Monday, October 19, 2009

My Favorite Part of October

Halloween Schmalloween. I mean, the holiday is fun and all, but cranberry harvest is where the real fun is. I've been going to Grayland nearly every year for harvest for... ummm... wow! Twenty five years. I need to point this out to my friends so we can mark that with some sort of celebration. Most likely a celebration involving drinking cranberry juice, eating frozen pizza and competing to see who has the most cranberry leaves in his or her underwear. Or maybe we'll call this blog post the celebration.

My old college buddy Anne is to blame for me ever knowing that cranberries exist. Yeah, okay-- I knew they existed. But that was about it. I didn't know where they came from, how they were picked, or even how many uses they had until the first time I went home with her on an October break from college and began the learning process. Since there are many more people who don't know any more than I did back in 1984, I thought I'd share some of what I've learned here and in the process show you what I'm going to be doing until Thanksgiving. Here's a shot of Anne, proudly showing off the tote she has just assembled. I'll tell you more about totes later.

Check this out. Cranberries. Growing on vines. Yes, vines. Not trees.
If you ever hear someone referring to a "cranberry tree," or a "cranberry bush," point at them and laugh. And then refer them to this post, because clearly they need a good edge-a-macating.
Cranberries grow on vines, which in Grayland are trained to generally lie all in one direction in a peat bog. They are trained this way so that they can be dry picked efficiently. You may have seen photos or video of wet harvest, where they flood the bogs and agitate the vines to release the berries which are then corraled and then sucked out of the water. This is different. This is dry harvesting, and it's done with a Furford picker.

The dudes who are trained to run the pickers (Anne's two older brothers and a few select mechanically-minded friends) fill burlap sacks with roughly forty pounds of berries and pruned vines and leave them to the harvested side of the picker (traditionally the left), and then continue along the bog.

This is Kevin picking. If you squint, you can tell the difference between vines he's picked to his left and those yet to be picked to his right.

Then people like Anne, me and my children come behind and either pack or drag the sacks over to the cart track. As the pickers continue their rounds and get farther away from the center of the bog, the drag becomes longer. Sacks are dragged diagonally so as not to disturb the lay of the vines.

Here Logan and Maya demonstrate their dragging technique, while Quinn demonstrates the proper technique for packing a sack. Note that sacks are never thrown over one's back.

If you have to walk against the flow of vines, you do what's called a "bog walk." Picture John Cleese doing this silly walk, kicking slightly lower and in rubber boots and waders instead of a suit and bowler and without the briefcase and you'll be close.

Once you have the sacks dragged over close to the track, it's time to put the cart in gear and pick them up.

Maya is demonstrating her favorite thing, which is resting on the cart while others do the heavy lifting. The cart is set to a nice low, slow gear, and the hefting and stacking begins.

There is an art to the stacking, and Eric, who met Anne our freshman year and married her the day after we graduated in 1987, has had plenty of experience. The fact that he's 6'2" helps quite a bit too, because he can lift and stack higher than the rest of us. The fact that Bruce, who's a tall, strapping lad himself, can lift sixty pound sacks over his head over and over without tiring doesn't hurt either.

Here's what Eric would fondly call a "He-Man" shot.See how burly he is? Not bad for a professor of English Literature, eh?

This shot kind of shows where the Furford pickers can't pick-- right on top of and next to the track.
Those berries are harvested later with a suction picker. One would think it was named that because it uses suction to pluck the berries from the vines. But one would be wrong. Actually the machine sucks the energy right out of the person who is picking. The job is legendarily exhausting.

The basketball hoop in the top left of this photo is not part of the contraption. It's just on the wall next to where the picker is parked inside the warehouse.

Let's see... where was I? Oh yes-- the berries are now in sacks stacked on the cart. From the cart, the berries need to be transferred to a vehicle that can be driven on the road. This usually involves a brigade of people, hefting sacks from the stacks on the cart, handing them to the next person who then creates a new stack on the vehicle. In some situations this vehicle is a trailer which is hitched to a tractor (in this case, one from Russia with no power steering and indecipherable controls), and in some cases the bog has no track and cart at all and thus sacks are loaded directly onto a bog buggy, as seen here.

Rides on the bog buggy can be the most exciting part of harvest. Imagine perching on your tiptoes on the back six inches of a flatbed, using all your weight to steady the stacks of sacks of berries. Now add very uneven terrain and tree limbs and a good, driving rain.

Once the sacks of berries arrive at the warehouse, they have to be unloaded and stacked inside.

The stacking begins as close to this machine as possible.

This is a viner-- actually a super viner. This little hummer is the brainchild and work of Anne's brother Francis. It's a super viner because of the power of the fan. On the old viners, it could take upwards of ten minutes to separate a sack of berries from the vines and other debris. With a powerful fan, a sack of berries can be separated in seconds. Sacks of berries are dumped out onto the table of the viner, which shakes. The grid allows smaller things, like berries, to fall through while larger things, like long vines, stay on top for the worker to remove. Berries are shaken down the incline of the table and past the fan that blows most of the debris off of them before they are conveyed up and then dumped into a tote.

All totes are delivered to the warehouse in large stacks of their parts that look like this.
This is Francis, Anne's brother and inventor/builder of the super viner, using the forklift to move some tote parts into the warehouse for assembling. If you look closely, you'll see why we call him Wolfman.

Building totes is a great job for those with aggression to work out. Maya has a lot of aggression, so she was very qualified.

When I first worked here in the 80's, totes looked like this-- they were made of a pallet bottom with four plywood sides. The sides came with holes in them just big enough to accept the metal climps (yes, climps-- not clamps) which held them together. Building totes involved all sorts of mini-jobs, like separating the tangled mess of climps that were delivered in plastic bags, bending the climps so they were at just the right slightly acute angle to make them perfect for use... there were many. Now most of the totes come with all fours sides connected by some sort of odd heavy duty fabric and staples and look like this.

All you have to do is unfold them, arrange them on the pallet just so, and whack two of the sides in a strategic place to coax the metal pins to fall into place and secure the tote. It sounds simple, but it isn't always. And plywood is heavy, I'll remind you. Sometimes tote building creates the aggression, rather than releasing it.

Once the tote is built, it's labeled with the grower's number and the variety of berry (which this particular weekend was Stevens) and then shoved into place under the viner's conveyor belt.

Or you can do as Maya is doing here, and use the tote jack to do the muscling. Some warehouses have smoother floors than others. Maya got pretty good at moving stuff around with a jack.

This weekend it was taking about ten minutes to fill a tote-- a testament to both the efficiency of the super viner and the fantastic berry-to-vine ratio that a sack full of Stevens berries yields.

Here's some cranberry trivia: McFarland berries are smaller than the Stevens. A Furford picker is also a pruning machine, so some sacks yield more vines than berries. A sack full of vines is much lighter than a sack full of berries. Some bogs are surrounded by vegetation that deer like to eat, so some sacks can include deer droppings. The occasional sack will contain a frog-- sometimes even whole and living. Sacks can contain chunks of blackberry vines. What I'm saying here is, if all you see when you dump a sack onto a viner is berries and vines, it's kind of a surprise.

A full wet sack can weigh up to twenty pounds more than a full dry sack. Here we've hung up some especially saturated sacks to drip dry.

I must say that I am very fond of the smell of wet burlap. It reminds me of my twenties and what I thought at the time were really big problems to be worked out. Sigh.

There are many little side jobs to be done at harvest, too. Among these are:

Pitching back vines. Vines and other debris are blown out of the viner and pile up in the same spot in the dump truck. Maya is showing how you redistribute the vines in the bed of the truck to allow room for more.

Then of course eventually the truck needs to be dumped. That's another job for Wolfman.

Of course, first he needs to squeegee off the windshield so he can see where he's driving. And do you know where he's driving? Yeah, neither do I. It's one of the mysteries that prevails.

It's also important to pose triumphantly atop a pile of plywood. We thought that would be a good job for Logan and Quinn.

Quinn, 14, is spending the year hundreds of miles from all his friends, and completely isolated from anyone within ten years of his age. So Logan's job was to hang out with him and talk about Spore and FailBlog and other such teen boy pursuits.

If you complete all the jobs successfully, what you end up with is a warehouse full of this:

And if Ocean Spray does it's job, you end up with this:

Delicious! And even more refreshing than what Anne and I were ingesting in that first picture. Did I mention that Anne ate 45 raw cranberries in one minute in the cranberry eating contest this fall? The winner ate 48. The raw cranberry is an acquired taste. One that I'm proud to have.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sock Summit, Part Two: Sunday

Roni dropped me and Johnna off pretty early on Sunday so that we could take full advantage of the final hours of Sock Summit revelry. Here's Johnna, jokingly clutching someone else's yarn. I can tell it's not hers by the colorways. She and I are pretty set in our colorways.

Our main goal for the day, aside from the last minute shopping panic, was to go to the Sock Museum, conveniently located at one end of the marketplace. I hope some of you are smirking at this point. That's right, dudes-- a museum devoted to the history of sock knitting. Volunteers knitted replicas of socks throughout history. And unlike most museums, handling of the "artifacts" was encouraged. Check it:

Very early baby booties, or as the sign says, "bootees."

Himalayan Socks

Argyles, showing the tedium of it all. Argyles are an act of love and devotion, y'all.


Fascinating shaping and construction.

Entrelac-- on the someday list.

Little Itty Bitty! (and Johnna as hand model)

The fabulously famous Monkey sock pattern, an act of brilliance on the point of designer Cookie A. I've knit them before, and I'll knit them again. Sooner rather than later, if it's up to Maya.


Get it-- hole-y? Get it? If you'd met Lucy Neatby, the designer of these babies, you'd forgive her the corny pun. She's the coolest of the lot, with hair dyed to match whatever she's knitting and wearing. On Sunday it was magenta and deep blue.

On Sunday afternoon Johnna and I were fortunate enough to have attended the Luminary Panel and Closing Ceremony. When registration had opened in the spring, tickets to this panel discussion were limited to five thousand people, and I was worried about getting them. Whew!

People lined up in the foyer an hour (or more) before the doors opened to insure a good seat.

We got there early enough to secure seats with a perfect view of everyone but Meg Swanson, who was arguably the primo guest of honor, considering it was her mother, Elizabeth Zimmerman's, 99th birthday. Elizabeth is considered to be the mother of modern knitting. If you see a knitter reference "EZ," they are not saying that it is easy. Although with EZ, it is made really simple. I'm making this more complicated, right? Right. The short of it is this: We're talking big time here. Be impressed. Stephanie and Tina, the creators of this whole affair, very famous and important in their own right, acted as moderators for the discussion, and even they were clinging to each other like Brownies, giggling, turning away from the podium to compose themselves and turning back to say things like, "Oh my god, I'm about to introduce Meg Swanson!"

From left: Lucy Neatby, Cat Bordhi, Deborah Robson, Anna Zilboorg, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Tina Newton, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Meg Swanson (beind podium), Barbara Walker, Judith MacKenzie-McCuin, and Nancy Bush.

Are you hyperventilating yet? Man, I am, just typing that list. There was not a dim bulb in that drawer. Not a dull tool in that shed. Not a bent needle in that case. You get the idea. A table full o' genius, that was. AND I WAS THERE. DUDE. I almost cried from the joy about a zillion times.

At the end of the ceremony, we sang happy 99th birthday to Elizabeth, and a big cake was wheeled out. Check the picture I got:

I should know who that is on the left, but don't. Forgive me. Stephanie is on the right, and that's Meg Swanson cutting the cake. I was not five feet from them. Can you dig it?

Well, after sitting for four hours, finishing my sock and taking in all the wisdom and community, there was only one thing that had to be done. And when you've had over five thousand other people, predominantly women, needing to do the same thing, you have issues. Fortunately, I had my friend Johnna to hand me what I needed.

Johnna is a very good friend. If I were a good friend, I would give her these socks I finished during the Luminary Panel. But hey-- they're not really her colorway. The blue is too bright. She said so herself.

Sock Summit, Part One

Last Tuesday, the kids and I drove down to Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon to spend some time with my folks and sister and niece. We swam in the pools and played tennis and the kids investigated Paulina spring and played badminton with balloons instead of birdies. We took a rafting trip on the day when it was cool and rainy, which my poor freezing father survived with grace and the rest of us enjoyed, despite the occasional shivering jags. I took a quick trip to the
Stitchin' Post and spent a gift certificate my folks had given me back in 2003. Here's what I got:

That's two skeins of Koigu Kersti, two skeins of Lamb's Pride worsted, and a roll of Stitch Witchery. I also got a quilting panel from the 2008 Quilt Show, but I put it away before I could photograph it. The Stitchin' Post is still a great shop, but now that I've moved on from quilting to knitting, my interest in what they had has dwindled. It took me over an hour to find these things I was willing to use my gift certificate on-- that's a lifetime in Paige-shopping-time.

On Friday I packed up and headed for Portland for the Sock Summit. I can't stress to you enough what a big deal this was. When registration opened for the classes and events at the conference in early May, 30,000 people helped crash the server. And that was just in the first ten minutes. So to be one of the lucky few who were able to get a ticket and to be doubly lucky to be within driving distance... well, yeah. Huge deal. So although my friend Johnna was going to join me the next day and we were going to have two days to dedicate to just walking around and shopping for yarn amid the hundreds of vendors, I just couldn't stay away. I grabbed a quick pastrami on rye at Kenny & Zuke's and headed for the convention center.

My one suggestion for Stephanie and Tina, the event organizers, would be to set up an elevated platform to give people the proper vantage point to photograph the vendor's marketplace, just to capture the magnitude of it. I'm sure that people who had been to a Stitches event were more acclimated, but most of us were walking around in an overwhelmed daze.

This is just a tiny glimpse down one of many, many rows of vendor booths.

There were so many elements to the overwhelming effect. Volume was certainly one of them. And beauty, and color, and talent and camaraderie.

Another was celebrity.

I listen to these beautiful people every week! Steve and Kathy Elkins own Webs, America's Yarn Store in Northampton, MA. They love hot weather and their kids play hockey. I know more about them than I should, really. And me? I'm just a geek with a camera.

And check this out:

I know!!!! Can you believe it??? I'm sitting next to Amy Singer!!!!!!! Holy crap! I was just sitting at the table next to this one, knitting on the world's largest sock pictured below

and talking to a woman named Helen from Texas who was working the needle next to mine when I glanced up and went, "Oh my gawd, that's Amy Singer!" Helen dropped her needle and said, "Come on, come with me." She insisted that I break up the conversation that Amy was having with her friend and she nabbed my camera and documented the fact that I was treating the creator of the most widely-used online knitting magazine like an Egyptian Pyramid. I didn't say anything nice and human like, "Thank you so much for creating Knitty!" or even "Keep up the fantastic work!" I know I didn't say, "Smile and look like you like me," but that's just what she did. And the Schaefer Yarn representative she was sitting with even showered me with samples!
How cool is she?

This next gal was not a celebrity when she came to the Summit, but probably was by the time she left. There were many people taking her picture. Can you see why?
She cut a space blanket into strips, connected them with Scotch tape, and knitted it into a hat. She said the hat "keeps the crazy in." As far as I could tell, it was working-- she seemed really normal and lovely to me.

And can you believe it? I had the opportunity to kinnear the Yarn Harlot herself, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, whose brainchild all this awesomeness was. That's her in the orange Tshirt just to the left of the woman with the baby on her back.

Look at how overwhelmed this woman was!

She's literally hip deep in yarn. Her job was to take requests from the customers surrounding the huge bin to toss things closer to them. I shit you not. After I took this picture she bolted upright and posed for me, poor thing. Don't tell her this is the one I posted-- I just thought it captured the moment more accurately.

By about five o'clock, I just had to sit down. It was all too much. So I called my friend Jill in Tigard and drove to her house for a long overdue visit. I got to meet her son Aiden, who is delightful, and see how much her daughter Faye has grown. Seeing them brought back the memories of when my kids were littler and frankly made me miss the days when they'd curl up in my lap. At the marketplace, I had forgotten I had kids. So that was a good thing. Remembering them, I mean. Thank you, Jill!

Throughout this weekend, I tried to take more pictures than I normally would, knowing that I wanted to blog about it. So I took this picture while I was stuck in traffic between the convention center and Jill's house.
Of course I didn't know at the time that the next time I got into the car, to leave Jill's house and go to my sister's, would be my last time in the Volvo. Or, I should say, I hope it will be the last time-- I haven't heard from the body shop or the insurance company yet. Fingers crossed.

About two miles before my exit to Val's on I-205, construction caused the two lanes of cars to have to merge into one. Traffic was heavy and there was stop-and-go-less-than-10mph for quite a while. I was tired, and bummed to have to spend my precious alone time doing something I hate, but we were slowly making progress. I had just passed a section where an onramp had merged into traffic when I saw headlights quickly approaching my rear bumper. Yep-- slam! And then slam! My car running into the semi truck in front of me. The hood was all munched up and I was just able to move the car over to the shoulder in time before it lost its ability for me to do so. I took a few deep breaths, assessed my body, and got out of the car. Antifreeze and who knows what else were flowing out of my car like a river. The trucker in front of me got out and made eye contact with me while he talked to his dispatcher in his tiny headset. I can't tell you how confusing that was. You think it's confusing on a normal day-- try it with adrenaline running through your system. The guy who hit me from behind approached with nothing but kindness and apology. The three of us all agreed on the story immediately, and that we were were sorry that we had to meet under these circumstances. I apologize for the lack of photos for this part of the story, because I know that's what all you non-knitters (and my husband especially) would appreciate most. But in primal situations like this, where injuries have been narrowly missed and strangers have had to interact in person and such, I get all old-school on it.

Information was exchanged, police came, AAA was summoned, tow trucks arrived. I called Scott and my family at Black Butte to let them know what happened and get their brain trust working on the problem of how to salvage my weekend of beauty. How was I going to pick up Johnna from the train station on Saturday? How would I get back to the convention center? How would I get my kids and all my stuff home to Seattle on Sunday? How was I going to get any time to myself without having to deal with insurance companies, DMVs or body shops?

To keep it short and not as boring, I was given several good options by Val, who is always on her toes. But once I'd had some sleep and my brain clicked in, I called Jill and she came to my rescue, picking me up and taking me to the grocery store and then to the DMV to file my report. I was frankly happy to have an excuse to see her again so soon! I talked to Johnna and we decided to just have her and her husband and son Joey drive down instead and stay with us at Val's. Roni gets the medal of honor for shuttling us around town all weekend, playing single dad the rest of the time, and hauling us all back to Seattle Sunday night. I wish I had a picture of him to insert here so you could see the man who salvaged my weekend. I'm a big fan!

So by Saturday early afternoon, with the help of my powerful network of friends and family, I could turn my focus back to the Summit marketplace.

If I had been one of my children, my feet would have hurt within the first hour or so, I'm sure. I heard about other shoppers complaining about the concrete flooring being hard on their feet. But I might as well have been floating. I mean, it's not every day that you see sights like this:

Are you kidding me???? The guy running the booth there assured me that this is something they do a couple of times a year, at one show or another, and that their business is fine. This only shows half the booth. There were huge piles of yarn, all labeled like meat by the pound. Here are the new friends I made there:

The guy said that he was not very popular with the other vendors at the show. I really felt bad for the people whose booths were directly across the aisle from him. Owie.

There were many displays like this

and quite a few booths had blankets made up of squares created from the different colorways of sock yarn they were selling so you could see how a skein looked after it was knit up. Very clever, I thought. I liked this scarf too:

It was hard to tell how the vendors were doing. There were a lot of people there, but the marketplace was so huge that it never felt crowded. Most of the vendors looked underwhelmed. Lollipop Cabin was selling these for $5

all weekend, but after the closing ceremony on Sunday, gave them away. I took that as an indicator. Those of us who were there and shopping really did our best to do our part. Here's my effort:
A yarn so soft if feels like cotton balls, even though it's 100% wool. But yeah, okay, you got me. The real reason I bought it was because of the name. I'm a sucker for a good name. This one's name is Sea Glass. The same vendor was selling off stash yarn, so I also bought this from her:
a skein of Arucania Multi, two skeins of Lorna's Laces, a skein from Chameleon Dyeworks and the big mystery, no-label skein in the middle. I visited this booth all three days and bought something each day. What can you do when they keep replenishing their sale bin?

Johnna and I had a hard time selecting our purchases at the Coloratura booth. They were from Missouri, and we'd never seen yarn like theirs before. We were worried we'd never see it again, so restraint was difficult.

I shook my fist at a display of Pagewood Farms yarn, so frustrated was I by its unyielding allure. Little did I know that the owner of Pagewood and husband of the insanely talented dyer was watching me! He came over to see what my problem was. Well, clearly it's my lack of tact. I explained my stooopid behavior, and Johnna and I fawned all over him like he was Sting. This skein of Yukon is my souvenir of that embarassment.

Some lovely people from a shop in Port Townsend sold me this Cascade 220 for almost nothing. I would love to go visit them again next week, but after all this weekend, I know I won't be able to afford to.

My last minute, final purchase was at Webs to take advantage of their ridiculous sale on Arucania and to get some of their dyeable stuff.
For some reason, the photo of that yarn doesn't want to load. One skein of green, one skein of burgundy, four skeins of white. Use your imagination.

Someday I hope to have some of these in my collection.
They are Signature double point needles. I had heard about them, but this was the first time I got to touch them and knit with them. They are out of this world. And they cost eleven times what any of my other size 2 dpns cost. Yeah. Someday.

Are your eyes rolling back in your head yet? Well I've still got Sunday to tell you about. Stay tuned.