A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the joys of snowshoeing, which I've taken up because my cross-country skis are out of commission with a broken binding. I showed you the old-fashioned wood and rawhide snowshoes we inherited from my parents. These work very well for the most part, especially when the snow is deep, soft, and fluffy. But their design creates some problems: because of the beavertail ends at the back, it's impossible to step backwards in them, so backing up means laboriously turning in a circle and walking back forwards. Also, because they're quite wide, one has to adopt a rather waddling gait involving swinging one's legs in an arc so as not to catch the inner edges of the snowshoes on each other. Several times when I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing I did exactly that, caught an inner edge of a snowshoe on the inner edge of the other. As you might expect, the result is usually a faceplant into the snow. Either that or just crashing to my knees and banging my knee on the wooden frame. I still have a nice bruise from doing that last week. Perhaps I'm clumsier than most: I certainly never thought of snowshoeing as a particularly injury-inducing sport. The last drawback I've noticed is that on ice, these snowshoes are hazardous. They want to slip and skitter across the ice.
Happily, however, I've had a birthday recently and my dear sister solved all these problems by giving me a wonderfully skookum pair of high-tech snowshoes. The brand name is Tubbs, and these particular ones are apparently designed specifically for women. These new snowshoes have revolutionized snowshoeing for me, especially given that our snow has changed in the past few weeks from deep and fluffy to wet to the point of slush where it's deep and ice where it's not, such as in the driveway. The first difference is the size: the new ones are less than two feet long, whereas the old ones are closer to three.
The frames are lightweight metal alloy (or aluminum?) and the webbing is some sort of rubber product. Because the toe is open, the snow that dumps down onto the snowshoe falls through rather than piling up and weighing it down. And they are much narrower than the old-fashioned wood/rawhide model, meaning that I can use a much more natural gait to walk.
And the toes are tipped up so that it's virtually impossible to catch the tip in deep snow and pitch forward onto one's face, and the back ends are also tipped up a bit, making backing up a cinch. The heel is held in place with a strap but isn't fixed to the snowshoe, so that part is the same as my old ones. But the toe harness is great: instead of having to fumble about awkwardly behind me to buckle and tighten the heel strap every time I go out on the old ones, with the new ones I've been able to set the various straps and ratcheted bindings to fit my boots and then just use a quick-release lever to get myself in and out of the bindings. Bliss! Lastly, these new models have crampons permanently in place, under the ball of the foot, the outside edge of the foot and the heel.
Walking on ice is a breeze, as is walking up and down hills. The new snowshoes are so much more efficient that I've had to drastically increase the length and steepness of my snowshoe route in order to get a good workout.
Do these improvements mean that I'll abandon my older model? Not a bit of it: the larger footprint and the large expanse of webbing on the old ones makes them much better suited than the new ones to breaking trail and to manoeuvring in fresh, soft snow. I enjoy the connection to the past that I get from wearing my old ones, and I like the use of natural renewable materials, just wood and rawhide, plus leather for the toe harness and the heel strap. I feel as if I have the best of both worlds now and that I'll be able to snowshoe no matter what the conditions right through the rest of the winter. Thank you, family!
Work in my studio has slowed significantly since I went back to work and thus I don't have much progress to show you. But I had a couple of happy afternoons this weekend working on my batik and neutrals blocks and so the design wall is sporting quite a few new ones since last week. I just love this process! Why do I find piecing so satisfying? Why don't I get bored with the process of cutting, marking, sewing, cutting, pressing, trimming, sewing, pressing and sewing and pressing again that every block requires? Part of it is that I've set up a production line system that works well for me, so that I'm not doing any one thing for too long but not changing tasks too frequently to get into a rhythm. At any one time, I've got the pieces for three blocks laid out and ready to sew. I start sewing one and then start into the second halfway through the first one so that the pieces under construction come out of the machine (spat out the back behind the presser foot as a bit from the second block goes under the needle) and can be pressed before the next sewing stage comes along. This process, as I'm sure most of you know, is called chain-piecing, and it's a huge time-saver at the sewing machine and also a thrifty use of thread. My very favourite parts of the process come at the beginning and the end: I adore the designing stage, where I take the pieces I've already cut and lay them out to become a block in an arrangement I find pleasing. And I love the final press that opens out the last seams and reveals the just-completed block in all its glory, ready to be pinned up on the design wall. Oh, and then there's the last bit, the stepping back from the design wall and admiring all the blocks completed thus far, reveling in their cumulative beauty.
What do you think? Are they working as well as I think they are? I'm so jazzed about these blocks that I'm going to keep going until I have enough made for a second quilt. I have too many ideas for layouts and elements to use as counterpoints to the whirling blocks to confine myself to only one quilt.
And then there's the midnight volcano crocheted throw, as I now think of it. Again, not much progress since last week: I'm averaging about one row a day. It's fortunate that I'm not working to a deadline for this one. But it's now at the stage where it serves the purpose of a smallish lap throw while I work on it, a welcome function since we're still in the midst of winter.
And I'm still slowly making progress on my bit of the Midway Museum quilt, but the thread work is nearly invisible so I won't bother showing you what I've accomplished thus far.
The highlight of yesterday was taking my dear husband up on his suggestion that instead of my trudging around in the snow here at home we go up to the woodlot and our new bit of property and walk on the plowed road there. So we packed the dogs into the back of the pickup and off we went.
The valley in which Greenwood sits was covered in a blanket of fog and we were almost to the top of our climb up the Phoenix road before we finally made it into sunshine. We had the low afternoon sun in our eyes as we began our walk.
And see what we spotted here on the road? According to my dh, these are bobcat tracks. I put my glove down so that you could get an idea of the size of that cat's feet.
Here you can see the fog boiling up across the draw.
This bit of the woodlot is close to our property and, believe it or not, my dh logged it just last month. This, I am proud to tell you, is what selective logging looks like when it's done well. In a couple of years it won't look as if it was logged at all. Quite a difference from a clearcut, I think you have to agree. Falling trees himself (rather than hiring a feller-buncher) means dh can remove the poor ones that should go and leave the good trees to continue to grow and, we hope, propagate new ones. Using horses (instead of a mechanical skidder) means much less damage to the ground and to the understory (not that there is much understory in this bit in any case, but you get my point.) The really special part of this bit of the woodlot is that dh logged it selectively and with horses twenty-five years ago and was happy with the results. Now he's logged it again and is happy again with what the forest looks like afterward.
Long fronds of common witch's hair, an arboreal lichen, hung from this cedar.
The fog rolled back in when we got into the snow and trees. The blob behind my dh is Sass, and the one in front is Django. I ended up with quite a lot of snow inside my socks and boots after this shortcut, and had to clutch dh's arm to take off my boots and empty out the snow when we got back onto the road.
The creek was almost hidden under the snow. All that was visible was this dark pool, but the noise of the creek was as audible as ever here where it passes under the road.
This one is rather deceptive. I've cropped out the foreground, and you can't see the big bend in the road behind the brush on the right: dh's retreating figure looks tiny compared to the trees that appear to be beside him on the left, suggesting that the trees around him are as majestic as the giants in redwood country in northern California. In fact, trees in the Boundary rarely reach the stature of the same species on the coast. We just don't get the moisture for that kind of growth. Yes, that's the back end of Sass just around the corner.
For contrast, here's a little spruce, about a foot and a half high, that with its companions forms lovely patterns against and shadows on the snow.
The last of the sun slipped behind the western hills as we drove out.
And we drove down into the fog, happy to have spent a couple of hours out in the moist and chilly air, dogs wet and tired and well-exercised, all of us pleased with our afternoon.
And here's how Soop spends days like this. She prefers to appreciate the outdoors from indoors when it's cold.
It's been grey here most of the time for weeks now and I think we're feeling the effects of lack of sun. I hope that the doldrums of January aren't getting you down. I'm determined to enjoy the last of the winter rather than dreaming of spring, though I confess I've been skimming the seed catalogues and doing a bit of vegetable garden planning. And February is just around the corner.