Tension: A Bi-Directional Beauty Bearing Friction

While I haven’t had cats as pets since I was kid I remember brushing them and being astounded at how much hair they had even though they were shorthairs. And I also recall cleaning up their shedding with adhesive lint rollers all over the house. I adored those Tonkinese cats so much and never really minded cleaning up after them.
Though I have never had a dog (and I love dogs) I hear that the battle with dog hair is also a low grade war that must also be fought in the home.

Now it may seem like a gag that there are books on crafting with your cat’s hair or making yarn and knitting with your dog’s hair…here is evidence.

But this actually has an ancient pedigree. In just the last few weeks dog hair weaving has been a point of published research by research scientists at the University of Victoria in British Columbia in partnership with the Tseshaht First Nations on reports of their archeological digs on the Broken Group Islands. There they found evidence of a an ancient wooly dog breed that was at least 3000 years old that, according to Dylan Hillis, one of the researchers, “were bred especially for their fur which was used in weaving ceremonial blankets and other regalia, these items were considered very valuable to the community.”

Their coats would be sheared a few times a year and recent analyses are showing these dogs were very well cared for. They had been provided a diet of anchovy, herring and salmon.

Much earlier in the year I wrote a piece about the Cowichan knitting tradition from the same part of the world as this study I noted and to weave or knit  – no matter what kind fiber you are using  – you have to maintain the proper level of tension for the strands to have a chance to grab onto each other and hold the shape and design that is intended.

This finding about the dog hair weaving is real and it was just published but I used it as a point of departure to reflect a bit on this word tension. Tension.

If you live in the United States or are following the news about the United States you can’t help but sense it around the consequences of the election. I certainly do. Tension comes from the Proto Indo European root *ten which means ‘to stretch’ or ‘to string’ and we know, in a felt sense, what that pulling is like.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of tension differently “poetry is what happens when you tighten language and bring it to tautness so it might sing.”

So tension can certainly be painful but any violin concerto or cello duet or strummed guitar or sung note that brought bright shivers to your well oiled skin was only possible because of tension. Well managed tension. And then there is this gorgeous matter of tight and poetic language.

But just because there is tension in the air of the nation though is no guarantee that it will (or can be) played well though. But let me do my  best to weave in the garden of words around this root and see if one decent note might be drawn out from the tensioned string of this time. and this root *ten.

The generous word “attend” and its kin “attention” have the sense of caring for something by stretching your hand or your mind towards it.

Or the word “tender” can mean something that is so delicate and painful or something full of great gentleness and care.

The disease tetanus, also called lockjaw, is so named because of the tension it engenders. But of course that tension is only made possible because of the seizing of the tendons. Tendon being another word springing from the same root.

But the word tendon comes from the Sanskrit word “tantra” which means many things but it’s simplest meaning is that of a loom, the warp, or the weaving. Some might stretch its meaning to that which weaves reality itself. Tantra too comes from *ten.

In the recent book “Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being” by Alastair McIntosh he writes of the need to be “held in the basket of community, the warp and the weft.” And this is another kind of tension. The same kind of tension that allowed wooly dog hair to be made into ceremonial regalia thousands of years ago. A bi-directional beauty bearing friction. Now there may have been times and places where there were cultures that had all warp and no weft but I’d make the case that the balance needed now is a cultural weft, the thread that goes through and across the thread of fabric of forward movement that holds us together.

Is it as simple as having a broader sense of the word tension itself that will somehow deliver us from tension? No? I don’t know? But it certainly couldn’t hurt to know how to skillfully and beautifully wield tension. It has been done before, is being done now, and might be done again in a non-metaphorical way. Perhaps the language is a way in.

Thanks so much for your regular orders and support. If this piece brings up any questions or comments for you – feel free to respond, you’ll be happily responded to.

Until soon enough,


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