Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

I live in a quiet neighborhood of Southeast Portland, but there was drama this morning just a few blocks from my house, where two male bald eagles got stuck together while fighting in mid-air for territorial rights, and fell into a birch tree in someone’s back yard.

We learned of this at the nearby dog park, so instead of going straight home, we made a detour to see for ourselves. I was stunned as we came up the block and I saw these magnificent, enormous birds entwined with each other and entangled in the branches of the the tree, about 40 feet above the ground.

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There was a small crowd of neighbors gathered to watch, including a woman who volunteers with the Audubon Society and seemed to know what she was talking about. She told me that there had been strong disagreement among the onlookers about whom to call, or whether to make the call at all. Voices were raised.Image

Because bald eagles are a protected species, it is against federal law to touch them or interfere with them in any way. Attempting to untangle them from one another could be assumed to be a federal offense. But there they were, helpless, dangling in plain sight in a tree in a residential neighborhood less than one block from an elementary school, where young children, soon to be released from kindergarten, would be walking up the sidewalk.

Had this fight and entanglement between the eagles occurred out in the woods where no humans witnessed it, the eagles would probably have remained entangled and died in the tree. Their bodies eventually would have been consumed by crows or other raptors, and no one would have been the wiser.

But this was Southeast, a community of liberals, nature lovers and bleeding hearts. How could we just leave them there to die in our neighbor’s back yard?  Should nature be allowed to take its course without interference, which would likely result in death? Or should humans intervene and try to rescue these splendid birds? I was close to tears watching them struggle, thinking “If there is nothing else I can do, it is at least my responsibility to bear witness to this suffering.”

About twenty of us stood murmuring on the sidewalk and waiting for something to happen. Two local TV stations were already on site, the reporters watching closely through long lenses set up across the street. An arborist appeared with a bucket truck, which he backed up the closest driveway to get as near the base of the tree as possible.Image

Next appeared someone from Oregon Fish and Wildlife, closely followed by a small team from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Then several people from the Audubon Society showed up, including a man who was a raptor expert. Huge nets on long poles were dragged out, and large cages resembling dog crates were hauled from the back of the F&W truck.

The eagles were alternately dangling in exhaustion and valiantly continuing their fight as they attempted to release themselves. The talons of the one hanging upside down were buried deeply in the thigh of the other, whose outspread wings were open over opposite branches of the tree.

I was holding my breath as the bucket, carrying two people wearing leather jackets and hard hats, slowly approached the birds. They were putting themselves in danger by approaching them — not just the danger of breaking federal law, but the physical danger of coming so close to these fierce and enormous birds.Image

As the bucket got closer, the terrified birds struggled more wildly against each other, clearly frightened by this approaching menace. Suddenly they separated, swooping low but not falling to the ground, and then soaring into the air and disappearing. A cry of relief went up from the bystanders, and I started to weep.

Was it relief that they had been released from entanglement? Was it awe at witnessing such glory? Was it celebration to see these magnificent creatures flying free again?  I don’t know. But I remember the wise words of my former minister, Frederica Leigh OBM, who said “where there are tears, there is truth.”

Reflecting on this event over dinner tonight, Duane and I were struggling to put some theological framework around the experience. Being versed in process theology, Duane was suggesting that God, observing all that is, was holding this event as part of objective immortality. And that God was luring all entities to choose love in the world, so that the eagles were becoming what they chose to be by disentangling and flying free.

I don’t speak the language of process theology. I just know that I was moved to tears by witnessing this event, and that the best possible outcome (according to my limited understanding) was what actually happened.

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson
“In Memoriam, A.H.H.”

 

Intarsia:  Getting It Right

Having now completed two intarsia knitting projects done correctly (for the first time in a 50-year knitting career), I wanted to post about the right way to do intarsia so that it’s even and tidy on both sides.

Intarsia is knitting using blocks of color to make an image.  I find it fussy and messy, something to get done as quickly as possible so I can move on to the kind of knitting that I really enjoy (creating a design with stitches rather than colors).  However, as I wrote below, being the family’s Designated Knitter means that sometimes I make things out of love that I wouldn’t otherwise make.  Two recent projects are examples:  this and this.  And when I had done them right, I realized that intarsia isn’t so bad after all.  It appeals to my Enneagram Type One personality, which is all about “getting it right.”

The Wool Shop is gone but their bag lives on.

It was also a pleasure for me to carry on this family tradition, even to the extent of using my mother’s old bent pink plastic knitting needles and keeping the project in a bag from her favorite knitting store, which closed decades ago.

I couldn’t have managed this without this book, which I picked up years ago at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  So here’s the deal… three things to remember:

Thing One:  Always start a new piece of yarn when starting a new area of color.  It doesn’t matter if it’s only a few stitches away from the last place you used that color.  Don’t carry your yarn over those few stitches.  START A NEW PIECE.   This means that (a) your knitting, and therefore your image, will be a lot less distorted; (b) you won’t have big loops of yarn running along the inside of your work; and (c) you will have a hell of a lot more ends to weave in when you’re done.

I got kind of carried away with using just the right length of yarn for a particular color section.  You don’t have to do this unless you are ridiculously committed to not wasting yarn.

Always keep your clipboard and calculator handy.

What I did was first figure out how much yarn was used in one stitch (in this case, .86″).  Then using my hand-colored chart, I figured out how many stitches I would need for a block of color when I came to it.  This involves counting stitches going in both directions (L to R and R to L) so that it would be clear where I would be starting and stopping each block.  Then I did the math, adding 12″ to each piece — 6″ for each end where I started and stopped knitting with that piece.

I gave up on using bobbins long ago, since they just get tangled with each other and are a nuisance.  I simply added long pieces of colors as I needed them, and didn’t worry much about untangling them unless they were too tangled to work with.  This meant that my work space looked like a rat’s nest, but I actually did know what I was doing.

Thing Two:  When starting a new piece of yarn, leave the tail hanging out on the right side of the work.  If you’re on a knit row, the right side of the work is facing you.  Lay about 5″ of the new yarn between stitches (immediately before you’re going to knit with it) with the tail toward you.  On the back side, where the long part of the new piece is, put it under and to the right of the strand you have been working with, then bring it up, looping it over the old strand, and start knitting with it. This will lock the new piece under the old piece.  It’s essentially the same thing if you’re purling, though the right side of the work will be away from you.  Lay the new piece on the right side of the work with about a 5″ tail, bring the working part of the new piece under the old strand (again it will be under and to the right), and then start purling with it.  What this means is that as you work your way along, you will have lots of ends on the right side of the work. Don’t worry.

It will look like this while you are working on it.

Or like this.

Thing Three:  When you have completed knitting the piece, you will need to weave in all those ends.  OMG, that’s a lot of ends!  But just be patient… one thing at a time.  You will have the beginnings of color blocks with ends hanging out on the right side, and the ends of color blocks with ends on the inside.

Yup, that’s a lotta ends to weave in. This is the right side.

We’re gonna weave in that white piece.

Start with the outside, thus:  Thread an end piece onto a large sharp needle with a big eye (for ease of threading).  Note that it should be sharp, not a blunt tapestry needle.  Carefully bring the yarn back through the hole it’s coming out of, so that you are working on the back.  It will still be anchored in place.

Poking the end back in.

Aiming in a downward direction (all starting ends should be woven in downward; all ending ends should be woven in upward), weave the yarn diagonally through the back loop of several stitches, going INTO the yarn of the loop rather than completely under it.  Going into the yarn allows the natural little barbs of yarn to grab onto itself and hold it firm.  Ideally you will want to weave the end into a block of the same color so that it won’t show at all on the right side.  (My book maintains that when done correctly, even yarn woven through a different color shouldn’t show, but that wasn’t always my experience.)  Go back and forth diagonally so that the woven-in end is in an S shape.

weaving 1

Starting the weaving.

Second part of the S.

Third part of the S.

How it looks like you’re done.

Before cutting it off (with about 1/8″ left), stretch the fabric in several directions to be sure that there is enough slack in your weaving.  Weave in all of the ends that are left on the outside; you’ll be left with a tidy piece of knitting and a pile of ends.

Outside done. That’s not so many pieces, is it?

But there’s still the inside to do.

Or this, as the case my be.

Then go to the inside (yup, lots of ends again!) and do the same thing, weaving in the ends in an upward direction.  Note that it’s okay if you have to weave ends into places where there already is yarn woven in; if done correctly, none of this should pull out.

inside done

When you’re done, you’ll have a bigger pile of ends and a piece of work where the image looks quite similar on the right and the wrong sides — not a lot of loops on the back obscuring the design.  I think that’s the indication that you’ve done intarsia The Right Way.

Voila!

Have fun!

Christmas in May

This Christmas stocking pattern has been in my family for four generations.  My mother started making them probably 60 years ago.  She made one each for our immediate family (that’s 5), then one each for our spouses (add 3), then five for the grandchildren who were born before she died.  That’s 13 stockings she made.  Who knows?  Maybe more for friends…3 stockings

After she died, I became the Designated Knitter for the family.  I think I made one for the grandchild born after Mom died; I made one for my son-in-law, one for my niece’s husband, and one for my first grandson.  That particular one was made when I was under a lot of stress; Santa is facing in the wrong direction, and he has only one eye, which is red rather than black.  I refer to him as the Hung Over Cyclops Santa, but apparently my grandson loves him. My daughter Katy made one for my second husband so that it would be a surprise.

Recently I’ve been asked to make two more — one for my second grandson, and one for my niece’s son.  I want to be sure they’re done in plenty of time for Christmas, and before the Christmas Knitting Panic ensues.  So I’m starting them now.

The trouble is, that pattern is so old that it’s worn and ripped.  Unfortunately, the most illegible part is Santa’s face (which comes right where there’s a fold).  That might explain Hung Over Cyclops Santa right there.  Furthermore, the graph is microscopic, so that the pattern is nearly impossible to read anyway, even if it were in good shape.  Which it certainly is not.od pattern

So I decided, since it’s only May, and since that old pattern isn’t ever going to improve, that I would color code the pattern onto bigger graph paper.  Oh my goodness, I had no idea what I was getting into!stat of graphHere’s a shot of several attempts, using an enlargement of the original pattern (guess what — it was still illegible, just bigger).   I’d be going merrily along and then realize that I had made a mistake several rows earlier, so I’d cut up the paper and tape on a new one.  This made me slightly crazy, trying to keep track of which rows were done (they aren’t numbered on the original pattern.)

Then I got the idea to use my husband’s loupe magnifying glass, which he got to help him identify plants.loupe

Slowly I started to get the hang of it, and the colored image gradually began to appear on my paper, which by now consisted of many layers of tiny cut-out pieces.  (“Drat!  That stitch was supposed to be red!  Well, I’ll just color one square red and tape it on top of that one.”)graph paper with beerI don’t know if the beer actually helped, but it made me feel better!

Finally Santa emerged in all his squared-off glory.  I hope that this graph paper image of the pattern will last another 60 years, so that the next Designated Knitter in the family won’t go blind trying to make these.

Here’s the start of the next stocking to join the family.  The name will be added after it’s done.  Can you spot the mistake I’ve already made?  (Nothing that a little duplicate stitch can’t fix!)graph paper with knitting

Keep Those Wagons Rollin’

This strange little countertop, tucked between the dining room and the basement stairs, is at the geographic center of our house.  When we first moved in, it was a handy place to keep all the tools one needs for getting settled:  hammer, screwdrivers, tape, pencils, tape measure, assorted screws and nails, sketches, and all the  stuff you don’t know where else to put.DSCN1665

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But when we invited a Feng Shui consultant over to help us figure out how to arrange the furniture with our quirky floor plan, she told us that the geographic center of the house is the most important location for something truly meaningful, something that reflects our values.  So we cleared away the tools and have tried to make this little spot into something artistic.  There have been a few holiday scenes, an arrangement of fruits and vegetables in a cornucopia, and now this.

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A wonderfully talented artist (go here to see some other pieces of her work, and scroll down to the July 16, 2012 post) in our former congregation gave us these figures and the covered wagon at our retirement party.  After all, we were moving to Oregon; what better way to commemorate this move than to create an image of the Oregon Trail?  (Which ends in Oregon City, just down the road from where we live now.)

Side note:  did you know that Conestoga wagons were originally built along the Conestoga River in Conestoga Township, Lancaster County, PA?  That was right down the road from where we lived in Carlisle, Cumberland County, PA.  I’ll bet some of these wagons came right through town and down the street we lived on.

So here they are, these intrepid wayfarers westward, camped out for the evening after a long day on the trail.

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There are always animals in the scenes our artist has created.  One fellow has a dog literally attached to him at the hip, and the other one has befriended an owl.

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The third fellow is preoccupied with cutting wood for the fire.  (That’s a log to his left, and although the axe has a skinny handle, it is mighty!)

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Look!  Their hats come off!  And the fellow on the right even has a little hair.

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A real Conestoga wagon would be pulled by as many as eight horses, but these two guys are terribly strong.  AND they’re really good friends.

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Look at the faces on these two!  Wouldn’t you love to ride across country on a Conestoga wagon with them?  Oh, the stories they would tell…

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The children try to stay as close to the food as possible.  It’s hungry out there on the trail.  Their mother bought a whole bolt of that blue cloth, so they are always dressed in the same color.  One fellow has a pet bunny, and the other seems to have made off with a bowl of potatoes.

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Now that they’ve made camp for the night, these guys have gone off to chop wood…

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…while the women get ready to make dinner, and the dog has the good sense to stick around nearby.

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The children play among the rolled up baggage, and this guy just sits around curling his feet up and holding his owl.    He’s not good for a lot of help along the way, but he has something special to offer to everyone at the end of a long day.

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The Great Baby Blanket Event

When I learned last April that my daughter Katy was pregnant with her second child, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect occasion to knit a blanket that I had been lusting after for years, Shelly Kang’s Sock Yarn Blanket as described on her blog.  (Look for All About the Blankie on the right.)  If you are considering making this, go to her web site for excellent detailed instructions; I just want to chronicle for you my own experience with this really fun project!   #1 May 4  It took Shelley Kang two years to make hers the size of a double bed; surely I could make a baby blanket by mid-November?   Here I was on May 4, off to a good start.

It was super time-consuming, and super-fun.  Because every block is different (or can be), I found myself thinking “just one more” and continuing to knit for hours at a time.  By May 15, when this photo was taken,

#2 May 15I realized that even though I had MILES of leftover sock yarn from making zillions of hand knit socks over the years, I wasn’t going to have enough.  So I sent out an SOS to all of my friends who I thought were or might be knitters, explaining the project and asking for any scraps they could spare.  (Each completed square weighs only 3 grams, so even the tiniest scraps could be put to good use.)

For a few weeks after that, it was like Christmas and my birthday rolled into one!  Packages of yarn arrived nearly every day, some of them containing extremely generous gifts of full skeins of yarn!  In those cases, I checked with the donors to be sure they wouldn’t mind if I made a complete pair of socks from their gift rather than adding it to the blanket.

I put out a similar request on a neighborhood List-serv, and got a response from a woman who signs her e-mail messages “Molly Weasley.”  (If you don’t get it, you haven’t read Harry Potter.)  She gave me an entire bag full of self-patterning sock yarns left over from her own projects. We now meet for coffee and knitting every 3 weeks or so (and she has inspired me to get serious about lace knitting.)  Another time, I met a perfect stranger who lives a few blocks away when we were out for a walk one Sunday afternoon, and after chatting for a while I asked her “You wouldn’t by any chance be a knitter, would you?”  Indeed, she was a knitter, she was generous with her yarn, and we now have become such good friends that she came to our house for Christmas dinner.

#4 June 16By June 16, I was starting to realize that summer is not the ideal time to be knitting a wool blanket.  But I soldiered on, because I was getting nervous that it wouldn’t be finished by the time the baby was born in November.

#5  close-up  Here’s a close-up so you can really see the colors.  This is not your average pastel baby blanket!

Weaving in the zillions of ends was clearly going to be a problem if I didn’t get them under control.  (Raise your hand if you love weaving in ends.  I thought so.) I knew that if I left them all until I was finished knitting, I would throw the whole thing into a corner of my closet where it would languish for all eternity.  So I developed a system.  When the ends started to look overwhelming, I forced myself to weave in six ends before I was allowed to start another square.  (6 ends = 3 squares)  #6 back After a while I would be caught up, and I could knit with abandon until the ends started looking overwhelming again.  There’s no mistaking the back for the front, but it does look pretty tidy.

I decided that it was finished when it was about 45″ square.   I have no idea what size a standard baby blanket is, so I just tried to make it big enough that this little boy (yes, by now I knew that he was a boy) would keep it folded at the end of his bed for the rest of his life, or use it as a lap robe when he got chilly.  The knitting was done some time in October (deadline approaching!), and then began the tedious job of going all the way around it with a 3-stitch attached i-cord edging.  It was very fussy and slow, but the end result was great!

Clearly I was not the only one in the household who thought it was terrific!  Here it is being blocked on two beach towels on the den floor, the only low-traffic space in the house that was big enough.

#7 done & blocked

 

That beautiful baby was born on November 16, and two weeks later we traveled back east to meet him and congratulate his older brother on having such a fine new baby in the household.  The blanket was received with all the awe I was hoping for!

#8 Frank

 

I had made a smaller version of the same blanket for Older Brother’s doll, whom he named Hidgery.  He was quite delighted with his very own blanket for Hidgery-of-undetermined-sex, and immediately had to try it to see if it fits.  It does, because when I was visiting them in August I measured Hidgery when no one was around, just to be sure.

#9 Hidgery

 

And finally, the image I had in mind all along.  With every stitch and sigh, with every decision about which color came next, with every end woven in, I imagined this beautiful, healthy baby lying  under the blanket I was making for him with so much love.

Note that he is wearing a hand-knit made by his mother.  The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

#10 Aengus