Outside

To the lighthouse

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As I’m writing today, we’re in Portland watching the clouds lower and waiting for the cold sizzle of freezing rain. My daughter has seen the inside of a school building exactly once this year and has logged a total of nine days of education since December 1. Our world has been snow and ice and sledding and baking and free play and Swallow and Amazons for so long I can hardly remember the shape of our standard routines. This wintry dreamtime has been such a complete holiday from real life that I dread the return of early rising, school lunches, and long commutes in dreary weather. If our thaw works quickly and we aren’t glazed in a fresh layer of ice, that day might be tomorrow, so I’m looking backward instead.

At the turn of the year, natured graced us with a golden day. I swept the children out of the farmhouse and into the car for a quick walk before the sun set. The wind had calmed; Mr. G stayed behind to enjoy the respite from its teeth as he set new fence in our most exposed corner, where the breeze comes in boorish from its romp across the Pacific. At the southeast tip of the island is the little Cattle Point lighthouse, built in 1935. The surrounding land is part of a conservation area crisscrossed with pleasant walking trails—as long as you’re not nervous about the rather abrupt plunge down to South Beach.

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A fellow walker watched my children and dog pelting ahead up the path and kindly asked if I was familiar with the lay of the land. Indeed, there’s been enough erosion here that the trails we walk today are not the trails of my childhood, and in some places they wind very near the edge of the cliff. As tempting as it might be to climb atop that stone the boy is passing above, the sandy soil is scooped out beneath it and I wouldn’t care to test whether an extra forty or fifty pounds might be enough to send it on its inevitable tumble to the sea. The kids stay clear. But I believe the only way to grow agile and surefooted and canny in risk assessment is to test yourself on trails such as this one from an early age, so I let them run.

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A gentler slope here

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Darn, I wish this hat were something I needed to photograph for a pattern release!

The lighthouse isn’t grand or terribly iconic, but its stout little octagonal tower and drum lens go on keeping the shipping off the rocks of Cattle Pass. The Coast Guard allegedly intends to do some restoration work here to shore up the building before it slithers seaward.

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Two bald eagles reign over this territory and we crept near their tree to watch them awhile, because that was the sort of magic on offer this day. The sea was full of splashy ducks and cormorants. The homeward trail got a wee bit tiring…

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…but the beauty and the docile weather made a rather dribbling pace no hardship. All the mountains were out—Mount Rainier, about 120 miles away, is just visible on the horizon at the right edge of the frame in the photo above—and the road home provided a close look at this handsome fellow in the twilight:

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My parents chose this home, crossing the continent years before I was born and setting down new roots. I had the freedom to leave; I’ve visited many beautiful places and I hope to see a great many more, and I could have stayed for good in a few of them, but this island has always called me back. On days like this, I think the greatest gift I can give my little ones is to infuse their growing and becoming with this same landscape. Who knows where they’ll fly? But if they carry this place in their hearts, they’ll know what they’re looking for when they find it.

Birthday sweater

I should have had autumn or winter babies. The urge to encase them in new knitwear to mark another voyage around the sun is too powerful to resist, and here they’re born in June and July, in the northern hemisphere. I finished my boy’s sweater, a smallification of Stephen West’s Drangey pullover, and tucked it into his drawer. Luckily, summer on the island can still mean a breeze with teeth, especially at the beach. We island folk know not to pack away our down jackets and wool hats for the season.

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This sweater began as a single skein of Sincere Sheep’s Cormo Worsted (colorway Hester), bought especially for him because it’s his signature color and it’s Cormo and I couldn’t not. I thought I’d make a hat. But by then I knew last year’s pink sweater wouldn’t fit him long and I thought I’d just see how far I could stretch that one skein. Stash diving produced a bit of this and a bit of that: the precious remnant of my Clara Yarn CVM/Romeldale (that’s the white), a skein of De Rerum Natura Gilliatt (grey-brown). I had a partial ball of Sincere Sheep Shepherdess in the same colorway left from Ada’s Chicory cardigan of two years ago, and a handy thing that was for finishing the right sleeve and the cuffs. I knit the yoke about three times. I can’t tell you why, but top-down is not my favorite construction and my reasoning goes all to pot when I’m trying to work out the size of the sleeves. I knocked all the pattern numbers down by percentages, but the plain fact is that little boy shoulders and torsos are not proportionally much like man shoulders and torsos at all, so I fudged it with the seat of my pants. Or something like that. The sleeves are still a bit wide at the top, but this yields the benefit of making it much easier for him to dress and undress himself. Stephen didn’t put a tunnel pocket on his design, but I’ll bet he wishes he had.

My model was not very cooperative about holding still: “I’m too busy climbing!” And my battery died, so this is all the evidence of the sweater in pristine condition. Now it smells of campfire, having seen my boy through his very first toasted marshmallow, and I’ll probably be picking grass seeds and who knows what else out of it tomorrow. And that’s exactly as it should be.

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Adventuring

Friday, 10am: The journey begins on a clear June day. Some clouds pretending innocence are loitering in the west, no threat to a beautiful summer’s day in this mild, maritime climate. The ferry poots a warning to the lesser boats, leaves Friday Harbor and rumbles northwest. Sea lions have rafted up to bask on a rock off Yellow Island, warm and tawny in the sunlight and still as driftwood. It has been an unusually dry spring and the islands are showing their golden flanks and shoulders—their August plumage. The sea is sparkling and the kelp beds wink and glisten. A flock of gulls is squabbling over a little run of fish.

Down on the car deck, my blue station wagon holds a tent, a sleeping bag, an LED lantern, a rain jacket, and three clear drum liners stuffed with North Country Cheviot wool. We’re nearing the international border now, crossing from the San Juans into the Gulf Islands, one archipelago with two names parted by an imaginary line drawn by a German Kaiser at the end of the 19th century to resolve some armed bickering over a dead pig. To the north is Salt Spring Island. It’s only about 14 miles from my island to this one as the orca swims, but today I’ll set foot on Salt Spring for the first time. My three bags full are bound for the Gulf Islands Cooperative Spinning Mill.

11:30am: It turns out Americans don’t try to breeze through Sidney Customs with carloads of agricultural product very often. Or ever. Three agents consult on what’s to be done with me and my wool, asking questions about the state of my tires and shoes in the friendliest of manners. They are relieved to hear I don’t drive the family car about the sheep pasture or into the barn. They are ever so pleased to hear about the hours I spent picking seeds and manure out of the fleeces and charitably decide it must be mostly clean. They wish I had a firmer figure for the value of three bags of fleece, but in the end they nicely send me on my way.

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This post is photo heavy so I scaled them smaller than usual. Click for better!

1:30pm: Salt Spring’s topography is more amplified than I had realized. My island works up to its heights, so I wasn’t prepared for big hills rearing right out of the sea. Roadwise, it’s completely different from home. Beaver Point Road swoops and veers; every corner is blind. It seems possible that this route was engineered by barn swallows. Noted: If you don’t have a farm stand at the end of your driveway, you’re certainly not keeping up with the Salt Spring Joneses.

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2:00pm: I’ve parked at Ruckle Provincial Park and trotted down a woodsy path toward the sea with my tent under my arm to claim a campsite. This tent dates to my childhood and is looking a bit sun crisped. The rain fly is sporting some duct tape, but it’s better than the one to my tent, which disintegrated last time I pulled it from the sack. I’m grateful to my parents for the loan. And the dead earwigs are mostly on the outside, anyway.

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3:17pm: I didn’t know what to expect of the Gulf Islands Spinning Mill, but it’s a surprise to find it nestled within a kind of living agricultural history exhibit. Antique tractors rust nobly on the green. No one is around except a blacksmith, who is sure enough beating a piece of glowing metal into submission with a soundtrack of punk bagpipes. The mill is locked up, with a sign posted that recommends calling John in such a scenario. I can’t call from my American mobile here, though. The blacksmith directs me to find Barry, who oversees this place and is working on a bobcat over yonder. From Barry I learn that Bob, who gave me the green light to deliver the wool today, has gone to Ontario because his mother-in-law died. Barry calls John’s wife and learns that luckily John is on his way to the mill right now about another matter.

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John arrives and shows me the other matter: the pin drafter is broken, and he’s spent all week sending photographs of various parts to the company in North Carolina that built it 70 years ago and then awaiting their suggestions about what to try next. He’s finally isolated the area where it’s jammed and hopes to have it back in action within the next week, but for the moment all he can spin is a truly Rubenesque singles. John has been running this mill for 20 years. He likes Cheviot.

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My visit is brief; I need to wait until Amy comes in on Monday and takes a look at the wool so I can have a conversation with her about how best to spin it. The options are not many; it is a very little mill, after all. But it suits the modest scale of this particular adventure and I’m delighted to have seen it in person.

4:30pm: Back in downtown Ganges, I putter through the busiest area to see what’s what. Ganges is a little bigger than my town but feels familiar, brimming with summer weekend tourist traffic. I park near the Coast Guard station because I spy a bookshop and imagine this will be a good place to ask for dinner recommendations. Also, it’s called Black Sheep Books, and when you put sheep and books in the same name you’ve got me firmly in your tractor beam. Black Sheep Books is a second-hand trove of antiquarian oddities and greedily thumbed romances and everything in between. If I were feeling less hungry and more decisive I could do real damage here. After about forty happily aimless minutes I settle on In Deep, Maxine Kumin’s essays on country life, and the bookseller points me to the nearby Treehouse Café.

6:30pm: One grilled halloumi sandwich wrapped in naan with a side of kaleslaw later, I am ethnically and calorically replete. There is live music starting, but I am sleepy and also keen to veer and swoop my way back through the forest to Ruckle Park while it is still fully light.

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Fence envy is a real condition, folks.

8:00pm: Back at the campground, I’ve shuttled necessities down to my tent and located the potable water supply. I pass a brace of bucks browsing at the trail’s edge. They regard me peaceably from beneath their velvety antlers. I spread my sleeping bag, gather up my knitting, and settle on a little shelf of igneous rock still warm from the sun with the waves lapping near my toes.

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It’s not exactly a quiet spot; there’s a steady parade of ferries to and fro on the Vancouver run, and some of those vessels make our Washington State ferries look like bathtub toys. But the throaty purr of those big engines melds lullingly with the soundscape of the strait. I watch three families of geese ply the waters. A lustily supping otter rolls and dives and surfaces, subduing something with a lot of unmannerly chewing. He trolls the shoreline for a long while. The liquid arc of his back and the furthermore of his tail hardly leave a ripple. The sky is lit with lilac and apricot; it is also loosing a spatter of rain. I retreat to the tent to write and listen.

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One anniversary mitt down, one to go.

Epilogue: It will rain all night. I will learn I’ve grown old enough to want a cushier sleeping pad, but I will be wryly thankful to have packed the extra-long impermeable ridged variety, which will have protected me perfectly from the impressive lake forming under and inside my tent even while rendering half my limbs numb by turns. In the morning I’ll laze awhile, then drive back to Ganges to hunt up breakfast at the farmer’s market, where I’ll happen upon a glorious rug woven and naturally dyed in Oaxaca. It deserves its own post.