Of Mulch and Memory

IMG_1483.JPGOf Mulch
Rent a chipper-shredder. Today. This week.  Rent the kind you have to tow with a truck.  Experience the thrill and teeth-rattling danger of converting years worth of yard debris into loose, dusty, soft mulch.  Spread it over your garden like a deep woodsy blanket and watch your plants flourish.  Did you know that the colors inside of trees are vastly different from the colors on the outsides?  Rent a chipper-shredder. Don’t believe me?  Watch the 4th episode of Malcolm in the Middle,   Season 1, “Shame”.

IMG_1482-0.JPGOf Memory.
Although there’s no way of proving it, I believe myself to have better than average color memory.  Occasionally, however,  a color shifts and glows in my mind, transforming into another thought entirely.  Such was the case with this yarn.  In reality, the mulch and stump veer more towards gray and black, tones at the center of my color wheel.  My dye recipe sticks more the edges of the wheel, closer to the primaries and tertiaries.  I love them both, the richness, the highlights, the depths and discords.

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Bluebonnets, YEAH!

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When I first moved to North Carolina, people mentioned the “red”bud trees blooming.  For quite a while, I was confused, thinking, “They’re not red, they’re purple.”  Many years later, I no longer care about color name accuracy because, just like politics, religion, and which is the best soccer team in the world, it’s a topic with endless opinions that will never be resolved.  Additionally, I realize that the calyx is sometimes red.  Years ago, canoeing on a lake, I witnessed groves of redbuds coming into bloom as the sun shifted and the water heated up.  When we put the canoe into the water in the morning, the hills were brown with twigs and dead leaves, but as we floated back in late afternoon bright drifts of pink and purple were glowing in the late afternoon sun.

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I spent my formative years on the east coast, mostly in the South. My clearest memories are of the outdoors, particularly in spring. The first flower to bloom in gardens and cemeteries was always the ubiquitous bright yellow naturalized daffodil. I vividly recall daffodils everywhere- in vases on buffet tables, around clothesline posts, popping up in abandoned fields and in exuberant rows alongside boxwood hedges.  Originally from Spain and Portugal, they divide and bloom without human intervention. Daffodils have the scientific name Narcissus, a reference to the Greek myth of a man who fell in love with his reflection.  A widely cultivated and fascinating plant, they contain a compound that may even help treat Alzheimers.

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The Yellow Rose of San Antone

San Antonio is, in this humble travelers’ opinion, underrated.  Despite its 1.4 million inhabitants, this second largest Texan city retains a quiet family-oriented demeanor in many neighborhoods.  Revitalization efforts have been in full swing during
the past few years resulting in new public spaces and the extension of the famous Riverwalk.

Skull Graffiti

Mosaic and tilted Window

Dog groomer and hair salon





My artistic challenge during the trip was simply YELLOW.  I ate on a yellow plate, took a picture of a yellow graffitied building, and photographed every yellow flower in sight.

Homemade Huaraches

Homemade Huaraches

Mole Poblano

Mole Poblano

Lunch at Cascabel Mexican Patio was delicious and reasonably priced.  Everything was fresh, homemade, and light.  Homemade limeade was tangy and refreshing.  Highly recommended– check the hours, they close before dinner and all day Sunday.




The Institute of Texan Cultures was hosting an exhibit dedicated to the outrageous hats created for the citywide Fiesta held every April.      The Institute is a sleepy museum catering to school groups and staffed by charming and knowledgeable docents.  Handspinning is demonstrated on an Ashford traditional of recent vintage, but an antique Great Wheel is also on display.  Cotton and wool are spun and then woven on a floor loom.

Complementary Colors

Colorful Fiesta Hat

Immigrants to Texas

Traditional Costumes of Texan Immigrants

Naturally colored cotton and wool handspun fabric.

Handspun and handwoven fabric on display at the Texan Institute of Cultures. From left, a Great wheel, Ashford wheel, and floor loom.









A pleasant surprise was the Las Colchas Fabric Shop.  The shop is advertised as a “quilt” shop, but it’s in fact a creative and vibrant fabric shop. Felting, embroidery, and garment construction are all displayed and taught.  The staff is helpful, generous, and engaging, and the work they do is top-notch.  In addition to standard printed cotton quilt fabrics, Las Colchas stocks fabrics suitable for garments and purses, including fabulous selections from Japan.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is fabulous, especially at night with the reflections and the sounds of live music drifting out of local restaurants.  The full loop is a couple of miles, with art installations ranging from sculptures to soundscapes and waterfalls.

Entrance to the Navarro Campus of the Southwest School of Craft

Mosaic bench

View from street level

The Grotto by Carlos Cortes

Who is this Navarro and why did I cross his street 50 times?

Riverwalk Mosaic of Navarro under his namesake bridge.

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The Sheep are Shorn

I was lucky enough to be invited to a fellow Guild member’s farm to see her sheep get their spring shearing, and to help skirt the fleeces.  Her flock are Navajo Churro, a rare breed developed in the Southwestern USA.  These sturdy, independent sheep are descended from Merino and Churra sheep brought to the New World by the Spanish in 1598.   The Fleece of the Navajo Churro is categorized as coarse and comprised of 2 or 3 types of fibers:  outer protective hairs, softer inner wool, and a small amount of Kemp (short brittle, hollow fibers.)  Churro fleece is often used in rug weaving because of its strength, long staple, and coarseness.


Freshly shorn fleece from a multicolor Navajo Churro ram.

Want to learn lots more about Navajo Churros?
Navajo-Churro Sheep Association
Navajo Sheep Project
Deep West Radio Audio and Video Documentaries

Shearing is a fascinating process, and happens much more quickly than I would have ever have guessed.  The Shearer starts at the belly and works out.  As he works, he sorts out belly wool along with any other parts of the fleece that are too short or filthy to be good for handspinning.  Amazingly, the fleece is kept nearly intact as he works, so that when the sheep is fully shorn, it’s as if it was only wearing fluffy wool blanket draped over its back.


We innocent bystanders skirted the fleece on a wire screen.  This labor intensive process removes vegetable matter, fibers that are too short, and undesirables such as insects and poop.


Skirting a ewe’s fleece.

All in all, a beautiful day that renewed my love of spinning and the critters who share their lovely wool with us.  I have immense respect for the hard work, knowledge and skill so abundant in Shepherdess and Shearer.


This adorable black lamb is about the size of a cocker spaniel.

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