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...