Floraphage

Adventures in flora, fauna, food, and the great unknown.


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A little strange

Last year was a year of big changes for our little family. We’d been saving as much as possible for years, started researching and looking earnestly in April, and by mid-June had closed on our first home. The whole process was both intimidating and exhilarating. So it’s not without a hint of amusement and disbelief that I say that the best thing I bought last year may well have been an e-reader. It’s ridiculous, on the face of it—that something so small and cheap (relatively speaking) could have made such a difference—but it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s changed my day-to-day life about as much as home-ownership has.

As a kid, I was always a reader. On my first day of kindergarten, our teacher helped us record our goals for the year; mine was to learn to read, and so I did, and more and more as the years went by. I devoured books. I’d curl up alone in a chair with a book at family parties, invariably thought of as either “bright” or “a little strange,” depending largely on whether the the beholder was a reader themselves. I’d lose myself in mysterious worlds more satisfying than the one I found myself in. And I wrote—poetry and stories—sought to understand myself and others through words, to cope with the incomprehensible, to birth beauty and process pain.

My reading tapered off a bit as I neared the end of high school, and all the more throughout college. As an English major, I was still reading plenty of books, but all assigned, very little for pure pleasure. When I entered the workforce, after spending each day copyediting scientific manuscripts, the last thing I felt like doing in the evenings was reading even more. I still considered myself a reader, but only rarely I actually read—maybe eight books a year on average. I had lost something along the way.

Years passed. “I was happier when I was reading,” I thought to myself one day in early September. “I want to get back to that again.” My whole life, I’ve had something of a love affair with paper—there is nothing on this earth like a used bookstore, the scent of it, the feel of pages beneath fingertips—but the idea of an e-reader had been meandering through my mind for a while, and I had a bunch of unused cash-back rewards on my credit card. “What the heck,” I thought, and charged full-speed ahead. The combination of having so many books right at my fingertips, the simplicity of the e-ink display, the lack of distractions, and the lightness and ease of reading in bed changed everything for me. A fire was re-lit. My love affair with paper endures, will always endure (yes, I am still reading paper books), but I also haven’t looked back since.

In 2017, I read 32 books, almost all of those from September on. I thought it would be fun to take a look at some numbers (inspired somewhat by Jessamyn West) this year and beyond, to get a sense of what I’m reading and how it’s evolving:

  • Total read: 32
  • Fiction: 18 (56%)
  • Non-fiction: 13 (41%)
  • Poetry: 1 (3%)
  • By female authors: 19 (59%)
  • By male authors: 13 (41%)
  • By authors of color: 2 (6%)
  • Favorites, fiction: The MaddAddam trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam; Atwood), The Fifth Season (Jemisin), Station Eleven (Mandel)
  • Favorites, non-fiction: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Demick), The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (Rebanks)

I’m pleased that I managed to read so many books by women without making an effort, but I could clearly stand to be much more diverse in my reading, so if you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments. I’m especially partial to science fiction, dystopias, smart fantasy (I’ll skip the generic/derivative stuff, thanks), historical fiction, and microhistory. I am admittedly somewhat whimsical in my reading, following moods as they strike me, and that’s not likely to change—but if it’s on my To Read list, I’ll get to it eventually, so that’s where I’ll start.

I’ve knocked off eight books already in January. For the first time in a long while, I’m confident that it’s going to be a good year for the written word.

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There once was a thing called blog

It’s been a while—far too long, really—but 2017 has been remarkably draining for a great many reasons (some good, some bad), and most days it’s been all I could do to keep my life at least vaguely in order; writing posts and editing photos for a mostly unread blog has just not been high on my list of things to accomplish. But as the cold air settles in and I surround myself in hand-knit woolen goodness, a faint creativity begins to sparkle in the shadows, and I find myself wanting to stretch those writing muscles again. I aim to do better in 2018 and beyond, and I hope you’ll join me.


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Transformation

Last year, we missed the prime of summer in the Pioneer Valley, instead enjoying the beauty of Ireland. (Amazingly, I have still not finished editing all of the photos from that trip, although I’m nearly finished.) This year, we stayed put—and folks, it was gorgeous.

Canopy

As usual, we spent a fair bit of time hiking around Mount Toby—a favorite with us because it’s virtually in our backyard. It’s been nice to visit repeatedly, to gain a certain familiarity with the trails there, so that individual rocks and trees start to feel familiar, making the forest feel like an extension of our own home.

Sun-sparks

I think our favorite discovery was Cranberry Pond, a lovely little kettle pond that we’d seen on the trail map but had always just hiked past on our way to other areas of the reservation. In addition to the numerous sunning turtles and swimming fish, we found ample evidence of beaver excavation (although, alas, no beavers) and witnessed a stunning aerial display from a red-winged blackbird. It’s a lovely little spot in the early summer, and I’m sure it’s equally stunning in other seasons.

Cranberry Pond panorama

I went on adventure of a very different nature later in the summer. I’m lucky enough to live near what has to be one of the better yarn stores in the world, Webs, and in August I took a class there in which I learned how to spin on a drop spindle. Our instructor, Ashley Flagg, was fantastic (and I think something of a kindred spirit, as wool-people often are)—and although I still have a long way to go, I was really pleased with my first (and second!) full skein of yarn. (It is yearning to become a squishy cowl, but the twins need to become triplets before this dream can be realized.)

First skein of yarn

I also managed to finish my second sweater (pattern here). It was slow going for a while, as the fabric was extremely stiff and hurt my hands, but the end result is just so warm and cozy—perfect for crisp autumn days of apple-picking—and I’ve been wearing it nearly constantly ever since the weather started to turn cool.

adirondack-sweater

One of the loveliest things about the valley is the morning fog—sometimes so thick that the rising sun could be mistaken for the moon. Such a view can definitely make training runs a little less onerous on brisk mornings, when it would be so much easier to hide in bed under the warmth of the covers (even when there are already other sources of motivation).

Valley fog, morning

Even though autumn is once again upon us, there is still green to be found in small corners.

Spots

But in the wider world, the hue of the landscape is clearly undergoing its annual transformation.

View from Mount Toby

Somehow, my blog posts always seem to be punctuated with seasonal changes—probably because I am so lax in my writing. But I am fortunate enough to be going to Rhinebeck, New York, next weekend for the annual Sheep and Wool Festival, so with any luck I will have tons of photographs of sweet-eyed woolly creatures to show off very soon.

View from Mount Toby

Autumn in New England just cannot be beat. And so much the better when one gets to spend it warmed by hand-knit woolens.