on seasons

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A bit related to my post on darkness: today I’m thinking about seasons.

For awhile now I’ve found it curious how so much our modern (western) society chooses to strictly adhere to the astronomical seasons as the only true definition of “season” (that is to say, the idea that each solstice or equinox marks the first day of a new season). As if seasons have borders. The winter solstice is December 22 this year, but does that mean that December 21 is “technically” still autumn? Plenty of people would say yes to that question, but for any of us who live in a climate where it’s been snowing already, that actually makes zero sense. Autumn one day, winter the next? (Maybe so, but that day came weeks ago here.) Perhaps printed calendars have something to do with it, but the older I get the more bizarre I find it, all the same.

In some ways I feel like social media has amplified this effect in my own life – many of the people I follow, and I myself, often post about the changing seasons at the solstices and equinox. (See a few of my old examples here and here) But the more I see posts about how it’s not “technically” some season yet but it sure feels like it is, the less relevant this strict adherence to astronomical seasons feels. So I guess I’ve been craving something different. Does it “sure feel like winter”? Cool, sounds like it’s winter to me.

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There are, both today and historically, different ways to define or conceptualize a season. Many places have or have had only two seasons: either a summer/winter dichotomy, or in more tropical regions, a wet season and a dry season. The Nordic countries are one of the regions that historically only distinguished between winter and summer – which makes the idea that Midsummer happens around the summer solstice make much more sense. I’m sure there must be others, but that’s the example I’m most familiar with.

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Even in four-season models, there are different boundaries for the four seasons. I’ve already mentioned the astronomical sense, where the seasons begin on the corresponding solstice or equinox. But do you know about meteorological seasons? Professional meteorologists in many regions use these definitions, and they correspond very neatly to three-month chunks: with winter beginning December 1, spring on March 1, summer on June 1, and autumn on September 1 (this is vindication for all you autumn-lovers out there who consider it autumn once the calendar hits September – remember this piece of information and you can use it next time someone tries to tell you “but it’s no technically autumn until September 21/22”).

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There are systems with six seasons, systems that pay no mind to the calendar at all but rather correspond to temperature or other natural or ecological cues, and other ways of marking seasons that you’ve probably never even considered. The “Season” Wikipedia page actually has a lot of interesting information about all of this, if you find all of this as fascinating or as liberating as I do to learn about.

It goes without saying that I speak from my own perspective as someone who grew up and has always lived in the northern hemisphere, so the dates here correspond to that. The photos in this post are all from 2015-2017, when we were living in Tromsø (which is probably the place where I started to disengage from the supremacy of astronomical seasons, because they made so little sense there beyond the summer/winter distinction).

love letter to norway

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I’m just back from a 10-day trip to Norway. I mentioned in my last post that Norway had been on my mind lately, and thinking ahead to this trip is part of why. It was the first trip back since my husband and I moved away a year ago, and we visited three cities spanning the country on this trip (Tromsø, where we lived for two years, Trondheim, and Oslo). There was so much to enjoy, and I did my best to soak it all up.

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I love this time of year in Norway – early September in northern Norway means the birches are just beginning to turn golden, and the cool air was a respite after the grueling hot summer Montreal has had. We were extremely lucky with the weather, and enjoyed clear skies for most of our trip, and even got to wave hello at the northern lights again in Tromsø (I have missed the northern lights).

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In Trondheim, the maples were beginning to turn orange and red, which made my heart very happy. I hadn’t spent much time in Trondheim before, but it is a charming little city.

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And in Oslo, I walked some of my favorite oft-trodden paths. I’m incredibly fond of the little wooded paths southwest of Frognerparken, called Skøyenparken. Even though most of the leaves were still green on the trees and flowers were still in bloom around the city, here you could see that fall is coming.

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The trip left me with a lot to think about – and for me, ten days isn’t nearly enough for a trip to Norway anymore (especially when divided between three cities). It was lovely to visit old haunts, see old friends, hear and speak Norwegian again instead of French. But I’m also glad to be back home in my own apartment now, ready to dive into work for this fall after a very busy August. There’s a lot of exciting stuff on the horizon and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you. I hope that you’re having a good September wherever you are.

FO: norwegian wool dalur

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I finally had a chance to get some photos of my finished Dalur this week. I mentioned in this post that I’d finished it, but that this post would have to wait until after my thesis was in – and here it is! This has been a really special project for me, so giving it a proper FO post feels important, and I want to share some of the details with you all.

I’m pretty pleased with the photos I finally got of this sweater, which I took last night around 11 PM while I was out for my daily walk – and yes, you read that time right (thanks, midnight sun!). If you’re sitting in summer-like temps as you read this, I apologize if the photos make you break out in a sweat, but I was actually even more bundled up for the walk. I removed my jacket, scarf, hat, and fingerless gloves to take these photos, as it was about 3°C / 38°F when I was shooting. Nonetheless, I hope you like the photos too, and I hope they give you a sense of how this sweater fits seamlessly into my current landscape and northern climate.

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first shared my plans for making this sweater back in March, at the beginning of Tolt Icelandic Wool Month. The grey yarn used in this sweater was originally slated for a different project last year, but it wasn’t the right yarn or the right pattern for the recipient, really, so it went on the back burner until I could figure out what to do with it. While the pattern is Icelandic (from Knitting with Icelandic Wool), the yarn is not. I used all Norwegian wool for this particular sweater, and I can’t sing its praises enough. The charcoal and the grey are both Hifa Blåne, whose fiber comes from the pelssau, or literally “fur sheep,” a breed that resulted from crossing Gotland with the old Norwegian spælsau, both northern heritage breeds. I have mentioned in the past that Blåne reminds me a little bit of Álafoss Lopi, although it’s not an exact match. Blåne is made up of two distinct plies, while the structure of Lopi more closely resembles a single ply yarn. Both yarns are “hairy,” but I’d call Blåne better behaved, if that makes any sense – the hairy fibers are less unruly than they are with Lopi. In some of the closer shots you may be able to see the slight halo that results when Blåne is knitted into a fabric.

The grey used in the sweater is the natural undyed color of the Blåne, which doubles as the base for the dyed shades. This meant I needed a different yarn for my white contrast, and I opted for Hifa Troll, a bulky weight from the same company with the same structure as Blåne, but I believe Troll made from wool from the norsk kvit sau (the hybrid Norwegian white sheep, which is very common in Norway). I went for the bleached white because I wanted a high contrast between the different colors in the stranded sections.

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I wrote a little bit about making this sweater on Instagram when I first finished it. The pattern is a relatively straightforward bottom-up seamless circular yoked pullover. The biggest modification I made was that I added short rows to the back of the sweater before beginning the yoke for a better fit around the neck (there are no short rows in the pattern as written). I also added length to the body and the sleeves, although I went a bit overboard with the body, because I underestimated my yoke depth (I deliberately used a slightly larger gauge because I liked the feel of the finished fabric). My quick fix was to take scissors to my fully finished and blocked sweater – I cut the body apart at a point where I had joined a new ball of yarn, frogged about 2″ of length, put top and bottom halves of the body back on needles, and then grafted it back together using Kitchener stitch. Full disclosure: I honestly really enjoy Kitchener stitch, so this process was a no brainer to get the finished length I wanted. I’m really happy with the length of the body now, but I kept the extra-long sleeves. (I’m six feet tall and wear a small or medium on top, so ready-to-wear sleeves are never, ever long enough for me. These super long ones are like a special luxury.) The final modification I made was to do a tubular cast on for the body and sleeves, and a tubular bind off at the neck.

A heads up to any of you who may want to make Dalur for yourself: some (though not all) of the colorwork rounds involve carrying three yarns at once, so I wouldn’t recommend it to total newbies of colorwork. If you struggle to work with more than two yarns at once in colorwork, you may find a stranding guide like this one a useful tool to help keep your yarns separated.

I’m SO pleased with how this yoke turned out, and so happy to finally share it with you all. It’s gotten a lot of wear in the past month and I think I’ll probably be able to continue wearing it in the evenings through the summer. If you’re interested in more details (like the exact amounts of yarn I used), you can find my Ravelry project page for Dalur here.

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late may postcard

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My thesis is turned in (hurra!) and the midnight sun began about a week ago, both of which sound like markers of summer’s approach, but we’re still trying to free ourselves from winter’s grasp up here in the north. Tromsø has been declared “snow-free” based on the marker outside the weather station, and it is mostly snow-free now, but when you get off the roads and into the woods, or up on higher ground, there are plenty of stubborn patches still hanging around. I took a walk up to Prestvannet this evening, wanting to see what it looks like this year at the end of May.

We had snow early in the month, and while that’s not unheard of here, winter has lingered longer this year than it did last year (looking at this photo from roughly a year ago, I can say definitively that the mountains still have a lot more snow on them now). There are hints that winter’s grip is weakinging, however. The first leaves are finally getting ready to unfurl on some of the trees, a marker of spring/summer that I’ve been eagerly awaiting since the beginning of the month. Most of the branches are still bare, as you can see in these photos, but hopefully not for long. The temperature hovers around 5-7°C (40-45°F) during the day, and while the snow has largely retreated, Prestvannet (which freezes over and accumulates several feet of snow on top of the ice during the winter) hasn’t yet melted, though the thaw is definitely in progress. The many migratory birds that make this their home during the summer are here and out in force – they make quite a racket, and around the clock too, since the sun never sets. I’m glad to hear them, though, because it means that summer is coming. The sound of running water is another small pleasure I’ve been enjoying in recent weeks.

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Even with these encouraging signs that soon, soon this landscape will be transformed into a lush green summerscape, I have to admit I’m really glad that I’m escaping to Oslo this weekend, where there are definitely flowers in gardens and leaves on the trees and I plan to enjoy the positively summer-like temperatures being forecasted. While I truly love Tromsø, the lack of a real spring is one of the things I find most challenging about living here. Lucky for me, it’s a quick trip to Oslo and I’ll get to see some friends while I’m there as well. I’ll be packing the sunscreen.

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april musings

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As the rest of Norway is getting ready for påskeferie (Easter holiday), stocking up on Solo and Kvikk Lunsj (orange soda and Kit Kats, basically) and preparing to head to their cabins for a cozy week of skiing/reading/knitting/beautiful time off, I am in the throes of my thesis writing, which will continue all through the Easter holiday. No time off for me. It’ll be really sleepy around Tromsø, but maybe that’s a good thing? As my thesis deadline has crept closer I’m spending more time inside, hunched over the computer, and I get out for fewer walks. Maybe the Easter holiday will be a good excuse to improve upon that situation. I could definitely use the fresh air.

April in Tromsø means a constant cycle of melting snow, rain, and dips in the temperature that bring fresh snow again. Indecisive skies mean sun one minute, clouds and precipitation the next. But that indecision and constant change sounds like April in most places, doesn’t it? (Even if in most places it involves more flowers.) I’ve been deeply envious of all the springy flower photos from back home I’ve been seeing on Instagram recently, but today I find I don’t mind this indecisive Arctic “spring” weather. I suspect this is the result of eating well this week, cutting back on refined sugars (I have a horrible sweet tooth) and going for fresher foods. The longer days help, too. Today’s sunrise was at 5:20 AM and sunset is at 8:10 PM – the midnight sun begins in just a month and a half.

In any case, for now I am living from day to day and keeping that thesis deadline in sight (it’s May 15). It may be a little quieter around here while I work on finishing my thesis. I get in a little bit of knitting time in the evenings, but not more than that. But because it might be a little quiet around here in the coming weeks, I thought I’d share my current progress on the projects I’ll be working on during that precious evening knitting time.

First up, I’m knitting away on my Norwegian wool Dalur (blogged here), having finished both sleeves. After the colorwork section at the hem, the body is just stockinette in the round, so once I cast on for that I think it’ll go quite quickly at this large gauge. But I’ve been waiting for a weekend day when I can dedicate several hours to getting the body started, because I’ll work a tubular cast on which takes some attention (and in that charcoal yarn, probably also some good daylight). Apparently I haven’t taken a new photo since I finished the sleeves, but this still gives you an idea of what a gorgeous sweater this is going to be. I’m really looking forward to working the yoke once the body is finished. And I am loving, absolutely loving, knitting up a sweater out of the Hillesvåg Blåne. This yarn is really special.

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I’ve also been working on both pairs of socks I mentioned in this post, and they have been every bit as soothing as I’d hoped they’d be in this busy and somewhat stressful time. I’m on the second sock of both pairs (Siv is a little further along than Fika at the moment, but I’ve been dividing my time between them pretty evenly – they’re both past the heel now).

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Above is the first of my Fika socks, which I’m knitting up in a BFL Tweed Sock base from Jorstad Creek. It’s such a lovely springy green to be working with at this time of year, and I can’t wait for them to be finished. I used the teeniest bit of Welthase Fingering Light in Hazel for the contrasting toe stripe.

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And my beautiful Siv socks. I wrote about this on Instagram, but the combination of this yarn on these needles is really doing it for me. It’s such a pleasure to knit with. The yarn is the MCN sock base from Kat’s Riverside Studio in the Storm colorway, and I love that I think about my trip to Montréal every time I pick these up to work on them. And I am going to love wearing these.

I actually have more socks planned for my next project – I’m really looking forward to casting on a pair of socks with this super gorgeous yarn I picked up from Hannah of Palindrome Knits (I’m thinking By the Seine River might show off the colorway really nicely) and there’s something super special coming in the mail from La Bien Aimée as well, but I’m definitely waiting until I finish at least one of these pairs before starting any more socks. With any luck it won’t be long now, even with the long writing days.

march

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I think March is one of my favorite months here in Tromsø. It’s often beautiful outside, and definitely still winter, but by the time we reach March we’re practically dashing towards the equinox, in the middle of the few magical months where daylight and darkness are so in balance this far north. And when there’s still so much snow, the daylight can have special qualities.

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On a sunny day, it can be positively blinding. But yesterday the light was stranger, moodier. A change in the weather was beginning as we moved into a week of unusually mild, above-freezing days. The clouds hung in the sky like a heavy curtain of gauze, not blocking out the sun, but turning the world around me into one big softbox. The mountains to the south looked flat, like two-dimensional block prints across the horizon in light and dark grey.

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It was, I have to admit, one of my favorite kinds of days for walking. To revel in the bright whiteness of untouched snow without being blinded by it – but at the same time getting to see depth in the sky, and knowing where the sun is too. Since I knew that the weather would be changing this week, yesterday felt like my one chance to get that kind of walk in before it all turns sloshy. The city streets quickly turn into the world’s northernmost Slurpee. (That bit is not one of my favorite parts about living here.)

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In the midst of longer work days, trying to squeeze in some extra transcription for my thesis project which is now due in just two months (eek!), it was so nice to set aside a little bit of time for a long walk. Despite the shifting weather, it was very calm and quiet yesterday. I stood at the southern end of the island, and when you are standing at that point staring out across the strait at the mountains beyond, it is so easy to remember to breathe in big, and to breathe out slowly. In, and out. The slow, calming rhythm is encouraged by the gentle waves lapping at the rocks on the beach.

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I’m sharing these photos so that I can soak up this late winter landscape – and I can’t help but notice it’s full of all of the colors and nuances that drew me to the sock yarn I bought in Montréal (mentioned in this post), which I’ve enjoyed knitting with immensely. Sometimes people ask about how my environment influences my knitwear design work, and there are several ways to answer that question – but it’s always clear to me that the landscape seeps into whatever it is I’m making through colors first and foremost. And aren’t these lovely colors to see outside your window?

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december light

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Today is Luciadagen, or St. Lucy’s Day, traditionally a day for celebrating light in the darkness here in Scandinavia. We started our day with an early morning walk up the hill to Elverhøy church for a fairly traditional celebration: one of the university choirs and a youth choir joined up to put on a Lucia procession and concert, lit only by candlelight. One of the girls from the youth choir was dressed as Lucia, with the wreath of candles on her head (those were the only electric candles – the rest were real). Saffron buns (known as lussekatter in Norway) were served. In the age of electricity and artificial light, an experience like that feels like a rare luxury. It was beautiful. (It was also not conducive to phone photos, but you can get a glimpse of what it looked like on my Instagram.)

It also made it feel like this day is an apt choice to share a few of the photos I’ve collected in the past week. It’s been three weeks since the sun disappeared below the mountains in the south – three weeks of no sunrise or sunset. Three weeks of mørketida. But that does not mean it’s always dark. The light that we do have in this season can be so beautiful. It isn’t always – we’ve got a week of rain ahead of us, which will mean dark skies and no snow to brighten up the ground, either. But the past several days have been pretty magic. And as the photo at the top of this post shows, even the grey days can be beautiful in the little bit of daylight that comes.

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I got to take a nice long walk on Saturday during the daylight, and it was such a treat. It was my favorite kind of cotton candy pastel sky. The rest of these photos are from that walk. The world looked like a painting.

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For me, there is so much beauty to be found in the dark season here. Even on the darkest rainy days, I am so grateful to be living here and experiencing this. I hope these photos bring a little light to your day today, too.