Tags Posts tagged with "winter"

winter

The Island’s winter palate is spare and exquisitely subtle.

Skimmias take well to propagation. – Photo by Susan Safford

Celebrate winter

As I emerge into winter and the newly born year (from the holiday haze, cleverly designed to coincide with the solstice stupor), I find the sun stronger, the cold deeper, and improved mental clarity.

Appropriate to the Vineyard winter, the Guardian’s Alys Fowler wrote about her love of winter, and expresses it wellhere: theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/29/some-like-it-cold

“If you embrace our winter in all its dripping wetness, its desolate cold, its bleak grey, then it’s possible to find happiness in the places you least expect. … There is a loneliness to the winter landscape; the whole story is no longer on show, entire chapters are now stored underground.”

Winter’s palette

Dwellers in the temperate zone enjoy four seasons, and many play the game of “favorite one.” I used to feel my favorite was whichever we were currently in, because they are all good. No, wonderful!

In actuality, I always had an affinity for Island winter. I love its stillness, and the Island’s winter palette is spare and exquisitely subtle. Take away the contented opulence of summer, and what do you have? It’s green all over. Take away spring’s fragility and rich promise, and one may be weighed down with the sense of Time’s onward rush.

Autumn comes a close second to winter’s appeal, with its golden light and deeper blue skies and the unstated tension of the coming changes. However, I delight in the spaciousness of winter skies. The contrast of their vast cloudscapes with the Island’s intimate landscapes wins my senses, over and over.

However, our requirements for the winter scenery of our domestic spaces often dictate greater coziness; we employ evergreens to contradict the hardness of winter and mitigate its bleak aspects. Evergreens break Venturi effects’ icy blasts around buildings, and provide wildlife with someplace to take shelter.

I enjoy the beautiful shadings of browns and grays of the native woods around my house, but even more so in contrast to the white pines, hollies, yews, rhododendrons, firs, spruces, and skimmias planted nearby that soften them.

Deer will browse some of the above over the course of winter, but not the charming muffin mounds of the skimmias. They will be left intact. I fail to understand why skimmias are not more widely planted here on the Island, where they associate well with rhododendron, azalea, and holly, and do a good job of fronting them in shrubberies. The ideal planting site is in moist, well-drained soil, in shady spots.

The usually suggested forms of these dioecious broadleaf evergreens, in the Rutaceae family, are a heavily fruiting female cultivar such as S. japonica “Nymans,” and a good male pollinator such as “Rubella.” My male skimmia is covered with flower panicles of a deep dusty red, and is very decorative. The female, however, surpasses it in sheer red and green power, and takes the eye from several feet away with its clusters of large, shiny red fruits, surrounded by glossy mid-green leaves.

As seen in the image, planting in partial sunshine may have led to yellowing of the foliage.

Skimmias may seem pricey at the nursery, but a little secret is that they take well to propagation, either by layering or rooted cutting, or by sowing fresh seed, which germinates well once cleaned of the fleshy drupe.

In the garden

Winter days on the Vineyard can be exhilarating and beautiful, and having some outside work to do is a great antidote to stale, dry indoor air. There is always more to do, small jobs and details, as an excuse to be outside.

Alys Fowler’s column continues, “But I most love getting to know my local trees. It is now that they show off their secrets, the hidden nests and hollows, the comic twists of their limbs, how they tap on their neighbour’s [sic] shoulder, how they let the ivy wrap them up — or not. …

While you’re looking up, take in the winter clouds — snow-laden waves of cotton fluff perhaps, but more often ominous sheets of ash and lead. … For once you start to celebrate winter for what it is, there’s not nearly enough of it.”

The lack of cold temps has brought tips of narcissus and snowdrops, among other bulbs, to the soil’s surface early. Mulching these with something — old straw, leaves and leaf litter, or evergreen branches of cut-up Christmas trees — may help avoid winter damage to them during the Island’s notorious freeze/thaw cycles.

Many small branches and twigs with clusters of leaves attached, I find, have also rained down from the oak trees, a result of various twig-pruner insects such as cynipid gall wasps and carpenter ants. Clear them away and add to compost piles; their addition is valuable due to a high ratio of bark to wood.

It is gratifying to observe how one’s plants have grown, but many will have added growth that may be headed in the wrong direction. Improve it with human intervention. Winter pruning may take place at any time now; observe basic pruning rules.

1) Usesharptools: pruning saws, loppers, and clippers. 2) Locate the branch collar, the slight fold where a branch diverts from its parent limb. Correct pruning cuts are made just outside this fold, leaving a small bump or nub that will callus over. 3) For any pruning requiring a saw, make an undercut to prevent injurious stripping of bark.

Clear “leaf muddles” from evergreen shrubs such as yews, box, skimmia, and shrub hollies. These leaf muddles catch snow and ice. When frozen, these weigh plants down and split them open.

A small branch of hybrid witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia “Jelena,” has chosen to burst into bloom, early but welcome. Many flowering shrubs such as witch hazel, or the familiar forsythia, force well. Try some!

A season of Wampanoag cookery.

Among the Wampanoag, winter months are known as the Time of the Long Moon. – Photo by Steve Myrick

For earth-wise indigenous peoples, intimate and profound knowledge of the seasons form the rich foundation of cultural sustainability over millennia. The traditional cookery of the Wampanoag of the Cape and Islands evolved in harmony with what the land and sea could provide, with the innovative techniques the people employed to yield a rich bounty, and with the cyclic turning of the dramatic New England seasons.

wampanoag_cookery“We began planning for the cold season long before it arrived,” writes Chief Flying Eagle of the Mashpee Wampanoags in the Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook, co-written by Betty Breen of Falmouth. “The pole beans would be tied together with the squash and corn to unite the Three Sisters. Most onions, carrots, and beets were kept in the salt hay and soil in the cellar, but some were left in the ground under salt hay to sweeten with the first frost… Meanwhile, because of the cold, we’d be getting ready to slaughter a pig.”

Winter months, or Quinne Keeswush, Papsaquoho, Paponakeeswush, are also known as the Time of the Long Moon, the season when the darkness of night has seized the sky and the cold of winter has seized the land. In traditional times, dried legumes, berries, vegetables, cured meats, and seasonings would be collected and stored carefully in pits, near or inside the wigwams. Wampanoag Cookery, published by the Boston’s Children’s Museum in 1974, says that people “lined the pits with mats, carefully put in their dried vegetables, meats, and nuts and covered the pit with another mat and heaped earth on top of all of it. When people needed food in the winter, they would get it from these pits, with the exception of a fish caught through the ice or animals taken in traps.”

Recipes survive as a complex interplay of oral and active traditions. Foodways evolve with modernized techniques and ingredients, yet seek to replicate the essence of how a dish tasted the first time, way back, in our unalterable cultural sense-memory. “Winter is the time when the land rests,” says Wampanoag Cookery, and yet the simple abundance of the traditional table should be admired for the inspired dishes that sustained and warmed people as the wind and ice wrapped the darkest days of the year.

Deer Stew
Recipe by Helen Attaquin, as it appears in Wampanoag Cookery

Brown two to three pounds of deer meat cut into pieces in bacon fat. Add two large sliced onions and continue browning. When nicely browned, stir in 3 tbsp. flour and place in baking dish. Add 2 tbsp. vinegar, 3 tbsp. ketchup, 1 tbsp. sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the meat with water and bake at 375ºF degrees for two to three hours, until the meat is tender, adding water if necessary to keep the meat covered. When done, thicken the gravy and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

Gay Head Beach Plum Porridge
Recipe by Rachel Jeffers, as it appears in Wampanoag Cookery

First parboil raisins (beach plums) and pour off the water. Then add fresh water and boil until tender. Heat milk and add sugar to taste, also butter and nutmeg. Then add a bit of flour thickening.

Wild Duck
Recipe by Earl Mills Sr., Chief Flying Eagle, as it appears in Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Stuff duck cavity with sliced apples and celery tops. Place strips of bacon over the breast and add 1½ cups of water or chicken stock, along with the neck and giblets, to the pan. For a well-done duck, roast 15 minutes per pound, basting every 15 minutes with the fat stock in the pan, along with a mixture of 2 tbsp. of butter and ½ cup red wine.

Goodin’ Puddin’ and Goodin’ Puddin’ Pie
Recipe by Ruth Ellis and Norman and Shirley Stolz, as it appears in Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease 8” by 4” by 4” loaf pan with 2 tsp. cooking oil. Add 1 cup cranberries, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ cup chopped nuts to loaf pan. Beat ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup melted butter, and 1 egg until smooth. Fold in flour and pour mixture over berries. Bake for 45 minutes. You may double the recipe and bake in a deep-dish pie plate, for 6 to 8 servings.

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The Windemere Nursing Home in Oak Bluffs. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Say happy birthday to Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center at its 20th anniversary Winter Wonderland open house this Sunday, December 14, at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. The free event, from 1 to 6 pm, will include holiday decorations, tours of the Center, music, and seasonal refreshments. Guests will have a chance to meet with the staff and listen to informational presentations at 2:30 and 4:30 pm. For more information, visit windemeremv.org.

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Martha’s Vineyard knitting groups create more than scarves and hats.

Knitter Martha MacGillivray tries on her mother Marcia's unfinished hat. — Photo by Susan Safford

Knitworks in Vineyard Haven was cozy and welcoming as several women arrived on a chilly Tuesday evening for their weekly drop-in knitting group.

Martha’s Vineyard knitting groups create more than scarves and hats.
Martha’s Vineyard knitting groups create more than scarves and hats.

A vintage Island home with a comfy lived-in feeling, the shop boasts several small rooms, each overflowing with yarns in every conceivable color and texture.
The skeins and balls include custom-dyed exotic fiber blends from around the globe and sturdy Island-grown yarns in natural earthy tones.

There are knitting needles of every size, crochet hooks, buttons, ribbons, miscellaneous notions, books, patterns, and fiber magazines.

Hand-knit sample items — scarves, hats, a toddler’s dress, a glamorous shawl, multicolor gloves, fluffy afghan — are displayed, examples of how the yarn can be used, inspiring even the novice knitter to give it a try.

Making the atmosphere especially enticing was the sweet aroma of a traditional chocolate babka baked by Liz Toomey, an assistant at the shop and experienced fiber artist who shares hosting duties for the groups with store owner Alix deSeife-Small.

An accomplished knitter and textile designer, Ms. deSeife-Small began the shop in 2010. Along with yarn and supplies, she offers classes and custom-made knitted clothing.

A tea kettle whistled softly and a bottle of red wine stood ready for pouring as knitters settled down at the round kitchen table, pulled out projects, and got to work.

Celine Segel, a web designer with MVOL, spread her vibrant orange lacework shawl out on the tabletop as she counted stitches. There was a chorus of admiring compliments from the others.

Close-up of Macia MacGillivray's knitted hat.
Close-up of Macia MacGillivray’s knitted hat.

Ms. Segel, who also designs chainmaille jewelry, said she originally learned to knit from her grandmother as a little girl growing up in France. Now 34, married, and settled on the Vineyard, she took the craft up again four years ago, when she was deeply missing her grandmother. Along with affirming that warm connection, Ms. Segel admitted knitting helps her sit still.

Two mother-daughter pairs were at the table. Stephanie Thibert, Ms. Toomey’s daughter and Toy Box staffer, was casting on green yarn for a hat pattern she had just discovered. Ms. Toomey was working on a scarf in a textural “linen stitch,” using a wool and silk blend.

Marcia MacGillivray, a familiar smiling face at the Toy Box for years, was pluckily knitting away on a creamy beige hat, while her daughter, Martha, was beginning a black and white alpaca one. Both were modest about their knitting skills, poking affectionate fun at themselves and one another.

Close-up of Liz Toomey's knitted scarf.
Close-up of Liz Toomey’s knitted scarf.

Martha, who works with young special needs children for an early intervention program, said they are making hats for gifts. Inspiration came when one of her brothers requested a hat this Christmas. Mother and daughter worked hard, but after three rejects, only one was “wrappable.”

“This is the beginners’ side of the table,” she quipped. “We only can do hats.”

Martha MacGillivray recalled knitting sweaters when her grown children were little. She picked up her needles again after moving to the Island where her mother and father, legendary fisherman Donald MacGillivray, have lived for years. “Now I’m here with Mom; it’s [been] our winter project.”

When Marcia’s hat was nearly done, her daughter modeled it, needles still in place, for all to admire.

Yarn-Knitworks-rolls.jpg

A day earlier, the Monday afternoon group gathered, begun by knitters who prefer daytime meetings. Sunlight filtered through the kitchen windows, making the yarn glow.

 Carole Early at the Monday afternoon group.
Carole Early at the Monday afternoon group.

Carole Early was triumphantly nearing the top of her navy blue “mutt beret.” “I combined two patterns,” she explained. A busy volunteer with Vineyard Committee on Hunger and the Island Food Pantry, Ms. Early started knitting 14 years ago.

Hospice grief counselor Susan Desmerais immersed herself in a cloud of fluffy mossy-hued yarn flecked with brilliant accents called “Spiceberry,” fast becoming a fashionable scarf.

At another Monday meeting, newcomer Ljuba Davis had just finished casting on stitches of gossamer soft mohair, “Primrose” pink with twinkling silver sparkles. It would be a scarf for her daughter. “She’s very soft and has tinkley laughter,” said Ms. Davis fondly.

Nancy Weaver’s attention was consumed by an elegant avocado-green cardigan. Finishing the sleeves, she left the table several times to consult with Ms. Toomey about a challenging stitch pattern.

Needles clicked, stitches were counted and recounted, dropped and retrieved, rows added up, progress measured, patterns studied with intense concentration.

“I like the company of other women,” said Ms. Desmerais. “There’s something about the rhythm of knitting that relaxes people. The conversation can be light-hearted but also can become very deep.”

Ms. Early agreed heartily. “But also if you get stuck with something, someone can show you.”

Susan Desmarais (right, with Ljuba Davis) said the rhythm of knitting relaxes people.
Susan Desmarais (right, with Ljuba Davis) said the rhythm of knitting relaxes people.

Conversation drifted from knitting to work, travel, family. Over the course of three meetings, women mulled the fate of the Malaysian airliner, joked about consulting Siri on their iPhones, critiqued several Island eateries, shared thoughts on Buddhism, changes at the VNA, a tempting tip about a French bakery in Falmouth, pictures of grandchildren. One member was nervous about a Boston medical treatment that week. Others offered encouragement, and began planning a celebration dinner out for when she returned.

“We talk about anything and everything,” Ms. Desmerais said. “We don’t gossip, though.”

All were unanimous that since conversation can be distracting, it’s smart not to bring complicated projects.

At all the meetings, eventually talk circles back to knitting again, especially when someone has a problem, question, or is confused about a next step.

“It’s all knit and purl, knit and purl,” Ms. Toomey said, reassuring the women that even the most elaborate and involved pattern is made up of those basic stitches. Learn to knit and purl, she implied, and nothing will be beyond your reach!

More knitting

There are many other opportunities on the Island for knitters and needle workers to get together for advice, support, and companionship. Drop-in groups are free.

At the Heath Hen Yarn & Quilt Shop off State Road in Vineyard Haven, knitters gather the first Tuesday of each month for an “Unfinished Project Night,” and a summer evening drop-in group meets weekly at Eastville Beach.

Fiber Folks of Martha’s Vineyard meets the second Sunday afternoon of every month, September to May, at the Ag Hall in West Tisbury. Handcrafters of all kinds, all levels are welcome (508-274-9696). Informal knitting groups are often held at Island libraries, senior centers, and elsewhere.

For the novice, or experienced knitter seeking to learn more, classes and lessons are offered at Knitworks, Heath Hen Yarn Shop, and Island Alpaca Farm in Oak Bluffs. Tuition is charged.

Information on groups and classes: Knitworks, 508-687-9163; Heath Hen, 508-693-6730; Fiber Folks, 508-274-9696; Island Alpaca Farm, 508-693-5554.