In Newport, if you work on boats and want to eat dinner on Jamestown, there’s really only one way to get there.
Last September, I took a workshop at the Marshfield School of Weaving on dyeing with plants gathered from garden, field and forest. I headed up to Vermont right after quitting my job in publishing and could feel myself sliding into a different way of being. It seems significant that, through this workshop, I learned that an exquisite palette of colors has been sitting right under my nose for years. Plants that are often taken for weeds in cities can be sources of rich pigment, most of which were a staple part of existence in New England until chemical dyes were invented. How quickly knowledge is lost. It makes the Middle Ages after the glory of Rome a lot more understandable.
Natural color takes to wool beautifully, and generally with little more than a pot of boiling water and a good pair of clippers to chop up the harvested plant material. Some plants are more demanding than others- Indigo needs to be fermented in order to offer up its blue pigment, called indigotin, and the traditional way of doing this is with human urine. Other dyes take best to wool that has been mordanted with alum, a gentle chemical that can be purchased in the baking aisle of any market. But that’s about as dirty as it gets. After working with chemical dyes at RISD where I was assured that they were “only toxic if you breath them in” (um, great), pee sounds pretty refreshing. What’s more, in Vermont, preparing a urine vat is usually an occasion for celebration. No quicker way to fill a 5 gallon pail than by throwing a pee party!
It is inspiring and infectious for me to be around people who live with real intention, and spending a day with a group of women who were all mothers, farmers and/or homesteaders and healers was just incredible. The weekend in Marshfield was the kick off to my year of focusing on health, wellbeing and happiness, particularly by shadowing women who have found those things by living off the earth. Of course, my original ideas for the year morphed along the way – I didn’t end up as far away as I thought I would, but instead, found health in growing roots of my own, tending to the garden that has been outside my door this whole time…but that’s a story for another post.
You can see more of my photos of The Marshfield School of Weaving here, and for information on upcoming classes at the school, including Natural Wool Dyes from Vermont Gardens, Meadows & Hedgerows with Joann Darling (the class I took with the same wonderful teacher), head here.
My life changed completely on January 17th, 2015- I adopted this sweet boy named Wrangler, and I continue to fall more in love with him every day.
I adopted Wrangler through PAWS New England, an amazing network of caring volunteers and foster parents who pull adoptable dogs out of high kill shelters in the south, get them veterinary care, drive them up north and place them in foster homes while they work on finding the right forever home match. Since it’s a non-shelter based organization, you do have to do a lot of paperwork before you even get to meet the dog you apply for, but I think it’s worth it in the end, because the dogs are much better off living in a home environment while they wait. I would highly recommend Paws to anyone thinking of adopting, and I cannot thank everyone involved enough, especially his foster mamma Leah in Connecticut. They saw what I see in him, they saved his life, and they helped us find each other and I will be forever grateful! Paws really does incredible work for so many dogs- if you aren’t in a position to adopt a dog, you can help by donating, volunteering to help transport animals or by becoming a foster parent.
After many months communicating with Paws, speaking with foster mothers of several different dogs, and going through their careful screening process, I came across Wrangler’s profile, and scooped him right up! He’s a three-and-a-half year old beagle mix who was surrendered by his owners in Tennessee in November, officially for “getting out and chasing the neighbors chickens.” However, he was also sick with heartworm and other parasites and wasn’t neutered, so I suspect they just couldn’t give him the care he needed. He’s a lucky boy- before Paws began working with the Tipton Animal Shelter where he ended up, they had a 90% euthanization rate, and owner-surrendered dogs are often put down that very day, since the shelter doesn’t have to wait for someone to claim him.
And, I’m certainly a lucky girl, because he is beyond the dog of my dreams. I’ve found a best friend and constant companion who gets me out of bed and out of the house every morning, gives me lots of kisses, and snuggles in right next to me every night. I’m happy to report that he is now a healthy and thoroughly spoiled dog, just as he should be.
A few photos from my visit to Plimoth Plantation last November. The light in the 17th century English Village made everything feel like a Dutch painting, and I found it so inspiring to see how these dwellings, however rudimentary, were still beautiful. There was hardly a detail on them or an object within them that didn’t serve a purpose, but the functional forms were still aesthetically intriguing, like the woven smoke hole at the peak of the gable in the last photo. The house had one on each end, so that a strong cross breeze would create a draft to pull the smoke up and out without a chimney.
Seeing these spaces prompted me to think hard about the inventory of goods in my own home. We have SO MUCH stuff in our lives today, and we throw so much away and buy more to replace it. Yikes. I know that I’m not making any ground-breaking revelations about consumerism, and I don’t want to romanticize the pilgrims of Plymouth any more than they already are. But, I really did have a moment there, where I appreciated that things should be more precious to us. Boy that sounds anti-anti-materialistic. But if you think about it, it’s not.
I need to make another trip out there- I’m sure the little veggie gardens behind each house will be beautiful in the summer, and I want to spend some time photographing at the Wampanoag Homesite. Plus, the Mayflower II is undergoing a big restoration and was closed to the public while I was there. It will be exciting to see her fitted out and back in action. Anyway, just thought I would share these little snippets of thought and image, in case anyone else needs a little nest inspiration to get them through the Ides of March.
Victory! I’ve wanted to get a tintype done for my professional portrait ever since I saw Giles Clement in action at the 2014 Newport Folk Fest. Nothing quite so haunting as watching the faces of the world’s best folk music emerge from the murky depths of iron and emulsion beneath the arch of an aging fort. So, when I came across a tintype artist at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine last September, I went for it. Thanks to Cole Caswell of AgNO3 Lab for the lovely shot. The booth and the developing process were inspiration in and of themselves, so I thought I would share a few photos.
Ps – proud to be sporting my Greek bread bag in the photo, handwoven in the hills of Paros by this amazing woman.