Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Tall Stones Beckon

Think I've nearly got the hang of this now. Thanks to all your good advice, we should be almost getting back to normal. Probably no harm though to post little and often rather than a mega-epic every few weeks. It got so I was dreading the sheer amount of preparation that had to go into first finding the pics on DH's computer, then re-sizing and captioning them, and only then getting started on the posting.

Listen, while I think of it - I got such lovely comments and help, but in some cases I just couldn't get back to the person who I wanted to contact because she hadn't made her Blogger profile accessible. Hey, I WANT to talk to you India, whose father Alvin Tresselt wrote the original version of The Mitten, illustrated by Yaroslava. But you won't let me! This happens from time to time, and I often wonder if the person who sent such a nice comment wonders why I never made contact. Well now you know! Go check that you've left the (metaphorical) door on the latch for me, and the welcome mat out!

Here we have just some of the gift knitting which had to get done before December 25.On the left several black tubes worked on the sock machine, all awaiting tops, toes and heels. On the right and at the bottom, two pairs of children's stripy socks, ditto. A black cabled headband centre front. And at the back my honeycomb socks in that lovely Cormo yarn from my friend Louise at Tapetes de Lana in New Mexico. Someday I'm going to visit that mill. Anybody been there? Angeluna? You've been everywhere. Glad to get all those gifts out of the way. It is probably the first year ever that I've given more handmade presents than bought ones. It was a very nice feeling, but a bit hard on the neck and back muscles, to say nothing of the hands. How're you feeling after the festive season? (Sorry, Chinese friends, I know you have to wait until Feb 14, we'll share it with you, OK?)

Here is the picture I promised of one pair of the sock-machine-knitted, hand-crochet-finished wristlets drying. They're a great way of using up the leftover sock yarn, aren't they? This was the remains of balls from the Talia's Wings design in this year's Sock Madness (still one of my favourites, YarnYenta!). Must make a few dressy pairs of wristwarmers for myself. I have in mind a really dramatic graceful style with long lacy falls over the hand, in an ivory or silver yarn.

It is time and more, though, that the Polperro gansey jacket was finished. With all the gift knitting out of the way, there is little excuse (since, despite the book deadline, Celtic Memory would be knitting in any case, and if she stopped casting on for new projects, the older ones just might get done).

See, only one sleeve to go. After I photographed it at this stage, the needles were indeed brought back into play and the stitches picked up for the final run. But could I get the right number up? Could I heck as like! You see, when I did the first one, I just picked up according to received wisdom (where? Can't remember. Was it Priscilla Gibson-Roberts? Barbara Walker? EZ? Whatever) by picking up on two rows, missing one, and so on, for the distance required. When I got to the second one, after rather a long break over Christmas and all, I carefully consulted the pattern and picked up the number recommended for that. Of course I completely forgot that (a) I hadn't done that for the first sleeve and (b) that if I had, it would have been wrong, because since I'm a loose knitter, I'd done fewer rows to the shoulder than the pattern dictated. Of course I only realised this when I was several long moss-stitch rows into said sleeve and had to work out where the patterning should go.

Frogged back and picked up a second time, basing my calculations on a rapid stitch count of the first sleeve.

Ha! Did you notice the trick word in there? 'Rapid'? Of course I got the sums entirely wrong but also of course didn't notice until I was yet again several rows into the sleeve.

Third time lucky. Now working down the sleeve at top speed, to try and finish before my energy for this particularly long-drawn out project drains away.

(Not that long-drawn out when you consider some of your other WIPs, did I hear someone comment snidely? Back to your cage, you!)

Because once it's DONE, I can start on some of the other wonderful ideas that wandered into my mind while this has been on the go. Do you have those tempting visions during a long piece of work? A glimmering picture of beauty that calls to you, urges you to leave this boring mundane task and fly with it to fibre heaven? Go on, tell me I'm not the only one.

This is one of the projects that is tempting me so much at the moment. I saw it mentioned on - Knitting Daily, I think - and fell head over heels. Bought and downloaded it on the spot (don't you just love the instant gratification of immediate downloads?)

It's the Yarn Harlot's Pretty Thing cowl of course, and really Steph couldn't have thought of a more appropriate name, could she? I recently dyed up some fine laceweight kid mohair in two shades of rose pink and although I have found it really too fine for my mood to work at the moment as a single, both shades used together would look enchanting for this. (Soon, soon, Pretty Thing, only a few more miles to go with Polperro...)

Now with all the hassle over Blogger, you didn't get to share a few things that I was certain you would have enjoyed. Here is one of them, a little late, but still worthwhile.

On the south west coast, not far from Castletownshend (the home of that inimitable pair of ladies, Somerville & Ross, who wrote the wonderful Irish RM books that became a hit TV series - I remember the late great Anna Manahan as the put-upon cook, Mrs. Cadogan, especially) there are three tall standing stones at the very top of a hill. They're some way from the road, and if you catch a glance (it's a narrow winding boreen and you wouldn't want to take your eyes off it for more than a second, if that) you think at first that they must be the remains of construction work. Surely you couldn't get standing stones of that height, up there?

Because it's so far from the road, we kept putting off going up there to take pictures for De Book, but finally came one cold clear December day when wellies were donned and the trek undertaken. The first part is through very muddy fields indeed - thanks to the cattle who followed us curiously at a respectful distance - but then it starts to climb, and the stones, which have disappeared for a while behind the undulations of the terrain, suddenly appear much closer.

It's absolutely right that the old thorn tree should be there, keeping an eye on them. Bit high up and exposed for the rowan, but the fairy thorn can survive anywhere.

You're a bit out of breath when you get to the top, but isn't it worth it? Look at the height of those stones! Can you imagine what it was like when there was a full row of them? (You can see one or two fallen, and it is recorded that some Victorian Anglo-Irish gentleman in Castletownshend took a fancy to another, and simply had it uprooted and carried down in a cart to his home. Well he'd have had no luck thereafter if he did! Wouldn't be at all surprised if he came to a bad end.

As the sun dropped lower in the west behind the hill, the long black shadows of the stones were cast dramatically on the green slopes below. What an important place it must have been. Probably still is.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Secret Solstice Road

Well last night's posting seemed to go all right, so, much encouraged, we'll now try for the next section, shall we? Gosh, it is annoying having to keep to a limit of four images per posting. On the other hand, it does make one concentrate and really make sure they're worthwhile. Rather like the National Geographic photographers being given one day with just one roll of film instead of the usual hundreds, and being told to make every shot count. (Yes, yes, this was in the days before digital, don't be pedantic!) DH finds it very difficult to choose between pictures at the best of times, and now that he habitually shoots off a dozen or more on each opportunity, the hours spent pruning and deleting have increased enormously.

The old road this time, I think, and then, tomorrow, a knitting update. That OK with you? Here we go, then (should one offer libations to Blogger? No. Why the heck should one?)

We have had some wonderful still frosty days to follow on that dreadful rain which lasted for weeks, so very early on the morning of the Solstice we took Sophy Wackles down to Coolcower Woods, a part of the flooded Gearagh river valley, quite close to home.

Isn't this a magnificent old tree trunk, still offering shelter and life to so many mosses and ivies and probably all kinds of little creatures who tuck up snugly at night on a bed of leaves within its twisting roots? You can almost see little front doors underneath those arches, can't you? With polished door handles of beechnut, and miniscule 'Welcome' mats of plaited rushes?

Normally we walk down to the edge of the lake and then turn back. But it was different this Solstice morning. The water in this lake is affected by the dam further downriver (the reason the valley was flooded in the first place) and since that dam had released a lot of surplus water during the rainy season the previous week, the lake had almost dried up.

I had never seen this solid ground before. Where Sophy is standing is just as far as you can normally get, right at the water's edge. But on this particular morning, for the first time in many years, the old track was revealed, running across to the woodlands beyond. Those trees on slightly higher ground are normally islanded, inaccessible without a flat-bottomed boat, and even then that's a risky venture with all the hidden tree stumps underwater waiting to tear the bottom out of your craft.

Did we cross? Of course we did! You don't get offered these chances more than once and if you turn them down when they're offered, you only have yourself to blame.

It was strange roaming around and rediscovering the little pathways which were once well trodden by the community that lived in this valley. Trees and bushes of course had grown up over and around the ruins of cottages, old stone walls, and gateways. You could still make out the outline of gardens though, little fields, crossroads. The railway to Macroom used to run through here a long time ago, and we even found the old trackway, minus its sleepers and rails now of course, but still running straight as a die across the bed of the lake. (Oh Blogger, Blogger, why can't I show all these pictures?)

The rising sun was turning the horizon scarlet and then gold as we wandered around this lost forgotten world, and finally lifted itself over the horizon to celebrate the shortest day of the year.

Solstice blessings to you all. Go mbeirimid beo ar an t'am seo aris! That we may all be alive at this time again.

[Hey, hey, HEY, did you see? Did you count? I got FIVE pictures in there...]

Friday, December 25, 2009

First The Seasonal Tale of the Postman's Socks...

Sorry it's been such a time. I had fully intended to wish you all the joys of the Solstice, and then to update on knitted gifts which have been taking up most of the time chez Celtic Memory these last few weeks. As, I imagine, they have been with you.

But Blogger had other ideas. OK, so I had adjusted to the idea that from now on, instead of dragging and dropping pictures where I wanted them to appear, I'd have to load them all, one by one, in reverse order (and thereby, perforce, planning what I was going to say in advance) and only then inputting text.

Now Blogger won't let me load more than three or at a pinch four pictures before it hangs, jams, throws up entirely incomprehensible warnings, and finally crashes. My good friend LilyMarlene says she has the same problem. Anybody got any ideas here? Stress levels reached a high last night when one might have thought that, it being Christmas Eve, one could have been winding down.

So after a fairly peaceful day (far too slippery and icy to go out, so why not enjoy a lovely time trying out a new project, a top-down boat-neck sweater in black Incense (from Elann) designed to show off a white shirt underneath, you know the style?), I've accepted the inevitable and you will therefore get, instead of one lengthy post, several short ones, spaced out over the next few days.

The plan was to update you on the gift knitting, as I said, and then talk about books, followed by an account of a lovely solstice exploration down another old road revealed by very low water levels in the lakes near home. Tonight, you're getting the gift knitting and a bit of the books. No more, because if Blogger goes b-y-minded again, I can't guarantee I won't attack the blameless screen on my computer with an (empty) Chardonnay bottle.

There are many books laid out for the festive season by the fireplace in the upstairs sitting room. A Christmas Carol, of course, A Child's Christmas in Wales, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Dark is Rising, The Children of Green Knowe, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. This year, however, I think my absolute favourite has to be The Mitten by Jan Brett.

I'm sure you know it well, but this anniversary edition is so exquisite I am charmed afresh every time I turn over the pages. Just look at the granny knitting by the porcelain stove, and Nicki bringing armsful of white wool for her to make the special mittens. Every page is a delight for the detail of the Ukranian countryside and lifestyle, not to mention the animals. Illustrations can make the simplest of stories into an enriching experience, can't they? (Must dig out those Russian fairy tales with the wonderful illustrations by Ivan Bilibin - often wanted to copy the glorious costumes depicted there.)

Now, like the rest of you, I've been working flat out on gift knitting. A new baby friend arrived last week, a little girl, so I decided she needed a nice red hat for Christmas. I wish I could show you the sequence of pictures, but I can hear Blogger threatening softly in the background so I'll content myself with telling you that the main part of the hat was worked on the sock machine, and I then picked up the stitches for a crochet cast off for the brim (which rolled nicely) and then the stitches to decrease for the crown. Finally I was working a 4-st i-cord to make a decorative top, and thought, 'this is just like that nice cord-maker I have in the workshop...

It took a bit of doing to coax the i-cord already made up through the little machine and then to hook the stitches on to the needles, but once that had been done, and a good bit of yarn pulled through to work the last bit, gosh it was a quick job! Just turn the handle and it's done! (I have several cord-makers but this one, made I think by Bond, is the best, probably because it has real steel needles and a good weight to hang on the work.

And here are some of the dozens of pairs of wristwarmers I made on the sock machine and then finished with frilly crochet edgings. They're such a handy gift for nice people in shops and post offices and places. Here you see them with the waste yarn still holding the main stitches, waiting for me to work the edgings. Wish I could show you some of the finished pairs, but see above re Blogger...

But the postman's socks deserve their own picture and they're going to get it. Our postman is particularly nice and helpful and friendly, so when he didn't turn up for a few days last month I worried about him. Enquired of the stand-in, who told me that postie had been in hospital for an operation. Well, what do you do when someone nice has had an operation? Well of course you make him a pair of socks! Time was tight, so the tube in black wool was made on the sock machine, and then toes, heels and cuffs hand-knitted in a bright red. Finished them on Dec 23, washed and dried them overnight, and handed them in to the post office for onward transmission via a helpful workmate on Christmas Eve. Just in time!

OK, that's the story so far. So many more things I wanted to tell you about and to show you via DH's lovely pictures - the huge fir tree we cut from the top of an enormous one in our garden, which just brushes the ceiling in the hall; the frosty scene from my study window for the past few mornings; the dogs skidding wildly on the driveway this morning as sleety rain fell on top of hard frost. But better not to push my luck. It's really been a bad couple of days with Blogger and I'd rather get down and check the festive dinner really. The next posting (tomorrow hopefully) will tell the tale of The Secret Solstice Road across the lake.

Oh yes, did get some rather nice books for myself as a treat this Christmas. Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top, plus her first book of patterns; and both Knitting and Spinning in the Old Way by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts. Oh, and Knitting Around by the diva herself, EZ. All texts I really should have owned long ago, and all awaiting a lovely browsing session.

Now, off to tackle that top-down sweater in Incense. Yes, yes, and check on the turkey as well...

Don't forget to give me any - ANY suggestions as how to deal with Blogger. It is really frustrating not to be able to march up to its (their?) door and just clock it hard over the head. So much more satisfactory than trawling through irritatingly useless Help pages.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In Which Thanks Are Given For Good Knitting Friends, And Floodwaters Continue To Rise.

I've said it before but it bears reiterating yet again - you lot are the absolute best.

I was in despair, total despair, over that blue cabled jacket where a cable cross had been omitted. I thought there was nothing for it but the Black Hole of Failed Projects. But you came through. Did you EVER come through, bearing not only comfort and consolation, but reviving hope and finally hugely practical suggestions. Heidi's advice on using a larger needle to reknit was invaluable. Katie K (sorry, can't find your blog address, Katie) rowed in with the most practical advice re using lifelines for the top needles, pinning down the working area, counting odd and even rows, and more. Helen emphasised working s-l-o-w-l-y, and not even thinking of a stiff drink until it was done (how well you knew I needed that advice, Helen!) My dear long-time blogging friend Pacalaga assured me that any uneven tight/loose bits would sort themselves out over time. And everybody else was so supportive and encouraging it almost made me cry. But I didn't. I resolved to be worthy of all this support and get down to the job.


You would never know anything had gone wrong. It just needed time and care, not my usual lightning-smash-grab-with-the-nearest-crochet-hook-and-if-it-isn't-sorted-in-ten-seconds-I'm-giving-up approach.

It's done, it's beautiful. But... I'm not sure after all about the side and back slits. They make it a bit too floaty. Designer catwalk stuff, possibly, everyday use, no. So I tried sewing them up.

What do you think? Vents or no vents? Cuddle factor or floaty effect? Still undecided. But grateful, so very grateful, that you were THERE. Take a huge collective bow and make yourselves individual mugs of hot chocolate.

That second picture of the jacket was taken indoors. This is because it hasn't stopped raining for more than half an hour for the last two weeks. I had to time it to the second to dash out with my latest Celtic Memory Shawl Kit and take photographs.

This neat little kit is the Mermaid's Garden colourway, with fourteen different 50yd skeins so that you can create your own work of art.

One of Jane Thornley's vest designs would look wonderful in these. They're up on eBay now. The next one, Forest Magic, with all the greens and greys and soft shades of the deep woods, will be up at the beginning of December.

That same constant rain, allied to the successful completion of the crop cable jacket, led to an uncontrollable desire to START SOMETHING NEW. And as chance would have it, Ruth had just started a gansey KAL on the Pennyroses group in Ravelry. And it was just a week before Thanksgiving, she happened to mention. So of course Celtic Memory, who has no sense WHATSOEVER, decided she'd try to make a gansey. In one week. And wear it at Thanksgiving (we don't actually celebrate that particular event here, preferring to wait until late December, but I've been observing it since blogging and Ravelry opened up such a wonderful world of friends in every corner of the globe).

Now I'm not completely daft, only partially, so clearly a sweater knitted with thread on toothpicks wasn't appropriate for this particular deadline. No, Polperro, from Country Weekend Knits (and included in a few other books too, I think) was the ideal choice, worked as it is with chunky yarn on large needles.

Here it is so far. A chunky 50/50 merino and baby alpaca blend, hand-dyed by me, on 6.5mm circular. Pockets are inset, I'm almost up to the armhole divisions. Will we make it? Read the next instalment.

(No, I don't need reminding about the book deadline. I'm trying to forget it.)

The constant rain, allied to quite frightening gales, has brought disaster to a great deal of West Cork, and DH has been out and about at all hours, recording the floods and flood damage.

This is a little road I often drive when going to Cork city. The water rose to a point where it simply poured across with immense force, and broke down the wall at the other side. No going that way for a while, then.

This view, taken from the bridge by the Angler's Rest country pub, should show sweeping green fields, with the winding River Lee way over to the left, where you can just see a white dot on what was the river bank. It's now a raging Amazon of a river.

This rather expensive hotel on the outskirts of the city was having a bad time, but DH couldn't resist the car park notices.

Guests were being evacuated to the backs of lorries with all their bags. Some Americans that DH met were being exceptionally good natured and amused about it all. Another Cork hotel (on higher ground) took them in and looked after them. Shouldn't be surprised at all if hot toddies and Irish coffees were in demand.

These houses look so beautiful, seeming to float on the tranquil water. However, this isn't Venice, and their ground floors don't bear thinking about.
Now I realise, of course I do, that other parts of the world get far far worse flooding and indeed far harsher weather conditions than we do in Cork. It's just a shock when it happens here. It's not uncommon to get some flooding in a wet winter - a deep pool or two on a country road, maybe even a street or two under some inches of water in the city. But to this extent, never. To make things even more worrying, the gales and torrential rain are set to continue for at least the next week. Fortunately we're safe and snug on our hillside here, but others are not so fortunate. Ironic though it might seem, thousands are without water supplies and don't seem likely to get it back for some time.
It will come around. It always does. The soft wind will replace the gales, and the water will fall back to its usual path. The fields - Irish fields are most competent sponges - will regain their normal green grass in no time at all. While it's here though, it does make you feel more at one with those who live in, for example, New Orleans. (You OK there, Dez?)
Incidentally, does anyone else have current problems with placing pictures on their posts? For some reason, Blogger no longer lets me move images around the page to put them in the right spot. Is it something I've clicked or failed to click? One of life's reminders that nothing stays the same? Advice welcomed. As it is, I have to put all the pictures on first, in reverse order, and then add the text between the images. Which is adequate, but not particularly conducive to stream-of-consciousness writing. (I had a student once who called that 'steam of consciousness'. Love it!)
And while I think of it, the Hit Counter has put itself back almost to 0. Well to just a few thousands anyway, nowhere near what the actual total was. No way of sorting that, I imagine. Ah well, these things are sent to try us.
Strewth, it's raining again. I was almost certain it had stopped for two whole minutes there...

Here is a view from my study window this morning, as I type. I'm surprised those russet beech leaves have hung on with the high winds we've been having. Glad I topped the eucalyptus last year though - they're as high as they used to be, but it's only light branches rather than heavy trunk, and they'll be fine.
And to finish, a nice warm little story. For this hopeless romantic anyway. We were at the local recycling centre, bringing in all our glass and plastic and cardboard and such, and DH suddenly pointed out a tiny object at the top of a heap in a lorry, about to be tipped into an enormous container about fifteen feet below on another level.
'Isn't that a little waggon? See its red wheels?'
I was over there like a streak of lightning and grasped its pull handle just as the small object was about to fall into oblivion. The man looked surprised. 'Don't know where that came from. D'you want it?'
It was wet and full of decaying leaves. The tyres on its little red wheels were in a pretty bad way. But it was solid, and sturdy. And it came home with us. It's drying out slowly and carefully right now, in the garage. Not too quickly, in case it damages the wood. And then it will come into its own at Christmas, piled with presents or yarns or other lovely things.

But I took it down to the grove first, and placed it in the very centre of a fairy ring under the crabapple tree, to have its picture taken.
Ta failte romhat, a leanbhain. You are welcome, littlest one.
Anybody know where I might get some spare tyres for a little wooden waggon?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

It Was About Time For Another Disaster...

But this one struck to the heart. I mean, Anne of Green Gables with the iron entering her soul had nothing on today's cosmic mother-of-all disasters. Nothing, I tell you!

This is the cropped jacket somewhat-after-Ragna, on which I have been working for months. Almost a year. I was knitting on this when we were in Norway in late May, I know, since I photographed the WIP by a frozen lake. It survived being lost in that roving yellow suitcase, and gradually, slowly, painfully, the pieces came together to be worked in unison to the neckline. Trying to keep track of a dozen different pattern pieces, as well as where they did and didn't overlap wasn't exactly plain sailing. But at last, during the past few weeks, I began to think that perhaps, just perhaps there was a very faint glimmering of light at the end of the tunnel. Only another repeat or so of the braided pattern and we'd be there. I had even started mulling over designs for a cabled collar.

Then - this afternoon - was it really such a short time ago that the world was bright and every prospect pleased? - I spread it out to gloat. And saw that at the centre back, where for some idiotic reason I had decided to put a double cable where two patterns met, instead of leaving them separate as I'd done everywhere else on the jacket - I'd missed out one of the double cables. A whole repeat back from where the work was now at.

What would you do? Of course hindsight (and DH) tell me that it would really really REALLY have been better to ignore the non-crossing, put in a decorative stitch or two if necessary, and GET ON TO THE FINISHING LINE.

But of course I knew better. Nah, we can fix this, can't we?

Now ripping back twenty or more rows over hundreds of complicated stitches was not an option. No it wasn't, and I don't need that voice from the back of the class, thank you! We're talking innumerable stitch markers, decreasing-point markers, different sets of stitches for this, that and the other - no, not ripping back. Not nohow.

But Celtic Memory is something of an expert on cables, isn't she? I mean, she's Irish, it's practically in the bloodstream, isn't it? Why not simply (simply, hahahahaaaa!) drop the relevant stitches right down to where the crossing should have happened, and then work them up again to the present point? Yes? Of course. Easy!

Oh ye heavens!

Here (and those of tender susceptibilities may wish to look away now) is the current situation. This is after a very unpleasant session involving several circular needles, seventeen stitch markers, three crochet hooks, two daylight lamps and a lot of swearing and hissing, which I don't want to remember. Ever.

That stitch marker is roughly the point to which I pulled back the relevant stitches. Above it is the pig's ear made of the reknitting process. Loops where there shouldn't be, holes where there shouldn't be. Skintight stitches next to wide gaping gaps. This is never going to look right. Never.

What would you do NOW?

I know what I wanted to do. I wanted to throw the whole thing on the ground, scream and stamp on it. Then hurl it out into the bushes. Possibly set fire to it if it ever stops raining round here, which it might do next May. Or give it to Muffy the Yarnslayer for her bed.

But I have spent so long on this jacket. It is (was) my pride and joy. I'd worked out all the stitch computations, the side slits, the coming together at the armholes, even kept track of the decreases across hundreds of stitches from then on. I was so looking forward to wearing it, showing it off, maybe doing a little quiet boasting here on the weblog.

It's down there now, still lying on the ironing table where I left it. I couldn't trust myself near it. I retired to an armchair with a bag of Jelly Squirms and Patrick Leigh-Fermor's A Time of Gifts. Reading about his travels through pre-war Austria, one night shivering in a hay barn, the next dressing for dinner in a crumbling schloss, had a calming effect.

But that jacket is still there, waiting. Wondering, probably, what's gone wrong, and where I am.


Enough. Let's try to think of something else. Like De Book, which is still slouching heavily towards the publisher to be born.

We went hunting for a couple of pictures still needed the other day. First an ogham stone at Templebryan, not far from Shannonvale.

It's quite an awe-inspiring sight when you see it from the muddy track below, dominating the top of a little hill. It's inside an ancient enclosure which was apparently once a monastic site, but this stone is a bit older than Christianity. Ah well, not the first time the new rulers took over the old symbols. Just to the left there you can see a bullaun stone on the ground. These were specially hollowed-out rocks which held water or something else during ancient ceremonies. Best not to enquire too closely.

And we weren't alone as you see. This charming Irish draught horse colt has the confiding nature of his breed and came up to bid us welcome to his field.

Then his mama came over to check that we didn't intend any harm to her pride and joy.

And finally this wild looking little mare climbed into the enclosure to check us out. The smaller the horse, the more you should beware of their nipping tendencies so we kept a sharp eye on her as she sidled around. She may have been looking meanly at us, but you can't really tell, can you? She wasn't too impressed at being immediately christened Templebryan Tumbleweed though. Honestly. These tourists they come up here, climbing all over me field, and then call me out of me name! Honestly! As if everybody didn't know I'm Theda Bara of That Ilk!

Then we went hunting for a famed holy well down by Lough Ine. This one has a reputation built up over centuries of curing all kinds of eye ailments. You have to go up a rough track, cross a stream, and there it is, standing quietly in the woods as it has done for millennia.

It's clearly very well visited, being hung all round with every kind of token, from beads to statues, scraps of cloth to handwritten notes, shells and small stones, even ferry tickets. So many hopes, so many prayers, so many dreams.

Here is a closeup. You might like to make a virtual visit. I'm sure it would work just as well over the Net, if your intentions are clean and clear. It's a lovely quiet peaceful place, the moss-covered trees and rocks sheltering it on three sides, and the bubbling little stream on the fourth.
A good place.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Ghost Train of Drimoleague and the Donkeys of Ceann Tuaithe

Thought we'd better catch up on local matters and things knitterly after all that travelling and bearwatching. Been busy this past week, not only with the demon book but also with dyeing and skeining and generally getting into a tangle with trying to do too many things at once (don't we all?).

Here is the result of a few days with arms immersed in the dyepot. Just been listing some of these on eBay - it takes so long to list each one that now I take it in batches, three or four a day, so as not to lose the plot entirely when everything crashes and you don't know where you are. Handpainted laceweights, sockweights, Aran weight - and up there in the top left, a rare skein of fingering weight pure Suffolk in its lovely natural pale grey.

Oh incidentally, while I think of it, my friend Ana who lives in Bulgaria, and is one of the keenest, as well as one of the most talented knitters around, has just opened an Etsy shop so that she can sell some of her beautiful finished projects. If you're looking for something gorgeous and don't have the time to knit it, go look. I think she'll even knit to order - now's your chance to get that perfect sweater without all the work! Ana is Shenevski on Ravelry if you're a member, and I'm constantly amazed at the beauty of the pieces she turns out. (Which reminds me, must finish that copycat black cashmere cabled vest inspired by hers.)

Been working that 19th century sample-skein winder pretty hard too. This is the one I bought from Warren at Craftspun Yarns - or, more truthfully, forced him to sell to me. It works so smoothly and beautifully it's a pleasure to use. But it will only measure in yards, not metres. Which is why the new, limited edition, Samhain Shawl Kits, also up on eBay, are made up in lots of little 50 yd skeins.

Fourteen of them to be exact, some singles, some doubles, some triple-plied, totalling 700 yds overall. All tucked into a nice strong plastic envelope. Great fun. Kits in blues, greens, turquoises, reds, browns, will follow. I see people using these for projects like Jane Thornley's lovely wraps and vests and shawls and things.

The garden is moving into its sleepy mode at this time of year, but the little crabapple tree is still showing off its tiny crimson fruits.

They're only the size of large cherries. I must pick the whole crop (might fill a very small cereal bowl) and see if I can make a miniature pot of jelly with them.

The resident robin is getting very aggressive too at this time of year, seeing off any foreign immigrants ('this garden is taken, TAKEN, do you hear?') while the local wren is coming into the tiny straw birdhouse tucked high up in the porch at night. There is much swearing and fluttering if you go out unexpectedly after dark, so we have to try to remember to take the dogs out the back door.

May have mentioned that the bright pink boucle EZ Ribwarmer was started and completed on the Yukon trip, but you didn't really see a good picture of it.

Here's a nice back view. I'll put both views up on Ravelry when I get a minute. This Blogger is temperamental enough and I've got enough pictures to show you tonight without tempting Fate too far.

And a new little girl baby friend arrived a week or so ago, so of course she had to have a cosy raggy flannel quilt with her name on it, didn't she? You probably can't see 'Maeve' embroidered in the centre patch, but it's there. And yes, I did make a last-minute error in placing those patches, being in a rush, but I don't suppose she'll mind. I do like raggy quilts. Especially in warm snuggly flannel. Must make some more.

But a fine day arrived, and DH had some free time, so the book took priority. Down to Drimoleague first, a small and at first perhaps ordinary West Cork inland village. Acting on information unearthed though, we took a right into a car park in the centre of the main street. Once you'd got in a little way, this opened out suddenly and unexpectedly, and revealed -

A lost railway station!

Grass was growing on the platform, the ticket office was boarded up, the rails and sleepers were long gone, but the station was still there, dozing in the sunshine, with one ear open for the clang of the bell which would tell it that the down train from Cork with visitors, or the up train from Bantry with the butter, was due.

This is a remnant of the legendary West Cork Railway, whose demise in the sweeping modernisations of the trendy 1960s is still a cause for much lamentation throughout the county. Indeed, mention it in any pub from Bandon to Ballydehob and you'll soon have half a dozen voices clamouring 'It should never have been closed', 'We should get it back', 'Wouldn't it be grand altogether to travel in it now?' and more.

I like to think that the West Cork Railway is still alive in one dimension, and that on misty winter nights you can perhaps hear the shriek of the whistle and the drumming of the rails as the late down train pulls into Drimoleague Station. Doors slam, elderly ladies in the traditional hooded West Cork cloaks lift their heavy baskets to the platform, the station master comes out of his office, pocket watch in hand, and the voices of those long gone echo once more around the station yard. Actually I do believe in ghost trains. Don't you? Or, put it this way - wouldn't you like to?

On our way out of Skibbereen we came across this rather annoyed donkey who had just petulantly kicked his feed bucket to record his annoyance at being kept indoors. Note the electric fence placed strategically close to his stable door. Donkeys, as you probably know, are veritable Houdinis when it comes to escape skills. You just can't keep one in if he wants to get out. So far this farmer's strategy is working. So far...

We were on our way down to Cunnamore which is where you catch the ferry to little Heir Island, hardly any distance offshore but a bit too far to swim.

That's Heir Island in the middle of the picture there, looking down from the hill above Cunnamore Quay.

- and here's a view looking westward from the same point. Thought you might like it.

Heir Island used to be famous for its boatbuilding and its lobster fishing. The local men would fish up and down the coast, staying away from home three weeks at a time, and cooking all their meals on board. They even made bastable bread in a pot oven on deck!

I suppose you could see this as a sad reminder that those rich fishing days are gone, but in another way it's rather nice. This old boat, veteran of many a stormy sea and dangerous tide, now rests snugly within sight and sound of the ocean, tucked behind a headland and wrapped warmly round with furze and long grass. No bad way to be.

It was a donkey day definitely. This gang of comedians ('Ooh, a Nikon, take my picksher mister!') were enjoying themselves out on Ceann Tuaithe (anglicized inexplicably as Toe Head which is a dreadful misnomer - Ceann means Head certainly, but Tuaithe means a clan or community gathered under one chief, not toe for heaven's sake! I mean, it's not even attractive, is it?)

This little fellow was attractive though. He was probably thinking what a strange place the world was that had two legged creatures looking at him over the fence and cooing.

Wherever you are in West Cork, you're sure to find, sooner or later, a grassy lane leading down to the sea. In this case, giving a fine view of the Stags rocks.

A nice place to be on a quiet evening as dusk falls. And indeed nice to think about at other times, when you need something peaceful. Feel free.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bears, Beavers, And The Best Ribs In The Klondike!

If I don't get round to posting right this minute, it'll never get done. No use waiting for enough time, is there? You have to make it. Even when editors are threatening and deadlines are sitting evilly on your bedside table , eying you like vultures when you wake up in the morning.

Besides which, if I don't post now, Samhain will be past and Christmas, heaven help us, on the way. And that wouldn't do at all.

It was wonderful going back to Yukon Territory and a tiny bit of Alaska. Even without window seats, we got a few stunning glimpses of Greenland.

And Whitehorse (when we finally crawled in at 1.30 am, having left Cork at 6 am - and you can subtract another eight hours from that for the time difference, so it was well over 24 hours, with delays at this airport and that) was as charming as ever. It's nice to be in a real frontier town of the kind that faces up to nature and rough weather with total practicality, knowing it can't just assume things will always be easy - things like pottering out to do a spot of shopping, or travelling any distance without packing survival gear.

Absolutely and far away my favourite restaurant in the whole world is in Whitehorse - the Klondike Rib & Salmon on 2nd Ave - and one of my favourite people is owner, Dona, who runs the whole shebang as if it were a gigantic party. You can see queues down the street at feeding time, but she still finds time to greet every customer personally and has a wonderful relationship with her gang of cheerful young staff.

Here she is, still merry after closing time. See that Dog Sled Parking sign over her head? That's a very tempting reminder to head back to Whitehorse next February. No matter that the whole place will be frozen solid and blanketed under twenty feet of snow, that's when the Yukon Quest takes place, the dog sled race from Fairbanks Alaska to Whitehorse. The dogs and their mushers race a thousand freezing miles, and I WANT TO BE THERE. Dona, if you're reading this, can I come help make soup, coffee, man one of the checkpoints? Please? I'll knit double thick socks for both of us!

Headed out early every morning in Whitehorse, to see what was about in the dawn light.

I don't know who was more taken aback here, me, the coyote, or DH.

Is that a lens or a Gatling gun? Wow, you don't see many of those in these here woods...

Having got over his initial camera shyness, he trotted quite casually past DH, on his way to a business meeting no doubt.

The other place we spent quite a bit of time was the Whitehorse dump or recycling centre. Those with wildlife photographer acquaintances will know that dumps are very high on the list of desirable locations, and Whitehorse is one of the best. Simply everyone drops in at one time or another.

These juvenile bald eagles would far rather have Mama and Papa bring them a nice hot lunch like always, but their parents were having none of it, sitting at a distance on a tall pine, and refusing to lift a talon to help. They had to learn for themselves.

This raven was really being mean, winding up the poor hungry young eagle something rotten. He'd fly down, get a nice tasty titbit, then bring it back to the wire, and edge slowly up towards the eagle, taking delicious little nibbles and cawing, 'Oh this is nice. Oooh, this is the best titbit I've ever tasted...' He was doing it on purpose, no doubt about that. Every now and again, goaded beyond endurance, the eagle would make a dash at his tormentor, but the raven would easily evade him, chuckling all the while.

We went up to Dawson, another of my favourite places. Do you know Dawson? It was a huge place during the Klondike Gold Rush, fell into decrepitude thereafter, but was, thankfully, saved as a beautiful ghost town for future generations to enjoy. It's full of old log cabins dating from those heady days, some sinking into the soil at dangerous angles (probably where their occupants had dug right under the building in search of the elusive metal), others, on firmer ground, holding their own.

This is somewhere I think of when I can't get back to sleep at 2 am and need a peaceful old-world image. It's Robert Service's cabin. The Bard of the Yukon lived in this little hut and wrote his wonderfully evocative and popular poems here. I've quoted this verse before, but I'll do so again, because it's a good one to recall when life gets a bit too respectable:

They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have steeped you in convention through and through.
They have put you in a glass case, you're a credit to their teaching,
But can't you hear The Wild - it's calling you!

Of course we went up The Dempster a little way - until the road got really rough anyway. You're supposed to tape up the headlights and put mesh over the grille and things like that if you plan to drive any distance. That's as well as food for a week, enough medical supplies to perform minor operations, and a few extra sweaters.

In Ireland you can't go three kilometres without someone offering you a cup of tea, for heaven's sake!

Dawson is a good place to watch beavers.

This chap was so busy stocking up for the winter, gathering juicy branches, still with the golden leaves attached, and carrying them down to the underwater larder, that he didn't mind us at all -

- but I simply loved watching this guy swim off and collect a huge armful of weed, then ponderously carry it all the way up to the top of his lodge to caulk any possible weak points.

From Dawson, you either retrace your steps the long long road to Whitehorse or you cross the Yukon River - just like in the song - and head into Alaska.

That's an Elizabeth Zimmermann Ribwarmer in bright pink boucle, by the way, being knitted on the ferry. Thought another layer wouldn't come amiss.

From the high road above, the early morning clouds were still hiding Dawson, but you can just see on the right where the Klondike River joins the Yukon. And then it was a long, long, LONG drive down through Chicken, Alaska (really!), back into Canada at Beaver Creek, out again just before Thirty Mile Roadhouse, where we had to stop for coffee, as this is another of my favourite places.

Unutterably cosy and comfy and welcoming after a long drive, run by several sprightly and very strict elderly ladies, it's a gathering point and information centre for the surrounding area as well as a cafe. Which makes sense in Offthemapua.

We were heading for Haines, a small port of call for cruise ships in season, but also an extremely good place to see grizzly bears if you know where to go. Which, fortunately, we did. As dusk falls each evening at this time of year, the grizzlies come down from the woods to fish for salmon in the river. There aren't any controls, no barriers or safety screens, just you, a lonely woodland road, a river - and the dark woods.

I was wandering along this road on my own in the dusk, thinking of Starmore sweaters or something, and only belatedly realised that perhaps being solo wasn't all that good an idea. I headed back to find DH round the next bend and as we met up, we heard a crashing in the woods a few yards away.

'Time to move, I think' said DH with understatement, and we got rapidly out of the path of the approaching noise. Only a few yards up the road and then we turned -

Not a very good picture, snatched at speed in the gathering dusk, but I won't let DH delete it. It is a reminder of just how close I came to being on my own in the sort of situation where you would really prefer several strong friends by your side.

There were actually three of them - Mum and two grown cubs - and they trotted across the road, glancing crossly at us, and down to the riverbank. DH switched to flash mode, which interested the youngsters exceedingly:

Gosh, maybe we shouldn't have beaten up that coyote, he was telling the truth after all! Willya look at the size of that lens?

Great heavens, I've only just this minute spotted something, when I looked at that picture. We'd both noticed the nice white markings on the bear on the left, but now it looks exactly like the face of another bear, doesn't it? What a very odd effect. Must go tell DH as soon as I've finished posting.

It's a privilege to get so close to these enormous creatures but let's face it, it's also darned dangerous. Probably won't be much longer that you can walk that river road at dusk and play peekaboo with grizzlies. And I'm still wondering what exactly I would have done if I'd been on my own when The Three Bears crossed the road. Frozen in shock? Closed my eyes and prayed? Shown them the sock I was knitting? (Reagan in Wollmeise, on size O Addi Turbos).

On the way back up to Whitehorse, completing a very big circle, we paced the White Pass Railway train, the big black steam engine puffing clouds of smoke to let us know where it was when we lost it in the hills. Wish there had been time to hike a bit of the legendary, appalling, Chilkoot Trail, but unfortunately we had a flight to catch.

Two days to get home and the jet lag from hell, lasting well over a week, but it was worth it. To be out there in those huge empty spaces with those vast skies and that clear cold air - it made you feel invigorated just to breathe.

There would be absolutely no sense, no justification whatsoever, in going back for the Yukon Quest in February, would there? No, you're quite right, there would not. There would not...