Knitting, astronomy, cloud watching, painting. Hobbies like these are often solitary pursuits, which is part of their appeal. But sometimes it’s good to get out there.
Knitting on deck
Pinky Rines and her husband, Glen, of Hollis, N.H., love to sail. She knits, he doesn’t. This summer when they again board the historic schooner J. & E. Riggin, out of Rockland, Maine, it will be her sixth knitting cruise in island-dotted Penobscot Bay.
While he hangs out with the windjammer’s captain, she’ll spend four days learning how to dye her own yarn using seawater and design a project that’s uniquely her own. A small group, beginners to serious knitters, will be taught by accomplished instructors. They’ll learn from each other, too.
“Knitting and sailing just go together,” said Rines. “They’re both about the process. You enjoy them because you’re willing to let it take a while to get where you’re going.
“A lot of knitters come alone,” she added. “Windjammers are like stepping back in time. It’s a different world, with limited cell service. You get to enjoy your hobby and be on vacation in this beautiful place, on the water, with gourmet meals and time to relax.” At night, they’ll drop anchor in quiet harbors for music sessions and conversation. “Knitting is a solo activity but we’re also a community with a shared interest. Get knitters talking and we don’t stop.”
Other weeks aboard the Riggin are set aside for quilters, storytellers and musicians, photographers, lighthouse lovers, and cooks, or for families with kids who learn the ropes.
When Hannah diCicco was in fifth grade, she and her parents went on a Caribbean cruise to see a total solar eclipse.
“Beforehand I knew typical kid-level astronomy, but seeing the eclipse turned me onto it completely,” said diCicco, 29. In college, she minored in the science but as the administrative manager of a research lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, she now has little time for the stars.
“There’s plenty of urban astronomy you can do but it’s inconvenient without roof access for my city apartment building,” said diCicco. Many amateur astronomers travel to dark-sky sites like Arizona, Hawaii, and Chile on trips associated with the Smithsonian or Sky & Telescope or Astronomy magazines. Some go on luxury cruises with NASA astronomers. Her travel budget is too slim.
But in July she’ll travel to Vermont for her 25th consecutive year at Stellafane, an annual astronomy convention of camping under the stars. “It’s a little bit hippy dippy,” she said. Hundreds of people, all ages, from families with kids to “older geeks” who are like family to her now, will set up tents and telescopes, attend technical talks and demos, and teach each other about their shared interest. No commercial vendors are allowed. Founded in 1926 by the Springfield Telescope Makers club, Stellafane is among the oldest amateur astronomy gatherings in the country.
“You could learn a lot elsewhere, but Stellafane is unique because you can stroll over to someone who has set up their telescope and say ‘tell me about it.’ Once the sun goes down, it’s fantastic,” she said, “because everyone is observing and very eager to chat. You’re surrounded by your kind of people.”
Making art in Provence
When Laurie Triba of Sudbury retired from teaching, she made time for art classes and daydreamed about trips listed in publications like American Artist and Pastel magazine. She had never been to Europe, never seen the light, colors, and scenes that captivated the Impressionist painters. So when her instructor, Jeanne Rosier Smith, a master pastel artist who teaches in Sudbury, announced she was leading a group to Provence, Triba jumped.
“Our group was mostly women in their 40s to 70s, beginners to advanced pastel artists, from all over the country,” said Triba. “Everyone worked at their own level.
“I didn’t have a lot of plein air experience, which is very different from painting in the studio. You have to deal with changing light and weather conditions. On the trip, I learned how to paint faster and appraise the situation beforehand, and how to set up a palette in a small box for travel with colors chosen for our destination.” They brought multiple shades of lavender and stone for the fields and old villages they’d visit within hours of Roquefort-les-pines where they stayed at an old inn.
“Most people came alone but as part of a group, you always felt you had someone to be with,” said Triba. “The scenery was breathtaking. The local people seemed to enjoy having us there, setting up in front of their shops. Tourists took pictures of us painting.”
Her advice: Choose a well-planned trip and get enough information beforehand to know if it includes things that are important to you, such as accommodations and time to explore.
Linda Jones, a retired pastor in Morris, Ill., says, “One of the joys of living in prairie country is watching clouds and sunsets while driving among corn and soybean fields.” Don Hatfield, an actuary in Dallas, told me pausing to watch clouds is important in our busy world, “a nice combination of science, art, and an exercise in imagination. It gives me time to stop and simply observe.” New York artist Elyn Zimmerman photographs clouds and other natural phenomena for use in her drawings.
All three are members of the Cloud Appreciation Society who traveled to the Northwest Territories, near Yellowknife in Canada, in February to observe the aurora, or Northern Lights.
CAS is an online community of people around the world who simply enjoy looking at those puffs in the sky. It was founded in the United Kingdom by Gavin Pretor-Pinney after people attending a literary festival showed up for his “inaugural lecture” on the yet nonexistent society in 2004.
“Contemplating cloud shapes and the sky for a few minutes a day benefits the soul,” said Pretor-Pinney. “It helps keep your feet on the ground.”
More than 40,000 people have since joined. Via e-mail and social media, CAS frequently sends them amazing photos, mostly submitted by members, plus poems and other tidbits. The aurora Sky Holiday was the first trip ever organized for members. Pretor-Pinney said in early 2018 there will be another to view the aurora in Scandinavia, and a conference somewhere, too.
Hatfield and his wife made friends on the trip with whom they’ll probably travel again. “What most surprised me was the diversity around Yellowknife,” he said. “People had come from New Zealand, France, Slovakia, England, and Scotland, to name just a few.”
Janet Mendelsohn can be reached at www.janetmendelsohn.com.