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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh Marmee! This Trip is The Very Best!

[Fairy House in Cathedral Woods photo by Patty Bright]
Posted by Spike Gillespie

Day Two: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

As I was saying in my first post, coming to Monhegan Island has far exceeded any expectations I had and, I confess, though I strive to have no/low expectations in general—come on: how not to get excited at the prospect of an island getaway?

There are certain places I’ve been in my vast and random travels that evoke what I like to refer to as “memories of other people’s happy childhoods.” By which I mean there is some fantasy element realized, as if you really did walk into and become a character in a favorite book. So, for instance, in my case, walking into an old house and finding a fire in the fireplace might trigger such a strong visceral reaction steeped in deja vu that I wouldn’t just be thinking, “Wow, this reminds me of Marmee and the girls knitting socks for Father and the other soldiers!” Instead, I’d feel like I was actually there, chatting with Jo and Meg and Amy and, if she wasn’t feeling too weak, little Beth, too.

Whoa, wait. Stop. Rewind. I’m realizing that trying to describe being here is a bit like trying to describe a dream to some reluctant, captive audience breakfast companion before she’s had her coffee. Forgive me for fumblingly trying to put into words my ongoing delighted awe, but so much of this trip is about feelings, and so many of those feelings run along the spectrum of GOOD: I feel happy! I feel calm! I feel content! I feel I could sit on the porch of Monhegan House and knit for the rest of my life!

So of course I want to share.

I have an idea: how about a brief written recap of the actual events of the day and then I’ll fall back on the old picture-paints-a-thousand-words routine. I’ll post some of the many pictures taken by our fearless co-leader, Patty Bright, who has been shepherding us around all week, leading hikes, and counting heads to make sure none of us have run off with a merman. I call Patty the Benevolent Alpha. No detail escapes her—right down to the lobster cookies she had waiting for us on the van from the airport to the ferry. She’s a great shot with a camera, too, as you shall soon see.

So, okay, the written recap for Tuesday:
Wake up. Eat more delicious food. Head off to the Cathedral Woods, this gorgeous little forest famous for its Fairy Houses. Yes, Fairy Houses. Fans of Andy Goldsworthy already know about the amazing art one can build with found bits of nature. For those of you new to the concept—islanders and tourists alike gather pinecones and needles, twigs, shells, and bits of bark and construct itty-bitty domiciles for the fairies. Some structures are magnificent and Frank Llloyd Wrightish. Others look like they’d more likely be occupied by your slummin’ cousin fairies. As we looked at them, we contemplated fairy strip malls, big box stores, and pre-fab possibilities. But then we set those evil thoughts aside and marched on.

[Sneak Peak Photo: Hiking in Cathedral Woods:]

Then: More breathtaking views of the water at Squeaker Cove. And still more breathtaking views. And then… you get the idea.

Back at Monhegan House we undertook the start of a cool bag project, which involves one of Lisa’s designs (a liner and top trim with drawstring) for which we are knitting the actual bag. We can do either intarsia or Fair Isle. Just looking at the charts made me nervous—I don’t know how to read charts and I only took one Fair Isle class once before and made a bag about the size of a fairy mattress. But I kept telling myself to be quiet, listen, and just take it one stitch at a time. It worked. I actually can (sort of) read a Fair Isle pattern now. I hope to have the bag finished by 2012.

[Mary Alice, our secret relaxation weapon!]

I also had a massage with Mary Alice who—oh lord you know how some people just are natural healers and all you have to do is hear their name and you start feeling better? Well, Mary Alice is like that, only to the nth degree. I hopped right up on the table and struggled to stay awake—I usually sleep through massages—because this felt so extraordinary, so not-of-the-planet, that I wanted to memorize it. Instead, I drifted, and when I came to I felt a bit like Scrooge did when he wakes up on Christmas morning. I felt purged of so much old baggage and ecstatically grateful to be alive. I wanted to throw coins out of my third story window to passing beggar children and tell them to go buy fat ducks or creamy ice cream or whatever they wanted. I tried to express my gratitude to Mary Alice. Much drool came out instead.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: Holden fed us poppy seed raspberry thumbprint cookies and fresh ginger scones for teatime. We love Holden.

And now, for a bunch of pictures:

[Monhegan Island's "MySpace Page" -- old school style. Community info board.]

[Three year round islanders cross road, refuse to reveal why.]

[Cool Rock Sculpture.]

[Susan using her design skills in the forest being assisted by Lisa and her Landscape Architect background.]

[Lisa "Domi-Knit-Trix" Evans preparing to kick our butts with intarsia.]

[Wait, I did tell you the views were breathtaking, didn't I?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Don't Look at the Clock-- Just Knit and Stretch (and EAT)

Posted by Spike Gillespie

Sunday night at dinner, one of my fellow knitting yogis was sharing a trick she’d learned about how to sleep better at night. Some people, such as myself, are big on checking the clock numerous times during the night, wondering if it’s time to get up yet. I was challenged to not give into that urge and, since I didn’t have to be anywhere too early on Monday, I thought I’d try it.

The technique worked. Monday morning, after resisting clock-checking fifty different times, I finally just got up when I really, truly felt like it. So, around 7 a.m., which meant I had about two hours more than my average seven-hours-per-night.

I trotted down to the dining room and joined a number of the others for some breakfast—I showed restraint and had the oatmeal. Then off we went on a hike out to the cliffs. Though this island is small, there’s no shortage of walking paths and gorgeous overlooks and stop-and-get-the-camera-out-right-this-second moments.

I spent a fairly good amount of time contemplating a seagull that flew down and sat on a rock very close to me. Some people think of seagulls as rodents with wings. Not me. Any encounter with a seagull reminds me of summers growing up on the Atlantic—I find the birds to be intriguing, hilarious and, especially regarding the guy I spent time with, sometimes very majestic.

Then, my time as the Seagull Whisperer drew to a close and we semi-hustled back to Monhegan House for our first yoga session with Melora, who is pinch-hitting for Suzanne on this trip. We’ve got students from all the way across the spectrum – super beginners to intermediates. So we went slow and did a lot of shoulder openers, something knitters can never get enough of.

I learned—or rather was reminded—something about myself in class. I just love being the teacher’s pet, no matter what it takes. So when Melora asked us to all stand the way we “usually” do, I knew she was expecting to see some bad posture. Not wanting to disappoint her, I got out my absolutely worst posture. It worked! I got singled out as Melora worried aloud about my spine and if maybe I had some permanent, chronic condition.

For lunch we were on our own. A number of us went to the Novelty, a great little place out back behind Mohegan House. I had a cup of chowder and split a tuna melt with Patty, our resident hike leader and photographer.

Then, knitting class. It’s crazy how hard we’re relaxing here, moving from chilled out activity A to chilled out activity B and so on until we collapse from relax-austion as I like to call it. Susan Mills, who is here as one of our teachers, is the Creative Director for Nashua Handknits and a totally great designer and she has red hair, which gets her extra bonus points from me. She got us quickly hooked on Nashua Creative Focus worsted-weight with a cool mix-and-match mitten pattern that allowed us to either knit in the round or flat, pointed or rounded tops, and gusseted or after thought thumbs. I had no idea there were so many ways to make a mitten. (I’m doing a periwinkle-for-main-color, no-ribbing, all stockinette, in-the-round pattern with a gusseted thumb and a round top and some splashes of contrasting color courtesy of some variegated Nashua. Oh I can’t believe I’m a smart enough knitter to write a sentence like that last one and ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND IT. Did I mention how much I am loving this trip?)

Post-knitting class, we broke up and scattered, some to more yoga, some for walks, me happily holed up with my keyboard to try to write some of this down. Then off to dinner, not that we needed it since, during knitting class, Monhegan House proprietor Holden had forced upon us about ninety-five different kinds of homemade cookies. Among these were Whoopie Pies, which tasted like a much better version of the Devil Dogs of my youth, and were shaped different and far moister. It was sort of a bad idea to put a Whoopie Pie in my mouth, since now I want to eat them constantly.

But there were no WP’s in sight at dinner. Instead, there was clam chowder—natch—and this salad with goat cheese and maple dressing and nuts and… well let’s just say it made one salad-averse blogger into a leafy convert. Then the entrée, Citrus Seared Salmon on a bed of sweet corn risotto and topped with avocado salsa and a side of dense, homemade bread. Dessert, which I was too Whoopied out to partake in (but which I can assure you, based on my reporting skills and observing my co-yogis was fabulous) was a Chocolate Espresso Pot De Crème.

Then, I am not kidding you, people, MORE knitting. Being here is like… well it’s like you spend 364 days a year vowing to make more time to knit and then, suddenly, here you are, and not only can you knit six hours per day (or more) but it’s highly encouraged and everyone’s doing it. Well, hello… I now know, with certainty, my personal Nirvana.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Welcome to Monhegan Island 2008!

Posted by Spike Gillespie
Hello, everyone. I’m Spike and I’m a knit-a-holic. I also love yoga. I’ve been knitting for about ten years now and I’ve been doing yoga for about nine.
Sometime over the course of the past decade, I transitioned from purple acrylic yarn worked on blue aluminum straight needles to lots of fancy yarn knitted on bamboo, often in the round. I even—after four years of purposefully avoiding it—learned how to purl. Which led me away from my ongoing series of garter-stitch-rectangles to trying knitting patterns. Which led me to knitting books. Which led to a Rowan membership. Which found me the thrilled owner of a Rowan Magazine subscription. Which is what landed a little postcard advertisement in my lap some time ago, one that waxed poetically about an upcoming Knitting and Yoga Adventure.

The first time I heard about Knitting and Yoga Adventures, I got very excited, but set the notion aside—my life was too busy. The next time, I got more excited and checked out the website. Every time I heard from Rowan, I heard about the retreats. I’d drool and wish with all my heart I could attend. Then, one day, through a series of events, I was put in touch with Lisa and Suzanne, who host these retreats. And I asked if they might ever want someone to come and document what goes on—you know, blog posts capturing the fun.

We chatted back and forth over the course of a month or two and decided it would be a good fit for me to join a dozen or so other knitting yogis on the trip to Monhegan Island, which is about ten miles off the coast of Maine. I was so excited for the chance my teeth nearly fell out. And so I began to prepare.

By which I mean, every chance I got, I worked into conversations with friends that I’M GOING TO MAINE FOR A WEEK TO KNIT AND DO YOGA!! My friends were already accustomed to a curious craft-driven travel schedule. I just spent the better part of this summer traveling the country with my photographer/partner Warren as we researched a book on quilting artists. But a week dedicated to stretch my own body and knitting my own projects in an idyllic setting? Everyone was super jealous. (As they should be.)

Finally, the eve of departure day arrived. Warren and I set about nineteen different alarms to be sure I would wake up by 3:30 a.m. My flight was scheduled to leave Austin at 5:30 a.m. Remarkably, I was on time and, even more remarkably, so was the flight. Except for a little power struggle over carry on bags in Atlanta, my connecting flight also went smoothly and was right on time. I landed in Portland, Maine, at 12:20 p.m. Sunday about eight hours after leaving Austin. I was met by several other knitting yogis and we all gathered on the Mermaid Van, driven by the affable Dan, who’s lived in Maine for forty years, and turned his New England accent on HIGH-yeh for our benefit.

Dan got us to Port Clyde in about two hours. At which point we hopped the Elizabeth Ann, a small ferry that took us out to Monhegan Island. Okay, let’s revisit: Up at 3:30. One plane. Another plan. A van. A ferry. And then…

We set foot upon Monhegan Island. Now, I’ll Googled this little isle a bit but mostly when I travel, I like to be surprised. Often I’ll take just a few details—real or imagined—as I embark on a journey and create a story in my head about what my destination will be like. Then, once I arrive, I’m surprised and, once in awhile, disappointed or at least realize my imagination and reality just don’t match up.

NOT true of Monhegan. Being here is one of those instances where everything you hoped for, you find, except it’s a hundred times better than you could’ve guessed. The breathtaking views, the stunning horizon, the chill in the air (enough to let me wear a lot of the 50,000 hand knitted items I brought with me because, being a Texan, usually I only get to look at these things, not wear them). The little houses with the sun and wind faded wood tiles. An itty-bitty library and a one room school house. Cliffs towering over the rocks below. Seagulls as big as lap dogs and nearly as friendly. And a group of fellow knitting enthusiasts who either don’t think I’m nuts for my yarn worship, or who at least recognize we’re all in it together and are happy for the company.

My face hurt from smiling as I sat down to dinner the first night. We’re staying at the Monhegan House a pensionne style hotel/boarding house—quaint little bedrooms with community baths and showers located down the hall. The Monhegan House also has a dining room, and our first dinner was, fittingly, a Thanksgiving Feast. It was a good chance to get to know each other a bit and, though I was tempted to, I did not fall asleep with my face on the plate.

I did sleep like a rock though, nine full hours my first night, nearly a record for me. Ready, as the morning of Day Two, our first full day together, dawned.