Weaving, roads and blizzard

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It’s never a good idea to go for a 30 mile drive at the end of a blizzard with the wind chill below 40. But I did it anyway. I grew up with the saying, “When winter shuts everything down, all the farmers go to town.” I guess I couldn’t help it; I was on my way to Minnesota to visit my friend and bring her brother a piece of equipment I had picked up for him at the Tool and Die Shop. The snow stopped this morning; it would be light for another four hours. The plows did not follow the wind; the snow filled in after the plow passed.

Highway Fifty-two in Winneshiek County is a beauty; wide tracks and wider shoulders. Growing up in the Heartland, I had become attached to roads of all kinds. The platform for this 2-lane piece of concrete was blasted from limestone cliffs and then raised above the drained wetlands of northern Iowa in the early 1900s; he made a quick trip from Calmar to the Minnesota state line. Fifty-two is also the dividing line between the hills above the Mississippi River Basin and what were once huge wetlands and prairie region. Stretching west for hundreds of miles, this continental heartland was ceded to the United States by the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Yanktonai and Cheyenne peoples. The land was a sanctuary for millions of migratory birds, waterfowl and pollinators. Now it’s drained of 20andcentury tiles buried under the roots of corn and soybeans. It’s as empty as a parking lot; nothing but the wind and the sky above.

Today, Fifty-two is adrift with mounds of snow under flat, white skies. The wind is punitive. My Chrysler bounces over the powder like a toboggan; I hear the snow rolling up in my wheel arches like blankets and skimming the underside of the car. I think I should turn off my tape deck – yes, my car still has a tape player – so I can focus on my driving. Also, you have to be careful when the snow drags you into a ditch.

Two horses take shelter near the barn, sheltered from the wind; they raise their heads to see who has ventured into their alley. It’s noon and they’re ready to go home. There are kids napping at home and so my friend finds me on the porch of her weaving “factory”. That’s why I’m here: weaving.

The loom. (Photo by Sara June Jo-Sægood)

The “factory” is a small wooden building located 20 meters from the farm. As we walk in, bundles of yarn filaments scatter across a bright blue painted particleboard floor. My friend quickly crosses the room to a black stove centered between looms; she stirs the embers and adds kindling. I step out of my boots but keep my felt liners on. We move cautiously around the looms; I ask a question and she gives an answer. I lean over a string, then dive underneath to see how the tension is held. I examine coils, heddles, reeds and links. I show her the weaving books I brought with me; we stand side by side and look at the models. We are talking about production, time, quantity and costs.

I learned to weave on a floor loom when I was 40. I was taught intricate patterns with fine threads. Now I am interested in tabby weaving and “production”. My friend is Amish and she does everything without electricity. She has designed a warping system that allows her to weave several rugs on a single warp. High-volume “off-the-grid” weaving is physically demanding.

I’m not used to spending time with Amish but I’ve felt their influence since childhood. For the Amish, I am “English”; anyone who lives with electricity and a car. The Amish began purchasing farms in the Midwest in the late 1970s. As the population grew, their farms ushered in a new economy for household items: leather, furniture, baskets, eggs, honey, vegetables, pastries and cotton fabrics. In 1983, I received a cookbook from an Amish roadside stand; that’s how I learned to cook and bake. The book also contained much-needed remedies for things like bee stings, pneumonia, and infected horse hooves.

My time in the weaving “factory” is short. Daylight is fast during the Northern Hemisphere winter. The stove is cooling and the windows have faded. Driving in a blizzard at night is worse than in broad daylight, so my friend and I agree to come back one day when the weather is better. Her children will look for her in the house anyway.

There is more wind than before. Now the mounds of snow have become dense, packed and wide so that most of the pavement is invisible. I keep the speedometer at 35. I think about weaving and new production ideas. I know that in an hour night will fall over the countryside like a lid. The moon is above the clouds. The wind will blow through dark empty fields and through pale tree branches. The coyotes will stay in their dens. I won’t be here either because I’ll be back in my cold house looking through weaving patterns by lamplight.

Be well, country… and stay in touch.

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Waving, Roadways, and a Blizzard

It’s never a good idea to go for a 30 mile ride at the end of a blizzard with the wind chill below 40. But I did it anyway. I grew up with the saying, “When winter shuts everything down, all the farmers drive into town.” I guess I couldn’t help it; I was on my way to Minnesota to visit my friend and bring her brother a piece of equipment I had picked up for him at the tool & die store. The snow stopped this morning; it would be light for another four hours. The plows did not follow the wind; the snow filled in after the plow passed.

Highway 52 in Winneshiek County is a beauty; wide tracks and wider shoulders. Growing up in the Heartland, I grew attached to roads of all kinds. The platform for this 2-lane piece of concrete was blasted from limestone cliffs and then raised above the drained wetlands of northern Iowa in the early 1900s; this allowed for a quick ride from Calmar to the Minnesota state line. Fifty-two is also the dividing line between the hills above the Mississippi River Basin and what were once huge wetlands and prairie region. Stretching west for hundreds of miles, this continental heartland was ceded to the United States by the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Yanktonai and Cheyenne peoples. The land was a sanctuary for millions of migratory birds, waterfowl and pollinators. It is now drained by tiles from the 20andcentury buried under the roots of corn and soybeans. It’s as empty as a parking lot; nothing but wind and sky above.

Today, Fifty-two is swept away by mounds of snow under flat, white skies. The wind is punitive. My Chrysler bounces over the powder like a toboggan; I hear the snow rolling up in my wheel arches like blankets and skimming the underside of the car. I think I should turn off my tape deck – yes, my car still has a tape player – so I can focus on my driving. In addition, you must be vigilant when the snow drags you into a ditch.

Two horses take shelter near the barn, sheltered from the wind; they raise their heads to see who has ventured into their lane. It’s noon and they’re ready to go home. There are kids napping at home and so my friend finds me on the porch of her weaving “factory”. That’s why I’m here: weaving.

The loom. (Photo by Sara June Jo-Sægood)

The “factory” is a small wooden building located 20 meters from the farm. As we walk in, bundles of yarn filaments scatter across a bright blue painted particleboard floor. My friend quickly crosses the room to a black stove centered between looms; she stirs the embers and adds kindling. I take my boots off, but I keep my felt liners on. We move cautiously around the looms; I ask a question and she gives an answer. I lean over a string, then dive underneath to see how the tension is held. I examine coils, heddles, reeds and ties. I show her the weaving books I brought with me; we stand side by side and look at the models. We are talking about production, time, quantity and costs.

I learned to weave on a floor loom when I was 40. I was taught intricate patterns with fine threads. Now I am interested in tabby weaving and “production”. My friend is Amish and she does everything without electricity. She has designed a warping system that allows her to weave several rugs on a single warp. High volume, “off the grid” weaving is physically demanding.

I’m not used to spending time with Amish, but I’ve felt their influence since childhood. For the Amish, I am “English”; anyone with electricity and a car. The Amish began purchasing farms in the Midwest in the late 1970s. As the population grew, their farms ushered in a new economy for handicrafts: leather, furniture, baskets, eggs, honey, vegetables, baked goods and cotton fabrics. In 1983, I received a cookbook from an Amish roadside stand; that’s how I learned to cook and bake. The book also contained much-needed remedies for things like bee stings, pneumonia, and infected horse hooves.

My time in the weaving “factory” is short. Daylight is fast during the Northern Hemisphere winter. The stove is cooling and the windows have faded. Driving in a blizzard at night is worse than in broad daylight, so my friend and I agree to come back one day when the weather is better. Her children will look for her in the house anyway.

There is more wind than before. Now the mounds of snow have become dense, packed and wide so that most of the pavement is invisible. I’ll keep the speedometer at 35. I’m thinking about weaving and new production ideas. I know that in an hour night will fall over the countryside like a lid. The moon is above the clouds. The wind will blow through dark empty fields and through pale tree branches. The coyotes will stay in their dens. I won’t be there either because I’ll be back in my cold house looking through weaving patterns in the light of a lamp.

Be well, country… and be in touch.

This item first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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