Thursday, October 8, 2009

Small Gifts

{Salvaged Wool; A Very Old Teacup}

Within the past week two Joshua Tree friends -Nora, who is the first person I met when we moved to the desert, and Kerri, whom I've known for just over a month- have each given me a small gift. One is a skein of sumptuous wool the color of Mediterranean coral. The other is a tiny antique teacup, the ultramarine pattern burished thin along the edge from generations of lips seeking comfort in hot tea. Both have rich stories I wanted to share with you, my dear readers.

The Wool
My dear friend Nora (a prodigious crocheter) brought this yarn back from her recent cross-country road trip because she knows how much I love a) good wool for knitting, b) that salmony-coraly-poppyish color and c) a good story involving sheep. That story goes as follows:

Two women living in rural Wyoming were devastated as they witnessed dozens of family-operated sheep ranches going out of business, and with them, a rich tradition of sheep husbandry that started when Basque sheepherders came to the Rocky Mountains from Spain in the 1880's. These two friends saw an opportunity to help preserve a way of life as well as make some money when they realized that it was common practice to slaughter spring lambs for meat without also gathering their soft fleeces; many thousands of pounds of Wyoming wool were wasted every year. So they started buying lambswool from local ranchers.

With no experience they set out applying for grants and eventually won assistance from the Department of Agriculture which helped them purchase an old factory spinning machine. That was the beginning of the successful Mountain Meadow Wool Company. Seven years later they are carding, spinning and hand-dying the most beautiful wool and returning 10% of their profits back to the ranchers who supply them with fleece. Now that's grass-roots community sustainability. You can read more about their inspiring story on their website, here.

The Teacup
I recently met Kerri at an outdoor back-porch singalong at the grand reopening of a vintage clothing shop in Joshua Tree. That's where you meet people when you live in the desert. We were both wearing cowboy boots and accompanied by new husbands, and I learned that they too were previous city-dwellers new to the desert. I wanted to send her a heart-shaped postcard that said, "Kerri, will U B my friend? Love, Lily." Instead P. and I had Kerri and her sculptor husband over for dinner. She brought with her the most curious, beautiful gift: a cracked teacup stained from a century's worth of tea. Attached to the dainty handle with a bit of string was a dried branch of cholla (a tubular cactus that looks like lacy organ pipes after it dies).

The teacup belonged to her grandmother who grew up dirt-poor in rural Virginia. As Kerri wrote: "She married an alcoholic coal miner when she was 16 years old. On the plus side, she got out of the house (and lived in a one room shack in a holler). On the minus side, he was sleeping around and impregnating other ladies in town. Awesome."

Kerri's mother grew up with a intense sense of generosity that stemmed from a childhood of having nothing, and although there wasn't much material wealth to pass down to her daughter (my dear new friend), what modest things she did have she shared with genuine delight. I look at this teacup and imgine how Kerri's grandmother must have treasured this dainty, feminine, decorative thing; she must have taken such pleasure in the simple ritual of drinking tea out of that beautiful cup when the life around her was one of such deprivation and poverty. So from the hard-working hands of her grandmother the teacup was handed down to Kerri's mother as she left home to seek a brighter future, and finally placed in Kerri's brave, capable hands when she left Virginia in search of her own new life.  The generosity of Kerri to give this relic of her personal history to a new friend (yours truly) is moving beyond words. As Kerri said, the point is that it doesn't matter what you have in life, it matters how willing you are to share it.

And so it is that a skein of wool made by two Wyoming women looking to waste-not and a precious  teacup passed through the hands of three generations of Virginians have come into my home. An invitation to drink tea and knit, yes, but also reason to give pause and consider the stories behind the salvaged, the handmade and the passed-down.

Hope you have a wonderful day.


  1. I love love love these stories. What treasures.
    The idea of an outdoor back-porch singalong at the grand reopening of a vintage clothing shop in Joshua Tree sounds magical, what a place you live in.

  2. I love your blog... and your stories!! You capture life beautifully... so glad you are on here, thank you a million for making my day :) xoxo your blog friend, oh and I send you a big blog hug!!!!

  3. Such a loving, lovely post, Lily.

  4. this makes for such engrossing reading. this post has made a wonderful start to my day.

  5. You have a magical touch with words and images. This is one of the loveliest blog posts I've read in a long time, Lily. Oh, I am so, so glad we've found each other (you'll just have to get used to me saying that). xo

  6. thank YOU for your gift of sharing.

    i began reading your blog (6 months? of 2010) yesterday and today started at the beginning.

    it is fascinating and so rewarding to find common ground and new horizons. also, to be young...............

    thank you. sabine calkins


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