I forget each year how much energy it takes to do a craft show or farmers market. The loading and setup, the takedown and drive home after hours of being "on" with the public. While there, I am energized by the curious folks who have never seen spinning before and the customers who appreciate my work. I do love this, but always need a "down" day afterwards.
It was truly shady and comfortable most of the day in Taylorsville for Pioneer Day on June 15th. Fun to get in costume and meditate while spinning on how different it would be if I had to be doing this, rather than choosing to. Was it tedious for the ancestors, or was it a cheerful, mundane routine; the slower pace of life giving a more accepting attitude?
The grass next to a creek in front of Good Vibrations in Chester was a pleasant location to set up the Shear Bliss booth on July 20th. I did fairly well, met lots of enthusiastic folks and enjoyed the drive back home along Lake Amanor in the 99-degree afternoon.
Another blast from the past was at Plumas-Eureka State Park in Johnsville for Gold Discovery Days on July 21st, in nearly 100-degree heat. In addition to spinning demonstration, there were wagon rides (provided by high school classmate Rick Joy and his beautiful horses) and Rambouillet lambs to pet (provided by Anna Harvey of Sierra Valley). We spinners didn't have time to make candles or visit the blacksmith, but we did have some tasty Cornish pasties (and a Dr. Pepper, not very authentic, I suppose).
Anna (pictured spinning) and I had particularly poignant conversations with onlookers about the properties and value of wool and enjoyed listening to children "baa" back at the lambs.
That demonstration day made 3 out of four days that I packed the car with spinning paraphernalia and spun for hours in the summer heat.
Sometimes I'd rather be home, able to take a nap in the hot afternoon if I want one, yet as I contemplate loading up the car for today's farmers market in Quincy (my fourth of the season) I know I'll enjoy the evening once I'm there. After the rigors of setting up the booth, I will forget all about the pain of taking down again as I greet folks, sitting at my spinning wheel and hear comments like I did last week: a mother in my booth explaining to her young child about how taking the fleece from a sheep is a necessary and gentle thing; "Isn't it wonderful that they don't have to kill the sheep to get the wool and make that beautiful yarn she's spinning?" That's what keeps me going...
As I scurry to get the Feather River Fibershed organized and viable, I force myself to take breaks. Visiting the sheep both calms and invigorates me. Among their many observable traits, sheep are always reaching for something better on the other side of the fence
which got me thinking about their eating habits. Many folks feed their sheep grain, but I was trained to think of it as occasional "candy" for them, to get them to comply when I want them to move somewhere. A recent newsletter from the Ranching Management Consultants had some "food for thought":
Feeding The World or
Feeding Our Habit
by Dave Pratt
I attended a conference at which a professor from a major University spoke of the need for implants, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and other inputs to increase production so American farmers and ranchers can continue to feed the world. She argued that the 98% of people who aren't involved in production agriculture just don't get it. I think she's right. If the 98% saw some of the things that we do, they wouldn't get it. They'd think we're nuts. Consider the following and tell me what you think:
Breakfast in Bed for Cows
Feed lots are the ruminant equivalent of breakfast in bed. BSE reminded us that cows are herbivores, not carnivores. What we haven't seemed to learn is that ruminants are celluloseivores not starchivores. The high grain (starch) rations we use to finish animals only work because we kill them before it kills them.
I also read an interesting article about how we can manage our pastures to help our sheep stay healthy. This was from an organization that has just come to my attention: BEHAVE--Behavioral Education for Human, Animal, Vegetation & Ecosystem Management - The BEHAVE mission is to inspire people to master and apply behavioral principles in managing ecosystems through research, extension, and teaching. Read the article here.
After eight days of my internet connection disappearing, I am mysteriously back online. I managed to cope without access to communications I knew were lying in wait for me in my inbox and without the temptation to browse the 'net every time I had a wild question, but it was a challenge. I realized how often I belittle technology, feeling that we've come too far too fast, but also that I've come to depend on technology to keep me connected in this rural setting. Without the internet, we are living "under a rock."
I did spend more time reading real books this past week, which I have allowed myself not to find time to do.
And my break from technological connectivity made me all the more grateful for my personal connectivity. The community of wonderful people that surround my mountain life is extraordinary.
My friend Holly, seen here explaining kumihimo, hosted our Roving Mountain Spinners day yesterday. I am so fortunate to be part of this group of amazing women; their creativity, passion, and support is overwhelming and nourishing.
We spin and talk and help each other untangle our messes, both with fiber and with our lives.
Grateful to be back online, keeping in mind the value of the real connections...
I used to think ground squirrels were cute.
Last year, however, we were overrun with them, and they destroyed much of my dye garden.
The marigolds, madder, amaranth, and sunflowers thrived, but the indigo, which unfortunately is an annual, was squirrel food. Wanting to be humane, I tried pouring hot pepper sun-tea around the plants. It discouraged them, but not for long.
This year, I tried seeds, to no avail, and finally bought a few plants. They came in the mail (!) and so far have been undetected by squirrels. The growing season here is so short; I can only hope to get usable indigo this year.
I want to be able to get this blue again. I'm committed to using dyes from only what I can grow or find here.
I also wish I could find these colors in the mushrooms I find in our forest. I've been collecting and experimenting.
So now I just have to figure out a way to discourage the squirrels, without resorting to the slingshot or a pellet gun. Trapping them and releasing them to some other place they'll be unwanted doesn't appeal either. There is a feral cat that showed up a few weeks ago and I spotted her with a squirrel in her mouth...
Instead of just thinking and talking about it, I jumped in and started a Fibershed affiliate! Reading over all the material on the Northern California Fibershed website inspired me to take charge of spreading the concepts beyond my Shear Bliss booth, so I filled out the affiliate application and...
A Fibershed is a geographical landscape that defines and gives boundaries to a natural textile resource base. Regional fibersheds adopt the precept that we should be as concerned with the origin of fiber that makes textiles as we are with the origin our food. I will be helping promote those farmers in our area who grow natural fibers and the artisans who use those fibers for their products.
The Feather River Fibershed will include Plumas, Sierra, and Lassen counties. Now to find and connect all the fiber farmers and artisans...
I used to laugh at this play on words as a kid, but now as a sheep farmer it has taken on a more somber tone.
Straw isn't necessarily cheap, and good straw is not easy to come by. Hay is even more precious. Fifteen dollars a bale is a decent price these days, for good-quality alfalfa or alfalfa/grass mix (7 years ago I wouldn't have known the difference). We are loyal to our Loyalton alfalfa grower (pun unintentional) and travel the hour and a half one-way to load our Chevy with bales about once a month. Our own growing season is so short here that we can't rely solely on pasture to feed the sheep. Yesterday, I went along for the journey for the first time in about a year. One of us usually stays at the farm to keep an eye on things. But the lambs are sturdy, the spring is flowing, and I had a hankering to try out the Mexican restaurant in Sierraville.
Sierra Valley is one of the largest alpine (above 5000 ft) valleys in the U.S.
I had forgotten all the many twists and turns to get there, but the waft of sage through the windows made me glad I'd come.
Lovely alfalfa growing on the left, the hay barn up ahead.
Most other times I've made the trip out here the barn has been stacked, floor to ceiling, with hay. Where is it?
Gene's getting the last of the 2012 alfalfa. Our next trip will be for second-cut (another term I've learned in my new shepherdess life) alfalfa, probably in August.
Can you hear the ruckus from our sheep as Gene backs up the truck to our hay-storage hoop house? They know.
Tired from the long drive, we decided to pop open a beer, kick back and enjoy the view and save off-loading hay until tomorrow...
...which turned out to be a mistake. With no hint of warning from the National Weather Service, we had a hefty downpour last night, which left many of the hay bales soaked around the edges. We off-loaded them in a hurry this morning, leaving plenty of room between single bales, hoping that the now dry, windy weather will prevent them from molding. Another lesson learned; guess we'll be same-day off-loading from now on...
I have just finished skirting all the fleeces and have so much wool to work with over the next year! I'll try to plan my washing days for summer warmth without wind. We've been getting gusty days lately and I don't want my wool scattered all over the farm!
Besides discovering who in the flock got into the hay the most (all that vm to pick out...) I love discovering the difference between the color of the outer tips of wool and the hidden cut side.
As I prepare for the craft fair/farmers market season, I have been madly playing with wool. I have discovered the joy of the felting process, both needle-felting and wet-felting, and have experimented with new items for the Shear Bliss booth this season. My Jacob wool seems ideal for both processes; it felts easily and the natural colors inspire a variety of ideas. Amazingly light and sturdy, the "cobweb felt" scarves are so much fun; it's like a combination of painting and playing with clay: a color and textural thrill.
I am inexplicably drawn to spirals.
This scarf, just laid out, has grey wool from Tehya (one of our original ewes from Meridian Jacobs; she always produces gorgeous, soft wool) and silk threads from recycled Indian saris.
Rather than the typical roll-it-800 times-around-a-pool-noodle method, I invested in a fantastic felting tool from HeartFelt Silks. It's a wooden hand tool with a waffle-texture bottom. Wet-felting is hard, physical work, but the results are so satisfying.
And then there's needle-felting. Sometimes the whimsy comes out...
I heard somewhere that wool is good for keeping pins sharp, so why not fun, useful pincushions?
I will soon have these new items up on the website.
I went out to the pasture today, hoping to get some action shots with the lambs, who have been so very entertaining with their 180s and paddock-racing these past few weeks. Instead, I found drowsy sheep in siesta mode.
Savoring the precious scenes of lambs and moms sleeping, and thinking about the long process of processing fleeces by hand, I got musing about how this all fits in with the "slow movements" -- the
cultural shifts toward slowing down life's pace. Wool is a "slow" fiber; its qualities are well worth the wait, and handspinning the wool is a "slow" activity, nurturing the spirit with meditative calm and the mindfulness one engages in while transforming the fibers into yarn.
Check out this extraordinary concept, which expands much of my personal philosophy to a wide community. Unfortunately, our farm is outside the 150-mile radius of the fibershed. Perhaps we can grow this idea here in Plumas County...
I'm finally getting to those 15 fleeces that are in bags, taking up half of the living room. It always amazes me how large the fleece is, all laid out, compared with the size of the sheep.
And, of course, the cut side of a fleece reveals the beauty of the wool I've been waiting a year for.
Now to wash it and get spinning!
I spent the cool of the morning skirting three fleeces; putting the dung-tagged wool in a wheelbarrow for "woolch" (wool mulch--it's great for plants and trees) and some of the less-desirable-for-spinning in a bag to wash to use for felting projects. I've skirted 7 fleeces so far; almost halfway to reclaiming the living room!
Fleeces for sale are up on the website now.