Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It Doesn't Matter How Many Miles You Ride

Deception Pass, September 2016

Last fall, during Bike MS Washington, there were policemen stationed at either side of Deception Pass to control the flow of cyclists and cars across the bridge. When I reached the bridge on the homeward leg of Day 1, the policeman asked, "How far are you riding today?"

"Only 60," I replied.

"A lot of you are doing the 60," he said. "But you all say it as though you're embarrassed. Why is that?"

"I guess we were all hoping we could go farther," I said.

Crossing Deception Pass

Cycling, like most activities, has its instant camaraderies, its friendly ambassadors, and plenty of cheerful encouragement between enthusiasts who meet on a common road. It also has its snobberies and self-appointed elite, who gauge a rider's worth by his equipment, clothing, mileage, speed, and - if you can believe it - the smoothness of his legs.

Even for those of us who belong to the former group, there's a certain shamefacedness in admitting that we don't ride hundreds of miles every week. (Some of us don't even ride one hundred miles a week.)

I think this is partly due to social pressure, and partly to aspiration. The social pressure needs no explaining; it's merely the cycling variant of keeping up with the Joneses. The aspiration, however, is harder to deal with.

Once you get a taste of longer rides, and realize that yes, it is humanly possible to ride x number of miles and survive, you want to keep going. The numbers cease to frighten; instead they become alluring. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty - heck, why not a hundred? Why not a hundred and twenty? It's a kind of Rockefeller-and-money thing: you always want a little more. And, if you're like me, you always feel a little inferior in the company of those who have achieved it.

Rest stop, Bike MS Washington 2016

After my surgery last month, the transport tech who wheeled me out of the hospital (I could have walked, but you know how hospitals are) was wearing a bike-print headwrap.

"Are you a cyclist?" I asked.

"Yep," he said. "Are you?"

"Just a hobby cyclist," I said apologetically. "My rides are mostly short. I've never even done a century."

"I've done, let me see, five centuries since my knee replacement," he said cheerfully, "and I forget how many before that." He went on to tell me about some severe back and leg problems he'd suffered through, the many surgeries he'd had, and the riding he'd done before and after each.

"I dream of training for a century," I said, "but life seems to keep getting in the way. Every year I think 'maybe this will be the year', but something comes up to prevent it. So I do my little 15- and 20-mile rides, and keep hoping."

"Hey," he said. "It doesn't matter how many miles you ride. Some people make a big deal about distance, but as far as I'm concerned, if you're out on the bike, you're a cyclist. Getting out there is what counts."

Then Mr. M pulled up with the car. I got out of the wheelchair, thanked the tech, climbed into the car, and went home.

~

I've thought about the tech's words a lot since then. Recovery was supposed to be fairly quick, but in some ways it hasn't been. For several weeks I couldn't ride at all, and when I did get back on the bike, it didn't go well.

So now I'm starting from scratch, and things are slowly (oh so slowly) improving. I can ride a mile without hurting badly afterwards. Maybe next week it will be two. (Meanwhile the flowers blossom and fade, and the year is flying by.) When I get frustrated, which happens on most sunny days, I try to remember a fellow cyclist's kind words:

It doesn't matter how many miles you ride. Getting out there is what counts.


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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Old Yarn, New Yarn, and (what else?) Wildflowers

I'm not a hoarder. Really I'm not. Except, perhaps, when it comes to craft supplies and UFOs. It's hard to let go of all those crafty bits and bobs because, of course, they might come in handy some day.

That day finally came!

~

Many a time, whilst cooking eggs, have I looked down at the cast-iron pan and said to myself, "I really should make a cover for this handle." (Then my thoughts jump ahead to something else and I forget all about it until I use the pan again.)

A few mornings ago, as the eggs scrambled (possible soap opera title?), it struck me that wool, being naturally fire-resistant, would make a great handle cover. Felted wool. Hmmm. Hadn't I just seen some in the crafty hoard stash?

Why yes - a failed eyeglass case. Just the right length too - it only needed a bit trimmed off, and some taking in around the edges:


And a lazy daisy for added beauty. Bingo!

A few days later, rooting through a pile of fabric, I came across another piece of felted wool. (No idea what I had planned to make with it.) Perfect for the other cast iron skillet!

I rashly cut into it, and promptly found that the piece I cut was too short. So I franken-stitched it together with the piece trimmed from the eyeglass case (which of course I had kept because it might come in handy), then seamed the long edges into a tube and stitched one end shut. It turned out kind of cute, I think:


A minor triumph for crafty hoarding.

~

My favourite nephew and his wife just returned from Iceland, and a few days ago he sent me a package. A large, lightweight package. Could it possibly be ...



Yes, it could! Icelandic wool, straight from the source. And some delicious Icelandic chocolate.


What a lucky aunt I am. :)

~

Sunday is hot and sunny and gorgeous - a little foretaste of summer. A good day to try riding again.

There's a bumper crop of buttercups this spring. Don't they look cheery against that blue sky?


These particular buttercups are growing at the edge of a marsh. Just behind them, almost hidden in the tall marsh grass, are several flag iris:


And completely hidden in the grass are some waterfowl that make a sort of grunting noise - possibly merganser? As I can't see them it's hard to make a positive identification.

A tiny flash of pink at my feet is a flower that looks like a member of the pea family. Later research suggests Marsh Pea (Lathyrus palustris):


Across the road a blackbird watches me from an aspen full of wind-tossed leaves:


(What a welcome sound is the rustle of leaves, after so many months with no leaves at all.)

A mile up the road are some large drifts of tiny white blossoms - stiff sandwort, I think:


A season or two back I remember seeing one sandwort plant here, and this year there are several square yards of it. You never know which wildflowers will star on the annual stage.

Just a few feet away is a new-to-me flower, later identified as Hairy Penstemon (P. hirsutus). It seems to be past its flowering prime, so I feel lucky to have caught it:


Back on the bike, with Tallulah keeping a wary eye out for cars:


Meadow Anemone are very large and plentiful this year:


Some wild grass going fluffily to seed:


Hoary vetch (much more beautiful than its name):


Last week Mr. M saw a large, smooth-shelled turtle (on a different road). I'm now approaching a spot where I saw a similar turtle a few years back. So I'm keeping a lookout, in case I get lucky again. And what do you know:


I can't tell if it's the same one I saw in 2013 - the size is pretty close, but this one's shell is more scarred. Do turtles have territories? If they do, this is probably the same one. Another sighting and I'll have to give it a name. ("How about Erda?" says Tallulah.)

Locust trees are flowering now, their sweetness stealing through the air:


Tiny fruit of field pennycress:


Later I pass what looks like black or dark brown flowers growing in a field:


They turn out to be dried blossoms of some kind. Does anyone know what they are? (I'm stumped.)


Just up the road is another marsh, with what looks like small yellow flowers on red stems growing up from the water. A little research suggests they may be bladderwort, a carnivorous plant (and another new-to-me flower):


Here endeth the first ride of June.

~

What's blooming in your neck of the woods?

~ ~ ~

Sunday, May 28, 2017

An Interesting May

May is to spring what October is to fall: over-the-top beautiful. (A niece of mine recently said: "Isn't it amazing to live in a world where trees turn pink for a couple of weeks every year?" Yes - it is.)

This most beautiful of months even had a most beautiful day: Thursday the 18th. The lilacs were in full bloom, flowering crab and redbud trees were miracles of pink and rose and red, creeping phlox spilled like pastel waterfalls over emerald lawns, winter cress shone like sunshine in the fields, and new-leaved maples and oaks sported every shade of green, all under a bright blue sky with just the right amount of slow-sailing, puffy white clouds. A day I wished I could package up and send to all my friends and loved ones (or, better yet, have them here to share the joy).

These glories were observed, I regret to say, not from the seat of a bicycle, but from behind the windows of a car, thanks to a surgery that happened early in the month. (Not major surgery - but even a smallish surgery, coming on top of flu, can really pack a wallop. Dang.)

~

A quick look back at the last ride of April, when a lingering cough was my only lament:

Clockwise from top left: lichen, wild apple blossom,
wild plum blossom, pussytoes, baby maple leaves

A tom turkey strutting and displaying in the woods near the road

Then came May, and with it the joys of modern medicine.

~

Why is surgery so depressing? Is it the after-effects of anesthesia, or simply a reaction to having one's innards pulled about by sharp tools and burned by lasers? Or a combination of the two?

And then there's the frustration caused by weakness. Knowing that wildflowers are out there blooming, and not being able to get to them, is (for me) like having really good friends in town for only a few days and not being able to see them.

One evening Mr. M drove me outside of town to a spot where I hoped this flower would be blooming:

Jacob's Ladder or Greek Valerian

The blossoms had closed up for the evening, but I was glad to have caught them before they disappeared. In all my rides, I've never seen them growing anywhere else, and they've become a favourite part of May.

We stopped by the marsh where the kingcups grow:


And on the way home caught this apple tree against the sunset:


~

There was plenty of May beauty nearer at hand, too. Lilacs in the yard:


Pine buds glowing in the morning sun:


And wild columbine next to the garage:


~

Two new patterns were published this month, in Love of Crochet Summer 2017:

The Sandbar Shawlette, a lacy, bead-edged, crescent-shaped shawl worked in a soft, almost flannel-like cotton yarn:

Photo copyright Love of Crochet

Below are the original swatch (upper left), and the completed project on the blocking board:


Also published was the River Rock Necklace, worked from chain-stitch and simple knots:

Photo copyright Love of Crochet

Here are the original sample (left), and the finished commissioned necklace before mailing:


These projects were worked last August and September, which seems like a lifetime ago.

Some newer commissions kept me busy in May, including a very exciting project that will debut later this year.

~

Yesterday I could stand it no longer; I had to have a wildflower fix. Gingerly and with trepidation, after a month of no riding, I got back on the bike. It was probably the slowest ride I've ever taken, and certainly one of the shortest, but I ran into plenty of old friends.

Rosy wild geranium:


Tiny stitchwort:


Daisy fleabane - this one just three inches tall and almost hidden in the grass, but already blooming:


Buttercups:


Dame's Rocket, the glory of roadsides throughout late May and early June:


Black Medick, with its miniscule clover-like blossoms:


A wild berry vine in bloom:


Honeysuckle in several shades (here we have cream and rose):


Bonus photo of picturesque old shed:


Golden Alexanders, showing signs of spittlebug occupation:


And the final shot before I had to turn back - red-twig dogwood in bloom:


An uncomfortable ride, but worth it. :)

~

And here we are on the cusp of June (hard to believe, isn't it?). The exuberance of early spring is past, and flowering shrubs and trees are settling into their workaday green. The beauties to come will be smaller and quieter, but worth seeking out nonetheless.

One last memory from early in May - young ash leaves glowing in the morning sun:


How was your May?

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hunting for Violets

When I was 2 (my mom used to tell me), I announced that lavender was my favourite colour.
This was in the 60s, long before the pink-and-purple tidal wave of girly paraphernalia had swamped the shores of commercialism. In my violet-starved Southern California youth, there were very few lavender clothes to be had; even our garden sported only a small pop of purple here and there from a few Johnny-Jump-Ups (violas) planted by my rose-preferring mom. On our rare visits to Disneyland I would feast my eyes on the giant beds of bluey-lavendar ageratum, bordered with vivid yellow marigolds, that lay at the entrance of Torrowland. Lavendar and yellow remain a favourite colour combo to this day, thanks to those long-ago landscape designers of the Magic Kingdom.

Eventually I grew old enough to sew my own clothes, and could finally seek out the colour I loved. By then I loved all shades of purple, though lavender continued to hold center stage (even my wedding dress was trimmed with lavender ribbon, and I wore lavender shoes underneath). The purple-and-teal boom of the late 80s brought mixed feelings - it was delightful to have so many plummy-tinted things available, but a little frustrating that what had always been "my" colour had become so common. We humans are a discontented lot.

Now I'm old enough not to care about trends. I like what I like, and if other people happen to be liking it too, great. If not, no problem. It helps that I now live in Wisconsin, which turns all kinds of delightful shades of purple* every spring.

First to come are the violets. They show up just a few days after the dandelions appear (purple and yellow again!) to delight the heart of purple-lovers everywhere for a few precious weeks.

It's violet time right now, and last Sunday I went out on my bike to find some.

*For the purists out there: "violet" is a true colour with a place on the visible spectrum of light, while "purple" is a composite colour made by combining red and blue (thanks, Wikipedia). They are not identical, but they're close enough that many use the collective terms interchangeably, as do I.

~

It's a great day for a ride: sunny, mild, and as nearly windless as our part of Wisconsin can be. Today I am visiting my favourite wild-violet patches - the roadside spots where in past years they've bloomed most thickly. After months of grey-and-white winter, I'm ready for an orgy of purple.

So is Tallulah:


First unintentional bug photo of the year (bugs are always photo-bombing my wildflower photos):


The wild violets here come in all shades: medium to deep blue violet, rich reddish-purple, delicate lavender, bright white with streaks of violet at their hearts. I love them all.


It's a glorious day. The sun is warm on my back, and it feels great to be tooling around the countryside, stopping for photos whenever I like, peering into the marshes in search of watercress (no luck), and generally poking my nose into spring.

Birches shine white in the sun:


Wild honeysuckle is thinking about blossoming:


A field that has lain uncultivated for years has been unexpectedly plowed:


(What will be planted there? Enquiring minds want to know.)

Hardwood trees are shedding their blossom:


A favourite wild apple tree blushes, entertaining daring thoughts of an early bloom:


Another favourite tree, oak this time:


Iris gets parked against a handy gate...


...while prowl the verge snapping meadow anemone (A. canadensis), another of the earliest wildflowers.


What a treat to be out, both on bike and on foot, in the spring.

~

Four days later it snowed. The violets in the lawn shivered and hugged themselves, trying to stay warm while melting snowflakes clung to their curled-up petals. This too is spring in Wisconsin.


And the weather has stayed chilly and rainy ever since. This weekend I took only one short ride, to look for wild plum blossom. I think I'll save that for another post.

Are there violets blooming where you are?

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