I have been a long time fan of Peace Fleece yarn, even before I volunteered to go on the annual wool buys on the Navajo reservation. The wool is blended with mohair to create a hard wearing fabric that just does not pill and looks great year after year. I am just finishing my latest sweater using the ‘Ramona’ pattern and am delighted with the way it has turned out. It is slightly fitted at the waist for a vintage feel. This close up shows the many colors blended in the yarn to create the ‘tundra’ colorway
Once again I am able to participate in the Peace Fleece yarn wool buy on the Navajo Nation. We just finished our third day of bringing in pickup truck loads of wool, which will travel all over the world ending up in yarn and garments. Our goal with Peace Fleece and volunteers is to help the Navajo people receive a fair price for their wool with the hope that they can maintain their shepherding lifestyle.
The mohair is placed in plastic bag on a stand and Nancy volunteered to pack it tightly
On our last night we were invited to watch a lobster boat come in and unload the catch. Ty built the boat himself in a barn over a period of several years . It is a magnificent boat. His dad is hooking the rope to the crates on the boat and they are placed in a refrigerated truck. Their day begins about 3:00 AM and ends around dark. They generously gave us lobsters for dinner – best I ever had!
We had the opportunity to stay in this old farmhouse on the coast of Maine last week. It sits on the St George Peninsula, near Tenant’s Harbor and is an old dairy farm. The barn is attached to the house in the old New England style, and the owners have kept much of the house in original condition. I felt like I was living in an Andrew Wyeth painting. It was a delight to just ramble around the house and barn, taking in the views, and salt air, and imagining all the hard work and long days that must have gone into this farm every day in years gone by.
Cooking brats on the beach . . . we are a fire loving family
Reid did a pretty cool number on his shorts when he mistook the bleach for laundry detergent. Some people pay good money to get shorts to look like that
Lobster, of course
Day trip to Monhegan Island and the ferry
Yoga on the Rocks
hiking all over the island
Fairy Houses in Cathedral Woods
We lost Reid for a few hours but eventually, there he was
Local Farm stand
Lots of Rock Hopping
Our adventure is coming to a close as we approach our last two stops. Again, thanks to Lisa Takata for such an accurate play by play of our adventure. I was too worn out most nights to write anything, but Lisa did an amazing job.
Dilkon and Sanders Wool Buy – Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Across the muffin Tin
Good morning everyone! Glad you are enjoying the updates. I feel like we have given you the play by play of our journeys from place to place, but in the days to come we can add more color commentary for you (like the grocery store story) with details on our impressions, thoughts and ideas about this experience. With limited and slow speed internet access, long working days and the need to be up at 6 am most days driving a couple of hours to set up the next wool buy, there have been limited opportunities to post but we are full of thoughts and photos to share with you to put everything into context.
Like last year, these last few days have been challenging for everyone. We have gotten to know each other better and worked out the kinks in how we work together to accomplish each wool transaction. There are more customers and nonstop action for eight hours or more. Fatigue sets in which requires more concentration to accomplish the same physical and mental tasks that were so simple a few days ago. The customers have been waiting in the heat and dust for 3 hours or more by the time they get to the front of the line, and we all want to do our best job providing them with great customer service, an accurate accounting of their wool and mohair as money changes hands, answers to all of their questions about the wool, an explanation of how it is graded and priced, information the resources available to them through Dine College and the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), and most of all our appreciation to them for coming out to the wool buy and for all that they do throughout the year to care for their sheep and goats.
I am so proud to be part of a community that accomplishes all of this and more each day. Thank you to Pete, Stanley and Teddy for their vision in bringing this all together for not one but four consecutive years.
(Please note the cool Navajo jewelry that Stanley and Teddy are wearing around their necks. A Navajo man came up and teased us, saying “how come the women in your group are wearing bandanas around your necks and it’s the men who are wearing all this great jewelry?”)
Peter, Stanley and Teddy constantly have to pay attention to the big picture and the finer details and the logistics and you could not ask for better leaders who care about the success of the venture as well as each individual, team and customer. They are all working for a greater purpose and have the amazing ability to relate to all kinds of different people, those on our motley crew as well as those we encounter. They have a gift for recognizing need and talents and getting the most from each person and experience. I am so grateful to know them, they are the kind of people you want to do your best work for every day and they never ever ask more of you than they ask of themselves.
We are a family and despite the demands on all of us there are countless examples of people helping each other out to accomplish whatever is needed, looking out for each other to lift a heavy bag, offer some fruit or water or a joke to make everyone laugh, or to gently say let me take over that job for awhile, here is a seat in the shade. Those gestures mean so much and they are offered and accepted freely to get through these long days. Even the customers offer this kind of love and care to us many times a day, we were talking yesterday about how gracious, understanding and appreciative each sheep herder is when they get to the front of the line…back home if people had to wait in a line for 3 hours most of them would be grumpy and aggressively irate but you hardly ever see that amongst our customers. They too are part of our family that gets all of this done.
We concluded the wool buy successfully yesterday and everyone has departed for the journey home. Those from the Navajo nation got to sleep in their own beds last night, others are in various stages of the journey home by plane or car. If you are welcoming somebody home from the wool buy be extra good to them these next few days. Know that they have accomplished something very remarkable that made a difference in many people’s lives.
We have driven hundreds of miles across some of the most awe inspiring landscapes, through all kinds of weather (sunshine, lightning, rain, hail and even a double rainbow). One of our truck drivers, Seth, is a young man who brought his wife and seven month old baby boy along on the trek to Arizona because they had never been out here before and wanted to see this part of the country together. I asked him about his first impressions and he said “well, it’s like an upside down muffin tin.” He went on to explain…go get out the pan in your kitchen that you use to bake muffins. when driving through other parts of the country, it feels like he is driving his truck through a muffin tin that’s right side up. Mostly flat but sometimes you dip down into a lower area and come back up. He said that in the southwest, it’s like the muffin tin is flipped upside down. you are still driving on the flat parts but all around you there are cliffs and mountains sticking up, you drive around them. I loved this explanation and hope it is helpful for those of you who have not visited the southwest before to imagine what the terrain looks like. I tried to take a few photos on the roads between Tuba City, Dilkon and Sanders yesterday to illustrate what Seth is talking about.
This last one is a “day old” muffin , from the road to Kaibeto…
Yesterday we departed shortly after 6 am from Tuba City on the long drive to Dilkon. I admire everyone else’s ability to get out of bed at 5 am to go have breakfast before hitting the road, I am a night owl more than a morning person so my daily routine has been to stay in bed as long as possible and then grab a coffee to go wherever we stop for gas or restroom breaks. I have been trying to do a pencil sketch every day on this trip so yesterday morning i was able to fit that in before dawn before everybody got back from Denny’s to begin our caravan. We drove for about an hour and a half to Dilkon, a small town a little ways off of one of the main highways. This was my first trip there as last year I had to leave the group at Tuba City. Dilkon is marked by a large mountain ( muffin … did you notice the little icon is automatically added by Ravelry every time this word gets typed, fyi… muffin muffin muffin ) and some locals have climbed up to paint the word “Dilkon” on the side of the mountain with white paint or chalk, just like you see high school logos on some of the hills and mountains back home. Early in the day we spotted the figures of a couple of people on top of the mountain, they must have gotten an early start hiking before the heat set in.
We were busier than expected here, to the point that someone had to go and lock the gate to start turning people away after noontime, so we could depart to the next wool buy destination a few hours east in Sanders. Despite the locked gate there were a few people who snuck through the exit to get in line anyway. There was also a man from Dilkon who drove all the way to Sanders to sell us wool there late in the day.
It was a successful morning, the truck filled quickly and we were continually amused at the difficulty people were having backing up their trucks to the scales. It was sometimes comical, like watching a teenager learn to do this for the first time, figuring out which way to turn to get the truck (or worse yet, trailer) moving in the right direction without running anyone over. Jennifer explained that in rural areas with wide open spaces no one has to back up their truck, they are used to just driving in a big circle to get where they need to go. In Pinon a lot of the elderly ladies got out of their trucks and waited in the shade with us to pass the time. Here in Dilkon it was the men who got out of their trucks to wait, you will see them hanging around the front door of the community center in the shade.
One man was wearing a cowboy hat with autographs all over it. I went over to talk with him and ask who had signed his hat, he said he was a team roper and that the autographs were those of other famous team ropers he had met across the country. In these rural areas we always keep an eye out for people wearing elaborate belt buckles, as those are often rodeo trophies and a good conversation piece. A few days ago we met a former National Amateur Rodeo Team Roping Champion, as announced by his belt buckle. Stanley must have been a former rodeo roper as well, as he and the man had a brief conversation about fingers they almost lost(!) while roping. Not my area of expertise so perhaps someone here can explain just how that might happen?
When we reached the end of the line, Stanley and Francine jumped in a car with a big pile of receipts as the advance team to meet and greet the people in Sanders, some of whom had been waiting for us since morning. The rest of us finished with the customers in Dilkon, packed up the trucks and then started driving to Sanders. I followed the Navajo crew from BMWC but somehow got ahead of them on the road and arrived a few minutes before they did. The landscape was greener than i have ever seen it, sparsely sprinkled dramatic mountains that looked like they might be volcanic, beautiful wildflowers along the side of the road. I have been on some of these highways before when visiting friends in Navajoland and Hopiland and the horizon to horizon views are spectacular. Soon we connected with I-40 and went east to Sanders, which is right off of I-40. This is the location of the Burnham trading post which Francine said is chock full of wool and skeins of multi colored yarn for Navajo weaving. We didn’t have time to stop there this trip, but I am making a note of it for a future trip and will post some photos of it here whenever i get back that way.
The Sanders wool buy was scheduled to be at the Rodeo grounds but when i arrived there was yet another locked gate and an assortment of locals coming and going, trying different keys to try to get the padlock open. Add locksmithing (or lock picking?!) to the list of skill sets it would be helpful to acquire before next year’s wool buy as it always seems there is difficulty getting the keys to things. Finally a man arrived with a keychain that included the missing key and we were soon on our way into the parking lot to set up the wool buy. There were about a dozen cars in line and Francine and Stanley had already gotten a good head start talking with them and doing some initial wool grading so the line was processed quickly. Speed dating translated to wool buying. I think everything got done in less than an hour.
Someone in line must have called their friends and told them to come back as there were five or six additional trucks that pulled up to the line as we were working and we were able to get their wool. Again, the customers were simply lovely and kind despite their long wait. Stanley and Dave will be back in New Mexico on June 24 for three hours to do a quick wool buy so we have been giving out information on that for people who have not sheared yet.
After we processed our last sale everyone began to pack up for the drive home. Hugs were exchanged all around and special thanks were given to our Navajo team members who worked so hard.
We could not have accomplished all we did this week without their participation, they were a key connection for us to the local community, helped us overcome language barriers and worked so hard on the most physically demanding tasks. 4 x 43,000 pounds of wool per semi truck load, all loaded off of sheep herders’ trucks and trailers, onto the scales and then onto the semi truck trailer, one bag at a time…today one of the big burlap bags weighed in at a hefty 306 pounds.
Once inside the trailer the bags are packed tightly floor to ceiling under Dave’s expert direction. It requires a lot of climbing up to the rafters, scrambling over bags of wool and stacking the big burlap sausage bags strategically to create crevices that the little trash bags full of wool can be stuffed inside of to maximize the use of the space in the truck. I did this work for one day in Tsaile when we were short handed and can really appreciate how hot and difficult this is.
We are all so grateful for our Navajo team and for the many great conversations we had, they readily answered all of my questions about Navajo life and now I know things like “our elders don’t eat mushrooms of any kind because they believe you will go blind” and “don’t keep dogs in the house because if you do, it will draw lightning to strike your house”. They got me set up with lots of Navajo iPhone apps, explained how to count in Navajo, and told me many wonderful stories.
When we were waiting for showers in Tuba City we were hanging out in my motel room and I loved that they were interested in watching nature shows on cable tv. They had the tv tuned not to ESPN but to the National Geographic channel where they were watching a show about an attack of algae that was threatening the ecosystem in a national park. They were watching so intently, bodies leaning forward and fully engaged, that i thought for a moment they were playing a video game but it was that level of focus directed at the algae threat.
Our Navajo team said that learning to speak Navajo is easier than learning to read it, and said there is a Navajo keyboard you can download from Dine College that allows you to type the special accented characters unique to Navajo language. Like many college students, they are politically aware and active and are looking ahead to ways they can serve their community as teachers or in a variety of other professions.
One day I asked them what is the key to preserving Navajo culture and one of them told me it is getting the four year olds to hear and understand Navajo culture and stories, as that is the time when they are best able to absorb the information and retain it for life. Clearly, the learning continues throughout one’s life as there is so much to know in terms of tradition, stories, and even the various uses of plants around us. I so appreciate their patience and generosity with me all week. They will be wonderful stewards for the next generation to come.
Ok, time to get some breakfast and get started on the drive back to Phoenix. Stay tuned for more postings! Thank you all again for your good thoughts and support, they were what helped get us through this week!
Annette Blackhorse was kind enough to allow us to visit her on her ranch which sits just above Canyon de Chelle. Her family has raised sheep there for many generations. This little lamb is a bottle baby, insistently demanding food as we chatted.
We just finished today’s wool buy in Tuba City, out at the fairgrounds. It was busy all day but the volume overall looks a bit lower than we had last year. It was 96 degrees today so shade and drinking water were highly valued! We are now back at the motel where everyone is taking showers, I had a nice visit with the college students who are helping us out and we have added several apps to my iPhone to help me learn Navajo clans, counting and language.
Here are photos from today. I know that Jay Begay and the Black Mesa Water Coalition have been posting photos on Facebook so you can look there for photos as well. Jennifer brought a guitar and Brandon spent some time playing for us while we finished up our work for the day. Great acoustics inside the semi truck!
Teaching Navajo Wool and Weaving Traditions
Farrah Tso of the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) has been with us since Pinon with a team of students who have been doing much of the heavy lifting of the wool from the sheep herders’ trucks to the scales and onto the semitrucks. Some of the burlap bags you see in these photos weigh over 200 pounds and care must be taken to move them safely.
Each individual transaction involves 9 or 10 of us doing various tasks to make sure the wool is graded, weighed, priced, documented on a receipt and paid for. All these tasks must be done carefully and accurately and require the full attention of each individual involved as there are many simultaneously moving parts to this process.
The students moving the wool are making a tremendous physical contribution for a full day but they also must pay close attention to the information being conveyed by the other parties so they can move wool on or off the scales with very precise timing. This is a great opportunity for all of us to learn from the amazing wisdom of Stanley, Peter and Teddy and it is evident the young people have been learning a lot, as they are now able to help grade and price wool accurately, with a confidence that has increased from just a few days ago. Look at this photo from Kaibeto to see all of the students gathered around Stanley at the table, listening intently as he explains about grading wool.
What a great opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business and build capacity and knowledge here on the Navajo Nation.
This afternoon when we were sitting in the breezeway of the motel waiting for showers, I asked Urvin what kinds of questions he had been translating and answering for the Navajo speaking customers all day. He said that most of them were wanting to know more about the differences between coarse and fine wool and how it is graded. How wonderful that Urvin and all of these students can continue to share their knowledge about wool in the Navajo language throughout the year, in preparation for the next annual wool buy.
Yesterday I had an opportunity to sit down with Farrah as she explained the Navajo Wool Marketing Improvement Project that she runs through BMWC. BMWC buys Navajo churro wool and works with youth to teach them how wool is cleaned by hand and dyed. They then send wool out for commercial processing into single ply weaving yarn that is distributed to local weavers on the condition that the weavings be sold back to BMWC when completed. BMWC then markets the weavings and offers them for sale with proceeds revolving back into the project to pay for more churro wool purchases and processing into yarn. We had a chance to see some of the weavings up close and they are of beautiful design and quality, a good value for a good cause. I have attached a photo here
You can visit the Black Mesa Water Coalition facebook site to see additional photos and perhaps consider supporting this youth + weaver project. BMWC is a longstanding partner with Peace Fleece on the wool buy so it was helpful to understand a little more about the big picture ways that BMWC works with wool.
Goodnight from Tuba City! Stanley hosted a wonderful celebration dinner for the entire team earlier this evening, I enjoyed some delicious green chili stew as did several others. Tomorrow we have a 6 am departure for one of the last legs of our journey, to Dilkon in the morning and then to Sanders in the afternoon before we all say goodbye.
What I Learned About Wool at the Grocery Store
I woke up at 4 am thinking about this little but important moment from yesterday and didn’t want to forget to share it with all of you…
Tuba City is the largest city in this area. Its main streets are lined with all kinds of small locally owned businesses, some gas stations/markets, motels and fast food places catering to vacationers.
At 4 pm yesterday Jennifer and I stopped at Bashas grocery store to buy some blue corn meal. There are Bashas grocery stores all over Arizona, but the ones in the Phoenix metro area do not have these specialty Navajo groceries. We were surprised to see a crazy amount of foot traffic inside the grocery store. Remember what your local grocery store looked like before Super Bowl Sunday with everyone buying groceries in a festive atmosphere for their Super Bowl Sunday parties, and you will have a good picture of what we saw. The space near the checkouts was so crowded with people that it was hard to walk around, every checkout line was stacked five or six customers deep, entire families standing in line with grocery carts piled high. It seemed kind of weird to see this on a Monday afternoon so I happened to mention it at dinner last night. Dave our wise truck driver smiled and said it was easy to explain what was going on, and it had something to do with us. Everyone who got paid at the wool buy took their checks to Bashas to cash them and buy groceries with their families. What we saw was a little glimpse of the economic impact of the wool buy (and ultimately, the economic impact of your purchase of Peace Fleece Yarn). Over the course of this week, hundreds of thousands of dollars are flowing into the local economy that were not here before. Those dollars are buying groceries, pizza at local restaurants, and helping people earn a living whether they be sheep herders or workers at any of these small businesses where wool buy checks are being cashed and money is being spent.
Dave explained that when Peter and Stanley were here in May to get ready for the wool buy, one of the things they did was to reach out to Bashas grocery store to give them a heads up about the wool buy dates so the grocery store could plan to have additional cash on hand to cash people’s checks. The Bashas employee they talked with was appreciative of this info and indicated it would be shared with all of the other Bashas stores across the Navajo Nation. I wish I had taken a photo at the grocery store to insert here, but I didn’t understand at the time that it was anything of significance. Next year I’ll be sure to take my camera inside Bashas for you!
PS … The blue corn meal we bought will be used to make blue corn meal cookies, which Felix’s mom had baked for our traditional dinner in Tsaile. They are not very sweet and have pinon nuts sprinkled on top. We have asked Farrah about a recipe for these and she said she will ask somebody’s mom to write it down for us. She said one of the ingredients in these cookies is cedar ash, which you have to make yourself. Wouldn’t this be a great cooking video to make, it won’t start in the kitchen…“first, you go outside and walk 10 miles across the mesa with your sheep and your sheepdogs to gather your Pinon nuts and cedar boughs. Then, you go home and build a campfire in your hogan…” I think this recipe is going to be kind of long.
Hello from Piñon AZ. Our day in Tsaile could not have been more beautiful. Our wool buy was on the grounds of Dine College, adjacent to the barn that houses the Rambouillet ram lambs. Producers can lease a ram to improve their flock genetics as part of a program put in place by county agent, Felix Nez. Felix is one of our key players in this wool buy and had us over for a delicious traditional supper last night. We feasted on mutton stew with hominy, beans, salad, and blue cornmeal cookies topped with piñon nuts gathered in the forest, and Navajo tea brewed from a native plant ( they just call it tea plant or Navajo tea plant)
Just after lunch I met a lady named Susie who invited me to take a quick trip with her up to her summer camp just 10 miles up the road. She lamented that she has not been able to move up there yet as the weather has been too cold and rainy. The shepherds move up to their cabins in the mountains for the summer months, take all the animals and supplies and stay, usually alone, until September or October. The sheep free range with guard dogs. Most of the women I spoke with drive trucks and go back and forth as necessary, but some still walk in with their sheep. I asked Suzie how she spends her time and she replied that she weaves and watches lots of movies! The women really look forward to their time in their remote cabins. Just a mile off one of the paved roads we arrived at Suzie ‘s camp. It is a collection of buildings; a small house with electricity, a hogan, an outhouse, and a shade house. There are corrals to contain the sheep at night. She offered to let me come and stay in her hogan sometime and I will probably take her up on it. A hogan is the traditional multi sided Navajo dwelling. Today they are primarily used for ceremonial purposes but some are permanent homes. Susie’s is log with a dirt floor, a small wood stove in the center and a few small windows. She uses it for ceremonies but also lets guests stay there. I was surprised to see 2 floor looms in the hogan! Someone had given them to her and she hopes to learn to use them. I cannot describe the beauty and serenity of that little camp in the pines. It sits at the foot of a butte surrounded by lush green grass, thick due to recent rains, and there is the constant sound of the wind through the tall pines. We lingered as long as we could and then headed back.
Later in the afternoon, Lisa, Celeste and I drove to Annette ‘s ranch. We visited her last year and she was the first person in line with her wool that morning in Tsaile. Her family land lies at the top of Canyon de Chelles and she has a lovely flock of sheep, some related to sheep her parents and grandparents raised. She showed us the sheep, including one little bottle fed lamb who was loudly demanding his supper. I asked her about a little white puppy she had last year when we were there whom I had fallen in love with because she was deaf and had one blue eye and one brown, just a little friendly ball of fur. Annette said she had just had puppies, that very day! She took us to see them and they were so new, just hours old. We counted seven including one little guy who was hollering vigorously because mama was laying on him. She let me pull him out from under him and hook him up to a teat and all were happy.
Pinon Wool Buy – Saturday June 13, 2015
Kaibeto Wool Buy – Sunday, June 14, 2015
bee adizi – your Navajo Word of the Day
Jennifer brought a sweater and vest made of peace fleece yarn from last year’s wool buy. People have been interested in seeing what happens to their wool after it leaves them. Since few Navajo knit, her beautiful garments drew lots of attention. There is interest here in learning how to knit and felt wool.
A big Thank You to participants in the 2015 Arcosanti Meet and Greet Fiber Arts Retreat in February 2015. Fiber artists from all over Arizona generously donated a mountain of gently used bedsheets which we were able to offer to people who brought their wool tied up in their family bedsheets, as shown here.
They were very happy to receive replacement sheets for the ones that are leaving in the truck with wool inside.
Many of the ladies who received sheets came to the wool buy dressed very formally in long velour skirts and stunning turquoise jewelry. It was nice to sit with them under the shady trees as they awaited their turn to sell wool. Several of them participated in hand spinning to pass the time.
We learned yesterday that the traditional spindle is NOT called the Navajo spindle by Navajos themselves. They call it a bee adizi and laughed out loud at the notion that anyone calls it a Navajo spindle. That just might be one of the most surprising revelations of this trip…
We had a busy day and afterwards everyone gathered together for a group dinner with my friends from Hard Rock. I am a little behind on posting because we were cooking and visiting all evening. I brought Japanese food ingredients from home and everyone helped cook up a variety of Japanese dishes to enjoy.
Early this morning everyone caravaned from Pinon to Kaibeto, a long drive through rolling green landscapes and past the Black Mesa coal mine. We made good time to Kaibeto as the dirt roads were well graded this time and fortunately not muddy from rain.
The 2014 Peace Fleece Navajo wool buy fiber becomes yarn in less than a calendar year, though Pete and Marty would be better able to answer this more directly. Jennifer and I both knit projects with yarn from the 2014 wool buy. I knit with Picnic Rock, Amaranth and the Lily Pond (green/purple) that just came out this spring. Love the Picnic Rock especially!
Thank you everyone for the good wishes. We loaded up the truck late last night
and made a caravan to Tsaile where we stayed overnight…it was a sound sleep, after our busy day! We were welcomed to a beautiful morning in Tsaile, it has been a steady stream of families all morning. Most of our customers said this is their first time selling wool here. We had one sheep herder drive here all the way from Utah. Here are a few photos.
Many beautiful summer wildflowers are underfoot. Here are additional photos from Tsaile.