the thaw

Hello and welcome to our Wednesday My Place post! Today’s contribution is something really special, and I’m very excited to introduce it! First of all, the design is the kind of shawl I really like: bold and graphic in appearance, but with lots of variety and some novel features that keep the knitting interesting. Next, it’s a design by Rebecca Osborn, a multi-talented textile artist, whose patterns (such as the gorgeous Ordinary Time hoody) you may have already come across on Ravelry. Rebecca also writes a lively and engaging blog (of the familiar journal kind I love and, in general, rather miss) documenting her spinning, weaving and quilting as well as her knitting. I really admire Rebecca’s thoughtful and attentive writing, and I love reading about her wide range of projects, her family life, and her distinctive place in the world. Because Rebecca’s place is distinctive: she is an Anglican priest who lives and works in Rankin Inlet – a fly-in, fly-out community in Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic. On so many different levels, Rebecca’s work responds to the joys and challenges of Arctic life: and an increasingly palpable challenge for all circumpolar communities is the one posed by our warming climate. Considered in purely aesthetic terms, Rebecca’s shawl is incredibly beautiful; the techniques she uses are innovative, and (having tested out the motifs used) I know that this pattern is a wonderful knit. But The Thaw is not just a thing of beauty: inseparable from the broader context of Rebecca’s place in a changing landscape, and the mixed emotions those changes inspire, this is a design that truly takes my breath away. I know you’ll love reading what Rebecca has to say about her place. Enjoy.

Rebecca, wearing her Inukshuk yoke sweater, knitted from her own Icelandic handspun.

One day in June, I was flying south for vacation from our home in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada. Although not above the Arctic circle, Iqaluit is technically part of the Arctic, being far above the treeline. I looked out the plane window over the still-frozen Frobisher Bay. The spring thaw had begun, leaving a pattern of water in the snow that blanketed at least a meter of ice. For reasons still unknown to me, the water melted into a lattice pattern of diamonds in the snow. With a toddler wiggling in my lap, I didn’t have a chance to take a picture, but that image stayed with me. I wanted to knit it.

Closeup of dark colorway of The Thaw. Can you spot the snowflake?
Such large snowflakes belong to warmer weather; it is unusual to see them in January

Another day, I was standing outside my workplace with my boss, looking over that same bay. My workplace was a church, built in the shape of a large igloo. My boss at the time was an Inuk elder, a fellow Anglican priest, who had translated much of the Christian Bible into his mother tongue, and had spent his own summer vacation camping on the tundra under the midnight sun. It was a warm day in October; the grasses had turned brown but had not yet been covered by snow. My boss pointed to the bay and informed me, in his impressive way: “When I was young, the bay would already be frozen. Now it won’t freeze until January.”

St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Rebuilt in 2012 after a fire, modeled after the original cathedral designed and built by Inuit

Warm weather in the Arctic is enjoyable, but it can also feel slightly ominous. The fragile ecosystems of the far north were the first to start seeing the effects of global warming, and the Inuit were the first to notice them.

An inlet of the Hudson Bay near Rankin Inlet, during the spring thaw in June.
Eider ducks can be seen in the distance bathing in the snow melt on the sea ice

We have since moved to another community in Nunavut. Like everywhere else in the territory, Rankin is a fly-in-fly-out community, unconnected by road to the rest of the world. Rankin Inlet is on the Hudson Bay, right in the middle of the Canadian north. We traded Iqaluit’s rocky hills for Rankin’s grassy plains and rolling eskers.

Fog descending on a warm day in January

Here, too, we hear stories of how much more severe winters used to be. Rankin Inlet is famous for its blizzards; many people are best acquainted with it by being stuck here until the weather clears. But elders who have lived here for decades tell us that blizzards used to last two weeks, not a few days. Summer is a long season of enjoyment, including cabining, hunting, fishing, and berry picking. But I can’t go outside without seeing the tall invasive grasses that grow on the verge of my street, and the willow shrubs in my backyard seem enormous now that they have grown over two feet tall. Even having a day warm enough to take these pictures outdoors is an anomaly.

The Thaw

In this small shawl, I wanted to capture my mixed emotions at the spring thaw. I made its shape slightly more than a half-circle, so looking down on it would remind me of the circumpolar community, and our shared concerns for the shrinking ice. But the predominating feature is unalloyed beauty: the heart-touching beauty of water pooling in an aqua lattice on top of sea ice, the celebratory excitement of warmer weather and longer days.

The Thaw

When you think of the Arctic, you probably think of the cold, but you should also think of change. From dark days to light night, the land sleeps in the winter and explodes with life in the summer, going through one of the most dramatic annual environmental changes in the world. The concerns are real and the future is uncertain, but on the ground, the anxiety is abstract. Being out on the land teaches me not to be afraid, but to walk with respect, and never to take this beauty for granted.

The Thaw

Thank you to my two young friends Marikah and Rebekka for modeling the shawls. Rebekka had the idea for taking pictures with the iconic Rankin Inlet inukshuk, designed and built by Inuit in 1991. Thanks are due as well to my mother, Linda, for testing the pattern and knitting the darker shawl.

Marikah, Rebekka and the Rankin Inlet inukshuk

And thank you, Rebecca, for your words, and your contribution to the My Place project.

The Thaw is available on Ravelry.