The Halfway Point

I left you yesterday driving away from Jensen’s Spinning Wheel Shop. While that experience was one that could have easily filled our day with plenty to ponder and discuss, Jennifer and I had other plans. We raced south to the next leg of our adventure, the Aldo Leopold Foundation. To visit has been a life goal for both Jennifer and myself for years. Part of what we share is an insatiable curiosity & deep love for the natural world and to finally get to visit the “Shack” made famous by the Sand County Almanac was thrilling.

Having left the Jensen’s at the last possible moment, we flew down the country roads and arrived barely on time for the guided tour. We met at the original gate to the property and the guide shared a photo of a gate in the same spot, but instead of the lush forest in front of us, it was a wasted field. When this property was purchased by the Leopold family in 1935, it was a spent farm. Working in nearby Madison at the time refining his ideas on game management, land ethic, and conservation, he had a dream of experimenting with re-foresting this land. Over the years, Leopold and his family planted thousands of pine trees and restored prairies on the property. A Sand County Almanac is a collection of essays from experiences in this very location.

The tour the foundation offers starts, as I said, at the original gate and takes you through a mature forest of pine and oak trees before opening onto one of the first known restored prairies. img_1552

Eastern Towees sang out their unmistakable “Drink your teeeea!” as we walked along and as the guide tried to share a story about the prairie, a male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak perched right above us singing away as if to say, “Why listen to this guy?! I am the expert of this domain!” As we continued on, Jennifer pointed out & named wildflowers. She has a tremendous depth of knowledge for plants (she is the one who is always helping me landscape in my own yard). Spiderwort. Indigo. Milkweed. Columbine. Yarrow. I have so much to learn.

And then we came up the “Shack”.

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It was a originally a chicken coop and over the years the Leopold family slowly turned it into the rustic cabin it is today. Every aspect of the structure was salvaged from the surrounding area to the extent that none of the windows match. When they’d find a usable window, Aldo would bring it back to the Shack and instruct the kids to find a spot, cut a space for it, and install it. Even more recently when a screen door needed to be replaced, one of the Leopold family members found a used one via the local paper, sanded it down to fit and installed it. Waste not, want not.

Yes, this place is and always has been a family affair.  And while I expected to be moved by the legacy of Aldo Leopold in this place — I did, after all, name my first born for this man — what I did not expect was to have such a sense of familial investment. The enormity of this undertaking and its corresponding ideals were firmly rooted in not just Aldo Leopold, but in his entire family and they all carried this sense of wonder and responsibility for the land throughout their lives. And thus it was so fitting that our tour largely took place around the fireplace in the Leopold family Shack, hearing their stories and learning a bit of their history in this place.

The fireplace was designed by Luna Leopold, who was studying engineering at the time…

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While Starker Leopold — not to be outdone — was put in charge of building the outhouse…

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It was incredible to hear the stories of this family of visionaries, always working together to build not only this place for their family, but for a legacy that you could sense they were committed to and recognized as important, that reached beyond their family. When I sat at their table and looked through their screen door out into their forest…

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I couldn’t help but wonder, what conversations they must have had by their hurricane lamps on summer nights when the whipperwills called? Were the wrens chittering away out front the descendants of those the Leopolds might have noticed breaking the silence on sunny summer mornings? What would Aldo Leopold think today if he could see this grand forest he helped to create?

We walked through the woods, past more Towees, Peewees, and about a zillion mosquitoes to the spot of The Good Oak…

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Where we read an excerpt from the essay on this exceptional tree. This is the spot where it spent its life and where eventually the family cut it down — led by the Chief Sawyer, Estella Sr, Aldo’s wife — for wood after it had been struck by lightning. It is the march of time; that we will all be born, grow, hopefully do a little good in the world, love & be loved, and eventually meet our end. And if we are lucky, when our journey comes to its end, we live on in our own way — like the oak that warmed the family’s shack for a season after its life had ended.

We made the short walk down to the Wisconsin River and saw Sandhill Cranes in the distance…img_1441-1

The current pushed a tree downstream, rotating it like a river boat’s wheel. It was about 100F and muggy and when the guide asked if we had any questions, all I could think was, “Why are we not having this discussion IN the river?” because my jeans which had protected me from mosquitoes were soaked through with sweat.  Surely the Leopold’s must have indulged in a dip from time to time. Alas, we turned back toward the relative cool of the forest and eventually the a/c of the car, warm sand filling our sandals.

Minds swimming in thoughts of legacy, from both our visit with the Jensen’s and now the Leopold’s, Jennifer pulled over to take this photo…

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Of the towering forest that the Leopold’s planted so many moons ago and I thought about what a tremendous impact they have had on the world and this road in the middle of nowhere started it all. And I thought about Jerry Jensen and his incredible spinning wheels. And I thought about family and place and the poetry of creating a life that reaches beyond the confines of your own experience. A life that by your example, inspires those around you and is destined to live well beyond your own place and time. That is some powerful food for thought.

A few moments into our drive, the wind picked up and the rain poured down…img_1555

Adding to the surrealism of the afternoon. We headed back to our hotel where we mopped ourselves off and cleaned ourselves up and headed to the final leg of our day, the International Crane Foundation. They were having a fundraiser for their Whooping Crane program and Mr. Knitting Sarah got us tickets to go, have a glass or two of wine, eat their yummy food, and see the cranes.

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We didn’t stay long as it had been a long day, but we arrived back at our hotel just in time for this view…

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The Wisconsin River at dusk.

We unwound with a little spinning and I knit a few rows on my Rainbow Warrior shawl…

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The next morning all we had the energy for was a quiet snacking breakfast at the hotel and a little knitting before packing up. I strapped my little Tina 2 back onto the luggage cart I got to make it easier to move her around…

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And I grabbed my new book and bobbins…

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And we packed up our respective cars for the journey home. Jennifer & I exchanged hugs and said our goodbyes and off we went in opposite directions, each of us toward home.

I won’t soon forget our experiences on this quick weekend away or the discussions we had as we reflected on what we heard and saw. Legacy. Artistry. Craftsmanship. Nature. Stewardship. Family. I could not have hoped for a better companion for this weekend to understand and enjoy it in the same way that I did. You could say that the halfway point between friends is always the collection of interests you share in common. Who knew that in our case, the literal halfway point between our homes would provide the perfect backdrop to explore our common interests as well. What a fulfilling, perspective-altering weekend!

 

Many thanks to Jennifer Wirth for use of her photos in this post!

Unplugged

Well, friends, I’m back from a week long vacation. One week from being generally out of cell service. And I have to be honest, it was exactly what I needed.

We knew we wanted to do a camping trip because Mr Knitting Sarah loves camping, we’ve got all sorts of new places to explore now that we’re farther north, and because it’s significantly less expensive than hotel-ing it for a week. Because of the move, though, we weren’t able to schedule anything out very far in advance and therefore when we finally had the dates set, we weren’t able to schedule the whole week in one spot. Mr Knitting Sarah — brilliant vacation planner that he is — organized us into a three campground itinerary to not only give us lots to see and do, but also a great taste of some of the parks that are now a lot closer for us.

Our first stop was Copper Falls State Park. It also happened to be the day of the Solar Eclipse, so we got an early start and luckily were able to get our tent set up before venturing out to find a view of the eclipse.

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Mr Knitting Sarah knows a lot about optics and so in preparation for the eclipse he made a filter for our spotting scope. It was impressive. He literally made it out of a plastic jelly jar and some filter sheets he bought. It worked great… until it clouded over on us about 35 minutes into the eclipse. No bother though as we went for a hike…

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An eerily dark hike, but pretty nonetheless, as Copper Falls always is. On the way back, we raced incoming rainstorms…

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Even Moose was egging me on! It’s hard not to hussle when you see that face up ahead!

We took a bit of a drive while it rained and then ended up at Loon Lake in the park where we — you guessed it — watched a Loon.

We only had the one night at Copper Falls and we awoke early to hit the road — we were headed North! And the day before my boy had agreed to take boat cruise around the Apostle Islands with me. As we got in line, the captain came around and told the 20 or so of us there that they were expecting the lake to have 3-5ft waves and that they’d have to amend the tour because it was unsafe to go all the way to the outer island. Anyone wanting a refund they’d honor it. After our story salmon fishing earlier this summer, we were undeterred though. After 3 more reminders that we could claim a refund (no judgement!), we got underway.

In a word, it was indeed lumpy. I tried to take photos to capture it, but really, there’s no way you can. Despite being soaked through my raincoat by spray and having slightly numb fingers (because there was no way I was going down below when I could enjoy the Lake Superior air!), there were brief moments of this…

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And this…

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And this guy, who, after being 80% convinced we might die the first 30 minutes, really started to enjoy himself.

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Until he took a hefty spray/splash directly to the kisser in the final leg home. It was an epic spray/splash that was followed by a collective “Oooooooh!” from our fellow tourists after which everyone looked with nervous smiles, that plainly said, “Oh, that looked really bad!” It was. It was wet. And cold as the water temp was in the high 40s or low 50s. He’s a trooper though and I was glad to have the time with him.

From there, we caught the ferry out to Madeline Island. And thus enjoyed two and half days of this…

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It was perfection. On our final beach day, the kids and I took the long walk from one side of the Big Bay to the other. It wasn’t my hip’s favorite thing, but it was important for my heart. And sometimes the heart has to win.

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Yeah, it does.

Did I mention that all along the way there was knitting?

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There was knitting. All along the way. ❤ And most of the knitting was on these handspun socks.

From here, we spent a day in Duluth. It was sort of on the way to our next destination, Pattison State Park, and we needed to pick up a few groceries. There also happens to be a yarn shop in Duluth that I like to stop at, but that just was a happy coincidence (or a well-planned detour… one or the other…).

I dropped the mister and the kids at the very cool Great Lakes Aquarium and Moose and I headed to Yarn Harbor. It’s definitely one of my favorite destination yarn shops, partly because I love Duluth, but also because it has such a great selection. I always spring for one of the shop’s exclusive colorways dyed by Three Irish Girls Yarns. I think I have 3 other colorways from this collection that I’ve picked up on previous trips. I’ve knit zero so far, but I have zero doubt that I’ll get there. They are beautiful. This time I picked the ‘Yarn Harbor’ colorway.

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Oh, and an Arne & Carlos Regia Pairfect that I thought would be cute for my daughter. As a side note, I’ve always read “Pairfect” as “Parfait” until writing this. “Pairfect” is way cuter and makes much more sense.

One of the benefits of a camping trip that involves morning temps in the 50s is that the dog can wait in the car for short bursts. Moose is an excellent guard/nap dog in the car.

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And he did such an excellent job watching over the car while I was in the yarn shop that he and I went for a nice walk on the Duluth Lakewalk.

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What a beautiful morning in a beautiful place! We picked up our other 3 people and had a wonderful lunch at the dog-friendly Little Angie’s Cantina and Grill before heading out to the next campground.

Pattison State Park features the states highest waterfalls…

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Which also happen to include the fourth highest East of the Rockies. We viewed the taller of the two, Big Manitou Falls, on day one and resolved to check out Twin Little Manitou Falls the following morning.

With rain coming on the horizon, we broke camp a couple days early and decided to head home, but not until we took the quick jaunt down to the little falls…

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It was still dark and cloudy and foggy when we visited, but Mr KS used his magic touch to get this photo. Such a perfect capture!

We headed home with loads of laundry, plenty of good memories, and one tired puppy.

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So tired, in fact, that he couldn’t keep his tongue in his mouth while he slept.

The laundry is almost all washed, the dog is almost recovered, and we’re back in the grind of every day. The memories remain, though, and they are awfully grand.. Oh, and for those who are interested in those handspun socks, they’re done. I’ll be back with more on those soon — they are pretty grand, too.

 

 

Fresh Air & Preparations

The end of last week we were lucky enough to have my dad stay with us for a few days. We celebrated his birthday (a bit late, but better late than not at all!) and spent a good deal of time outside. We fish a lot when visiting with my dad and it just so happened that he brought his boat along this time. While the weather didn’t always cooperate, we were able to scope out some local waters for possible fishing spots when the weather wasn’t ideal. And when we did get out on the water, we didn’t catch any particularly large fish…

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But it was all smiles, all around. Fishing with Grandpa always is though.

My dad headed out Saturday, so we planned a family day for Mr Knitting Sarah’s day off on Sunday. We headed back to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

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It was restorative, as these things generally are. You can see without the optics, but in this photo are loads of Trumpeter Swans, Sandhill Crane families, ducks which I didn’t identify because as I was counting swans I was distracted by a lone coyote prancing across the field of view. We watched as he zigzagged back and forth around the field, seeming to delight in upsetting the birds around him. Most excitingly though there were five Whooping Cranes present. It’s not often we see that many in one spot and this just felt very special indeed.

We took a slightly longer hike on the backside of this little spot.

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It was quiet and peaceful aside from the last quarter mile or so when the deer flies decided to attack poor Moose. We walked fast and he was so tired when we got back to the car from the heat and annoyance that he laid down to drink his water. Poor guy!

Sufficiently tired, we headed home and had a little campfire. I’d purchased the ingredients for s’mores to enjoy while my dad was around, but we’d use up our sticks, so we set our youngest to work.

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She’s decided she’d like to have a Marshmallow Roasting Stick business when she grows up, as one does when so enamored with whittling.

We’ve got a very busy calendar the next few weeks, so I took it upon myself to take the day to do a somewhat boring job.

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Some “Friends of Knitting Sarah” are planning a bit of a retreat to the WI Sheep & Wool festival and I was asked to demo spinning, which, of course, I’m glad to do. I was also asked to bring along some handspun to a little pre-festival get-together, so I needed to measure and label some handspun. It took the better part of the day, thanks of course to numerous distractions, but by the end of the day, I managed to mostly fill the green tote above.

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I still need to wash and set these skeins (plus one already in a bath) and I hope to have a few more skeins done before September, but I am resting a little easier knowing that if I manage nothing else before then, I should still have plenty.

So that, my friends, has been my last week. Fresh air and preparations. There’s been some spinning & knitting, of course, but it’s been somewhat slower than normal. I’ve got a basket full of prepped fiber though and 4 projects on the needles, so I’m excited that the preparations are mostly done and I can get back to the business of making yarn & things with yarn!

Finding North

This weekend was the Grand Depart for the Tour de Fleece and I admittedly got off to a bit of a slow start, but for the very best of reasons. Sometimes friends visit (YAY!) and family adventures take place (YAY!) and the spinning just has to wait or at least proceed at a more modest pace. As much as I love spinning, while I will definitely work on making it fit into my life more easily I won’t ever let it entirely dictate what I’m going to do day-in and day-out. Life will always go on!

In any case, I woke up when the mister was getting ready for work on Saturday and took a little time with my coffee and spindle before the house was up and about…

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We gave our good friend the option to gallivant on Saturday or to stick close to home. We’d shown her our new home & town on Friday and on Saturday she opted to stay home and knit & spin — did I mention she knits and spins, too?! I have the feeling the relaxing involved was as much on her mind as was wanting to let me spin for the Tour. She is, after all, the most thoughtful person I know. I worked on plying my hawser while she worked on spinning her first batt. It was a pretty much as relaxing as it gets.

Sunday was the mister’s day off and I could tell he was feeling a bit restless and needing to go some place special. I packed up my spindle-to-go set and we piled into the adventure mobile. And we wound up here…

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The trails of Copper Falls State Park. It is quite a drive from our house, but extraordinary and worth the trek.

There are the obvious picturesque scenes…

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And the more subtle…

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All around I noticed places where life shouldn’t be able to exist, but it finds a way.

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The vertical fractures in the rock and intense curvature of the roots of this tree were breathtaking. Indeed, this is a place where rigid strength clashes with an very organic desire to find a way to thrive.

As we marveled at the cedar trees around us, thinking about the little red cedar spindle in my pack, my husband pointed to this tree.

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“Look,” he said. “Even the trees spin here.” ❤

As we trekked back from this stand of spinning trees in awe of the natural world, I lingered just long enough to hear a little girl ask her mom, “Mom, which was is North?”

And her mom responded, “I don’t know, honey. I don’t have a compass on my phone.”

I think it struck me because since our move it’s taken me a long time to get my bearings regarding the orientation of the roads around town. There have been many a time I find myself leaning back in my seat to see the little “W” or “E” on the dash when my husband is driving to try to get a better feel for where I am and where I’m going. I definitely have a long way to go.

On the trail, though, I always feel like given a little time, especially on a sunny day, I can figure out the cardinal directions and the general time based on the sun. In college when I would be cross country skiing new trails that’s always how I would navigate.  For me, my place on Earth is something I consider a lot — for location, for weather, even for the different angle of light in the evening. Because I’m such a visual person and science nerd, I am just always considering how my place on Earth affects what the world looks like and how it changes my perspective. Knowing my place in the physical world helps to bind me to the person that I am, as well, and the way I spend my time. Wife, mom, daughter, friend, spinner, knitter, hiker — all these things are impacted by — if you really think about it — my location, my relationship to where North is.  And yet I have never considered my phone as a compass that helps me find North.

After a picnic lunch, we fittingly turned the car North again, this time toward Potato River Falls.

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It was a new-to-us place and it turned out to be the ultimate in happy places for my girl…

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And Moose, who only tried to check in one innocent bystander wading out into the falls. He’s so happy in the water and always so alert to people who might be rescuing.

I had a little company while I spun…

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The best kind of company, actually.

We made our way home, refreshed and exhausted. And after getting the house in order and plants watered, I settled down to prep some fiber and spin.

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I finished plying my hawser and got a respectable amount onto my spindle.

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And I started to dig in to what will be a 2-ply worsted-ish yarn with Superfine Merino from Three Waters Farm. This is one of my absolute favorite colorways — Cafe Diem. After spinning a few fine yarns it’s taking a bit to get back in the worsted frame of mind, but it’s a welcome change.

I’m very hopeful that someone in that little girl’s hiking party was able to help her find North and that she was able to better understand her relationship with her place on Earth. I’m still working on my bearings, to be sure, here in our new home and on all the new trails. I’m still learning the light and how my place in this world has changed, ever so slightly over the past months. Odds are I still won’t ever remember that there’s a compass on my phone, but you can bet that I’m still thinking about finding North.