Monday, September 29, 2014

The Gentle Side of the Tetons

The Tetons are probably America's most easily recognized mountains, a row of peaks shaped like shark's teeth. (Note that the Tetons were named for their resemblance to something else, but that is because it was men, no doubt starved for female companionship, who did the naming.) Bounded by steep faults in the rock, the mountains rise sharply along the western edge of Wyoming's Jackson Hole valley.

Teton sunset from Mormon Row

Hikers who venture into Paintbrush, Cascade, Garnet, Avalanche, and Death Canyons, the main routes into Grand Teton National Park's back country, quickly find themselves amid enormous boulder fields with canyon walls towering up on both sides.  Although some of the hikes are daunting, gaining thousands of feet of elevation over only a few miles, spectacular scenery and easy proximity to the road naturally draw many hikers.

Hanging Canyon

The west side of the range is a very different story.  Most of the trailheads are miles beyond the highway, at the ends of poorly maintained gravel roads.  The trails themselves tend to be much gentler, climbing open slopes that reflect the underlying westward dipping rocks.

Along the trail towards Grizzly Creek

Last month I spent five days on this gentle side of the Tetons as part of a geology field trip. Beginning at Coyote Meadows trailhead we hiked up Bitch Creek to the uppermost reaches of Grizzly Creek, just outside Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). It was a lovely spot, though thankfully it didn't live up to its name.  No bears, grizzly or black.



Our second camp, about five miles south of the first, was a greater challenge to reach as the trail crossed over two steep ridges and several times disappeared entirely in lush meadows.  Picking it up again took sharp eyes and good map skills.


The difficulty in finding the trail reflects just how little frequented this area is. Not counting a few people very close to the trailhead, I didn't see a single person outside of our group for the entire five days.












Another advantage of being on the west side of the range is seeing dramatic sunsets over the plains of Idaho.


But best of all are the enormous high meadows that, even in late summer, are filled with wildflowers.







For an even tamer side to the Tetons, here is my now completed quilt made with vintage blocks that I acquired at a Jackson Hole garage sale years ago.  I finished piecing it last summer, but waited until I was a little more sure of my skills with a long arm machine before attempting to quilt it.



The blocks were foundation pieced (by hand and by machine) so the finished quilt has a little more heft to it than most quilts. As I mentioned last summer, I used vintage scraps to complete the blocks.  The funny thing now is that I can't positively identify all of the pieces I added.



Friday, September 5, 2014

The Wild Side of Florida

Silver Springs State Park is not the first place that comes to mind when I think of Florida.  And yet, when I visited last month, it felt like the real Florida, Florida as it was before Disney and Universal re-shaped thousands of acres into theme parks, hotels, and all things entertainment.

I must confess that I did spend a day at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and it was fun (as it should have been for $90 a pop), full of thrilling roller coasters and animal displays that are guaranteed to give you a good view.

Female gibbon

Asian tiger


The following day, when, for the first time, we visited Silver Springs, I found it a quiet and relatively unspoiled slice of Florida, and much more appealing than Disney. On the 90 minute boat tour of the springs and the Silver River our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide filled us in on many facets of the area, including geology, history, and wildlife.


It is one of the largest artesian springs in the world, with over half a billion gallons of water flowing each day. Wow! Although the water is clear, nitrate pollution from cattle operations has promoted significant growths of algae on the spring's bottom and in the Silver River, which is fed by the springs.  At the moment, one can only catch glimpses of the sparkling silver bottom which gave the springs and river their names. Florida State has recently taken back control of the springs from private interests and one can only hope that their plan to clean up the spring proves effective in protecting this National Natural Landmark.

In spite of the algae, the springs and river support a large population of alligators.


As well as turtles and birds.

Anhinga and turtle on the Silver River

Although Silver Springs may be best known as a location for filming movies - six Tarzan movies, Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Rebel Without a Cause are among the films made here - the area's history is long and rich. In the sixteenth century Spanish explorers found the springs inhabited by Timucuan indians, during the eighteenth century English raiders killed the Timucuan, and eventually Seminoles moved into the area.* According to displays in the small on-site museum, from the 1920s through the 1960s Seminoles produced crafts, including their distinctive patchwork pieces, to sell to visiting tourists.

Seminole patchwork

Note that on this item the piecing and attaching of rick rack were done by machine, a quick and cost-effective approach to production.  I too rely heavily on sewing machines as I can make things very quickly and am able to experiment on a lot of things in a small amount of time.  Still, I really like the look of handmade pieces and I enjoy the process and quiet of stitching by hand.  Over the course of the summer I finally completed all four pieced borders for my compass quilt.


I am now working on the corner stars.


The next step will be to assemble all the pieces.


*http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/silversprings.html

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

One of my favorite places in Austin is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, partly because it is beautiful, and partly because it helps to make me feel truly at home in Austin.  I had the good fortune to work at the center as it was moving from its original location on the eastern edges of the city to its current location. Having seen, and indeed helped with, the birth of the center as we know it, and seeing it now, as though it has always been there, makes me feel like I have grown up along with Austin and am part of it now too.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Johnson on several occasions and was impressed by her kindness and graciousness. Her words, though softly spoken, carried great weight. I think all of the volunteers worked even harder after meeting her. She has left a wonderful legacy with the Wildflower Center and other open spaces around Austin, the state of Texas, and around the country. She was truly a great lady.

Since opening on 43 acres at its current site in 1995, the Wildflower Center has grown to 279 acres, been renamed in honor of its avid founding patroness, and become a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin. Its original, distinctly Texas-styled buildings, demonstration gardens, and extensive rainwater collection system remain.  The center's message is clear throughout the property: native plants offer myriad beautiful, yet practical, options for our gardens.  Given severe droughts in Texas, California, and elsewhere, I suspect their audience may be listening a little bit more closely.

A good place to begin your visit is the top of the tower, which surrounds one of the rain barrels and affords views of the major areas of the center.

The seed silo with the tower in back

If you are looking for ideas for your own garden, be sure to visit the theme and homeowner inspiration gardens.

Theme gardens

New acreage has allowed inclusion of several additional facilities, such as an arboretum of Texas trees, hiking and running paths, large meadows dedicated to research, and a family garden and children's play area.

In the Arboretum

Entering the Luci and Ian Family Garden

When I visited, a mud pit in the children's play area was clearly a big draw for the ten and under crowd.  Hoses were available for clean-up afterwards, but it is advisable to have a set of clean clothes.


The gardens and plantings seemed particularly lush to me during my visits this July, due to plant choices that are well-suited to the site and to some recent well-timed rains.

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflowers

Butterflies were plentiful in the butterfly garden.

Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) on Simpson's rosinweed (Silphium simpsonii) 

And throughout the center.

Queen butterfly on purple coneflower 

Speaking of butterflies, I have been butterflying the corner seams of the border for my compass quilt. With only four thicknesses of fabric at any part of the corner, quilting will be much easier.  I must give credit to Jan over at Bemused for reminding me of this little, but important, trick.  I am making steady progress on these borders and will have more photos in my next post.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Brattleboro and Wilmington, Vermont

Brattleboro, Vermont's oldest town, is tucked into the southeastern corner of the state, where the West River joins the the Connecticut River.  In the mid 1800s it was home to wool, paper and flour mills, along with a variety of other businesses. Today it is better known as a center for artists and artisans, with its sturdy brick downtown buildings now hosting galleries, coffee shops and sporting goods and specialty stores.

I visited early last month for the Strolling of the Heifers, an annual parade that supports local agriculture and sustainable living practices.  Cows are clearly the stars of the parade.

Strolling of the Heifers

All sorts of other participants, including goats, horses, llamas, donkeys and antique tractors, round out the show.





Prior to leaving Texas for this trip, I had cut several dozen squares for the border of my compass quilt so that I would have something to work on during those odd down moments that seem inevitable when traveling. It turned out to be far too few. Not only did I have more time than expected, I have become significantly faster at stitching, and quickly ran through my supply.

So, on a quest for fabric and wanting to see some of the countryside, I hopped on Route 9 west out of Brattleboro and drove to Wilmington, a tiny town in the Deerfield Valley of the Green Mountains.  It was a gorgeous day with a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream carton kind of sky.

Barns along Route 9

Wilmington's economy has evolved from being based largely on agriculture to one based on recreation and tourism. As in Brattleboro, Wilmington's Main Street is now home to shops, restaurants and galleries, including Jim McGrath's gallery and studio.  Jim is an engaging man and a wonderful artist who eagerly welcomes visitors. Just visiting him and his gallery was enough to make the trip to Wilmington worthwhile.

Jim McGrath in his gallery

He captures in his paintings the essence and atmosphere of New England, from the shapes of the landscapes to the nuances of light and color.  I purchased these two pieces.

"The Shop in Back," Jim McGrath, 2013, 8" x 10", oil on masonite

"Autumn Reflections," Jim McGrath, 2013, 8" x10", oil on masonite

My other stop was at Norton House, a circa 1760 clapboard building crammed with fabric and quilting supplies.


My favorite part is the sale attic, reached via a set of narrow, creaky steps. With so many bolts squeezed together under the eaves, I felt as though I was rummaging around my grandparents' attic.

The sale attic at Norton House

I found plenty to work into the compass quilt, (plus a few others for good measure), and am now well over half finished with this border. I have also completed stitching all twenty five compass blocks together. Whew! As I have mentioned before, with sixteen pieces of fabric meeting at each corner, it was a challenge.  Next time I will strive to be more precise in the cutting and marking stage!

Compass quilt, center and two border sections

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Historic Deerfield

During my most recent trip to Massachusetts I visited Deerfield, a village first settled in 1669 by the English who were attracted to the rich alluvial soil found along the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers. To this day the town retains its original plan, a number of 18th and 19th century homes on their original sites, and much of the land continues to be farmed. Historic Deerfield was founded in 1952 as a "living history museum," dedicated to preserving the cultural history of the area along with buildings, furniture and other decorative arts.  Similar to Colonial Williamsburg, though on a much smaller scale, the village and its houses, barns, and shops serve as the museum.  Most furnishings are displayed in situ, in the context of their original use, rather than as gallery pieces, thus giving a good idea of what life was like in the past.  Photography is not allowed indoors, except in the Flynt Center gallery, so I have a limited number of photos.

Sheldon House

Stebbins House

I, of course, was particularly interested in the textiles such as bed quilts and hangings, samplers, and clothing and accessories. Much of the workmanship on these pieces is exquisite. Note how the stars on this 19th century quilt are all of a consistent size with nice sharp points, and how the quilting is done with tiny, even stitches.  The Ohio Star block is one of my favorites.  I have used it in several of my quilts and will likely use it for the corner blocks of my compass quilt.  (More about that in my next post).

Cotton quilt, 1830-50

The Historic Deerfield collection includes some beautifully vibrant needlework pieces such as this idealized, bucolic scene, "Shepherdess in Landscape with Gentlman and Animals.

Pictorial needlework, c. 1780, silk, wool, linen

I have always admired this style - how can one not be cheered by the optimism displayed in such a scene?  I think it would be fun to work a piece in this genre, in a bright palette with wool that fills the entire canvas.  Quite a contrast to the cotton on linen piece that I completed in 2006.

Pear Orchard Farm,* cotton on linen

Mourning pictures were another popular needlework genre two hundred years ago and included a variety of symbolic elements, such as weeping willows and urns, which indicated death.  Eliza Ely of Saybrook, Connecticut, incorporated both of these into her 1807 piece and left space to add the name of a loved one upon his or her death.  She used silk and silver metallic thread for her stitchery.  The watercolor is thought to have been done by the framer and the ink faces and figures by a more experienced artist.

Mourning needlework

Here is another example of the weeping willow and urn symbols, this one on a gravestone in the Northfield, Massachusetts, cemetery.

Gravestone of Aaron Lyman, 1841

Like many cemeteries, the one in Northfield is a lovely place to walk. We often stop in cemeteries when we are rambling around unfamiliar places, and never fail to learn or see something interesting.

Northfield Cemetery


*Design by Kathy Barrick-Dieter