Monday, February 08, 2016

Weather,wood and wool

Having risen early to try to record again the first seven minutes of the seventh chapter of the second book of The Well at the World's End, (alas and alack, I fear I am verily fed up unto the back teeth with it, forsooth), I find that, while I have worked out that it is probably the laptop fan which is causing the interfering whine on the soundtrack, even if I position the mic and myself differently to avoid this, the escalating winds of storm Imogen are really making far too much racket round the house for a quiet recording environment, or at least one in which I can concentrate enough to read aloud. So as I'm up already I'll start a post, since, touch wood, we still have internet connection, power etc.

I dislike high winds. Some of my earliest blog posts, I recall, were expressing anxiety about this meteorological fact of life, it must have been another windy winter nearly ten years ago. Especially I worried about what would happen if Victor's trees blew down on our house, in particular his largest chestnut tree. Changing bedrooms, so I heard the wind less and we were not directly under the predicted downward trajectory of said tree, and accepting the futility of trying to communicate this concern in any effective way to Victor have to some extent alleviated the fears, but the source of them has continued to grow, as trees will.

A week or so ago I encountered his remaining sister in the village, old Hélène, who is 96 and almost totally blind, outside the house, and she entered into her usual tirade against her brother and his trees and how inconsiderate and irresponsible he was to let them grow so near our house. This was one reason I had stopped trying to talk to Victor about them, I knew he had his sisters on his back pleading our case, and he didn't listen to them so why would he listen to me? Or maybe staying on friendly terms with him so he might just be concerned with our welfare might be more effective. One of the reasons Hélène, and their other sister, Marcelle who's in the retraite and Marie-Thérèse who used to live next door, gave for the undesirability of the trees was the amount of leaf litter and the way they blocked the light from the house. The leaves are a minor nuisance to clear up it's true, and make the road untidy, but in fact the effect on the light, which really is more from the screening effect of the coppiced shoots than the big tree, is something I love. The dancing, ever-changing filtered glow and dappled shade that plays through our windows and onto our walls as the sun moves round the house through the year, green in spring and gold in winter, making it into a great seasonal sundial, is a joy to me.

So I agreed with old Hélène but tended to shrug and laugh it off anyway, but then a day or so later, just before these spells of stormy winds moved in on us, two burly blokes with a couple of mighty chain saws and a piece of robust wheeled agricultural plant with a massive extending arm thing arrived. They held the tree in place with the arm and made short work of downing it onto Victor's patch and cutting the thickest part of the trunk into a couple of pieces. This was done in the darkling dusk (hence I didn't photograph the operation), with no ear protection or any other safety gear. Victor watched from a few paces off, and we watched from the window, while I formulated in my head the French for 'the monsieur has been crushed by a tree/cut his hand/arm/leg off/himself in two with a chainsaw', figuring I'd probably be able to get to the phone more quickly than Victor.

The latter, all ninety-four years and four foot eleven of him, has been having a whale of a time with his own chainsaw, axes, wedges etc, chopping the old tree up, as well as clambering about on a flimsy ladder trimming the remaining smaller ones. His daughters try to keep tabs on him but they don't live there, and he's a stubborn old git and will do what he wants anyway. When I told him on my way out to be careful up there he chuckled like a wicked gnome and carried on hanging off the ladder with one arm while sawing at a branch with the other. Tom had just given him a bottle of wine as a thank you for dispatching the tree, I don't know if he'd been drinking it. It was Chilean red not cider or calva so maybe he wasn't really interested, but his daughter looked appreciative anyway.

I clambered up the bank and took a photo of the section of the tree, then enlarged it and tweaked the contrast to count the rings. I've a feeling it wasn't the full bole at the base, so may have been only a coppiced shoot of an even older tree, but even so I make it about thirty-eight rings. It first saw the light when I was doing my O levels, was a mere sapling when I left school, at which time Victor was probably contemplating his retirement, and I've marked some other points:

Interesting to note it must have withstood the 1987 hurricane which flattened swathes of woodland here and took the roofs off most of the houses in the village, and laid low many fine old beeches in the park opposite my parents' house in Brighton, which I remember looking out at for long sad hours the February after when my father died. But then it was still quite a young tree then, and must have bowed but not broken, like the reed in the fable.


Changing the subject, my first lopapeysa! The design, called Antipodal, came from a recent book and is quite modern and atypical in some ways (including the rolled turtle neck), though the construction is traditional. You knit a big tube for the body up to the underarms, two small tubes for the arms, then join them all together into one yoke which you decrease in size, changing colours and making the patterned bit, up to the neck. So there's very little making up or sewing to do and all the fun stuff, patterning and shaping, comes near the end, so you have it to look forward to and don't lose interest. They're also fairly inexpensive and quick to make, as the wool is quite bulky, though this is made from the thinner Lopi-lite version.

In fact the yoke is really too deep, so the sleeves join too low and if I wear a jacket over it that pushes it up under the arms a fold appears under the neck. I can now see how this might be avoided, and half-considered unravelling some way back and reshaping it, but decided I'd rather just wear it as it is and go on and make another one, which I have already set about doing, though from other wool than Icelandic, which is something of a come-down since lopi wool is extraordinarily gorgeous: tough, seemingly harsh but luminous, unique and surprisingly warm and comfortable once you're inside, just like Iceland in fact. However, I can't really justify sending away for more of it while I've stacks of stashed stuff already, but then there'll be satisfying possibilities of arithmetical adjustments to allow for the different yarn. The study and perfecting of this form of knitting is much appreciated and has a large and enthusiastic following; I can vouch for how compulsive it is.

Reading up on the history of Icelandic knitting, I've learned that while wool and knitted garments have long been an important part of their culture and economy, the patterned yoke pullover is not so very old, dating from the mid-twentieth century, and they were originally called Greenlandic sweaters, not because they came from Greenland but because the patterned yoke resembled the decorative neck elements of some traditional Greenland folk costumes. 

So there you go.


Jean said...

I so loved reading all of this, it's taken my mind right off Imogen - wild wind makes me nervous too. I particularly like your markings on the tree-trunk rings. And lovely jumper.

Nimble said...

I'm amazed at your elderly lumberjack neighbor.
The sweater is really pretty, wear it in good health!

Catalyst said...

A lovely sweater on a lovely lady.

I may have said this before but I had an uncle who used to clamber around on his roof putting up Christmas decorations well into his 90's.

the polish chick said...

gads, i hate wind. it's been howling about here all day and i'm cranky, stabby, and generally irritable.

the photo of you is great, especially the impish smile! and i love the sweater! well done!

Zhoen said...

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
-R. Chandler

Beware wirey old guys.

What a fetching sweater on you.

Anne said...

We have lots of wind storms these days, but our house is in a sort of hollow on a hillside so that I look out at the tops of the trees whipping back and forth but don't feel it much at the house. Sometimes I think about a tree falling on the house, but forget to worry much because I find the storm exciting.

I love the sweater (jumper). I am inspired to knit something.

marja-leena said...

I love your sweater and it looks lovely on you, Lucy, what an expert knitter you are! I wish I had the Icelandic cardigan sweater I bought for my father at the airport in Reykjavik way back in 1967, which had a somewhat similar pattern across the front, back and shoulders, but in shades of brown, taupes and some white. And I'm enjoying those warm slipper socks you knit for me.

Talk about huge trees and windstorms... we were worried a few nights ago when the winds caused the power to go out all night... must have been a tree somewhere that came down. Glad you were safe, and now even safer with the neighbour's tree removed.

Hope spring is coming there soon. We were outside today cleaning up the garden in sunny 14C weather - most unusual. The crouses are out extra early this year.

marja-leena said...

Oops, I meant 'crocuses' or is that croci?

Roderick Robinson said...

I'd call you God's gift to blogging if it wasn't for the fact that He and I have an uneasy relationship, both striving to grab everyone's attention and He unfairly equipped (Storms, etc) to do a better job.

I was all set to compliment you on an agglomeration of Balzacian detail that only needed the introduction of one of those ribbed, little blue bottles (labelled For Exterior Use) at the end to turn it into the finest of literary entities, when you suddenly switch direction in a glorious coup of invention with your Photoshopped tree trunk. A Renaissance woman, a woman for all seasons, a woman whose mind roves, finally tossing in a cheeky-faced portrait, on the slant, which clearly says "Twas nothing, really." but not meaning it in the slightest. Thank God (there he is again) for knitting; without it you'd appear constantly in the UK Sundays. In fact it suddenly occurs to me you have a predecessor, another of my heroines: Janet Flanner, who for thirty years or so interpreted France - with enormous and sympathetic skill - for readers of The New Yorker. Perhaps you were born on the wrong side of the blanket.

I suppose calva is more popularly called vin de veau by those who know.

Roderick Robinson said...

Whoops, my naïve blunder. I thought I'd discovered the fault that proved you weren't quite perfect but you were legitimately abbreviating a form of booze. I will retreat to my scores.

Avus said...

Your elderly "lumberjack" gives all us oldies hope, Lucy. Enjoyed your creative use of the tree rings, too.
That's one lovely sweater and I guess the long droopy sleeves keep your hands warm. As a mere male I pose the question, why not some elastic around the wrists to hitch 'em up a bit if they bother you?

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

In fact I've been a bit worried about Victor, as he disappeared for a few days, last seen up the ladder, and I wondered if he'd done himself a mischief, one can't help feeling it's only a matter of time. However, his absence must have been simply down to the weather, as he's pottering about on his patch again this morning!

Z - loved that Chandler quote!

ML - the original lopi sweaters were always in the natural wool colours, and those still seem to be the ones you see the Icelanders wearing, the dyed yarns came in later but have become increasingly many and beautiful.

Robbie - they tend to call it Calva rather than eau-de-vie, though of course it's only really Calvados if it comes from the region. I don't know Janet Flanner. If you had known my mother any question of wrong side of the blanket would not have entered your mind, unless of course I was adopted... but no, I look too much like both my parents.

Avus - it's not the sleeve length that's the problem, though it is for me for most clothes, they'r quite a manageable length, it's where the underarms come which is too low, which means raising my arms pulls at the sides of the jumper, and wearing a jacket over it hitches them up so the upper part folds under the neck. But it's OK, and perfectly wearable, and I don't much need to wear a jacket over it anyway, it's so warm!

Rouchswalwe said...

What a glorious post to read as I emerge from my sickroom. The tree ring markings are excellent. And I've been wanting to mention that I thought of you twice last weekend: first, when I had reason to walk into the local Yarn Shop, and second, when my dear Water Rat showed me her cache of icelandic wool rolls (yes, colors all from nature). My jaunty winter hat is under repair, and I'm wearing one that is much too small for me, but it is warm in these sub-zero temperatures. Your icelandic sweater is marvelous, dear Lucy!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Everyone else got here first and expressed my thoughts and compliments for this post so all I can do is say thanks, I've enjoyed every word and picture.

Pam said...

I love your jumper and I also like your wicked smile!