Monday, September 30, 2013

A Stress-Free Sunday Ride

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Butterflies frittering away their time
Stone walls patiently holding up the years
Freedom to explore any road I choose

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An absolutely perfect Sunday in September - warm sun, faintly cool breeze, golden light, blue skies, quiet countryside, and trees just beginning to kindle with the fires of Autumn.

For the first time all year, I haven't planned my route in advance or calculated the miles I ought to ride. I feel no need to push myself, or go a little faster, or be home by a certain time. Today I am free to go where I like, and explore any turning that takes my fancy. (Why did it take me the entire season to reach this point? I don't know, but I'm glad it finally happened.)

And today I take very few photos. But that's okay. :)

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Sulfur butterflies are dancing back and forth, back and forth, across the busy highway. One flies right through my spinning rear wheel - I don't know if it survives or not. But I'd like to imagine it flying on, a tiny miracle of death-defying aeronautics.

I turn down a road lined with old walls of stone - the kind of stone that is plucked from the fields every spring, then, on many farms, dumped in a pile somewhere out of the way. But here, the stones which the earth has offered up have been carefully fitted together to mark the boundaries of field and road. How many years of toil these walls must represent:

Some miles on, antler-studded posts mark the entry to a field with an old shed:

I came across this Rustic Road earlier in the summer...

...and have been meaning ever since to return and explore it; today seems like a good day.

The Rustic Road starts with a short, sharp climb, then levels out to an appallingly cracked and bumpy surface. (I begin to think that "Rustic" stands for "poorly maintained".)

But some very lovely pines loom over the rutted road:

As we bounce and jolt over the next mile, Tallulah (suspended in her basket) remarks, "Glad I've got my helmet on!"

We reach a turning and sigh with relief as the road smooths out.

I'm sorry to say that the Rustic Road is slightly disappointing. There's nothing really wrong with it; but neither is there anything to set it apart from all the other lovely roads in the county.

The prettiest spot, to my mind, comes just here:

An enticing track branches off to the left, through a tunnel of shady trees, with a glimpse of light at the far end. We'd love to explore it, but it's private property - so we follow the road proper, on up the hill.

We pass farms and fields, marshes and trees. We see horses and cattle, and hear the sharp crackle of nuts falling in the woods. A huge combine approaches us on a very narrow, curvy bit of road, with barely a foot to spare on either side. At the last moment it swings slightly to the right, and we pass each other without incident.

Somewhere along the way, we see our shadow, and take a final photo:

After miles of pleasant meandering through unfamiliar territory, we find our way back to the highway, and from there it's a straight shot for home.

A very enjoyable ride through Autumn fields and woods, under the late September sky.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yarnberries ~ A Free Crochet Pattern

It's autumn in Wisconsin, and wild berries are flourishing. Woods and hedges and bogs are full of them: buckthorn berries, dogwood berries, cranberries, creeper berries, serviceberries, juniper berries, bittersweet berries....

And a brand-new species was discovered this week growing in the Micawber living room:

I call them Yarnberries.

Yarnberries may not be edible - indeed, they would probably cause severe tummyache if consumed - but their soft woolly texture and unlimited colour potential make them an ideal fashion accessory.

Yarnberries are quickly and easily grown from materials every crocheter has on hand. And since they use multiple strands of yarn, they score very high on the Stashbusting Index. :)

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To grow your own Yarnberries, choose 3 coordinating yarns from your stash, in any combination of worsted and bulky weight. (I used 2 strands of worsted and 1 strand of bulky.)

Grab a 15-16mm (P or Q) hook, flex your fingers a few times (to limber them up), and away we go.

Each Berry measures about 1-5/8" long, and uses approximately 30" (times 3 strands) of yarn.

Yarnberries Pattern

3 strands held together throughout.

Special Stitches:

Forward Loop Chain (phototutorial below): Keep working loop on hook and working yarn draped over forefinger. Lift forefinger slightly to form 2 vertical strands of yarn, one in front and one behind finger. Place hook behind the back strand and use hook to pull strand to the right. (Yarn should look like a letter "D" or "O", with the tip of the hook pointing up through the hole.) Remove forefinger from yarn while keeping hook in the "hole"; gently pull on working yarn to tighten loop until it is snug against the working loop. Yarn over and pull through both loops on hook.

Berry: *Chain 3, double crochet 3 together in back bump of 1st chain (or 3rd ch from hook), push berry towards you and tug gently on working yarn to tighten; Forward Loop Chain 1. Repeat from *.
Spacing Loop: Chain 3, triple crochet in back bump of 1st chain.
Ending Loop: Chain 7, attach with slip stitch to forward loop chain.

Start with a Berry, and keep crocheting Berries (inserting Spacing Loops as desired - see Construction Options below), until your string of Berries is long enough or you run out of yarn - though you can also change colours anywhere along the way. Finish with an Ending Loop.

Note: Spacing Loops are optional, but very helpful, since they can hold Berries in place when Berry string is coiled. Different placements of Spacing Loops give different draping options (see below).

Any Berry will fit through any Loop.

Construction Options:

For a cowl that will hang in graduated strands, like the one pictured: Make 15 Berries, then 1 Spacing Loop, then 16 Berries, then 1 Spacing Loop, then 17 Berries and 1 Spacing Loop, and so on, each time adding 1 extra Berry to the section between the loops. Finish with Ending Loop.

Note: The starting section of berries will form the innermost (shortest) strand of your cowl; make it longer or shorter according to your taste (but be sure increase each section accordingly).

My Berry string ends after the 17-Berry section (one of my yarns was running out) and measures about 84" long.

For a cowl that will hang in even strands (all strands the same length): Make a string of Berries to the desired length (try it on as you go to find a length you like), then make a Spacing Loop. Repeat (same number of Berries, 1 Spacing Loop) as many times as desired. Finish with Ending Loop.

For the simplest cowl: Make a long string of Berries, and finish with Ending Loop.

Weave in yarn ends and you're done!

Berry Phototutorial:

Note: Photos show Berries already in progress, but starting Berry is made exactly the same way. Just imagine a yarn tail hanging from that Chain 3. :)

Chain 3; find the back bump of the 1st chain (which will be the 3rd chain from the hook):

Double crochet 3 together in that back bump:

Push berry towards you and gently pull working yarn to tighten top:

Now finish your Berry with 1 Forward Loop Chain....

Forward Loop Chain Phototutorial (video tutorial to be posted soon)

Note: Instructions refer to a "strand" of yarn. For Yarnberries, you will be holding 3 strands together and treating them as one.

Keep working loop on hook and working yarn draped over forefinger.
Lift forefinger slightly to form 2 vertical strands of yarn, one in front and one behind finger:

Place hook behind the back strand and use hook to pull strand to the right:

Yarn should look like a letter "D" or "O", with the tip of the hook pointing up through the hole:

Remove forefinger from yarn while keeping hook in the "hole":

Gently pull on working yarn to tighten loop until it is snug against the working loop:

Yarn over and pull through all loops on hook:

Forward Loop Chain complete. On to the next Berry!

A note on the Forward Loop Chain: You may be wondering, why the special stitch? Why not just chain 1 between Berries? The Forward Loop Chain is more stable, keeps the Berry string from twisting, and also makes it easier to identify the back loop of the 1st chain which is right above it. :)

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Some ways to wear your Yarnberries

Any of the Construction Options above can be wrapped freely about the neck with ends hanging loose. Or you can join only the ends for a single giant loop which can be worn doubled or tripled (or quadrupled).

Here my Yarnberries are coiled as a short cowl (ends are joined, and berries are tucked into Spacing Loops here and there to keep the coils in place):

To wear as Graduated Strands, coil the Yarnberries, starting with the shortest section first, and placing starting Berry in first Spacing Loop (be careful not to twist the Berry string):

Then wrap the next section around the outside of the coil, placing second Spacing Loop over the same Berry:

Keep coiling and placing the next Loop over the same (starting) Berry. The starting Berry acts as a clasp to hold the strands together:

(This coiling technique will also work for the Even Strands Option.)

Yarnberries are very flexible, so use your imagination when wrapping. For a yarny necklace, try lighter weight yarns and a shorter string of Berries. Or make yourself a bobbly Yarnberry belt. The world is your oyster Berry!

You may do whatever you like with the items you make from this pattern, but you may not sell the pattern or re-post the text elsewhere.

Thanks for viewing, and happy Yarnberrying. :)

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Walking into Autumn

Sunday is beautifully blue-skied and sunny, with a cool breeze blowing - perfect for the first day of Autumn.

As the year slowly dies, so does my cycling urge. Riding begins to feel like an obligation rather than a pleasure ... so I take a walk instead, and enjoy Nature at a footpace.

My path leads me past the marshy lake-around-the-corner, where grow these young ... ash trees? (Must work on my tree ID skills.) I like the pattern made by the overlapping leaves:

A monarch sips from the drying blossoms of wild cucumber:

Off the paved road and onto the trail, I can hear the soft thunk of walnuts falling. They're compact and heavy for their size - which is slightly smaller than that of a tennis ball - and I walk warily, hoping one won't land on my head.

Into the open field, where cloudy patches of a fine pinkish-red grass grow in drifts among the green:

Up close, you can see the tiny seeds at the end of each threadlike stem:

Bug's eye view:

Grasses of a different variety, slowly bleaching to a pale champagne:

A left turn across the field, where tiny posies of cheerful white asters grow:

Then through a bit of young wood to the prairie restoration project, which I haven't visited since last (gulp) winter:

(I hate to write the word "winter" right now. It sounds so, well, chilling.)

The path around the restored prairie is smoothly mown and thickly bordered by all kinds of fascinating dried grasses and plants.

Fun with colour inversion:

I fall in love with these tiny heraldic-looking seed pods of pumpkin-colour lined with bronze:

A bit of summer lingers on here:

Statutory bee-on-goldenrod shot (it's been a great year for bee photos):

Creeper rises up like a scarlet lily out of the dried grass:

All around me grasshoppers are jumping, each landing with a tiny click a few feet from where they started.

Another lovely aster, with petals curled like scrollwork:

Geese float on a nearby pond, chatting quietly of their travel plans:

I stop to take their picture, and the murmur becomes agitated.

"Don't look now," they tell each other, "but there's a human holding a death-ray machine. Try to act natural."

I turn away for a shot of the ubiquitous wild cucumber draped over a fallen tree, and...

"Now's our chance, boys!" shouts the Squadron Commander. "Fly for your lives!"

With a clatter of wings, they rise from the pond and burst out from the trees behind me...

...then away they fly, honking battle, murder, and sudden death.

(They'll be back before sundown, refreshed by their brief jaunt, trading stories of how they cunningly eluded the menacing human.)

I head down the street, pass again the marshy lake-around-the-corner, turn the corner itself, and I'm home.

A very pleasant walk on the first day of Autumn.

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Friday, September 20, 2013


This week I wore trousers for the first time since June. (Sigh for the lost summer.)

No, I did not prance through the warmer months with my nether limbs unclad - they were at all times decently attired in shorts, skirts, or cropped pants. The fact is I refuse to wear trousers in summer, as they seem somehow contrary to the spirit of the season.

Time was, the donning of longer clothes marked the transition from youth to budding maturity (think of the mid-19th through mid-20th centuries, when - at the culturally appropriate age - boys were promoted to trousers and girls to ankle-length skirts, and felt very grown-up indeed when they wore them).

Even today, with any and every style and length of clothing available from infancy up, full-length clothes still lend a hint of gravitas. A long skirt, regardless of fabric type, always feels more formal and dressy, while a short skirt seems flirty and fun. Trousers and long pants, even casual pants like jeans, give a more businesslike impression than cropped pants or shorts.

If longer clothing represents greater age and responsibility, then shorter clothing, by default, must stand for youth and freedom. In that case, the shorts we wear in summer do more than keep us cool: in some small way, they bring back the spirit of childhood summers - when days were long and warm, autumn seemed an eternity away, and responsibility lay lightly on our shoulders.

So why did I sigh when I donned trousers this week? I sighed for what they symbolise - not so much the aging of the wearer (which is inevitable), but the aging of the year; for the approach of colder weather, and with it, the gradual exchange of outdoor freedom for the increasingly onerous work of keeping warm and fed and properly clothed. (All very grown-up duties, to be sure, but the thrill of grown-up-ness sometimes wears thin.)

Dear me, what a bleak-sounding post this is! Just put it down to seasonal introspection. I always moan about the end of summer, and I always go on to enjoy Autumn no end. It's the thought of approaching change I don't like.

Do you look forward to Autumn and Winter, or does the passing of summer make you a little sad? Do tell.

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P.S. Though I may have put on trousers, I'm still wearing sandals while I can. (Click here to read my thoughts on donning socks in the fall.) :)

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Grey and Blue Sunday Ride

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Rosy acorn on a wet road
Crystalline air of September
Sun wrestling with clouds (and winning)

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Sunday morning is delightfully rainy - perfect weather for knitting - but in the afternoon the rain stops falling. Roads begin to dry, and the cyclist's conscience awakes. ("You haven't been out all week," it whispers. "Weren't your clothes feeling a bit tight yesterday? You really should take a ride.")

It's cloudy and damp. Temps are in the upper 50s and a cold northeast wind is blowing when Iris and I (with Tallulah the Turtle) set out to quell the cyclist's conscience. I'm wearing a jacket for the first time in months, and spend the first several miles wondering whether I ought to have included arm warmers.

The sky is grey and lowering, but here and there a gleam of blue shines through with the promise of clearing later. The marshes are strangely quiet today - blackbirds have taken their song south for the winter, and even the katydids' hum is subdued as they feel the approach of autumn.

I pass a row of tall bushes with stems and branches of a bright, improbable magenta:

Some branches are tipped with sprays of deep-pink blossoms, and some with berries of a fresh, light green (slowly turning here, from red to deepest plum-colour):

Research reveals these to be pokeberries. (How have I never seen them before?)

A wild cucumber vine is tangled up with the pokeberries, its pod already dried and burst open at the bottom for the release of seeds:

At the marsh up the road, the world seems a bit drab and colourless by comparison with the vibrant pokeberries:

Grasses wave against a cloudy sky:

A mile or two later, blue sky suddenly appears to the north...

...though to the east and south (where I am headed) the clouds still look like rain.

A hawk sits in a bare tree (and lets me take several photos)...

...then decides it's time for a break. Off to look for a snack:

Where are those blue skies now? The favourite bend in the road sits under a canopy of cloud:

We pass a clump of goldenrod, and Tallulah reminds me that I promised her a whiff of the yellow stuff.


These flowers grow nearby, and I take several photos before I realise they're asters (closed):

Asters (open):

Some way behind the goldenrod and aster grow these new-to-me deep-blue flowers (which I shoot from a distance as I don't know how solid the ground is):

My wildflower book identifies them as bottle gentians. (Hooray! I knew gentians grew in Wisconsin but these are the first I've seen.)

Back on the bike, we continue on our way, past the sheep farm and the pedigreed pigs, and up a long gradual climb where acorns crunch beneath our tyres.

One perfect little acorn, blushing with modesty, lies by itself on the still-wet road:

To our left is a long view across golden-green fields to the wind farm:

We climb up to the high prairie, turn a corner, and miles later descend again into long valleys filled with end-of-summer fields, where buff turns to bronze under marching cloud shadows:

Speaking of shadows, mine finally puts in an appearance....

The ride which began in cloudy gloom has ended in bright sunshine. Much better than the other way around!

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