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While maintaining a thundering silence about what little tatting I have accomplished this year, it has only just occurred to me that this is my blog and I can stray off-topic if I want to.

For the past several years, I have maintained correspondence with an archivist who currently lives at the edge of the world in Wick, Scotland.  The exchange began over a mutual interest in knitted ganseys, but has evolved into an ongoing discussion of many topics.

In his spare time, Gordon has written a number of stories and novels (mostly in the fantasy fiction category), for which he has had difficulty finding an audience via conventional publishing houses.  Rather than let the finished books pile up on his computer, he has decided to start releasing them as e-books.  The first one: ‘An Inquisition of Demons’ was released on Amazon on Sunday, and is a free download through today (99 cents thereafter).

You can read about it on his blog, and decide if it might be of interest to you.  If you like the book, please spread the word.

I promise that some tatting will appear here before the mid-point of the year.  That’s the best I can do, for now.

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to those of you who celebrate it, and best wishes of the season to those who do not.

This sparsely decorated douglas fir  is a monument to the virtues of procrastination.  As a general rule, when it comes time to select a Christmas tree, I tromp all through the forest in search of a small noble fir that is the right size and located in the wrong place for long term growth.  The noble fir is of little commercial value for lumber, so I have no qualms about sacrificing one to Christmas.  Once the tree has been chosen and cut, it usually gets stuffed down inside a pair of Carhartt coveralls for the trip to California, where it is then decorated with the hand crafted ornaments that have been collected over a lifetime.

This year, I tromped the woods as usual and selected several potential candidates.  Back in the house, I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed something that I have been trying very hard not to see: a douglas fir growing in the middle of the lilac patch.  Over the past couple of years, I have asked Bill time and again to take a chainsaw to this tree.  Concealed among the leaves of summer, I can ignore it – sort of – but, in the stark leafless tracery of winter, it was sticking out like a sore thumb.  “I want that one!”, I exclaimed, pointing out the window.  Five minutes later, I had a full size Christmas tree in the house.  An hour later, I had rustled some lights out of the back of my closet, and added some  tatted snowflakes, candy canes and chocolates.  There are huckleberry taffy and mandarin oranges yet to add, which is why it is looking a little sparse.

It brings light and cheer to a snowy Christmas.  Joy, Peace, and good fellowship to you all!

Janus by Lace Lunatic
Janus, a photo by Lace Lunatic on Flickr.

The first snowflake in Part I of Tatted Flurries by Sharon Briggs.

This pretty snowflake was a quick and easy tat. The patterns in Sharon’s book flow very intuitively. Alas, my tension is quite different from hers (rings are looser, chains tend to be tighter) which, as you can see has led to a little buckling. Not too terrible in this flake design. You will see in future posts that things did not always work out so well for me with some of the other patterns.

Look for a new snowflake tomorrow!

Yes, my friends, by the end of the afternoon on Sunday, there was a commemorative T-shirt.  A colorful and bold graphic, with flames licking up and over the shoulder, on a ground approximately the color of adobe.  Said T-shirt was being peddled out of the back of a truck to firefighters from out of the area, who were departing the Live Oak Fire Camp.

By now, you have all seen the media coverage of our third big wildfire in the space of less than 12 months.  That is definitely two too many!  This time, it was not quite as close a call as last July – when the Gap fire burned right up to the road on our north boundary.  However, things did get bad enough that we had to evacuate the cattle and pets to the other side of the Santa Ynez range.  Had the dry and windy weather pattern not broken on Saturday, we probably would have lost at least a portion of the farm.  The bad news is that the Maria Ygnacia Creek drainage is about the only fuel rich terrain left to burn on this portion of the South Coast, so the next wildfire will be directly at our back door and this farm the last line of defense before it sweeps down into the neighborhood.

You don’t need to hear about the smoke and leaping flames but, as fellow craftspersons, you might be curious as to what I deemed essential to take with me when I fled.  I have always read disaster preparedness lists with some degree of skepticism.  Three days’ worth of clothing, water and food is only going to be enough if you get to come home again.  If you lose your house, you are going to need a lot more than that!

As some of you know, I divide my time between North Idaho and the Central Coast of California.  Twelve years of moving every six months or so has given me an edge for just this type of situation:  I know exactly what I generally deem essential to my comfort and happiness, and how many of those possessions will actually fit in the car.  What I did not know was how I might react emotionally to having to pick up and leave on short notice.  I feared that there would be much indecisive pacing and hand wringing.  There wasn’t.

Just before sunset on Thursday, it became abundantly clear that the fire was headed our way at great speed.  We gathered all the cattle and pushed them down to a holding pen by the creek.  Another check of the progress of the fire from the top of the property confirmed that we did not have a lot of time.  Bill loaded the first group into the stock trailer, while I started packing some possessions up and loading the car.  What did I pack?  Two suitcases of clothing (one for me and one for Bill), file box, checkbooks and paperwork, jewelry, my tatting thread, tools, and modest tatting library.  There was a moment of hand wringing in front of the knitting stash (I would normally load one box with needles, tools and books and another with yarn) but, with the suitcase for Bill and all the peripherals for the pets, there would not be room.  In the end, I grabbed only the current project (Theodora), the Signature needle set, and my favorite Green Mountain Knitting bag.  I also packed the computer, toiletries, 4 gallons of drinking water, and a couple of grocery bags of food.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, Bill appeared, to announce that he had had  terrible trouble getting the trailer loaded (the cattle – confused by the hour and irregular loading setup – kept popping back out of the trailer) and feared that he no longer had time to make two trips over to the valley with the livestock.

This town is not our home and we have very few friends here.  However, it turns out that it truly is the quality, not the quantity, that is important.  I immediately picked up the phone and called the one person I knew could help, and would not hesitate to do so.   The man is an amazing individual: a ‘real deal’ cowboy, who specializes in rounding up wild cattle.  He raises beef and bucking horses, and operates a bulldozer, preparing land for vineyards or, at times like this, making fire breaks.  A generous person, with a heart of gold, he had come to our rescue last year when we had 5 renegade steers on the loose and rampaging from farm to farm through the suburbs of Santa Barbara; and had also provided pasture when we had to evacuate the cattle during the Gap fire.  Within minutes, another stock trailer was on its way over from the valley.

While these preparations went forward, the smoke got ever thicker, as a light rain of ash misted down through the spray of all the sprinklers and rainbirds that we had running to thoroughly soak the hilltop on which the house sits.  After the unpleasant heat of the day, the mist felt delightfully cool and refreshing – even if it did tend to blacken the clothes and face.  The almost full moon was hanging deep red in a gunmetal grey smoke shroud.  I did take the time to admire it, but did not take any pictures.

I think it was around 1 a.m. that I decided I was as ready as I was going to be.  So, with no idea where I would go when I left, I took a shower and ate a bowl of cereal.  Bill and our cowboy friend set out over the San Marcos pass with two full stock trailers around 2 a.m., and I followed a few minutes later.  An irrepressible  optimist, I started the dishwasher on the way out the door!  By that time, they had closed off access to the upper portion of the San Marcos Rd, so I had to go the long way around up the coast and through Gaviota pass on highway 101.  Everywhere along my route, I came across people in cars that were loaded to the gills with personal possessions and pet carriers.  Almost all of them were driving slowly, in a daze, while they dialed various numbers on their cell phone; trying to find somewhere to go.  All the hotels in Solvang were sporting ‘No Vacancy’ signs.  Apparently, they were full before the evacuation because of a large marathon event scheduled to take place on Saturday.  At 3:30 a.m., I arrived at the cowboy’s house and was reunited with Bill, who showed me to the guest bedroom (the cowboy had gone to bed to grab two hours of sleep before having to go back to work, but had invited us to stay as long as we needed to).  Bill then informed me he was going back to the farm and would remain there until the fire got really close, so he could turn the irrigation back on around the house as he was leaving.

Sleep was impossible.  I was way too keyed up, and so was the cat, who agitated endlessly to go home.  So, I lay quietly in the peace of a strange house, trying to wrap my mind around the situation.  It seemed as if more than two hours elapsed before there were pale aqua light shapes between the limbs of the giant oak outside the window.  Then a clock/radio went off in another part of the house.  After 20 minutes or so of movement and activity, all went quiet again.  I crept out to explore my surroundings…

Sweet!  I found myself in a charming old California ranch house, framed by large oak trees and  perched on a bench overlooking the river valley.  There were horses in the field below, and wild turkeys and a pea hen cruising the yard.  The house itself was spare, masculine, and tidy, and completely in keeping with the personality of its owner.  The cowboy décor and art were genuine, and related to a life spent in the saddle (for example, the reata coiled on top of the television was well used, not just for show), and there were lots of rodeo photographs and some trophies.  I could hardly believe my luck to have been able to evacuate to such a perfect spot!  Without network television  or internet connection, there was nothing to disturb the peace (apart from the constant helicopter traffic to and from the fire).

In the course of the next couple of days, there was some time for tatting, in between tending the cat, the parrot and the cattle and meeting some very interesting people at the Fire Camp.  Given the setting, teapots, doilies or edgings would have been really out of place; it seemed only right to start this:

from Tatting Farm Animals by Christel Weidmann

from Tatting Farm Animals by Christel Weidmann

The fire was stopped just about half a mile to the east of our eastern canyon rim, and a mile north of our north line. We were allowed to come back to the farm on Sunday evening.  Now to clean up an incredible mess of ash, soot,  and debris… and continue to prepare for the next fire.

I know that I do not yet have any kind of a following for this blog, but those of you who have already become regulars might like to know that you can have your own custom image beside your comments. Sign up at Gravatar and, in minutes, you will have your own custom avatar that will appear any time you comment on WordPress blogs that have the Identicon feature enabled.  The service is free.

ETA:  the address that I gave for gravatars was not quite correct.  The link that is now in this post should take you where you need to go.  My apologies to those who may have had trouble.