Sunday, May 30, 2010

HOW many miles???

[Above: Eric and Tedd of Green Mountain Spinnery -- Putney, VT; a delightful antique shop near Pittsfield, Massachusetts ; and an interior shot of one of the Mass. Sheep and Wool Festival Buildings].

.....How many indeed! 1,328.2 miles, to be exact. And now I'm home, listening to a replay of the National Memorial Day Concert. Those of us who deeply regret war, killing, invasions, and other kinds of violence are often suspected of treachery, but....patriotism surely can be found in dissent. Tonight, I'm remembering my brother Randy, who was a hospitalman in Vietnam, and who returned home a ruined man in a spiritual sense, broken, unfixable, unable to love himself ever again. And I am feeling desperately sad: all of those men and women in the Middle East....

.....but let's have some fiber talk. The Massachusetts Sheep and Wool Festival was a new experience for me. It typically coincides with other festivals, and so I have opted for larger or better-known events. This time, because two friends said I ought to go sometime, I went. It was indeed a small event, and there are pictures, which I'll deploy the minute I figure out how to do it. [LATER NOTE: See pictures at top of post!!!].

But it's a high-quality festival. I loved having a chance to talk with Eric Robinson (a woman!) at the Green Mountain Spinnery booth and her new colleague, Tedd, who's in charge of spinning and some other important matters. For those of you who don't know Green Mountain: It's a very important, small spinnery -- there aren't many genuine spinneries in the United States -- in Putney, Vermont. Charming, small, easy to miss if you're driving too quickly. It's now a worker-owned cooperative. Years ago, Green Mountain was instrumental in reviving the wool and spinning industry in New England, and they're still at it. As Eric reminded me with a laugh, GMS was advocating 'small farm' growing long before there was a "small farm movement," as there is now. And she has a new book out, which I"ll carry at Artisan Kniworks as soon as I can get it. AND I got to feel some of the most beautiful alpaca yarns I've seen in years. I was reminded, too, of how gorgeous their Tencel-wool blend is, and how complex the colors are. We will find a way to expand our stock of GM Yarns in the next six months or so, beside our present supply of the wonderful Mountain Mohair. Our clients deserve the opportunity to participate in GMS's important work. Because they make some of the highest quality undyed yarn in the country, I'm also going to give thought to some dyeing classes using their "white" (meaning natural) alpaca and wool yarns.

Along the way, I poked my nose into a number of small-town antique shops. This is where we often find the best vintage buttons: Often the freeway antique malls are picked over and wildly expensive. It's in the small shops in out-of-the-way places that we come up with real treasures -- as with a small place in North Carolina, where we found a button collector's entire holdings, and as with the small place near Pittsfield called Allendale's, where I didn't find anything at all, but passed a really delightful twenty minutes and made a friend, who promises to look out for buttons for me and to call me up.....and he will. There's also a great place called Interstate Antiques, in New York enroute to Albany, where I found really amazing vintage jewelry and a handful of very special Bakelite buttons. One set is a dead-ringer for buttons that I vividly recall on what my mother's mother called a "housedress." I haven't heard that word used in over 20 years.

Cummington's fairgrounds, the site of the Massachusetts show, is in a splendidly wooded, bucolic settng, near town but not a part of it. The show occupied several big farm buildings; tents surrounded the buildings for vendors unable or unwilling to pay hefty table costs (this is how new producers get a start). It was cool, sunny, and breezy........Never mind that I almost lost the car. I have to get a bright orange one next time. I sometimes wander through the animal buildings to pet llamas and alpacas (though llamas are much less nice than their smaller counsins), and when I did, I found Linda, a gifted dyer (mohair, wool, alpaca) who also had made some darling coasters from 200-year-old slates recovered from a demolished building in New England. Of course I bought her out. Hang the cost -- it's not unlike the way a man from Grosse Pointe drove a truck at his own expense to the site of the implosion of Mackenzie Hall (at my university in Detroit), carted off hundreds of bricks, and again at his own expense had them transformed into brass-plaqued paper weights, sold for the benefit of a scholarship fund. It's on my desk in the history department. Students sometimes look at it and get that look on their faces ("What's she doing with a brick???"). If they come back twice, I tell them.

Well, then I piled all of the yarn and coasters and buttons, and so on, into the VW and beat it back through New York, which had got bigger in the meantime. It took me an entire week, I SWEAR, to get to Erie, Pennsylvania. I had also forgotten completely about Memorial Day, Niagara Falls, and holiday travel. So there I was, nearing Buffalo (and the Falls), ready to find a room for the night, only to discover that there was no room in ANY inn, most especially not my faves (Hampton), anywhere near Buffalo or even Erie. Much frantic calling ensued between Larry and I (could I make it all the way home? Could I make it to Cleveland?). While he looked on Expedia, I called a Hampton in Cleveland, where a sweet young woman asked me gently if I'd tried the 800 number printed in plain sight on the back of my directory. DUH. I soon had a reservation between Erie and Cleveland (Ashkanauba), which was much further than I had wanted to drive by about three hours, but which got me closer to the Wooster festival.

Wooster is always a major treat. For openers, it has a fabulous FABULOUS Hungarian espresso shop and bakery downtown (Turalo's) just off of Liberty Street, for which I made a beeline. If you are ever fifty miles away from Wooster take a side trip. What a place. I talked with some locals today (that was only 12 hours ago, for heaven's sake!), and learned that people drive 25-30 miles twice a week just to buy their pastries and open faced sandwiches, not to mention the brilliantly brewed coffee. I did the Saturday NY Times crossword puzzle and headed down Liberty which also has a really fine knit shop) toward the fairgrounds.

I found SO many good friends there (I have been driving to Wooster for at least five years now) -- not least of which is our friend, Maureen, who has taken one of our dyeing classes and sold us some socks (still in the shop) on an antique knitting machine. She sold me some outrageously beautiful handspun hanks at a loss (in the sense that, if she sells them to me for even five bucks under retail, which is what she finally did, she can't sell them at full price at the next festival -- this is the dilemma of the small producer -- how can you sell at even a slight wholesale discount when you might sell out at full price? And since I aim to SUPPORT small producers, I can't disagree with them -- often my 'discount' is nominal, and we have to make it up with other goods).

I also discovered Lee Ann, who selects alpaca fleeces, sends the fiber off to an American mill, and handpaints the resulting soft, soft, soft yarn. I bought more of it than I will confess (it filled my large Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival tote bag), and tried not to notice that she was almost crying: "Nobody has been particularly interested in the handpaints," she said, grateful for the biggish sale at a festival where many people were looking, I'm afraid, for inexpensive stuff, not really good stuff made with great care by a master artisan. I wonder if I will ever see, in my lifetime, a general decision to pay people (especially women) for their skills and hard labor?

By 2:30, the Bug's trunk was full. It perhaps saves the checking account to have a Bug. So I programmed Matilda (my GPS) for "home" and took off. Matilda took me over the Ohio countryside for almost 75 miles before connecting me again to the Ohio Turnkpike -- for which I was grateful. I shared roads with Mennonites (horses, carriages, black and white costume), tractors, a small flock of sheep crossing at the confluence of two gravel roads. It was what I needed at that moment -- to become a small-town kid again, living for maybe an hour in Worthington, Minnesota, all over again, a stone's throw away from working farms -- the small of barns, the sounds of cows just before milking, the feel of corn stalks against the body in August when you run through, the odd little sounds that happen only in corn fields. For now, though, the fields are barely colored with 6-inch corn shoots, like very tall grass not yet mowed.

More soon when I can learn how to insert photographs [I learned....see above and below!].

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