Saturday, September 26, 2015

Teton Gems

Study any trail map of Grand Teton National Park and you will notice quite a few high lakes. Some are right along main trails and are consequently popular destinations for hikers. Others remain anonymous on the map and far from any regular trail. These are invariably the spots my family is most eager to reach. There is a lot to be said for this strategy: it takes you away from the busiest trails and gives you a chance to see some of the most spectacular and unspoiled terrain in the park. This summer's destination was Coyote Lake. We began at Granite Canyon Trailhead.

It is hard to beat the feeling of boots on the trail first thing in the morning. The day awaits. Adventure beckons. New vistas are about to reveal themselves.

Sighting this buck within the first mile was an auspicious start to the day.

We headed for the Open Canyon trail and made our way towards Mount Hunt Divide,

enjoying the shade and flowers along the way. I especially liked the intense purple of this monkshood.

Instead of continuing up to Mount Hunt divide, we branched off the trail to follow the creek upstream. A few minutes of scrambling led us to open, flower-filled meadows,

rocky slopes,

and eventually to a big cirque which contains three gems, Coyote Lake and two smaller un-named lakes. 

This gives an idea of the cirque's size. I didn't have a wide angle lens with me, so I took a series of images and stitched them together.

From the right perspective you can see where Coyote Lake got its name. It looks like a coyote's head. In this photo you can see the ear in the top right and the snout in the lower left.

Coyote Lake, at more than 10,000 feet above sea level, is above tree-line, surrounded by sheer cliffs and slopes of alpine meadows. This fragile terrain is protected by its relative inaccessibility and the prohibition on camping in the area.

It was a great spot for lunch and just enjoying the brilliance of the day. Eva took some time to write in her journal.

For our return, rather than back-tracking, we chose to cross the saddle between Coyote Lake and Mt. Hunt, a route described as "steep, but very do-able." It was, though it took a bit of route finding to avoid getting cliffed out on the way down. 

It was a hot day and we happily refilled our bottles with cool mountain water.

Our strategy of choosing a less traveled route was a great success. Aside from spectacular scenery,

we saw quite a lot of wildlife, including round, glossy coated marmots,

adorable picas,

and energetic ground squirrels.

Our moose count, which reached nine by the end of the day, remained above our people count until we neared the trail head at the very end of the day. That was a record for us and made for a truly memorable day.

For a more detailed description of the hike, take a look at

Aside from stitching together photographs, I recently stitched a small stack of  gem-toned squares into a pillow cover,

and quilted it with bright yellow thread. Fun. And nearly instant gratification.

My next post will be about a summer trip to Maine, where we attended a beautiful wedding in Blue Hill and visited Acadia National Park, and about the quilt I made as a wedding gift.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Log Cabins, Real and Quilted

'"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs." With these words Laura Ingalls Wilder began her beloved Little House series of books in which she recounted her early years and her family's search for a home in the mid-west. Wilder's descriptions of her log cabin homes helped shape my images of them as small but sturdy buildings offering shelter, warmth and security in as yet untamed places.

Some of these structures remain scattered across the United States, some in sad disrepair, others lovingly maintained as reminders of the pioneering spirit of their residents. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of the iconic spots for photographers is Mormon Row, where the cabins and barns seem to be perfectly situated, their roof lines echoing silhouettes of the mountains behind them.

Sunrise at the T. A. Moulton Barn

The John Moulton Barn and the Grand Teton

More incongruous is the cabin in the middle of downtown Dallas. This one, dating from about 1850, was moved to its current site in 1971 to show where a cabin stood in the 1840s.

Some log buildings are still in use, such as the 1927 Adirondack Loj (pronounced "lodge"), which provides meals and overnight accommodation to Adirondack Park visitors.

During our early summer wanderings in the Adirondacks we spent a comfortable and quiet night at the lodge.

Adirondak Loj main room

We chose a bunk room over a conventional private bedroom.

Adirondak Loj bunk room

It is no surprise that log cabins have inspired generations of quilt makers. In many ways log cabin quilts are very like the structures after which they are named: simple, sturdy and warm.

Log cabin quilts are made of log cabin blocks. Each block starts with a center square, (representing the hearth, the literal and figurative center of a home), and then is built up, log by log, with each log oriented ninety degrees relative to its neighbors. Usually the logs alternate between two light and two dark, as though two sides of the cabin are in sun and two in shadow.

Here is a circa 1900 log cabin quilt that I purchased years ago at the City of Austin Garage Sale. The seller credited its making to an Annie Rocher, of Austin, Texas. That is unfortunately all I know of the quilt's provenance other than what can be gleaned from the quilt itself. The block arrangement is known as a "barn raising" set, and though not finely made, it has been well cared for. Many of the fabrics remain bright since it has seen little use as a bedcover and has apparently never been laundered. I think the exuberant use of red makes for a lively composition.

Annie Rocher log cabin quilt (note it is 11 blocks wide and 10 blocks high)

Annie Rocher used a large collection of fabrics including solids, prints and plaids in cotton, silk and blends, so many that it seems that every time I look at it I discover another fabric I had not previously noticed.

Detail of Annie Rocher quilt

Here is my own recent version of a log cabin quilt. I made it as a birthday gift for a dear friend and hope that, unlike Annie Rocher's quilt, it will be used until it is in tatters.

The color scheme, which is rather on the cool side and a little unusual for a log cabin quilt, came to life in the class I took with Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr at QuiltCon earlier this year. When I mentioned that I was planning a log cabin quilt Weeks and Bill quickly picked out from my stash a bunch of taupes and neutrals, some old shirtings and a few plaids, and suggested rich brown, one of their go-to colors, for the block centers.

I don't know if this is what they envisioned, but I really like the result. I think it is a subtle and fresh take on an old favorite. Viewed from a distance you can easily see the difference between the dark and light sides of each block, but up close you can't. When I was assembling it I had to keep stepping back to ensure each block was correctly oriented. In spite of its subdued colors, the zig zag pattern, fittingly called a "streak of lightening," gives the piece energy.

I made it without borders and used a black and grey stripe for the binding.

For those of you interested in the details of the quilt's construction, I pieced it by machine and quilted it, block by block, using the computer guided function of my long arm machine. I combined two corner patterns to make a square, changing the orientation of it for each block so that the dark half was quilted in the denser pattern and the light half in a more open pattern.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer in Central Texas

It's the last day of August and though school is back in session here in Central Texas, summer is not yet over. High temperatures continue to hover in the mid-nineties (Fahrenheit), the sun shines relentlessly, and extended outdoor activity must be planned carefully. 

For me, that means running before the sun comes up. On the days I don't manage to get going early, anything beyond three miles becomes an unpleasant slog. Much better suited to summer is taking a dip in Barton Springs Pool

Its three acres of 68 to 70 degree, spring-fed water will cool you off on even the hottest of days.

Barton Springs Pool

Another quintessential summertime Texas activity is the rodeo. Just as the sun is going down and the stands are cooling off, things really heat up inside the arena. We enjoyed last month's Marble Falls Rodeo as much for its small-town ambience as its excitement. Of course, they start with the national anthem and a display of the flag.

It's hard to beat the colorful and heart-stopping bareback bronc riding.

Wranglers are always ready to assist and ensure the rider's safety. Watching how they work and the rapport they have with their horses is as interesting as the main events.

So, if the beginnings and ends of the days are the best times to be outside, what, you may ask, do you do in the middle of the day? Mostly, at least in August, I retreat to the air-conditioned indoors. This year I used that time to do a lot of sewing.

I finished this pillow cover, for which I used some of the pre-cut two inch squares that were in this year's QuiltCon goodie bag,

Pillow top, hand pieced and hand quilted
have almost completed a second one,

and made two queen-sized bed quilts. I pieced and quilted the pillows entirely by hand. Except for the bindings, I did the bed quilts entirely by machine

My production line for making Ohio Star blocks

Both of these are gifts so I can only give you a sneak peak until they have made their way to their recipients.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


Although the focus of my recent trip to Svalbard was wildlife, Longyearbyen, the town where we boarded our ship, is interesting and colorful enough to warrant its own post. Longyearbyen is situated at 78 degrees latitude, in the middle of Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, nearly 1,000 kilometers from the Norwegian mainland. It spills down the Longyeardalen valley to the shores of Adventfjorden, an embayment in the much larger Isfjorden. 

The upper part of town
The most striking feature of Longyearbyen is its colorful buildings, painted following a color scheme designed by Bergen National Academy of Arts under commission from Store Norske, the current coal mine operators.  With four months of 24 hour darkness, and a blanket of snow from horizon to horizon for even longer, the color must be invigorating to inhabitants.  In the sun the buildings are brilliant.

Less obvious, at least initially, though just as ubiquitous, are the old aerial cables and cable cars, once used to carry coal from mines to port, but now reminders of the Longyearbyen's coal mining heritage. In fact, Longyearbyen is named after John Longyear, the American whose Arctic Coal Company began mining operations there in 1906.

Look closely, just below the lower cliffs, to see remains of mining operation

Longyearbyen claims a number of the world northernmosts, as in the world's northernmost seed storage facility, the world's northernmost university, and the world's northernmost church.

Svalbard Church

In spite of cessation of most mining, Longyearbyen retains an industrial appearance. Without trees - none grow anywhere in Svalbard - everything is laid bare to be seen year round. Fortunately, all is kept tidy and clean and freshly painted, which makes Longyearbyen a pleasant town.

I found the accommodations comfortable, the food tasty, and the people kind. Based on the number of shops heavily stocked with all kinds of expedition gear, it is clearly a jumping off point for many kinds of outdoor adventures. As you might expect from such a remote spot the prices are not cheap. Except, that is, for yarn. We found yarn in a coffee shop, the grocery store, and in a clothing shop, all reasonably priced. One could do a lot of knitting during the long winter night in Longyearbyen. My daughter bought yarn for three different projects and I picked up this Arne and Carlos book of patterns for felted slippers. 

The slippers would be perfect in Longyearbyen where it is customary to remove shoes before entering a building, restaurants, hotels, and museum included. After practicing Fair Isle knitting this summer I should have no trouble with the patterns. Once I have figured out the Norwegian, that is.