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Home : Community : Newsletters & Stories

Newsletters & Stories

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A Knitter's Notes from the Iowa Flood

From all over the country people had been calling and emailing. Friends, relatives, colleagues, fellow children's book writers, old neighbors, and kindergarten classmates. They had been watching the news of the flood in Iowa and were worried about us. We were worried, too. Our house was safe, far from the flood waters, but what about our friends, our neighbors, our community? What if we were to loose water and power?

We stocked up on water. Filled our coolers and pitchers, just in case. We checked the flashlights, replaced batteries. Bought more candles. We caught up on the laundry. I shopped for less perishable vegetables and fruits: carrots and apples, onions and celery. We hard-boiled eggs and roasted a chicken. In case. We were prepared.

For a few evenings before the flood waters crested, my husband, my middle daughter and I sandbagged in front of the University of Iowa Student Union down by the Iowa River. Participating in this huge, remarkably valiant and civil effort was a full spectrum of folks; young and old, town and gown. All along the river's edges, in at-risk areas, the same actions were repeated. One person shoveling the sand, another holding the bag open. Three shovels full and then the bag was put aside. The shoveler pausing while a new bag was opened to repeat the process. The full bags were grabbed by the "sealers" who scurried around with pieces of wires that had an open "eye" on each end. Using a special tool that threaded through the eye, they turned and twisted until the bag was shut. Knitting socks is easy. Sealing sand bags is an art in itself.

A kind of bucket brigade of the hardiest souls hefted the sealed sandbags from one to another, the lines shifting as areas of the defense were completed. Forklifts puttered about picking up bags and delivering them to other places of need. Trucks were grunting all around, dumping yet more sand. With a loud metallic clang. Like a bullet or gun being fired. And all the while snatches of neighborly conversations were being struck between those assembled, united in hopes of helping fight the water. Holding it back somehow.

Returning to our car the first evening, tired and dirty, sore, leaving behind us a group of stronger and in most cases younger workers, I stopped to watch the river. It had already spilled onto the grassy banks where in my poor graduate student days, I would lunch on eat my standard peanut-butter and raisin sandwich and drink home-brewed coffee from my thermos. Then the river always seemed calm. A peaceful place to take a rest between my job and classes.

Michelle's Knitting Spring yarn stash (LB 1878 and Woolspun)The weather here on the prairie makes one humble. Storms, winds and tornados are a theatre of their own. Plays of biblical proportions. To be both feared and respected. The power of weather to take over the path of one's daily life is forgotten and remembered, over and over again. Waiting for me at home was a basket of hand-dyed yarns, artifacts from our long, harsh winter: my attempt to bring some color into my life.

I had planned on a shawl, one that celebrated spring. This winter, spring was what we were all hoping for; the sunshine, greenness and warmth. Flowers. But after the snow melted, it seemed to rain incessantly. And now, here in southeastern Iowa, the flood has shaken our faith in spring to heal our wintry spirits. Maybe summer, too.

What kind of shawl could I knit now?

Could I create a pattern that was forceful, like the weather, like river? A swirling spiral perhaps, free flowing and original. Perhaps. But honestly, I was just too tired. What I wanted was a pattern I could relax with, cast on, and knit right away. I wanted to feel the calm descend as I watched the shawl developed. I wanted a pattern that had all the math done. By someone else.

Michelle's Lace ShawlThe Lace Wrap pattern turned out to be the perfect choice. I had admired it when it first came out and the wavy pattern seemed river-like. It was a long rectangle and its 80 inches would provide me with the comfort of many hours of knitting. The lacy pattern was easy to remember, really just three rows, two of which varied in small, but logical ways. A tad of complexity.

Sidebar: Using stitch markers at the beginning and end of repeats made detecting and fixing mistakes easy. And a row counter, to keep track of where I was in the pattern.

While the river peaked, I dug into my stash of dyed LB 1878, my many balls of varying color ways, mostly deep oranges yellows and browns. Choosing a darker skein and a brighter skein, I began by alternating between the two, every two rows. With lace-weight wool, even on number 8 needles, knitting this is not an overnight project. It might take all summer. Fall and winter. But I'm in no rush. Really. It’s such pleasant knitting, logical and methodical and beautiful to watch. Such lightweight is knitting easy to take along. Perhaps, I'll still be knitting the shawl when the river recedes completely or the clean-up underway is finally finished. And then, this shawl will remind me of the flood, the fear and anxiety and horror of watching the river spill over into much loved parts of our town and university. Of a time when all our attention was on the power of weather and the river. When I'm finished with this shawl, they'll be just a few skeins of yarn left from my spring dying. Worsted and bulky weight. Perfect for hats and mittens. Let's hope for a peaceful winter. - Courage from the soggy heartland.

If you are interested in helping with the relief effort, here are a few organizations that you may want to contact (click names to go to their websites):
- Family Farm Disaster Fund
- Mennonite Disaster Service
- Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation
- University of Iowa Flood Relief Fund

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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