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One sick year, 30 years of yarn, and the death of an 80-year-old oak

The last year of living could never have been imagined. The fear, the unknown, the isolation, the loss of routine, the dispensing of regular celebrations, the loss of human life, the anger, the lying, sickness like no one of us had ever really seen.

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The last year of living could never have been imagined. The fear, the unknown, the isolation, the loss of routine, the dispensing of regular celebrations, the loss of human life, the anger, the lying, sickness like no one of us had ever really seen. The surrealistic nature of a year that was not only dominated by sickness but had the exclamation point of our ongoing obsession with classifying ourselves by the thinnest of our human characteristics, our skin color. The speculation was there, that our ability to travel quickly from one part of the world to another would some day lead to an outbreak like we’ve seen … but the reality of it … almost impossible to imagine.

To cope, I had my list of pandemic projects, which when the pandemic turned into two chapters necessitated another list. Things like, put all the old videos on a thumb drive, give blood regularly, sort all books, read all my grandparents’ and parents’ letters and store in an archival box (I learned more then I wanted to know), reshelve my knickknack room — all worthy endeavors for a pandemic year. One more task: clean the front closet, where I found a battered bag from the old Depth of Field fiber arts store in Minneapolis. The distinctive orange flowered bag held exactly $93 worth of very attractive mohair yarn, the front, back and the start of one sleeve of a sweater that I had started in 1991, according to the receipt. This was ancient history, before kids, before the loss of my parents, before. In the before times. Before I knew what a pandemic was, before I knew what it was to be unable to get home from our cabin because the highways were closed due to protests, before we endured a separation of a year from our children.

Kris Potter
Kris Potter
I ferociously attacked the abandoned sweater project, dimly remembering that I had abandoned it because I was afraid I would run out of the one-of-a-kind yarn that composed it. I also had a fear of making mistakes with the mohair yarn as a young knitter because it was extremely hard to undo them with the hairy nature of mohair. But I’m older now, have knit more, and felt a little more confident about making those mistakes. In fact I learned that the mohair actually covered a multitude of sins, from dropping stitches to sloppy increases and decreases. I forged ahead using my bumbling skills to methodically finish each sweater section, grasping onto YouTube videos of the professionals to shepherd me, along with the patient, gentle voice of my long-ago knitting teacher at Depth of Field echoing in my ear. The sweater was finished, it’s beautiful, and there was in fact enough yarn. I did have the know-how to plod through the pattern, and I used the mohair to my advantage. It was the same techniques I used to get through the year, pulling out old tools from previous personal crises to address this one. And developing a few new ones for the biggest crisis ever.

The old oak — we think it is 80 years old — was always spindly. It gave free shade and cooling and beauty for the 50 years I’ve known it. Maybe due to the recent heat, it split, not just up and down but from side to side. It tried to fall, but was propped up by its tree neighbors who sacrificed a large branch on one tree and the leading spire on another to cushion its fall until the local tree expert could reduce it to a stump. This is the lesson from this year I want to remember the most. It gave for 80 some years, without charge or fee; its neighbors guarded it for many of those years and in the end sacrificed to help it. The biggest lesson from this year — that our neighbors, the doctors, the researchers, the health care workers, the public health experts who have been preparing for this year for far more then 80 years, studied in quiet and silence, continued to work, even when there was so much unknown. The wide branches of our health care tree shaded us, delivered a vaccine, and spent hours educating us as to what they knew when they knew it.

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But there’s one more lesson I need to learn, and keep learning: how to listen, how to listen to those who know more then I do, how to listen to those who have faced every day the pandemic of racism, how to listen to those who don’t know how to hear the message of health and safety our public health officials have tried to deliver. So that’s my biggest lesson this year; my life toolbox is deep, but there will hopefully be many more years for learning how to use those tools and many more challenges that demand I use them.

Kris Potter lives and writes in south Minneapolis.


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