Feeling out the future: A trip to the Fiber Festival

Visiting one of the barns at the 2016 Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival

Visiting one of the barns at the 2016 Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival

Last Sunday I visited the Southern Adirondack Fiber Festival in Greenwich, New York. I like supporting local craftspeople, and I’ve also been considering raising fiber animals on my farm. But unlike my friends who have sheep, I’m not really a knitter or spinner. I’ve attempted scarves and mittens in the past, producing only knotted, misshapen results to show for all my efforts.

I mainly went to see the sheep and goats (though there was only one of them, a rather devilish looking Cashmere) and talk with breeders. There were also the giant, fluffy Angora rabbits that never seem to look quite real. One young girl I met was sitting combing her rabbit. It was a daily chore, she said, brushing them, otherwise they get matted. Thankfully the huge rabbit seemed to be enjoying the process. I imagined, if otherwise, it would be quite a comical struggle, like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland.

Being someone who can’t even manage to brush their dog every day, I decided rabbits or any other finely haired animals probably weren’t for me.

These adorable lambs were too sweet to pass by without a picture

As I toured the vendor booths and spoke to craftspeople, mostly women, of course, they laughed when I said I wasn’t really a knitter. I came for the animals, I confessed rather “sheepishly” (pun intended). I asked about the various characteristics of wool, what they liked or was good to work with. I also managed to find a few gifts for other people and some for myself, including a beautiful rust, brown and gold blanket from Lee Greenwalt of Big Sky Farm Handweaving.

Lee’s work, along with so much of what I saw at the festival, is truly amazing and functional art. And the thought of becoming a contributor to such a creative industry was very appealing, speaking to the heart of my desire to find purpose and community living here in the country.

Though I’d come hoping to find fiber goats like the Cashmere, I actually found myself enamored of two Gotland sheep I met. Covered in lustrous, tightly curled fleece in shades of silver, blue-gray and black, they were smaller and I have to say a lot cleaner-looking than many of the other sheep (due to their wool’s lower lanolin content, I learned, dirt and debris don’t stick to it as much). I also liked their fleece-free faces. Something about being able to see their bright, friendly eyes so clearly felt reassuring to me.

I spent a lot of time talking to the owners, Kim and Chuck of Grand View Farm in Washington, Vermont, who invited me out for a farm-stay to learn about this relatively new Swedish breed being developed in the United States. Kim said she hadn’t started out as a knitter or spinner either, but had embraced the hobby after being left with pound after pound of wool from their sheep. She also told me Gotlands are rather goat-like, being very personable and eating more brushy vegetation like goats can.

They just might be the best of both worlds, I thought. I’m so smitten, in fact, I’m thinking of going to the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival this coming weekend, too, to see if I can find any more Gotlands to ogle.

And I’m reading more about keeping sheep now instead of goats (though I might still have a few of them, too), which already sounds like a lot less trouble and requires not nearly as much sturdy fencing. I realized I could get a guard llama or donkey, and that my dog Gordie could finally have the small herd of animals his half-Collie side has always longed to tend. And though it would involve a lot of cold work in the winter and shearing sessions possibly twice per year, it also means I could look out the kitchen window and watch my silvery sheep grazing in the evening sun, black heads and feet buried in the grass, feeling as if I’m part of something larger than myself at last.

Which doesn’t sound like a bad view to me, at all. And like something maybe worth all the effort it would take to create, weaving together strands of my life that have grown so frayed into a stronger and purposeful whole.