox holes and unexploded munitions 
which make grass cutting impossible for human powered machines
so the army of sheep are constantly on call for these duties...
(and no, not one sheep has ever been blown up)
I have a personal connection to this place.
About 4 kilometres to the southeast is a tiny French village called Thelus.
On the outskirts of this village is a Canadian Military Cemetery 
called Nine Elms.
It was near here that my fathers Great Uncle died during this battle and 
is buried along with 79 other men of the 14th Canadian Infantry.
He was 29.
You can read another detailed post about Joseph Quilty here.
We made a pilgrimage to his grave.
Something I had wanted to do for many years.
I made a felted poppy for him and laid it over his headstone...
It's a peaceful place bordering thousands of acres of wheat fields on one side 
and a busy motorway on the other...
Again, hard to imagine the grey, barren battlefields full of the wounded, dead and dying
as you stand amongst the carefully tended graves neatly lined up.
(the same area 103 years before)
There, just outside the walls of the cemetery, one lone poppy grew in the wheat...
A silent reminder of the immense loss of life on this day.
We should all take a moment to remember all of those who were killed and damaged and never found again.

A very special thank you to the people who take such good care 
of these cemeteries all over the world.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

A delicate balance...

Globally, we are living in precarious and delicate times.
That a thing the size of a spec of dust can drastically change the world
in such a short time is, in a word, 'phenomenal'.
My days are filled with menial tasks, as probably most peoples are...the day to day usual bits of feeding, cleaning and for those of 
us lucky enough to be able to get outside.
But even that has changed.
I walk the dog twice, sometimes with one other person and of course we are socially distancing ourselves.
It is my saving grace to GET OUTSIDE and to watch the natural world,
somehow oblivious to the massive shift that is transforming us by the hour.
Or perhaps the birds and wildlife do notice that something is different?
It's quieter, less air traffic, less pollution in the air, less cars on the road.
Last December, on a walk, I had spotted a little nest perched in a tree,
out of reach...a tiny round swirl of grass...
I had been keeping an eye on it and wondering how I might be able to get it down since whoever had started it, clearly had abandoned the 
thought of using it last spring....
Yesterday I looked for it and it was no longer in the tree branches.
And there it was, on the ground. 
It's fragile structure picked up on a wind and tossed to the earth...
What a gift!
I picked it up and it weighed almost nothing.
But, oh! it's construction was Something!!
Horsetail and fine, long grass with minute bits of moss were the bricks and mortar of this house...
The worker, with nothing but wings and a tiny beak to forage
the materials and engineer such a marvel.
It had withstood, rains and snow and gale force winds all
through the winter until just a few days ago.
It may have been mowed over by the grass cutter if I
hadn't of seen it....
And so here we are, as a human race being battered and swept away 
by things we cannot see and I feel we are all as fragile
as this little nest....
The questions we are all asking ourselves...can we weather the storm
and bear the weight of the heaviness that surrounds us now?
Let's remember that right now this world isn't as big as it seems.
Collectively we can send love and light and strength to each other.
For certain there will be those who will be tossed to the 
ground and lost to the darkness.
 But for those of us fortunate enough to have a strong structure,
reach out, catch them if you can.
Do what it takes to come through to the other side.
I send you all the best.
Remember, in the words of Emily Dickison...

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Pickers, carders, strippers and travellers...

Sounds like the characters from an old Western movie 
or a travelling carnival right?
These are some of the terms I learned the other day after 
visiting one of the last tours of  the 
The farm has been in operation since 1980 raising Alpacas and 
three years ago began the fascinating journey 
into processing fibres in their onsite woollen mill.
The grand Duchess of the mill room (and yes, thats the name of her!)
is the carding machine built in 1870 and still running like a charm!
 Her name has worn off mostly, but then you might be a bit 
worn yourself after 150 years of work!
She came from Philadelphia but her history up until recently is a bit unclear.
She worked in Crofton, then Qualicum Bay 
before moving south down Island to North Saanich, B.C, Canada.
 This beautiful beast of cogs and drums and belts and wheels is a 
fluff layered machine of incredible ingenuity.
The dawn of the Industrial Revolution brought this machine to the forefront 
of processing wool on a grand scale.
Basically the picked, cleaned, raw fleece... fed onto the large belt where it is taken 
into and through a number of needled drums
 (kind of like those fine tooth dog brushes).
Here is John...master of fluff, using cards to set a gauge...and no, thats not
why it's called 'carding'! The word is derived from the latin word carduus which means 'thistle' or 'teasel' which 
are seed heads that used to be used to comb fleece.
Everything is covered in a gauzy, layer of bits of fleece...
As I stood there watching, I couldn't help but wonder what products had come from the fleece processed on The Duchess throughout it's 150 years of service...soldiers uniforms, blankets, woven
textile for suits and coats...
After several turns through the various gauges of needles, it comes out
as beautiful, fluffy strands called pencil roving...
 It then goes into a smaller, but none the less intricate than the big carder,
machine called a Pin Drafter where it gathers the pencil roving
into a more stable texture...
 where it is transferred over to a spinning machine.
 The roving now begins the process of becoming yarn. It is spun first in one direction and then, depending on the ply, is switched to another part of the machine to twist the ply's together thus creating different 
gauges of yarn ready for knitting and weaving.
PHEW! This making yarn is exhausting!
It takes a lot of finicky messing about to set 
this machine so the yarn comes out right!
 Each small batch order is accompanied throughout the whole process
with all of the pertinent information of the owner of the fleece insuring
that it stays together with every bit of info that the customer has requested.
After the spinning machine has finished, the yarn is either spun 
onto cones or twisted into skeins ready for pick up...
Unfortunately I must end this post on a sad note as Inc Dinca Do Farms
is on the chopping block. The owners will be closing the mill and selling
the farm due to personal reasons.
I only hope that through some amazing circumstances, that this
does not happen. 
These people who work and live here are passionate 
about what they do, using organic and low carbon footprints and 
only process local, small batches.
The work is long and tedious.
It is part of the slow fashion movement that begs you to think
of how and where fibre and clothing comes from.
Please visit the farms website to meet the wonderful people 
who spent the time to explain their wonderful world!
I wish you all the best and hope and pray the mill will be saved!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

If they could talk...

Spent the day poking around my favourite little
thrift store town, Sidney, B.C.
But before I started 'the hunt' I noticed the tides were
finally low and so I went down to the shore to have a look.
Not much of a beach but sometimes you can find a few
interesting bits and pieces from a fire
in the early 1900's...
I did find one rare piece of red glass...
...the bits of green seemed to be calling my name too and 
a bit of printing on a worn piece of pottery...
I am a sucker for an old suitcase and couldn't resist this 
cute little leather one with a sweet interior...

Whenever I find one I always want to know...
"Where have you been?" 
"Which exotic ports did you see?"
"Did you travel from far away on a train? plane? horseback?"
Who's initials are engraved on some suitcases?
There's also the little metal tag with the number 1819 on it which
I doubt is a you know?
Like I said, I have a small collection of vintage cases that
I use for storage or taking goods to shows.
They are sturdy things, for sure, stackable and can take a licking...
The other great find was this whimsical cheese holder and knife!
 It's pewter with the name Metzke printed on it and I researched 
it to find out it was made in Tallahassee, Florida in the mid '70's.
So the hunt was successful! 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The spirit of ravens...part 2

 This story is about my other encounter with a raven 
which I wrote a few months ago.
In reference to Spirit of the West, it is a Canadian folk rock band who had just lost their lead singer 
John Mann. 
He was a powerhouse of a performer with energy which permeated a room of 10 
or a stadium of thousands. 
He died from complications due to early onset dementia.
He was 57. The same age as myself.

On a day when we lost a part of Spirit of the West, I was  a quiet witness to another spirit of the west passing. 
On a deserted lakeside trail, my uncle and I and 3 dogs  ambled up through firs and arbutus to a peaceful lake in the highlands.

We walked amongst  the  bountiful mushroom crop, best in years….giant white gills emerging, orange flat caps, slimy, skeleton like,  curled up hands, reaching out from the mossy graves.
The smallest dog caught the scent of something more interesting though. 
And as if he knew to be gentle other than the crazed terrier on the scent of something to hunt, he nudged his nose towards it. 

The feathered black body lay off to the side of our footpath.
The Raven. Still alive. Resting on his side. 
We thought at first that he was injured.
Should we save him?
Take him to the wildlife rescue centre?
My Uncle took all three dogs away and left me with him.
I stroked his feathered back…he looked at me calmly from a black, glass bead of an eye. 
 The top of his head slightly ruffled in proud raven fashion.
The beak…the long, strong confident power of it.
And then I looked at his leg, relaxed under the large wing.
 It was calloused at the knee joint like old burled maple. Dry, no fresh flesh of a wound. His foot had similar aged markings. Years of wear. Of battles. Of old wounds. Maybe arthritis had set in.
I think he had chosen to lay down his sword.
To rest on the bed of fallen leaves .
His satin black form against the brown blanket of an all too familiar autumn floor.
How old are you I wondered?
I wanted to go home and rip open one of my own down quilts and bring a bag of feathers back to him. 
Cover him with warmth on this frosty night.
Lay with him so he was not alone.
But he was not alone.
While I sat there, a congress of  ravens , cackled and looped their songs above this senior member.
 They circled a hundred feet above him, sat vigilantly in treetops but they were not that far away in spirit to the one who lay dying on the forest floor.
He could hear their words of goodbyes and well wishes.
I offered him my own words of comfort in a language he wouldn’t understand  but perhaps through my tone  and touch he would grasp my encouragement of love and light on his journey to the next world.
I thought of the things in my own life that are dying.
How acceptance is not an easy thing for mortals.
Today, once again, I am learning from the world beyond words and human things.
Keep to the quiet paths.
Listen to the swans trumpet.
Stop to watch the sun rise through a frosted, dying seed head.
The tall, tawny coloured high grasses will keep you company on an early morning walk.
And always…listen for the silence in between it all.