Life After SOAR


I used to fight wildfires many years ago, when I was younger and more fit.  And although the memories of muscle aches and pains and soot and ash in every crack and crevice of my body have faded (somewhat), I still vividly remember the training prior to my first wildfire.  We hauled hose and dug line.  We learned the difference between a pulaski and a potato rake.  We learned about deploying our fire shelter in case of burn over.  The day that phone call came and the dispatcher on the other end of the line told me I was being sent to Oregon with a crew to fight my first fire, I was confident I was ready.  I had completed my training with flying colors.  I possessed a 'Red Card' with my name on it.  I had packed and repacked my red bag many times to make sure it wasn't overweight and contained everything I would need to survive my first three-week detail on a fire.  Yes.  I was absolutely prepared and ready for this new challenge in my life.  

Boy, was I wrong.  

Blisters and mosquito bites.  Deadly rolling rocks and burning trees.  Ash-choked air and hot boot toes. Peeling off sweaty, sooty clothes, only to put them back on again the next day.  Treacherous school bus rides up old, abandoned fire roads.  And the FOOD!  Don't even get me started on the food.  On that first fire, I was nearly in shock.  This wasn't what I expected at all.  And in hindsight, I don't think any amount of training could have prepared me for what life was REALLY like as a wildland firefighter.

Parenthood.  Another fine example of something for which you can never truly be prepared no matter what you read or are told.   I have two children (10 and 7) and I, to this day, continue to be bewildered by how deceived I felt as the days and nights began to blend together from sleep deprivation and how my clothes constantly smelled of spit up and pureed squash.  But I digress.

In the early months of 2010, I came across a glossy announcement in Spin-Off about SOAR 2010 in Delevan, Wisconsin.  I logged online to read more and discovered the tab for the scholarship applications.  Knowing I would never be able to afford to attend on my own, I gave myself a little pep talk, opened up a fresh document on my computer screen and started writing.  Never in a million years did I expect this little venture would have a positive outcome (after all, SOAR would be happening the very week that deer season began here in South Dakota and denying my husband the opening of deer season could be construed as grounds for divorce), but I threw caution to the wind and submitted my application.

As you may have guessed…that outcome couldn't have been more positive.  I was going to SOAR!  In the months prior, I brushed up on my terminology, worked on honing my spinning skills, combed over every back issue of Spin-Off I owned and even bought some new clothes for the trip.  I made list after list, packed and repacked, read every post on the SOAR forum on Ravelry and coined my new mantra, "Be the sponge".  Selecting the workshop and retreats sessions was easy for me.  I wanted to learn nunofelting as it would be a skill I could feasibly turn around and teach to children…the very foundation of my scholarship application and community focus.  I signed up for Jacey Bogg's coil-spinning retreat as I had admired her amazing technique on the cover of Spin-Off , Deb Menz's color blending class because I knew anything I learned from her would be put to good use and Kathryn Alexander's entrelac class because, well, she is a knitting goddess and I have always admired her work.  I spent months preparing for my voyage to Wisconsin and I WAS READY!

All together now…  BOY, was I wrong.  Just like firefighting and parenthood, no amount of reading or advice could prepare me for SOAR.  I thought I would go and spend a nice week meeting people and learning new things.  And I did.  But it was so much more.  My week was humbling and uplifting, confirming and eye-opening.  I went thinking I would spend my days talking non-stop about fiber and spinning and the like.  And although there was a great deal of fiber talk going on, I met and got to know people for who they are OUTSIDE of the fiber world.  I had the extreme pleasure of sitting with Judith MacKenzie for lunch and discussing, of all things, archaeology.  We never once spoke about fiber or spinning.  I wonder how many fiber people can tout that they had lunch with 'Judith' and never spoke of fiber?  Kathryn Alexander, Deb Menz and Sara Lamb graced our dinner table one night and I discovered that they all have a fierce sense of humor.  I laughed so hard, I'm not sure I got around to eating my dinner that night.  Stephenie Gaustad, at one of the spin-in gatherings, read a piece she wrote in response to Amy Clarke Moore's query, "what do you say to people when they ask you what you do for a living?"  What Stephanie read was eloquent and poetic and I cried at the end.  I wish I could remember every word she said, but I can only remember how it ended; "and the beat goes on…".  It was worthy of print and really said a great deal about her.   DeAnna Dailey was mentoring for her first year in 2010.  I wasn't able to take any of her classes, but I met her through meals and during the open studio session and discovered she is a wonderful story-teller.  I truly admired her verve for heading outdoors during that late autumn weather and foraging for items in nature to spin and use as spinning tools.  Bobbi Daniels has one of the driest and most hilarious senses of humor I have ever come across, not to mention her natural gift with angora (the bunnies AND the fiber).  And Margaret Stove.  Well, the woman is a living legend and just to be able to tell her face-to-face how amazing and inspirational her work is to me was worth the entire trip.  Sharon Costello was our mentor for nunofelting and 8 months later, I am still in awe over what she can do with fiber.  She is a true artist in every sense of the word and I look forward to learning more from her in the future.  And Michelle Boyd, my roommate and another 2010 scholar.  We were fast friends from the moment we met and this year will be her SOAR Mentoring debut.  I can now say, 'I knew her when…".  There were many other mentors there and getting to know all of them in one week would be like trying to do all of Disneyworld in one day.  I hope to cross paths with all of them someday.  And no trip to a huge fiber event like this would be complete without meeting Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and getting her to hold my sock-in-progress for a photo.  That was splendid.

I learned techniques and tips and shopped the marketplace….REALLY shopped the marketplace.   I made friends and networked and created a hat in an hour.  I traded stories and email addresses and when it was all over, I hugged a bunch of people who, 5 days before, were total strangers.  I cried (and cried) and made my way home.  My feet never touched the ground once.

In April, I met up with a fellow local spinner who I had not seen since my SOAR experience.  She asked me about it and I proceeded to open the flood gates and tell her all about the mentors I had and the classes I took and the friends I made.  When I finally finished my epic dialogue and interpretation of SOAR 2010, she looked at me and said, "Well, you must have had an amazing time because your eyes lit up and sparkled from the moment I asked and they haven't faded yet!".  I took that as a fine compliment and as a testimony to how positively SOAR experiences can impact someone's life.

I suppose I should share what I have done with my newly-found knowledge.  In November, our local elementary school hosted a two-night program called Reflections.  It is funded by the National PTA and is designed to bring art into schools where the students aren't fortunate enough to have art classes.  I offered to teach nunofelting to up to 6 students each night (photo attached).  My little masterclass was full both nights and I witnessed a blossoming of creativity from kids who I doubt have ever had a chance to express themselves in such a way.  I had only one boy among my students and he did, in my humble opinion, the best job of any of them.  I really got a charge out of watching his eyes as the fused fabric of silk and fiber emerged before him.  What a treat for me to see my still-new skill unleashed on the creative minds of children.

I continue to expose our little community to fiber and spinning every time I'm waiting for my own children at soccer practice or summer recreation classes or I'm substitute teaching at the elementary school.  My spindle and knitting go with me everywhere and seldom does a day go by when a child (or adult) doesn't ask me what I'm doing.  I am only too happy to launch into a mini-workshop about sheep and fiber and dyeing and spinning and the ancient art of textiles, etc.  I'm sure many of them walk away wondering what they did to deserve such a flood of unsolicited information.  But there might be that 'one' who is glad they asked.  And that's the 'one' I'm always looking for.

Just like wildland firefighting and parenthood, SOAR has changed my life in so many positive ways, I doubt I'll ever be able to name all of them.  The memories of classes and friends and experiences there are constantly tumbling through my brain – like waves bringing new shells to the shoreline with every pass.  In fact, I can only think of one thing SOAR brought to my life that has affected me negatively…Now I know what I'm missing.


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