Dance Wherever You May Be

Do you ever look back at your life and think, if I’d gone in that direction, where would I be now?

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I can see one such fork in the path in my past. My best friend asked me to move in with her and share an apartment in the city. At the time I didn’t think I made enough money so I said no. If I had moved in to that apartment, I wouldn’t have ended up in the mountains. So very many things would have turned out different. I also wonder how many things would have turned out different for her, if I’d said yes.

Recently I was encouraging my son to look at different job options. He’s been applying all over for work but not having much luck. The words that left my mouth were along the lines of ‘stop-gap’ jobs, some money is better than none, you have bills to pay. Of course all those words were related to just one word – responsibility.

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And of course they were words he already knew.

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He told me later that he was going to have to quit school. He didn’t want to take on student debt, but he couldn’t afford the university, plus save for overseas trips he was going to have to take as a result of his courses, plus pay his bills. I told him we’d talk more when we met for lunch.

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A few hours later, it hit me.

In 1977 I was looking at what elective classes I had to take in my senior year. I wanted to take creative writing. I dreamed of being a writer. Not just a writer, but published. Only a few people at that time knew I wrote secretly. Voraciously. My mother talked me into taking a beauty school class.

Her arguments were persuasive. A job as soon as I graduated. A job I could ‘always fall back on’. A job that ‘would hold me over’. Plus I’d save the family money because they wouldn’t have to pay to get haircuts. And if I ever married or had kids, we’d save money there, too.

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I took the expected path. And wrote secretly for another twenty years.

Everything I’d just said to my son was a repeat of history – pushing him down the path of responsibility. Pushing him away from his dreams.

Shouldn’t we be able to dream until we learn the reality on our own?

Shouldn’t we be able to hold on to those dreams as long as possible?

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The problem has always been balancing the dreams with the responsibilities of life.

The problem is when there’s two paths to take, that middle ground is open territory with no trail. You’re bushwhacking with no compass. So most of us stick to the path, whichever it is and wherever it takes us.

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I want my son to pay his bills, to have benefits, to have financial security.

But the thing is, I want him to follow his dreams, too.

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All those paths before us. Do you remember when the roads forked before you? Can you pinpoint a time when you went in one direction, and what happened because of that choice?

I don’t regret where life landed me because of the path I took.

But I regret those twenty years.

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Inherited Memories

Do you ever wonder if the story you remember actually belongs to you, or if you’ve taken someone else’s history and made it your own?

I’m not talking about déjà vu.

I’m talking about northeastern Montana.

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My family homesteaded there. They’ve been populating those little towns for generations. Busily populating, mind you. They’re a prolific lot. It’s where my first father grew up and where we visited often, and where we still return. My youngest sister moved back there, I think to have that connection to our history and our family. Although things rarely turn out like we hope.

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The annual excursions involved an uncle taking us to the badlands. They spread across Bureau of Land Management country, private rangeland, and the Sioux reservation. You can see amazing wind-sculpted sandstone, countryside cut deeply by weather, and wild, unforgiving places where you can easily disappear. You can find agates and fossilized wood, dinosaur bones and fossils. It’s in the same area as the famous archaeological digs around Fort Peck. It’s a land that bares its age to the elements.

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On the way, we always stopped at this tiny store to stock up on water and soda for the uncle. Almost seventy years ago an eighteen-year-old boy died there, shot in a robbery. He was my uncle’s friend. Every time we walk in that store I wonder if my uncle sees the boy there.

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Every time we walk in that store I look for the boy because the story has become mine. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. My uncle tells it every time we drive that highway. I’ve absorbed the words into the sense of place so that it is tied up with heat and dry washes and old bones.

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Is the story true? Did it really happen? I have no idea. But it’s real.

Anyone who has spent time on this blog knows I’m a mountain and forest woman. I need rain and green and high mountains and the standing nation of tall trees.

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Badlands and ghosts of trees

But when I’m in that corner of Montana, it feels like home. It sinks into my much-younger bones. It feels like family and history, like my place in the universe. Even though I long for the whitewater rivers and high canyons when back there, the place still sings to my soul.

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Is it because so many generations of place created my DNA? Is it because I’ve breathed in all those stories until I believe them? Is it simply the memories of many visits running together over years?

I don’t know. Maybe stories can’t be separated from your past, or the past of those who tell them.

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Spinning Wheels

I’ve wanted to spin for years. Originally it was because I was fascinated by art forms that historically were necessities for life, and that seemed to be dying out. Like spinning, taking wool, and turning it into cloth.

That’s why I learned how to do bobbin lace, which I’ve posted about before. But as much as I enjoy making lace the slow way, lace isn’t essential to life.

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We’re not preppers, but we like to be prepared. Partly that’s because of the way we used to live. Partly that’s because one of these days the great Pacific Northwest earthquake is going to hit.

So I should be able to spin. There’s material out there to forage if you don’t have handy sheep. You can spin fireweed, cattail, rabbit fur. Heck, you can spin dog hair. If the world fell apart, I could put warm doggie-smelling sweaters around my family.

If I could spin, that is.

Which I can’t.

Years ago, my husband built me an Ashford spinning wheel. I worked that wheel for months. But I just could not get the wool to draw onto the wheel. For something that was supposed to be rhythmic and soothing, all it did was make me cuss and throw things.

I finally gave up and told my husband I couldn’t figure it out and would never be a spinner. I think there were some tears involved.

That’s when he said the problem was the footman, a piece that connects the foot paddle to the drive wheel. He’d had problems with it when putting the kit together and used a hammer.

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The bottom half isn’t supposed to look like that.

That was great news. It wasn’t me. A friend then gave me an Ashford castle wheel and I knew I was finally going to spin usable wool.

I had wool to practice on.

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I had my dream project wool, in heather colors.

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And nothing worked. The wheel eventually made its way to the attic, and the wheel my husband built made its way to a dark corner, where I’m sure it broods and thinks unkind thoughts about hammers.

For Christmas this year, my husband got me a spinning wheel maintenance kit, and pulled the castle wheel out of the attic. I pulled out the dusty books. Start Spinning, The Intentional Spinner (a holistic approach to making yarn), and Hands On Spinning. And of course, since those early days, there are now YouTube videos.

I also found the results of my first attempts. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the wool on the bobbin, and the ball, can’t be used for much. Well, the kitten is now playing with them, so I guess they’re usable.

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I spent today with beeswax and cloth, oiling the dry wood. I paged through the books, struggling to remember the language of spinning. The mother of all, the maidens, the flywheel, the tension springs and bobbins, the drive band and brake band. Just the ancient names make me itch to treadle that wheel and try again.

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The con rod joint is broken so the treadle isn’t connected to the arm, but that will be fixed shortly

There’s even a very old folk song for the rhythm of the spinning wheel:

Merrily cheerily noiselessly whirring/ Spins the wheel, rings the wheel while the foot’s stirring/ Sprightly and lightly and merrily ringing/ Sounds the sweet voice of the young maiden singing.

And guess what I learned today? In going through the books, I finally figured out that my castle wheel is a double drive wheel. Which means when I struggled with it years ago, I had the drive band on wrong because I thought it was a single drive wheel. Honestly, I didn’t even know the difference.

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The mother of all, with her upright maidens , tension knob, and the fly wheel in the middle

So maybe this time it will work.

In the meantime I’m going to practice treadling to the very old song and hope I might be able to create something for those I love.

And I’m going to daydream about the stories, the women down through time connected by wool and wheels.