20 July 2007

Another Annapolis

It's just after 9:00 p.m. Atlantic Time (8:00 p.m. EST), and I'm sitting at a grand old Victorian roll-top desk typing on a high tech laptop, courtesy of my hosts at Hillsdale House Inn. I'm in another Annapolis, another city named for Queen Anne of England only fifteen years after my own was renamed in her honor, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. The inn is full of charm and the proprietors are generous. King George V stayed here when he was a young prince.

Here are some brief observations I've made over the course of the 28 hours that I have been on the island of Nova Scotia:

  • People hang their laundry out to dry here and there are recycling bins in every tiny town in the province.
  • Drivers actually stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road--even when they aren't near a cross walk.
  • There are rich layers of cultural diversity here from the Native Americans, to French settlers of the 17th century (Acadians), to the Scots, to the English, to the American and African American Loyalists.
  • Acadians and Cajuns have entirely different cuisines; the Acadian cuisine is very meat and potatoes with little spice, where as their ancestors some of whom became Cajuns borrowed spices and cooking styles from the Caribbean and Spanish.
  • The local scallops are so incredibly tasty in garlic sauce!
  • This community of Annapolis Royal has world class walking tours and a compact historic district. The inhabitants are fierce preservationists and very enthusiastic to tell you all about their heritage.
  • The cemetery by Fort Anne has four centuries of graves; I went on a lantern-lit graveyard tour last night.
  • The Annapolis River has amazing tidal patterns--the change is over 29 feet between high and low tide. The salt marshes remind me of Maryland, except that huge dikes are used to reclaim the fertile soil from the brackish rivers.
  • This is one of the most hotly-contested towns between the English and French in the whole New World; the town changed hands seven times and witnessed 13 battles.
  • No matter how far away you travel in North America, Harry Potter mania is there.
  • The locals apologized for the "hot weather," which has been roughly low 70s F both days and a bit humid. Compared to 95-degree Maryland swampiness this is cool and comfortable. I don't even mind that it's been overcast the whole time.
  • Okay, the downside--mosquitoes out in the evenings are every bit as bad here as back home.
I'll post more as I can and eventually formulate my observations into proper paragraphs.
Au revoir!

14 July 2007

The Chesapeake Bay: Then and Now

There are 12 people on a mission to look at the Chesapeake Bay from an unusual perspective. They are retracing the voyage of Captain John Smith on his explorations of the Bay in a 28-foot reconstruction of the shallop Smith and his crew sailed into the Bay 400 years ago. They are sailing and rowing their way to towns and cities, bringing an educational exhibit and recording the state of the Bay from their unplugged points-of-view as a modern-day crew with GPS, high-tech outdoor gear and camp stoves.

Exploring the Bay from Smith's route are a crew comprised of men and women sailors who come from diverse professional backgrounds including engineers, biologists, ecologists, anthropologists, historians and one forensic scientist. I have been reading their online journal this morning and have found some interesting comparisons and contrasts between their experiences on the Bay now and the experiences of the seventeenth-century English explorers recorded in Smith's journals. Native Americans no longer have a thriving culture on the Bay, but the 2007 crew is often relying upon the locals for supplementing their meager stores of food. Smith encountered a number of severe storms that forced him to land and occasionally ran aground. The 2007 crew has had to row quite a bit due to low winds lately, but they have also braved stormy weather and have had to struggle to put the boat back in the water after several groundings.

I do find it very haunting that Smith saw open vistas on the Chesapeake shoreline like this:
30 leagues we sayled more Northwards not finding any inhabitants, leaving all the Easterne shore, lowe Islandes, but overgrowne with wood, as all the Coast beyond them so farre as wee could see: the Westerne shore by which we sayled we found all along well watered, but very mountanous and barren, the vallies very fertill, but extreame thicke of small wood so well as trees, and much frequented with Wolves, Beares, Deere and other wild beasts.

The reconstructed shallop is now at the mid-way point in it's journey and is being celebrated all weekend at the Annapolis City Dock. This morning, the shallop will sail in a boat parade, then the Governor and other dignitaries will make speeches. The shallop will be on display 10-6 both July 14 and 15. I helped to plan an exhibit table for my employer, one of many Annapolis organizations that is welcoming the JS400 crew to Maryland's capital. I'll be helping with set-up today so I may stay downtown for the fanfare. Then tomorrow I work throughout the day helping to the staff the table along with volunteers. After reading the crew's journal I have become more aware of the significance of this recreation. There is something to be learned about the Bay now, as well as something to be taught about its past.

10 July 2007

Knitting and Contemplation

Definition from Webster.com:

Main Entry: con·tem·pla·tion Pronunciation: "kän-t&m-'plA-sh&n, -"tem-Function: noun
1 a : concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion
b : a state of mystical awareness of God's being
2 : an act of considering with attention : STUDY
3 : the act of regarding steadily

It has been six months since I have had the energy to post here in Pull of the Tides, but sometimes the work of a creative mind requires silences and spaces before expression results. Mainly the pause in self-expression on this blog has come from two major sources: from feelings of utter burn-out from work and from my need to ponder what I really want to be spending my waking hours doing. So I have been inside my cocoon for six months, while my mind turned inward in contemplation.

I work for a very small non-profit that is suffering from lack of leadership and a decreasing budget. Organizations like the one I work for often have a high turn-over in staff due to burn-out. There are just enough staff members to keep us running, but not enough to pull off the high rate of activity for too very long before the situation begins to crumble. There were too many 12-hour days this past spring. Many of the things I wanted to do in my personal life suffered from the time I gave to my job.

Like Penelope of Greek myth waiting for her husband Ulysses to return from his voyages, I have carefully unwound my thoughts of anxiety, frustration and uncertainty each night and started afresh with the goal of finding a way to improve my circumstances at work. For a while I experienced great frustration, and felt powerless to change my circumstances or to speak up. In recent weeks things have begun to shift again. There are more "a-ha" moments when I've managed to make a difference. I can now say that I think I have laid the groundwork for a less stressful fall at my job, at least that's what I hope.

I think what has preserved my sanity is that while I was focusing so much attention to work, I was remaining loyal to my desires to be more creative in my daily life. To make things gives me the sense of accomplishment that I often don't feel in my job. Working too hard or too much can create feelings of loneliness. The people around me have helped me to remain grounded to values I hold dear and have freed me to do the creative work I need to do.

So I focused my creative energies these past six months on knitting: knitting alone, knitting with different groups of friends, and making new friends through knitting.

I think this is something akin to what Betsy Greer has labeled "craftivism." I have building community through crafting. It has made a big difference to me that I have had friends with whom I can knit. I have a pair of friends who are voracious textile-makers and they are truly an inspiration to me. They have taught me that I need one big project and one small project (at minimum) so that I can keep the crafting going on at home and on the move. They literally knit anywhere they go. We went on a field trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival and learned that an afternoon is nice, but you won't be able to look at all of the yarn unless you go both days! Knitting can also be a form of reaching out to new friends. I also gave knitting lessons to a woman I met in yoga class to knit last December, and she is becoming a friend. In the cold months of late winter and into the spring thaw I organized knitting circles with three or four friends at a local tea shop or cafe.

Then, out of the blue just a few weeks ago, I had a long talk with a former co-worker. Somehow the conversation turned to knitting and I was astonished to learn that she loves to knit. It had never come up in the past. Immediately we launched into a conversation on our various projects. She introduced me to a knitting store I hadn't heard about that is about 40-minutes from where I live. It's worth the drive, especially on Wednesday nights when they open up the shop for "Sip 'N Knit" gatherings (wine, snacks and good company). So now my former co-worker and her roommate have introduced me to yet another community of boisterous and happy crafters.

It has taken me a while to realize that these crafty friends have been guiding me through and out of my quiet time of reflection, and have helped me to take action. Knitting a garment takes a lot of time, a lot of courage, in fact. Each stitch is small and laid so closely together with others, that I sometimes find myself surprised at how much fabric I have made during one sitting. Focusing deeply on this work is a form of contemplation. For me, it has almost spiritual, maybe "Zen" properties. Combining that with my love of spending time in good company and of enjoying good conversation has been my way of seeing through the rough patches of my life. As one online friend said, "Knitting is a wonderfully constructive way of using up negative energy."

Those rough patches at my job aren't over, but I have made a lot of progress on my blue cotton cardigan. I'm looking forward to tomorrow evening's Sip 'N Knit with the gals.