What can you possibly do when you get a call saying that a good friend whom you have known for approximately two decades is in a medical facility, is expected to live maybe another two weeks, and wants to be at home?
For the first five days, you spend hours working in conjunction with her other friends, researching and phoning and doing everything in your power to get her home. You also figure out how to put critical deadlines on hold, you get plane tickets, and you pack.
You also think about what the heck you can do to set the tone of comfort and communication for both of you, even though talking is now physically difficult for your friend and you’re not at all sure what her energy is like or what will be most helpful.
This was me, getting ready to visit my friend Deborah Pulliam, knowing it was very likely this would be the last time we would see each other and still, of course, hoping for a miracle. There was one miracle already in the works—it was physically possible for me to get to Maine at this time—so why not another?
I’m a fiber person.
She’s a fiber person.
I could knit something.
It would have to be small and fairly fast to knit, because I didn’t have much time, but not brainless, because neither of us is brainless. It would have to suit her present situation, whatever that was.
Years ago, I made my daughter a tiny angora bunny (from handspun dark-lavender angora), which she has often carried in her pocket during stressful times. I thought I might make Deborah a different sort of rabbit with a similar mission. It would need to be small enough to sit on her pillow or be cradled in her hand. It would need to be very soft. It would need to be made entirely of natural fibers. It would need to have personality and grace.
Under severe stress, I don’t create well. I needed a pattern. A good pattern. There are a lot of stupid patterns out there. Yarn. Stuffing.
The softest yarn I could locate quickly enough was what I was already knitting: a laceweight alpaca. I tried to find something even softer, and couldn’t. I did think Deborah might enjoy the fiberist’s pun of an alpaca rabbit. The most appropriate stuffing I could locate was, bizarrely, superfine Merino top. That touch of absurdity seemed to fit the situation.
Thanks to an Etsy search, I found the perfect pattern. Although the design was intended to produce a larger rabbit from aran, DK, or worsted-weight yarn, I figured my shift to laceweight would scale it down the right amount. I packed my project bag with yarn needles (one blunt steel, to use by preference, and one plastic, as backup in case TSA confiscated the steel one), blunt scissors, a crochet hook, short knitting needles, and scraps of black yarn for embroidering the face. No buttons for eyes. SOFT.
In transit from Denver to Maine by way of Atlanta, I had ten hours. While holding my friend in the Light (praying for her according to my practice), I knitted rabbit components. I started with the legs. I’d finish a limb, stuff it with scrambled superfine Merino, stitch it closed, and pop it into my work bag. The pieces were tiny. I hoped I wouldn’t lose any of them (and didn’t).
My final flight arrived in Maine too late to for me to make it to Deborah’s house before dark, and I called to confirm what I’d heard from another of her friends: Don’t try to find the town for the first time after the sun goes down. Deborah answered the phone herself and said, "Correct." I told her I’d see her in the morning and found a motel that was inexpensive because it was being renovated (the bed in my room was brand new!), finished assembling the rabbit, and snapped a portrait.
I hadn’t had any ideas about the rabbit’s name as I was making it, so when I gave it to Deb I told her that it needed a name. She immediately said what I heard as baggadoose, which I thought was odd, but this critter had been aimed at her from its first cast-on and she was extremely positive about her choice. So be it.
While driving back and forth between Deborah’s home and the nearest commercial resources to get things that she needed, quite a distance on beautiful two-lane roads, I discovered by watching signs that she had named the bunny after the Bagaduce River. A Mainer would have heard the word right the first time! And might understand the other ramifications of the term, which involve the Revolutionary War and the town where Deborah set down her roots.
On researching the name, I discovered disagreement about its etymology. One source says it’s "a corruption of Abadusets,
the name of a tribe of Indians from that area, and of Abagadusset, the
name of a tributary of Maine’s Kennebec River." Another says that its Native American source is Matchebiguatus, which apparently means "at a place where there is no safe harbor." Initially this disturbed me, and then I thought that even when we are in places without safe harbor we can look for small ways to give ourselves moments of safety.
If I’d had an opportunity to ask, Deborah would undoubtedly have been able to give me her opinions on whether the sources I found were reliable or not.
The bunny spent time in the pocket of her shirt. When I left, it was on a mantel keeping watch over her on my behalf.
The last afternoon when I was in Maine, when Deborah was resting, I went out for a walk to see where I was before I left the place. I know Deb walked the area frequently and it was easy to see why. As I walked, a light rain was falling along with dusk.
Down at the waterfront, I came across the schooner Bowdoin at its mooring spot. The ship was the only thing I took a photo of during my time in Castine, which is lovely and would be a nice place to go back to and explore with an eye for aesthetics.
So here’s an Arctic-exploring ship at rest:
It’s best to have good friends and good vessels nearby. One of the blessings of the past two weeks was seeing Deborah again. Another was the phone and in-person conversations I’ve had with a number of her other friends, whom I had heard about but not met.
Special thanks to another friend, Dale Pettigrew, for sending along with me the book and CD Graceful Passages, which helped me and also several of the support folks who made it possible for my friend to complete her own passage at home.
This post will not make more sense than it does because life does not make more sense than it does.
That’s part of why I like knitting. For brief moments, we can make sense and connection out of string and fluff.