Forum Holitorium

Category: Seasons

Fall Checkup

The previous post was about sickness and waiting for spring. Now it is fall, the season of marvelous kitchen still lifes, of breakfasts of an apple sliced and stewed with two heaping tablespoons of rolled oats and a teaspoon of cinnamon, of dinners of baked squash doused in thyme served with rice. On the mend from an obstinate cold or “grippaler Infekt,” I am experiencing an inexplicable yearning for winter, snow, and darkness. It started mid-August. While perusing Ravelry, I fell in love with a knitting pattern, and it soon became clear that the Slovene wool that had impertinently refused to become several different sweaters had just been holding out for The One. The cardigan flew off the needles and was finished just in time for the first dip in temperatures.

This project was a turning point for me. This was the first time I experienced deeply that it is not about the pattern alone (which had previously been my focus – I like the pattern, therefore I will knit it); it is about the interplay of fiber and pattern, of what happens when they come together, of how they complement each other like yin and yang or night and day. I swear the yarn called out to me and said something to the effect of “Make me into a Wheatsheaves. If you knit me into that pattern, I will finally behave!”

Convalescing on the couch, I had ample time to peruse a bunch of magazines and select a few recipes to try out. It wasn’t until yesterday that I had the stamina to tackle the first one: a German take on Tuscan cookies, vegan and chock full of raisins, walnuts, and pine nuts. The recipe included wheat bran, something I don’t remember having encountered in a recipe since the eighties. (Readers of a certain age, remember the bran muffin?) The cookies got the thumbs up from my resident food taster.

Outfitted with a garment to keep my upper body well wrapped and snug in the damp, cold October weather to come, I have shifted my focus to my feet. There is just enough yarn left over from the two pairs of socks I knit last winter for a pair of no heel socks. They are supposed to remain hole-free longer because the heel doesn’t rub the exact same place each time. (And yes, the two skeins like the color of the other and are intrigued about being socks without heels.)

Enjoy the fall and take heed of any messages from your yarn!

 

Advertisements

Fall Fungus

Summer was generous with everything but sleep. It lingered long and tenaciously but has finally been replaced by fall. Falling temperatures, rainfall, the fall of night ever earlier. Spoiled with warmth this year, I was shocked by how cold it was this morning. There was no warning, no day in August where the wind had a chill it hadn’t had in months. Then Monday I woke up with an urgent intuition: it is time to knit a pair of charcoal gray socks.

I took two nice walks in the woods last week before the weather changed. Magic mushrooms abound, run of the mill ones too – from small to extra large. If I were a real or wannabee shaman, I could have gathered many a beautiful specimen of fly agaric (Amanita muscaria).

How is it that I never broke down the compound word “toadstool” into its two component words until this week? A toadstool may or may not refer to a poisonous mushroom. In most cases it does not refer to a place where a toad sits.

The brown frog spied in the grass was not interested in the abundant fungus, nor was she deterred by the presence of humans. She simply kept hopping along toward her goal.

What else will fall bring? Two laceweight scarves and a slate gray pullover? Middlemarch and the first two volumes of Dorothy Richardson’s little known novel Pilgrimage? Hamburg, Maribor, and perhaps Passau? Time will tell; and patience is indeed a virtue. But now it is time to get back to those charcoal gray socks.

Enjoy the fall and whatever fungus it has to offer!

Putting the Finishing Touches on Winter

As of yesterday, it is officially spring: daylight will soon trump darkness. Thick wool scarves should give way to thin scarves and hats and knee high socks should disappear until fall. In three months’ time it will be all linen and sandals. After a week of spring temperatures and sunlight that sent me out on many a walk in the clement weather, nature has thrown a bit of a wrench into the order of things. It’s cold again, and yesterday was one of the coldest first days of spring on record. I’ve been making the best of being back indoors by finishing up a few winter projects. Pictured above is a small purse I will use to hold business cards and other desk supplies that size; below is a close up of the button band of a large cardigan that after three months of sporadic knitting is finally done. Since the weather was too cold for a nice walk, I celebrated the start of spring by learning a technique for sewing buttons onto knitwear.

For thousands of years, buttons served as decorations. Though the ancient Greeks and Romans used buttons as fasteners, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that buttonholes and functional use of buttons became widespread in Europe. I never really learned how to sew buttons well and have winged it in the past, often choosing to secure cardigans with a wooden pin made by a family friend. But as an inveterate cardigan wearer, I figured it was time to expand my finishing repertoire. In most cases, a buttoned cardigan keeps out the cold better than a simple pin. And it was time to bring the winter cardigan project to a close in more ways than one.

Lemon slices are round like buttons. My palate is ignoring the cold and has spring fever, yearning for the freshness of herbs, lemons, and leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and dandelion greens. Last week I discovered a delicious recipe for focaccia with rosemary, olives, and lemon slices. Prepare your favorite focaccia, oil bread, or pizza dough. Drizzle the dough with olive oil and top it with 1 Tbsp dried/4 Tbsp fresh rosemary, a handful of olives, and one or two sliced organic or unsprayed lemon (with the seeds removed). Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and then pop it in the oven for as long as the bread recipe requires.

Happy spring!

The Long Winter Week

The long winter week started out last Saturday with dinner guests bearing tulips and a bottle of Rioja. Knowing that temps in Graz would drop to normal Wisconsin winter temperatures, I had made preparations, buying food to last five or six days. The grocery store is only a five minute walk, but a five minute walk at -4° F / -20° C is to be avoided if at all possible. Been there, done that enough in college. Working at home is a definite plus in winter. I was looking forward to a cozy week. The red-orange of the tulip blossoms were a wonderful companion at the kitchen table and provided a good contrast to the bright white of the moderate snowfall outside.

To get in the mood, I pulled Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter off the shelf. It tells the story of how she and her family survived an unusually harsh winter in the Dakota Territory. Though they lived in town, there were so many blizzards that the trains couldn’t run and bring supplies. By mid-February, most of the food was gone and only thanks to a risky run by two of the town’s young men to buy seed wheat at a distant farm is the town saved from starvation. How easy I have it today in comparison. No need to twist hay to burn because the coal ran out, no need to go to bed early because there is no more kerosene for light, no need to sleep in an unheated attic where the snow blows in. Though there are days where most of the calories I consume come from bread and potatoes, that is my choice and not because that is all that is left.

There is much talk of wool wraps, mufflers (in the older sense of the word as in something that covers the throat), and shawls in the book; making your own clothes and knitting were what everyone did. I started knitting a wrap for myself that will use up leftover blue and gray bulky yarn. Reversible patterns interest me because they look good regardless of what side faces forward. I decided on knitting three panels in brioche stitch. The end panels are single color while in the center panel, I am trying out two color brioche.

Pioneers need to be industrious, keeping things in good repair and being able to fix whatever needs fixing. This week I finally took time to mend clothes and hand wash scarves and wool socks. For the first time ever (and with the help of the internet), I actually darned socks. And they weren’t even my own. Since I have nearly knit through my yarn stash and thus the dream of a future in which not more than 10 skeins of yarn lay dormant looks like it will soon come true, I have started to think about What Next. A major in sock knitting and a minor in lace weight neck warmers are at the top of my list.

The cold spell has broken and above freezing temperatures are working their way in my direction. The snow will soon be gone and it is time for white to be replaced by green. I couldn’t resist a pot of basil at the grocery store. What a difference a few leaves make as a garnish. A shot of color in the kitchen is also very welcome.

May you find the patience and the right technique to repair what needs fixing!

Krapfenzeit

Snow keeps falling here in the mountains, but the days are getting longer and the cycle of seasons continues to turn.  Marking the end of Carnival, Faschingsdienstag/Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday was yesterday, and the first day of Lent is today. In Russia, Maslenitsa or Butter Week also takes place this week. The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival starts with the new moon on Friday (or Thursday in Europe and the Americas); soon it will be the Year of the Dog. This week Tibetans are also celebrating Losar, the new year, Friday through Sunday. Interesting how so many holidays around the world have converged this week.

To celebrate Mardi Gras, my high school French teacher made crepes with us, letting each of us flip a crepe with the pan in one hand and a coin in the other to bring good luck. It has become my tradition to make buckwheat crepes for Mardi Gras (without a coin in my hand). The only Austrian culinary tradition associated with Fasching (as the pre-Lenten season is called) is eating Krapfen – doughnuts filled with apricot jelly and dusted with powdered sugar. Before this week, it had certainly been a few years since I last had a jelly-filled doughnut. For whatever reason, this year I felt it was important to eat Krapfen. The two and a half I ate were fresh from a local bakery and delicious.

In Austria, Lent is a time where it is easy to use “I’ve given it up for Lent” as an excuse not to eat or drink something. On a whim, I decided that I will give up sugar for Lent. Since I am not a “Naschkatze” (literally a snacking or nibbling cat, meaning a person with a sweet tooth), this should not be too hard. A friend gave up sugar last year for Lent and felt she had a lot more energy. As winter winds down, even a little more energy sounds great. I will give it a try.

May you enjoy any celebrations that occur this week!

On the Cusp of Winter

The promise of snow did not pan out as I had hoped. I had imagined waking up to glowing white outside, looking down from my cozy room in my refuge with a view of the forest and delighting in the arrival of winter. But I have enjoyed just a few mornings with a liberal sprinkling of powdered sugar that melts as soon as the sun warms the earth. When I find such a layer on top of apple strudel, I try to tap it off with my fork. Why ruin one of the few desserts that is not overly sweet with extra sugar?

Winter may come soon enough but most likely after I return to the city later this week. It has been a year of cultivating patience in many areas of life; I guess this will apply to enjoyment of snow as well. How fickle I have become, yearning for the next season when the reds and oranges of fall are still on view. Perhaps my focus has shifted a bit. On my walks in the woods, I have been distracted by my four-legged companion Kati. Wire-haired dachshunds approach the world differently than we do. Whereas I am content to breath in the smell of spruce and let my mind wander as I stroll, Kati stops every few meters, nose quivering, ears giving away how much more alert she is than I to the subtle smells of the forest. Or she takes off at a good clip, excited to be out and stretching her legs, stopping impatiently when she reaches the end of the leash to wait for me to catch up with her. Walks are not supposed to be this strenuous. I spend more time contemplating her than the trees now, noting how her hind legs are rarely in perfect alignment with her front legs as she trots along in front of me and anticipating when she will try to leave the path to sniff and explore dead grass. Leisurely contemplation while walking will need to wait until Kati is reunited with her owner.

I have come to the conclusion that dog ownership is best left for people who live in the countryside, people who wish to lose weight, people who do not shirk from taking responsibility for the welfare of another being, and people who can handle the smell of meat. I am just a temporary dabbler, an adjunct dog sitter, and do not inhabit the space in the Venn diagram where these categories overlap. Far from it. Yet my week with Kati has shown me how quickly a good natured dog can win even me over.

May you see the world differently through the eyes of an animal!

Middle High Autumn

I find myself happier with less. I find I no longer need to seek things out; instead, the important things and ideas find me. I find myself listening. Looking. Observing. More. Not enough though, because I nearly stepped on a fire salamander, so engrossed I was in a conversation, my thoughts darting to possible futures instead of taking in the wonders in front of me.

Fall brings with it a quiet of its own. I am at a point where I am interested in seeking out new rhythms and focusing more on the silence between the beats. When I need to clear my head and breathe deeply, I head to the forest. Somehow the colors of the leaves – those on fire as well as those stalwartly green – seem more vibrant to me this year.

In September I read two books that found me, two books not on my reading list. The first was The Abundance of Less by Andy Couturier. Couturier interviewed ten people living in rural Japan who are treading softly on the earth by making do without money as much as possible. One of the people he interviewed said that we human beings want things because we have too much information, yet the changing weather and seasons are enough. Another says you need a life where you can be aware of nature and perceive it closely.

I stop to admire water drops on leaves and walk away carefully, leaving them for others to appreciate.

The second book was Being the Change by Peter Kalmus. One of the important messages is that although we cannot save the world, we can still change it, and every action counts. Kalmus is a climate scientist who has slashed his CO2 emissions by ninety percent. He writes eloquently about the change in perspective that is necessary to temper global warming and speaks from his own experiences with meditation about how practicing can lead to greater equanimity. What if more people cultivated equanimity?

What both books have in common is the ethic of choosing not to take everything we can take. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should be done. Opting out is often a very good option. I don’t need to climb a mountain to appreciate its beauty and be changed by its presence.

Snow has already fallen in the Alps. In the valley where I am typing these lines, freezing temperatures were predicted. Instead of a dusting of frost on the grass, my observations early this morning revealed two magpies in a linden tree nearly devoid of leaves. It is darker longer, and the silence of evenings is intoxicating. Apples are at their peak of crispness; wool begs to be knit into sweaters.

May you choose not to take everything you can!

 

Dog Days

The dog days: how the ancient Greeks and Romans referred to the period of time when the star Sirius, thought to represent Orion’s dog, rose before the sun. It is mentioned in Homer’s The Iliad as the star of the harvest that boded ill and brought fever. The dies caniculares (Latin for dog days) are indeed upon us here in Austria. After a brief respite from this summer’s fourth official heat wave (or canicule, as the French would say, from the Latin canicula, “puppy”), the temperatures have gone up yet again. To beat the heat, I have been taking to the forest in St. Radegund.

Named after the sixth century saint, a poet and healer reported to have eaten nothing but legumes and green vegetables, St. Radegund is a small town at the foot of Mount Schöckl 15 km northeast of Graz. First settled in the sixth century, it became a popular spa town in the nineteenth century thanks to its radioactive springs.

Many Hungarians came to take the waters, some of whom donated a statue of St. Elizabeth of Hungary to show their gratitude for being healed. This statue graces one of the springs along the “Ungarische Runde“, or Hungarian Walk. On this bench you can take a break from your stroll and contemplate the Hungarian Madonna.

The well-shaded Hungarian Walk continues through the woods, passing by numerous springs and Kneipp cure stations. Sebastian Kneipp was a Bavarian priest who healed himself of tuberculosis by bathing several times a week in the cold waters of the Danube. He developed the Kneipp cure, a form of water therapy that involves immersing the body in cold water to stimulate circulation as well as encouraging a whole foods diet, herbal treatments, fresh air, and movement (preferably barefoot). He also had a penchant for hand spun linen and hemp clothing instead of wool.

Since my normal body temperature is quite low, I shudder at the mere thought of a cold shower, but it has been so hot in the past few weeks that I have found myself wading through the Kneipp pool alongside the trail and dousing myself with fresh cold mountain water to cool off. Yes, a Kneipp cure makes good sense as soon as the temperature rises above 90° F / 32° C. Another favorite strategy of mine for keeping cool: ingesting copious amounts of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries – all which can be found growing in the woods near St. Radegund. I think Father Kneipp would have probably approved.

The spring above is for the lazy (paresseux). I can only speculate why it is labelled in French although located in a German speaking area. Perhaps the Hungarian guests were all of a certain class whose education included learning French to be sophisticated? A heat wave is a good time to laze about and avoid activity as much as possible – perhaps on one of these wooden chairs.

It is incredible how much cooler the temperature is in the forest. How fortunate we are here in Austria, one of the few countries where the area of forested land is actually increasing. Nearly half of the country is covered with trees. Every second one cubic meter of wood grows, and more wood is produced than is harvested. As the climate becomes warmer, it is important to have places to take refuge where you can still enjoy being outside, breathing in fresh air, and drinking safe water.

Hope you have a nice spot where you can keep cool during the dog days!

Lenzingtide

Happy spring! Though I peeked my head out of the cave in February, I retreated back into my lair until spring arrived. The German word for spring is Frühling (früh = early). In Austria you often hear the word Frühjahr (“early year”) as well, most commonly in connection with Frühjahrsmüdigkeit (“spring fatigue or lethargy”). This refers to the tiredness many feel this time of year attributable to hormonal changes that occur as the body emerges from winter mode and wakes up again. The flip side of spring fever, I suppose. Another older word for spring that mainly appears in song and poetry is Lenz, short for the word Lenzing (“long day”) that was formerly used to name the month in which spring begins. The days are indeed longer this side of the vernal equinox, allowing more time to appreciate color.

Colors that recur provide comfort and connect us to the season cycle. Currently I see yellow all around me. March is yellow with forsythia, the shrub shown at the top of this page that does things in reverse by flowering before producing leaves. March is yellow with primroses peppering the lawn. Though the flowers and leaves are edible, keep your hands off Primula vulgaris – it is under protection in many European countries including Austria. March is yellow with daffodils and tulips, the favorites of many a gardener.

Yellow is the cover of Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write. It made its way into my collection years ago. I am finally reading it in an attempt to answer the question: What role should writing play in my life? Yellow is the color of a tattered folder holding sheets of paper whose blank sides can be used to print knitting patterns and rough drafts. And yellow is the color of cotton yarn on the needles taking shape into a runner for the pine dresser of my dreams.

May you enjoy the many shades of yellow around you!

Refuge of Snow and Ice

My wish came true: the refuge of a real winter, first a thick slab of snow smeared across the land, and now for good measure a cold pack of polar air to press it down and flatten us against the earth. On a day like today when it is -2 F / -19 C while the sun is shining, you are forced to keep your focus on the essential: keeping warm, guarding the flame inside you from any gusts that might extinguish it in a flash. Everything insignificant and trivial vaporizes and is carried away by the wind just like the steam fog that forms over Lake Michigan when cold dry air meets relatively warm moist water. The cold humbles me and encourages clarity and concentration.

The light at dawn casts a bluish tinge on the snow, imbuing it with a magical, eerie sheen. I have never been to Scandinavia, but my daily contemplation of the harbor has led me to imagine that there is a similar quality to light and shadow in lands further north, in settlements hugging the curve of the great water that has the upper hand on our planet. In such an atmosphere, the existence of elves and fairies seems more plausible.

Perhaps I have an affinity for birds because the cold does not stop them from their daily routine; they appear indifferent to contact with the frigid water. But where they have feathers, I must layer myself in wool and alpaca and be sure to keep dry, mere mammal that I am.

It was a fitting morning to start reading Gretel Ehrlich’s book The Future of Ice: A Journey into Cold, a meditation on the significance of winter and cold in our lives and musings on what we will lose when climate change melts the glaciers and dilutes winter, further untethering us from the cycle of the seasons. What is the relationship between weather and our consciousness? One answer the book has given so far: the impermanence of weather mimics the shifting nature of our thoughts.

Whereas yesterday the wind tried out different patterns on the water, today the surface of the harbor is frozen. Who needs diamonds when the skin of the ice sparkles and dances in the sunlight? In such cold, thoughts and intentions, wishes and dreams readily crystallize and become tangible, easily identifiable. The cold will recede eventually, the snow and ice will melt, and the water will ripple and flow once again, tousled by the wind. I take refuge in the winter, pausing for a moment with the sun and taking stock of my life, clearly delineating both what has come to pass and what I wish for the new year.

May you experience moments of stillness, peace, and insight!