checking in

One piece of housekeeping before I get into this post: I was notified a few weeks ago that my web host will be shutting down by the end of May. I’ll need to migrate the entire Paper Tiger website to a new platform, which will take me some time. I’ll be moving to WordPress over the course of the next two months. If you’re an email subscriber of this blog (or if you use a blog reader), unfortunately I’ll have no way to transfer that email list, but I will give you some warning before I make the final transfer. The website will still be paper-tiger.net, but links to other pages will be changing. So I anticipate some hiccups, as I’ll need to update links to blog posts or tutorial pages in a whole long list of places: pattern PDFs, YouTube video descriptions, and so on. So I hope you’ll bear with me through that process and forgive any bumps in the road. Now, on to the post…

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Hello, all. I hope you’re as well as can be. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned life upside down for us all, and it’s a strange time to… well, to do much of anything. The Norwegian prime minister held a press conference on Thursday, March 12, announcing a number of initial measures they were taking to try to slow the spread, including closing schools and universities and instituting the social distancing policy we’re all now familiar with. March 12 was the first day I decided to work from home, and the press conference came as a relief, to know the government was taking the threat seriously and once they decided to take action, it was swift. My physical university campus is effectively shut down now, and employees have been instructed to work from home if they can. Looking at the calendar, today’s day 11 of isolation/social distancing/shelter-in-place/whatever your terminology. I’ve been out for walks at least every other day, and to the grocery store once, but otherwise, my partner and I are just home. There have been ups and downs, as you might expect, but overall we feel very lucky – lucky to be where we are (in this house, in this country), to not be worried about our jobs or work for the moment, to be able to go outside. We’re incredibly fortunate. We’re also worried about friends who have already lost their jobs, whose livelihoods are threatened. We’ve only seen the beginning of what this whole thing will bring.

It’s hard to know what to do to help, but I’ve been doing my best to support small businesses, both local and further afield. Even though I’ve been eager to knit from my stash this year (and I still am), I’ve been buying yarn I had no plans on buying a month ago. Buying patterns. Buying music on Bandcamp. Buying books. And feeling grateful to be able to lend that kind of support in some small way.

I find it hard to work on my academic work at the moment, and those I work with have been very understanding. I am getting some work done, but I’m trying to be gentle with myself too. And when it  all becomes too much, I knit. Or bake. Keeping my hands busy helps with the anxiety.

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I hope you’re taking care of yourself and your loved ones as well as you can. I hope you’re taking social distancing seriously, but I also hope you’re able to get outside and take in some fresh air when you can. It’s difficult to try and find a balance right now, but do your best – connect with others using the means we have available, but take a step away and take some time for yourself when you need to. This is a really emotionally complex time. People lives are at stake. If you’re part of the high risk group, take extra care. We’re all in this together. xx

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a few snaps from january

January felt like it went by in the blink of an eye, but I was better about getting outside for midday daylight walks than I was in December. Here are a few snaps from my walks, all taken between about 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM.

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January was pretty mild, and we had a lot of rain, so the days with peeks of sunshine felt extra precious. I haven’t minded the weather too much, though – I think that getting outside regardless probably helps with that. Here’s to keeping that up as the days continue to grow brighter!

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).

darkness

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I saw an anecdote on Twitter this week about the words for December in Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic – in Irish Gaelic it’s Mí na Nollag (Month of Christmas) and in Scottish Gaelic it’s An Dubhlachd (The Blackness). There are historical and cultural reasons for this somewhat amusing difference, but nonetheless it’s quite striking. I’ve been having talks with friends in the past several days about this darkest time of year, as Norway is now gearing up for Christmas. Advent has begun, and the city streets are positively full of twinkling lights. There are multiple traditions that involve bringing light into the darkest month – one that comes to mind in the Germanic countries is the tradition of having four advent candles (often arranged in an adventskrans, or an advent wreath) which are lit on the four Sundays of advent. On the first Sunday, the first candle is lit. On the second Sunday, two candles. And so on. The tradition is strong here and for many, it’s largely secular, despite advent’s Christian ties. Viewers of Skeindeer’s Vlogmas videos will be familiar with the poem that many recite while lighting the candles. These days, Norway also celebrates Saint Lucia on the 13th. Other religious traditions and cultures have their own versions of bringing light into the darkness, and a common thread is that bringling light into the dark creates hope. I meditated on this theme a little bit on this blog back in 2016 (see the post “on darkness and light“).

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I continue to be drawn to these themes. When we lived in Montreal, one of the things I really missed in summer and winter were the extremes of light that came with the solstices in the north. We knew Montreal’s winter would be brutally cold, but we expected to cope better because the sun would rise every day. On the contrary, we found ourselves missing the darkness of the northern winter. For me, I felt so in tune with the cycle of the seasons and the movement of the earth when we lived in the north. So in many ways it’s a relief to come back, even if in Trondheim we’re not quite as far north as we were in Tromsø.

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The weather has been in flux here as the days get shorter – the snow has started, but then it’s followed by rain, which is followed by more snow, and then more rain. The rainy days are darker, because the snow forms a giant bright reflector on the ground. At the moment, though, I’m not minding the rainy days. I’m just happy to be back in the north.

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And while we’re on the subject of the days growing shorter, a few weeks ago a book I’d been looking forward to was released: The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis. I’ve been a big fan of Carson’s work for years and years, and I found out about this book because she was working on it. “The Shortest Day” is a poem by Susan Cooper, and here it’s been turned into a picture book for kids, accompanied by Carson’s beautiful illustrations. The poem is an ode to the winter solstice, a celebration of the fact that the shortest day is a turning point – once you finally reach it, the light starts to return again. It touches on the cyclical nature of it over time that I enjoy so much. “Welcome, Yule!”

visiting a cabane à sucre

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Last year around this time of year I never managed to get around to having a very typical Québecois experience – going to visit a cabane à sucre, or a sugar shack. Quebec is not the only place that has them, of course, but it was here that I first learned of them and the concept is very tied to Quebec in my own mind. So this year, when a somewhat last-minute invite came from a friend to join a group going to a farm about 45 minutes outside of Montreal, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. So last weekend, we piled into a car and drove out to Rigaud, where we visited Sucrerie de la Montagne.

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I’m not going to lie – the whole experience is a *little* campy (the photo above is the horse-drawn cart that took us from the parking lot to the dining hall, a hilariously short distance), but it was also very, very fun. Even though it was a miserably cold and grey day with freezing rain coming down, everyone around us (ourselves included) was so very cheerful. I think some of that has to do with the sugar, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that going to visit a sugar shack is a very tangible sign of spring on the horizon in a part of the world where the long, harsh winter means we won’t be seeing flowers pop up for another month or two.

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Cold nights and warm, sunny days encourage sugar maples to produce sap, so it’s this time of year that the tree taps start flowing. Sucrerie de la Montagne still maintains a lot of the more traditional ways of production, so the maple trees around their grounds have all got metal buckets attached to the taps.

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A visit to a sugar shack involves a big meal – ours was in a large wooden dining hall, full of communal tables, with live folk music and a fire. And let’s just say that the meal isn’t very vegetarian friendly (but then, in my experience, most of the traditional Québecois foods aren’t). But the last course involved pancakes and sugar pie, and those were predictably very good. After the meal we all headed outside for tire d’érable, or maple taffy.

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Troughs of fresh snow are laid out and maple syrup is poured over the top. Once the syrup has sunk in a little bit, you take a popsicle stick and roll it through the syrup for a little sticky maple popsicle. It is, as you would guess, very sweet! But if you just have a small one it’s not so bad.

I’m happy to have finally crossed this experience off the to-do list. And I’m very happy that it’s finally feeling like spring is just on the horizon. This winter hasn’t been as hard as the previous was, but it’s nice to have reminders like this that this one, too, is coming to an end.

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midwinter reflections

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For me, January passed by in a flash. It brought cold weather: snow and ice and chilly winds, as it does in Montreal. When the weather was fine, I made an effort so spend some time outside. When it wasn’t, I’ve been inside, working. Knitting. And sometimes baking. I actually really like January (maybe it’s easier when it’s your birthday month?) but I know that January is often hard for many. That’s more and more true for me as I get older, too. I’m not that sorry to see it go this year.

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February brings us one step further into the year. It brings some plans for this year closer to fruition – new patterns among them, but also travel. I have a trip later this month, but I’m also really looking forward to heading back to Edinburgh this March for Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I went in 2016 and enjoyed it so very much, and it’s hard to believe that was three years ago. I’m very excited and very grateful to be going back. We are also in the midst of figuring out what the second half of this year looks like, since our Canadian work permits come to an end later this summer and we’re not 100% sure what our next move will be. (That doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas we’ve been working on, but there are factors outside of our control that play a large role.) So this winter feels like a little bit of limbo. And so I work. And bake.

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I have also been very tuned in to the conversation about racism in the knitting community that began towards the beginning of January. I think it’s a very important conversation to be having, and one that’s long overdue. I’ve been listening to the voices of many of the BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) members of this community because their words deserve our attention. It’s hard to cover very much in the space of a short blog, but I wanted to acknowledge it here because it is important.

If you are a white knitter like I am, I hope you recognize that everyone who has shared their experiences with racism or microagressions in this community is facing into their own past trauma every time they share those stories, and if you are shocked by the experiences they have shared (“I can’t believe this is happening in 2019!”), recognize that being able to feel that is the white privilege that they are referring to. Please have the respect to believe them. Please understand that they cannot, will not just “stick to knitting” because even in the knitting community they face exclusion based on the color of their skin. Defensiveness is a common reaction from white people when they are faced with the everyday racism our societies are entrenched in, and if you feel that, I would suggest you sit with that and give yourself some time to reflect before you speak up about it; if someone shares their experiences with racism with you and the first thing you say back to them is some version of, “but not all white people!”, the impact of that is to dismiss and minimize that already marginalized voice. Maybe “I’m so sorry you’ve been treated that way” is a better starting point. Also keep in mind that when knitters share the experiences of racism they have faced and they talk about white privilege, they are not saying that you, as a white knitter, have never been discriminated against for other reasons – just that you haven’t been discriminated against because of your race. Ageism, ableism, homophobia, these are all real too. And those conversations are happening too. But the conversation at large has been about racism. If you’re looking for resources to educate yourself about these issues, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to recommend some books/podcasts/articles, depending on what you’re looking for.

If you are a BIPOC member of this community, know that I see you, and I hear your words, and I am listening. I am so grateful for the experiences and perspective everyone has shared that have opened my eyes and I am so sorry you have had to live those experiences. You are welcome here, and if I ever do or say anything that makes you feel unwelcome, I hope you will call me out on it.

Edited to add: I turned on comment moderation when I published this post, because I want the comment section to be a safe space for BIPOC. If you submit a comment that I feel would make BIPOC feel unheard or unsafe, I (and only I) will see it but I won’t be approving that comment to appear here. You’re free to speak your mind on your own platforms, but this is my space and I will do what I can to keep it a safe and inclusive one.

l’hiver est arrivé

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Montreal has already had two snowstorms this month, so winter has definitely arrived in this corner of the world. It feels early here, and even though I love winter I admittedly love it less in this city than I did in Norway, so there is a small sigh along with winter’s arrival. Nonetheless, I will aim to make the best of it. December is nearly upon us (tomorrow!), so we’re entering the season of twinkling lights and joy and love and that is something to celebrate.

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I do love the transformational power of fresh snow, and will go out of my way to seek it out in this city of millions. (I’m very grateful for parks.)

At any rate, I wanted to pop in to tell you about a couple of exciting things that happened in the month of November. The first is that I was finally able to unveil a pattern I’ve been very excited about since I first knit it last December – I have a hat design in the new book from Kate DaviesMilarrochy Heids.

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My hat (or heid, a Scots word for “head”) is called Caithness, and it uses five shades of Kate’s lovely yarn Milarrochy Tweed. Unlike most of Kate’s books, which are full of her own lovely designs, Milarrochy Heids features 15 hat patterns from 13 designers, all worked up in Milarrochy Tweed, a fingering weight blend of 70% wool and 30% mohair in a palette of 15 shades. I actually purchased the initial pack of 12 shades that was available when the yarn was introduced, and that is what I used to knit my Caithness. The yarn comes in 25 g balls, and the pack had one ball of each color, so it was absolutely perfect for colorwork. I had first planned to self-publish this design, but then Kate asked about including it in a book of hat patterns she was planning at the time and I was over the moon. And so here we are!

Some of you will know I’ve been a huge fan of Kate’s for a very long time, and I’ve followed her forays into yarn production (and ready-to-wear) with great enthusiasm. It means a great deal to me to be included in this book alongside so many other wonderfully creative designers. I highly encourage you to go check out the other patterns here on Ravelry – it’s hard to pick a favorite but I might have to make myself a Tarradale at some point.

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The response to Milarrochy Heids has been phenomenal, and team KDD have unexpectedly already sold out of hard copies of the book in the pre-order period. More copies are on the way, but in the meantime, many local yarn stores will be receiving copies from the first print run, so if you didn’t pre-order but you’d like a copy before Christmas, I’d suggest checking with local stores, or those that ship orders! I should also mention that the KDD shop has put together yarn kits for every pattern in the book – you can find the yarn kit for Caithness here, and the others are all listed in the “yarn” section of Kate’s shop. Note that the yarn kits are the yarn only – you still need the book (or e-book) for the patterns.

I’ve been wearing my Caithness all autumn long and while Milarrochy Tweed is a relatively fine yarn, it’s a surprisingly warm hat, probably in part thanks to the mohair in it. It’s been such a joy to finally share it with you all.

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The other exciting bit of information is that I was featured as a guest on the “Knitters of the World” segment of the Fruity Knitting video podcast in their most recent episode (66: Uradale Yarns & Taatit Rugs). If you’re not familiar with Fruity Knitting, it’s an incredibly well-produced video podcast on YouTube, featuring heaps of fascinating interviews and information. Andrea and Andrew are wonderful hosts and I always learn something watching their show. Being a guest on this segment means I got to talk about a few of my favorite pieces I’ve knit, and in my case, it’s a mix of my own designs (like my Ebba, which I’m holding up in the screenshot above) as well as things I’ve knit from other people’s patterns. It was a treat to be included! You can check out the show notes for the episode here to get a sense of everything this episode included, and you can watch the full episode here (my segment starts around the 41:00 mark, but I do encourage you to watch the whole thing!).

I hope you’re all doing well as we move into the busy tail end of the year. Remember to breathe deeply, and to take a moment for yourself now and then.

a wintry walk

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When we lived in Tromsø I was pretty good about getting out for walks on a regular basis. The goal was always a daily walk, and even if I sometimes fell short of that, it wasn’t hard to find the motivation to get out for a walk when I was surrounded by so much natural beauty. Since moving to Montreal I have gone on fewer walks, especially since winter has set in. Given that in December we went through the longest continuous stretch of days that never made it above -17°C (about 1.5°F) in Montreal’s recorded history, I suppose that’s not a surprise. Lately, though, it’s been much warmer (about -5°C / 23°F or so) and we’ve had a lot of snow, and I realized that I hadn’t actually walked over to Parc La Fontaine since the snow first came.

I visited this park for the first time over the summer, when we were in Montreal looking for apartments before the move, and I fell in love with it immediately. It’s a huge park to be in the middle of the city, full of trees and playing fields and with a pair of ponds (or one pond divided in two, depending on how you look at it) feauturing, as its name suggests, a big fountain. In summer, it feels like an oasis. The trees provide a leafy green canopy when you want a break from the sun and the heat, people picnic and laze in the grass, and take leisurely strolls on the paths through the park and around the ponds. It’s one of those magical communal spaces that I’m so grateful exists.

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In winter, the experience is very different, unsurprisingly. I expected that there wouldn’t be too many people in the park in the middle of a weekday, though there are a few, walking dogs or babies or simply going from point A to point B. The green grass is covered in a thick blanket of snow and the trees are bare. The main thoroughfares appeared to have been plowed, at least a little bit, but the park was also full of tracks from people taking shortcuts between the paths.

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The ponds freeze over in winter and one of them is kept clear for skating. I’d heard about this before so I was pleased to see people on the ice. Having grown up in North Carolina, frozen ponds are the things of picture books to me (even after living in Norway), and it was fun to see that come to life before my eyes.

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One of the things that consistently catches me off guard about Montreal is how much the vegetation reminds me of the vegetation where I grew up. The tall deciduous trees are deeply familiar to me in a way that feels surprising in an otherwise pretty unfamiliar place. I moved to the west coast of the US after graduating from college, and grew to love the flora of the Pacific Northwest. Northern Norway presented a new set of trees, flowers, weeds, and herbs to become familiar with. But the vegetation here doesn’t feel new or different the way that it did in those places. It’s always so interesting to me which pieces of our childhood come back to the front of our minds when we least expect it.

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One thing I hadn’t anticipated about the experience of being in Parc La Fontaine in the winter is how much more aware I was of the city surrounding me. You’re still aware of being in the middle of the city in the summertime, but in winter when all the tree branches are bare you can’t avoid it. It’s easier to see downtown on the horizon when you look south/west, and all the buildings and the streets on the perimeter of the park are much easier to see and hear. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it did make me want to head for Mount Royal next time I want to go for a long walk in the snow to get away from the feeling of the city.

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I wore my Brackett hat on what might have been its inaugural journey outside the house. This is a pattern of Whitney Hayward’s for issue 3 of Laine Magazine, and I knit mine in the Harrisville Designs  Color Lab 2 yarn I brought back from Rhinebeck. There are so many different colors in this Harrisville yarn that it feels impossible to photograph correctly, but I think this photo gives you a little bit of an idea. (P.S. Have you seen the Bellows cardigan that Karen is knitting with it?)

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Today’s walk was a lovely reminder that it’s always a good idea to get out of the house for a walk, especially when the weather is good. I’ll have to make sure to do it more often.

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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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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