Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blackberry Jam

Jam collage

Jam collage, originally uploaded by Amaranth Road Studio.

Last weekend I made a batch of jam from blackberries picked in Sechelt. We are blessed on the West Coast to have an abundance of blackberries and if you're willing to brave the bears in more remote areas the crop is almost endless in late summer. The jam experiment was a huge success as was the photography experiment. I used my homemade soft box again and this time increased the exposure to almost a full second. This created a much more even white background. I still had to do some slight colour corrections in Photoshop for the yellowish cast created by my desk lamp light, but no other post-processing was necessary.

As for the jam, I recommend using pectin that will activate without the addition of much sugar. I have recently discovered that there are a few different types of pectin--those that require sugar in huge quantities to jell and those that don't. I used Pomona's Universal Pectin ( which uses calcium water to activate rather than sugar. Because of this I was able to add only 2 cups of sugar to 8 cups of fruit rather than the 14 (!!) cups called for in my Bernardin blackberry jam recipe. I certainly don't want my jam to have more sugar than fruit in it, particularly considering how sweet and ripe the fresh-picked blackberries were. The addition of a bit of lemon juice keeps the acidity up for canning purposes. The pectin worked extremely well--in fact I probably could have used a bit less. It jelled beautifully and I now have 9 jars of low-sugar, completely organic blackberry jam to carry me through the berry-less winter. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Toby. By Andrea Paterson. Amaranth Road Studio.
I finished Toby this past weekend. He is 100% Corriedale wool, needle felted, with bead eyes. He stands about 2 inches tall and 3.5 inches long. Yesterday I constructed a DIY macro photography studio out of a cardboard box, translucent tracing paper, and a desk lamp. There are lots of tutorials online. I used the light box to do the photo shoot on this needle felting project. While somewhat successful it still needs  work. My light source was too yellow, which meant a bunch of tweaks in post processing. The light also wasn't as even as I had expected. It could be that I need multiple light sources to achieve completely even lighting. In any event, it was far better than the results I would have got in my dark basement apartment with my small on camera flash. There are a few more photos of this project on Flickr.

Felt Piglet

Felt Piglet 2

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Photo Saturday

Lantern, originally uploaded by Amaranth Road Studio.

A quick photo post from a recent trip to Sechelt. More on Flickr.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Secret Sea

 On Wednesday I got to look inside, deep below the stretching skin, to see the life swimming there. I might as well have traveled to space and discovered an alien planet instead of the egg shaped space of my own womb.  There is an entire universe there, with one ruler at its center commanding the waves. With the sonographer as our guide my husband and I were taken on a bizarre corporeal safari with each landmark emerging from the murky water, like some new translucent species caught in the flashlight of a deep sea diver.

"There" said our guide, voice hushed as one approaching a shy animal, "there is the heart, there is a femur, there the spine, the smooth surface of the back, a mouth, kicking feet, hands already grasping." We stared in amazement for it still seems impossible that a whole person is contained within me. For the next four and a half months two souls reside in this single body and if there is a miracle in play that must be it. The light of the ultrasound skimmed the body of our baby revealing more than we will ever see again: nose, skull, ribs, toes, eyes that looked like dark pools that held a wealth of mysteries.

This creature is not quite human, I thought, as my baby flipped itself from back to belly as smoothly as a dolphin. This is something of the sea--a recapitulation of our emergence from ancient waters, not quite fish, not quite mammal. I tried to recognize this baby, tried to see something of myself in its spinning form, but I couldn't. This baby is as strange and unknowable as any alien being might be. It has its own language and its own world within my body. How mind-bending to think that something inside my own belly is so completely inaccessible to my imagination. I can never know what it is like to float in that secret sea. Memory does not allow us to travel back so far and we begin our lives in a realm of dreams.

We were given six pictures to take home: grainy images of our very own Loch Ness Monster. The image above is our baby's feet. The one on the left angled in towards the one on the right, with visible toes, just like those photos of newborn feet that every photographer takes to show smallness and perfection. And so we wait, photos in hand, for this baby to arrive from its distant planet and join us on the earth. The portal is closed and the next time we see this little one will be the day of its birth when it assumes human form and finally breathes the air.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Wolf-Mother

I maintain a recurring interest in wolves. They have this tendency to slink out of the forests of my subconscious mind and assert themselves as metaphors and aspects of personal myth. They represent one of the last elemental forces of wildness in the North American landscape, showing up in literature from Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf to Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves. They walk the liminal spaces between tenacious family bonds and the brutality of natural predators. As such they seem to contradict themselves, exhibiting love and violence in equal measure, domesticity and wildness in the same moment.

I have recently taken to wearing a hand-crafted pendant painted with the image of a howling wolf that I bought the summer I spent in Northern Ontario working for the Ministry of Natural Resources. I wore it constantly that summer when my world consisted of pine forests, long voyages by canoe, and quests to see the Aurora Borealis. Somehow, though I never saw one, wolves felt close that summer as my own wild nature, usually hidden, trekked abandoned portages and drank loon calls like a heady wine. I put the clay pendant away when I returned to the city and it lost its relevance amidst the routine of my urban life. Ten years later I thought of it, buried in a box of knick-knacks and forgotten treasures. A distant internal howling made me seek it out, knowing that the image had once again become relevant.

I found out I was pregnant back in June and have since discovered that there is no state more purely animal. From weeks five to fifteen all vestiges of my human intellect were lost to constant “morning sickness” that would assault me at any moment of the day and was certainly not contained to the morning. I began existing in a deeply physical world where my only concerns were satisfying the two contrary needs of my body--the need to eat and drink and the need to purge everything that had been consumed. I lay in the cave-like darkness of my basement apartment and growled while wave after wave of nausea banished every human thought from my mind. My husband brought me fruit cups like sacred offerings and every day I would slowly use up all the spoons in the house while subsisting on peaches in syrup and apple sauce.

The She-Wolf emerged then and took over control of my body. Severe dehydration eventually landed me in the hospital emergency room where I was pumped full of two liters of I.V. fluid. I lay on the stark white table and stared at the ceiling. I felt my wolf tail swish and my wolf body thrash and cry in a desperate state of hunger, thirst, and unrelenting sickness. I whimpered, I moaned, and gave in to my Wolf mind that thought only of survival for me and the child that lay silent in the ocean of my womb.

By week fifteen the sickness was lifting. I started to read again, to stretch my legs, go for walks, and eat a wider variety of foods. The Wolf-Mother retreated to the edges of my mind’s forest and my analytical mind began to reassert itself. I thought about writing and had a number of false starts as I struggled to describe the first trimester of this pregnancy. I can still feel wolf eyes watching me, taking in my every move and waiting for the moment when a totem will be needed once again.

As wearing and challenging as the past four months have been now, 18 weeks along this road, there is comfort in knowing that an animal self is there, ready to take over when the need is great. I will call on the Wolf-Mother again in the near future when I come to the moment of birth. In labour my human mind will do me no good. The tendency to inspect and judge my body’s experiences will only interfere with the fine tuned process of birthing my baby. The Wolf-Mother knows how to birth instinctively and I must trust myself to her care if I hope to pass through this greatest of trials with a sense of accomplishment and power. And so I have been wearing the wolf pendant almost every day, to remind myself of the wild and primeval state that swirls underneath the surface of social decorum and mental gymnastics that we humans don to hide the fact that we are animals. As this pregnancy progresses my mind becomes increasingly mired in fog, like the misty northern mornings of a decade ago when I woke to a world that looked like mythical Avalon. It will become harder to hold on to what is deemed human and easier to tip my head back and howl at the moon as it pulls on the tide of my womb and speaks to the tiny creature swimming there, engrossed in the elemental process of becoming.