Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why This Chicken Crossed the Road

It’s not quite 7 a.m. here on the island, on this the second full day of our retreat. Perhaps it is dangerous for me to attempt to write before adequate coffee has coursed my veins. I take my chances and thank my lucky stars that our beloved Holden—captain of this ship we call the Mohegan House—got up early enough to at least have coffee waiting for me when I sock-skated through the halls and down the stairs (and yes, those are handknit socks, thank you) to find some. Now, I’m waiting for it to kick in.

There is so much to tell. Where to start? I know! I shall begin with Eva’s buttocks. Because, Eva’s behind offers an excellent example of how pleasantly we are catered to here. Yesterday, when we were out hiking, Patty, our chief herder, whipped out her camera, which is only slightly larger than a Volkswagen Beetle.

There we were, trudging along valiantly, mostly in single file as the trail runs narrow for good stretches before opening up to gorgeous cliff framed vistas. Then we hear that click click click of P’s camera and then, as if all the world’s an opera and Eva its diva (Diva Eva— I like that), we hear a voice sing out: Don’t take any pictures of my butt!

Duly noted by Patty, who is also keeping track of all other information—who eats what, who likes hard hikes, the middle names of our cats. She also comes equipped with anything we might need. I think if we stumbled onto the set of Let’s Make a Deal while we were out hiking, she would surely win any and all prizes because yes, she’s got anything you can name in her bag.

Post-hike we enjoy chill time, the chilling offered in two forms: structured and unstructured. Folks wanting some formality to their relaxation head off to yoga with Melora. The rest of us scatter in search of lunch and some time sitting and knitting in the big white wooden rockers on the porch in the sun. (The weather could not—I mean could not—be more perfect.)

Then, suddenly, it is time for First Class! On an airplane, First Class means you get to sit up front in a nice big seat. Here at the retreat, First Class means that Susan is quite serious— cheerfully serious but serious nonetheless— about teaching us something many (maybe even most) of us did not know before. We gather ‘round to listen to her explain what we'll be doing (visions of Holden’s tea time snacks dancing in our heads).

Before I tell you more, please look at the picture at the top of this post and tell me: Why did this chicken cross the road?

Answer: This chicken crossed the road to RETREAT from cable charts. Yes, that’s right, she was running away from graph paper full of dots and slashes, which Susan swears will make our knitting lives easier once we understand how to read them. These charts are like a cross between Braille, Morse code, and every-other-line Hebrew, by which I mean you read one line left to right and the other right to left.

The idea is, we will use a chart to work a “simple” cable and in the process a) wind up with a nice little project (a hat or wristband) and b) become comfortably accustomed to reading charts and recognizing their superiority over written patterns.

At first, I balk. See— I love the idea of learning something new, but I have terrible spatial relation skills. Others can see, in a chart, a visual image of what a finished piece will look like. All I see is… well remember those posters at the mall where if you stared long enough you would see a dinosaur or Jesus or the Statue of Liberty? Me? All I ever saw was the blurry top image—Jesus just never popped out at me.

Lucky for me, I quickly botch my first attempt at the project. And so I rip it out. At this point, I say to myself, “Self, you are here to ADVANCE not RETREAT.” I mean, yeah, we call it a retreat, but the opportunity is here for us to move forward in our skills.

So I get out the damn chart and, box-by-box, I start reading it. Eleven rows in, I stop to check my work, which looks like one very bad, very short starter dreadlock that has been picked over by an angry seagull looking for its car keys. Susan has a look. We discuss what I am doing wrong. And it comes to light that I am reading the Left to Right lines Right to Left and the Right to Left lines Left to Right. I immediately blame this on the fact that my boyfriend is Israeli (an argument that makes little sense, but if your knitting looked like mine did yesterday, you’d reach for any excuse, too.)

I rip it out and try again. Along I go, one dot, one slash at a time. Once again I reach the eleventh row. It looks much neater but the leaf pattern is just not appearing. And then, oops, I drop my knitting and—tada!—it lands right side up. THERE'S THE LEAF! I had been looking at the wrong side.

Do I sound like maybe I need to go to Beginning Knitting Camp instead next year? Nah. Because that’s the lovely thing—some folks here can tell what yarn they are holding with their eyes closed. Other people are such fast and advanced knitters I’m pretty sure, if put to the task, they could knit a cure for cancer in two days or less, and not only that, it would be a very pretty, color-coordinated cure for cancer. Me? I’ll be lucky if I get this hat done. But I know, if/when I do I will feel like I have just finished a XXL sweater made from yarn I spun myself, done in both instarsia and Fair Isle, and incorporating cables knitted within cables all the way up the line.

For now, baby steps and all that, I am delighted that I managed to knit fourteen rows of twenty-one stitches in just under four hours yesterday. Woo-hoo!

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