Friday, September 26, 2008

Take a Hike

[Lunch at the Novelty]

Posted by Spike Gillespie

Day Three: Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The one-two knitting/yoga combo was plenty enough to draw me to Monhegan Island. Because I’m one of those travelers who rarely researches my destination in advance, I had no idea how wonderful the hiking would be here. The trails are abundant (relatively speaking—this is just a speck of an island) and there is no such thing as a bad view.

On Wednesday, those of us interested in hiking around the entire island were invited to join our beloved Benevolent Alpha, Patty, as we set out for a three-hour tour (sounds like Gilligan’s Island, right?). Seven of us decided that sounded like an excellent idea and off we went.

I have no sense of direction. I mean none. I recently got lost in a Home Depot. I also have a surgically restructured foot I have to be vigilant about. So for me a long hike means, among other things, trusting others to guide me as I spend most of the time looking down to avoid rocks and roots. Which means I miss all landmarks (and some nice views). The nice part about being so clueless is that I am politely left out of decision-making—do we turn this way or that?

The seven of us eventually drifted into three smaller groups—the power hikers, the mid-speed hikers, and the take-it-easy hikers. I was with Louise and Sandra, two very seasoned trekkers so I could just cheerfully plod along like a little kid. We’d stop and check the map from time to time to be certain we were still on the trail. I took their word for it and they did not lead me astray.

Still more glorious cliff views awaited us. There were a couple of bumpy patches along the way—not exactly strenuous but enough to make you feel like you were hiking rather than simply taking a long walk. At one point, we sat upon some rocks and looked out at the still Atlantic. And then—me and my knitting obsession—I looked down at the mitten I’d brought along to work on and heard a splash and, too late, looked up to see an enormous splash ring but no whale, though from the size of that ring it had to have been.

[No, really, there was a WHALE there a minute ago!]

Or maybe it was a shark! Because a little while later, we encountered some folks who swore they’d seen an enormous basking shark. We never spotted Jaws, but we did see a pod of dolphin surface a couple of times. In the end, we made it almost but not quite around the entire perimeter of Monhegan. We had to take a last minute shortcut back to Monhegan House when we realized not heading back would mean being late for lace class.

And you do not want to be late for lace class. I think what has been most satisfying of all on this trip filled with dawn-to-dusk satisfying experiences is how much I’m learning in knitting. When I read the excellent book, The Knitting Sutra, I wanted to become a master knitter. I fantasized about going off to some school in Scotland and scrubbing floors in exchange for learning intricate techniques. Then the book ended and I went back to stockinette sweaters and hats in the round, usually letting variegated yarn suggest to the uninitiated that somehow I had incorporated something complex into my needlework.

[Charting our future.]

I just found charts too daunting. But Lisa and Susan have this attitude—they come into the room assuming that of course we’ll be able to do this or that. Then, without over-explanation, they give us just enough to get going and then answer questions as they arrive. This is a teaching technique I really appreciate since, left to my own devices, I have a tendency to over-analyze and ask way too many questions upfront, instead of simply trying out an assignment.

So, as much as a loudmouth like me can be quiet, I got quiet and settled in to figuring out how to follow a lace pattern. And I got it. I really, really got it. Do I think I’ll be making a lot of lace from here on out? Considering my fashion sense is on par with a truck driver most days, probably not. But to me, learning these techniques is akin to knowing some extra fancy vocabulary words you can whip out now and then either at cocktail parties or during Scrabble: nice to have at one’s disposal.

[Homemade S'mores!]
Holden brought us homemade s’mores (I mean, they made the marshmallows for crying out loud), and jam filled pinwheels to tide us over until our pizza buffet dinner, which we concluded with ginger ice cream that I think should probably be outlawed.
[All Hail Holden-- Manservant and Cookie God!]

Then we settled into a nightly routine we established whereby Eva and I—who are sort of like Patty Duke and her “identical cousin” (you know, the one she is polar opposite of)—hurt the others simply by innocently sharing accounts of our families and careers. By “hurt” I mean the laughter of disbelief reaches a point where people pull muscles and Melora has her work cut out for her for the next day’s restorative yoga sessions.

Evening knit is such a fun part of the week. In my day job back in Austin, I work for LaunchPad Coworking where we promote the idea that independent workers that work around each other work more productively and get great ideas from collaborating. That’s how it is for us here on the island, too. So far, we’ve come up with numerous entrepreneurial ideas and a whole array of movie titles and bumper sticker slogans: The Termiknitter (starring Eva as a knitter who can do intarsia with one hand behind her back); Nobody Said Life Was Going to be Fair Isle!; and a new kind of retreat: Knitting and Synchronized Swimming, which Lisa has yet to fully commit to. But we’re working on her.

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