The annual Fibershed Wool Symposium is the highlight of my year, my Christmas Day. In my estimation, it is the best California fiber show and marketplace. Even better, it’s a reunion. For seven, glorious hours each year, many of the wool growers, shearers, shepherds, and spinners I know gather in the same cozy place: a community center in Pt. Reyes Station, replete with gleaming, golden wood, big windows, cheese from Marin dairies, and plenty of hot coffee.
This may sound simple, but it’s no less a big deal for that. California is a massive state, and each of these folks lives 90 minutes to eight hours away from me. Having so many of them together makes me think I ought to file those Vatican papers saying I witnessed a miracle.
Even so, I hadn’t been able to muster my usual enthusiasm this year. I found it difficult to feel excited about anything after the election. Part of that is due to a preoccupation with new, logistical questions like: What will happen to my health care? Will I still be able to have a shearing and hoof trimming business when the ACA is repealed? I so love this hard, dirty work of helping sheep stay healthy. Will I be able to afford to continue to do it?
Worse, though, I’ve felt smothered by rising darkness and shameless acts of indisputable evil. It’s less about who won or lost than it is the behavior of certain people, the sort who would deface a church with swastikas, pull a woman’s hijab or clothing off, and yell at a brown child that their parents might be taken away. What grown adult with even a modicum of manners deliberately frightens a small child? The kind that delights in the result or, in other words, a deeply sick person. They are the minority, to be sure, but they are an increasingly vocal and emboldened one.
I felt unable to write or even knit. I had a couple of glasses of wine every night so I could sleep. I wasn’t in the mood to create, because everything that did not address the obvious darkness head-on felt small, insignificant, petty, and luxurious, sticking my blonde, white head in the sand (or rather, the fleece) to find false comfort, because there is no good reason to have any.
But there’s a promise I keep to myself, which is to not permit my own suffering. Allowing the lowest folk to diminish us and our identities, and especially our creativity, not only lets them win: it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because acts of independence and self-reliance are made possible by the most intrinsically human drive to design, create, make, share, and enjoy. Local economies and our enjoyment of them are defiant. Growing food to feed yourself is a form of resistance.
This, of course, is why our government rounded up and killed Navajo Churro sheep at a few points in history: to weaken and starve the Navajo people, and to kill their craft. Destroying craft would help destroy the Navajo identity and thus culture, and culture is a form of power.
Wool folk are just plain irresistible. It’s nigh on impossible to keep your gloom up in the face of such sweetness and light, and I could not. They smell like wood smoke and wear smooshy sweaters that make them feel like blankets when you hug them. They are attended by lambs and sheepdog puppies.
This year, I even saw and chatted with a few people who have attended my wool terroir and wool taster classes at ImagiKnit. What a lovely surprise! I guess my workshop couldn’t have been that bad.
And there could not have been a better start to the day than the pouring rain, the perfect, roof-pounding opening to a day dedicated to soil health, climate beneficial wool, and to so many people (of all political persuasions) doing the constant, hard work to shift our economies and the planet back into a sustainable balance.
Do not diminish the small gesture: every tree planted in a wind break, every cow pie feeding the soil, is critical to fixing the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Carbon farming and soil carbon sequestration matter now more than ever. A healthy, local, and accessible supply of lamb, cheese, and cloth sustains us and creates self-reliance. Community interdependence supersedes and replaces dependence on corporations.
The magnitude of our problems seems too vast to comprehend, let alone tackle. But, as Lani Estill so perfectly put it in her Wool Symposium presentation yesterday, agriculture is the only thing large enough to fix it. Amen.
It’s enough to make me hopeful.