Friday, January 29, 2010

A ski through the woods

A couple of days ago, I went out for my morning ski. It is wonderful excercise and gets you out in the open; an essential ingredient in fighting off "cabin fever," or the malaise caused by staying indoors. This time I took my camera with me. So we're off. Our objective is to extend the Westbound trail through the woods west of the house. First, however, we warm up.
This is my warmup piste, or track. It goes around my "backyard." Temperature is about -15C. There are 40-something cm of snow on the ground, under the usual for this time of year. The snow is nice at -15C, we get a good glide. I think -10 is ideal, but you takes what you gets. Four laps, and all gear secure, my boots are not coming unlaced, don't need the hand-warmer today. OK, onwards.

A short bit through the woods next to my driveway and we are at the Power Line Right-of-way, or PLRW for short. I spent most of my life in the computer business; acronyms are a way of life. We are facing north at this point, we will go right up the PLRW. I have beaten out a track there. Swish, swish and...
...we are at the northern end of the PLRW, facing west, about 150 meters from the last photo. Off to our left, the Reutov II house, beyond it, the Polushkin house. That's where we're headed, Still power line, but badly hacked by the hateful snow machines, or Satan Sleds as I call them. However, their unskiable tracks were dusted over by our last snowfall. So we head toward maison Polushkin.
About 40 meters behind Polushkin, we arrive at the West Expressway junction. The West Expressway is a semi-cleared track through the woods, going north-south, wide enough for a small car, a snow machine, or me. You can see my snowshoe tracks, going west like Horace Greeley. We will be back here, but for now we turn right, going N to pick up a trail I am hacking through the west woods. This is all track I have broken before, so it is quite fast.
We turn on to my Westbound trail, and as you can see, we are really in the deep dark Boreal woods. Deadfall all over the place. My track is zigzag to say the least; you can't go 20 meters without zigging (or zagging, as the case may be). There is usually a tree, a deadfall or brush in your way.

Eventually we reach the end of the broken trail, and it is time to break some more. I try for a few hundred meters a day. It is a big effort to break trail through snow. Your skis go down deep:
I have a pair of skis that were designed for Telemarking. I love them, not because I Telemark well (no hills for kilometers around!), but because they will float you in deep snow like this. They are really wide. Not bad for a $10 yard sale buy. Those narrow things they sell you as "cross-country skis" at high prices are good only on prepared tracks. Here at Chalupy, the only tracks available are those I make myself.

Eventually I run out of steam. Time to return. It is much easier going back because you are following broken trail. Eventually we arrive back at the Expressway Junction:
We are now facing due south. In the middle of the picture there is a small bright dot. That's the sunlight on the meadows at the end of the Expressway. We are going there, and we have about a Kilometer to go. It is easy skiing; we have a track and the snow machines have left it alone. This luck cannot last, but we enjoy it while we can.This is Moose Meadows, as I call it, at the end of the Expressway. There are often moose there, hence the name but today (because I have the camera) there is nary a moose. My tracks can be seen off to the left. Moose Meadows is a rough ski unless there is a meter or so of snow to fill in the bumps. In summer, it is a swamp.

So off we go to the left (previous photo faces south) and go some 400 meters, and we arrive at the desolate Ghost House:
The former owners of this place were killed in an automobile accident. There are a few vehicles, like the trailer at left, junked around the place; a hole in the ground. And no doubt ghosts. We ski on by. We come to the Ghost House driveway:
This leads right to my own driveway, maybe 400 meters, we're almost done. I like the Ghost house driveay, it's fast unless the moose have torn holes in my tracks.
And we're home. We have been out an hour and a half, but some of that was spent taking pictures. Taking a picture at -15C is not at simple as it sounds. If you let the camera hang around your neck, the batteries give up in the cold. So you have to stuff the camera down your warm clothes, So before you take a picture you unzip any number of zippers (and you have great big mitts and ski poles to deal with, too) and pull the camera out and check the mode and take the picture, and then reverse the process to put the camera away.

Alaska is wonderful. The dreaded winter is not so dread, if only you get out in it for a bit.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A small Navajo loom

As you have probably figured out, I am fascinated by weaving. I must have picked this up from my father, who made looms and wove at a like age. Anyhow, I owe this one to a Science Fiction novel! I picked up a book by R. M. Meluch and loved it. Space Opera, true, but sometimes that's just the ticket. One of the items on RM's home page is titled "Navajo loom." Munch. Got the bug. And so I set out to find out about Navajo (sometimes spelled Navaho, and that's the way I would spell it, but modernity triumphs) is a primitive loom. It is used to weave gigantic rugs, worth a great many dollars, pounds, or euros. A rug is beyond my capabilites, I reasoned, but not a place mat. So I set out to build a Navajo place mat loom. The first requirement is a very sturdy frame:
Since I am not doing rugs, the thing is about waist-high. I had a scrap 2x4 which I sawed in half, that set the maximum height of the loom. Besides that, you need a whole bunch of sticks -- easy to come by -- and a warping frame. The warp, on any loom, is the set of long threads that will be crossed by the weft threads. At this point I was following directions from a book by Rachel Brown, which you can also Google. An excellent book, highly recommended if you want to do this kind of weaving. I didn't have the whole book, but a photocopied excerpt (thanks to my daughter and her contacts) so really I didn't know what I was doing. But this is the way we learn. My waping frame looked like this:
I will call this warping frame 0.0. There is a a warp on it, it is strung up as a figure 8 around the horizontal bars. There are two sticks in the middle tied together which keep the figure 8 from disappearing. This is called preserving the lease in weaverspeak. At the bottom of the figure I am sewing the bottom stick to the bottom selvedge, The bottom selvedge (probably a corruption of self-edge) is a twisted bunch of strings around the warp edges. Rachel Brown tells you how to do it. Among the many things I did not know was that this selvedge is critical. It acts a warp spacing device. For those of us not used to primitive looms, where you have some gadget to do the spacing (like a reed on a modern loom) you will be in trouble if you don't get it right.

Having sewn both top and bottom selvedges to the corresponding sticks, you can now string up your loom:
I omitted to tell you that you must string up the heddle stick for your loom. This is the bottom stick in the middle of the loom. A series of string loops winds about every other thread. This allows you to make a shed, i.e, pull every other string ahead of the others; in weaving you alternate sheds. You can see the heddle stick better here:
You can also see the tensioning arrangement, simply a piece of cord (parachute cord, in fact) wound around the top of the frame! The thing is crying out for modifications, but they will have to wait. I want to see how it works!
I have made every mistake in the book, plus some brand-new ones I invented myself, but there is weaving and there is a design. Bad, cockeyed, whatever, but iy's a design, by gum. One of the beauties of the Navajo loom is that you don't have to weave a row at a time . You can work on an area and then fill in the remainder. It's a lot like painting. I'm approaching the top and the threads are crowding together. Getting harder to weave. Rachel Brown warned me, so I am not surprised. At the end, I was using a darning needle and a lot of sweat.
And she is finished. A real Navaho weaver would be in hysterics by thi point, but you won't learn anything until you try, and if you don't make mistakes you won't learn anything either.

Most of my problems can be traced back to improper warping. Obviously warp frame 0.0 was inadequate. It kept coming apart, twisting, and misbehaving. Time for a major upgrade. Behold warp frame 1.0 (new release):
I finshed this shortly after noon. Much sturdier. Couldn't resist, cast on a warp.
Note the two sticks preserving the lease. Will it bomb? Will it be a rave? No idea. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Spoons grow on trees

Spoon carving is a fascinating art. I was introduced to it by Drew Langsner's book "Country Crafts;" it is also covered in some of his later books. Basically, you start with a tree and make the piece of tree into a spoon. It is, or can be, a totally indoor craft, and therefore possible when the temperature is (as today) -24C. This picture illustrates the process:
At left, a piece of a (largish) birch branch that I rescued from the all-consuming firewood heap. The next step is to split this in half, and chop out the outline of the spoon with a hatchet. It is also possible to saw the thing out. For scoop-type spoons (third from the left) I prefer the hatchet. For really curvy things we use the turning saw:
This is a homemade frame with a 6mm bandsaw blade. I buy bandsaw blades at yard sales for just such purposes. The blade can be set to any angle. In fact it is a hand-powered bandsaw. One way or another you rough out the spoon, and then proceed to carve. Partially carved spoons are next in the picture. The tools of the trade are shown on the right of the top picture. At the far right, the invaluable and indispensable Swedish Sloyd Knife. "Sloyd" (written, as I understand it, slojd in Swedish) means "craft" in that language. The one shown is a Erik Frost 6cm model. Then there is a gouge and another Frost tool, a hook knife. These are used for hollowing out the bowls. Sometimes the gouge works better, most of the time I use the hook knife. On the upper right corner of the red cloth, there is a scraper made out of a piece of old sawblade. This is used to smooth out the finished spoon. In the spoon-carving fraternity, "sandpaper" is a dirty word. Yes, it does smooth things. But it obscures the grain, and makes things look machine-made. The spoons are carved green; the final smoothing and details are added when the wood is dry. You must dry out the wood very slowly. Old-timers used sawdust; modern technology -- a zip-lock bag -- is much easier. Turn the bag out daily and let it dry. If it dries too fast it will crack, and your work is wasted.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of pages on the 'net on spoon carving. One could do worse than start here. Or google something like "wooden spoon carving."

Drew Langser's website (linked above) has a section on bowl carving
which is spoon carving on a much larger scale. If you're interested, all of his books are relevant. Except the chairmaking books, of course; but they are most interesting.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Voila, tableaux!

Having made all those miniature carving tools, the time had come to do something with them, besides carving ducks. I wonder if I can do a human figure? Hmmm. I was inspired by a style that in Venezuela is called "Selva Negra.", i.e. Black Forest, after the German Schwartzwald. This is rustic carving, not fine art. Fine art is all very well, but it is neither my interest nor my ability. So was born Woodsman. Picture will follow. When you come right down to it, carving a human figure is not unlike carving a duck. Start with a block of wood and cut away anything that doesn't look like a duck, or a human as the case may be. Woodsman sat on my table for many days -- I was quite proud of it, rustic though it may be -- and eventually I though he needed a companion. Out with the wood scraps I collect; sketch, saw, chip --- and so we have Axeman, in keeping with the forest motif. Then I began to think of a tableau. When I was in French class in High School, we dreaded the command "au tableau", which meant that we had to step up to the blackboard and perform. But I subsequently learned that tableau has other meanings, such as "an arrangement". Here is the woodsman tableau, before I put it on the wall:
Woodsman, with a stick in hand (actually a barbecue skewer) is behind at right. He is 85mm tall, that sets the scale for this tableau. Axeman is behind, somewhat washed out by the flash on the camera. His axe was made in the same way my carving tools were, from a chainsaw recoil starter spring. The two sawyers were very difficult to carve; they are not symmetrical, so you can't just saw them out and start carving. Their saw is another piece of chainsaw spring. It has teeth filed in it, and it actually cuts, but slowly because setting the teeth would be a monumental task.

Having done this one, the next thing that practically made itself was the Darth Spader tableau:Left to right, Obi-Farm Kenobi, Ham Solo, the Darthall tractor, and Darth himself. They are two-dimensional, of course. After all, they are cartoon characters. You haven't met Ham Solo, I believe. He is, of course, a pig. Other pigs in this (developing) deama are Leia Organic and Luke Stywalker. Three little pigs...

The tractor deserves a post all by itself. It is one of my favorite creatures.

I am now working on the crafts tableau. There will be a weaver, a blacksmith, and a carpenter at least. But that's a whole nother post.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Flashback: Garden 2009

Winter is here. There are 30cm (or a foot in gringo units) of snow on the ground, and more on the way. This is, after all, Alaska. So it might be fun to flash back to last year's garden. It reminds you that summer will come again. All part of living. If you like green all year round, move to the tropics. I grew up there, and I find it boring. Anyway, this is garden 1.3. Here it is, early summer ought-nine:
Note the radishes at my feet. As big as a potato. They should have been pulled earlier, but I'm not used to the idea of 30-day radishes. Also note the pretty purple-pink flowers in the background. That's fireweed. The leaves make a useful addition to salads. I was amazed to find that this grows in Finland, and I assume Norway and Sweden as well. Here are some turnips. The knife gives an idea of scale:
Not bad. Couldn't enter them in the state fair, but good eating! And we have cauliflower, broccoli, and another turnip. The secret of cauliflower is to tie up the outer leaves. This blanches the head, and keeps it solid. Who knew? My first attempts all went to seed.
Eventually late August comes; time to dig potatoes. My volunteer crew at work; my daughter and her friend:
And the final payoff:
This shot is posed! And composed. But the veggies are real. I'm dining off of them now. There is no comparison between store-bought and home-grown veggies. Different species. As Darth Spader might say, "my plans for agricultural domination are progressing."