There are a lot of people out there who think that man's most important invention was the wheel. More practical people say that it's our ability to use fire that puts us over the top as a species. And in the 90% perspiration/10% inspiration camp, it's the electric light bulb that takes the prize.
They are all wrong.
The most important invention of all time is the Ziploc bag. Preferably in the gallon-size.
I had this revelation a few weeks ago, when I unpacked my suitcase after our recent family beach vacation. Sand, being one of life's great equalizers, covered everything in there. My clothes, my books, my stash of Blind Betty Hot Sauce, and even my toothbrush were covered, to one degree or another, in sand. Yup. It was all a gritty mess. Everything, that is, except for my knitting. And that's because of the Ziploc bag. (Angelic harp music rises to a crescendo about now.) All of my vacation knitting projects emerged from the comfort and safety of a system of Ziploc bags that would make even a FEMA official cry for its sheer preparedness.
Think about it: How many times have you looked around for something to put leftovers in? Where do you put those nuts and bolts from that Ikea bed you just took apart? (The one that came with the inscrutable instructions in some Swedish Manual Sketch Language.) What else will contain the spidery mess of power cords you've collected from years of home computing? (Was that a REAL floppy disk at the bottom of the bag?) Yes, it's the Ziploc bag that deserves a lot more respect than it gets.
For me, the Ziploc bag allows me to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes -- outdoor knitting. Being one of those people who just HAS to put her feet on the Earth first thing in the morning before I can make a declarative sentence -- or breakfast -- it's no surprise that I indulge in knitting, my favorite hobby, out of doors. I knit in the garden, at the park, at baseball games. But, hands down, my favorite place to knit is on the beach.
Give me a beach and I will knit on it. And not just on sunny, gorgeous, let's-pretend-we-are-stars-making-a-paparazzi-moment-by-walking-our-dogs-in-Malibu days. I knit on blazing, 100-degree days when the sun has a presence like a World Federation Wrestler. I knit in sand storms. Dark storm cloud advancing from the south? I keep right on purling and yarn-overing right up until the raindrops start falling. I'm not scared. I've knit complex Fair Isle sweaters on the beach. (This requires a fluid, but practical system of Ziploc bags.) I've knit lace. I've knit socks -- more on that later. I've knit just about anything on a beach -- with the exception of making pom-poms. Though give me some time there, and I'll figure out how to do it. If it involves knitting, I've tried it on a beach. In fact, I spend by far the lion's share of my vacation packing time not on which clothes I'm taking. It's organizing the beach knitting projects that takes hours of preparation and outfitting. (Whole vacations can be ruined when you find yourself at some equatorial location with the WRONG size circular needle.)
Now that I'm unpacked, it occurs to me that I should share some of my Ziploc beachside wisdom. I know you too (and your knitting) will live better, because of the Ziploc bag:
1 -- Bring 'em all. Don't be shy about the number of Ziploc bags you bring on vacation. You might lose one. Or your husband-wife-partner-pick one might need one for his-her toothbrush. Or, just maybe, you might have to buy some yarn at that yarn shop you discovered "right down the road from the hotel" (20 miles) that has just the right handspun, hand painted stuff you've been looking for so you could knit up that pattern you've been holding onto for, oh, about the last six years. Yeah. You're going to need a safe way to transport that treasure home -- like in a Ziploc.
2 -- Don't over-stuff your Ziploc. Once your knitting project begins to take shape, it will require more room. This is because the wonderful sense of order it had balled up on a skein has now been replaced by its creative function in life. Wool with a purpose needs room to be fully realized.
3 -- We all live in fear that our knitting will be confiscated by airport security. (On an X-ray screen, knitting equipment just screams out "potential explosive device.") Save yourself and airport security folk a lot of hassle by putting all you knitting stuff in a Ziploc -- all pulled out of your bags and easy to see. I do this every time I fly -- and have actually seen a security scanner smile.
4 -- Let your bags air out après beach. Just like you, wool loves to absorb the lovely salt air. Unlike you, it will sweat it out later. This can cause unseemly condensation inside your Ziploc. Fine for blocking, but not what you want to deal with as you prepare to leap over the side of the boat with your snorkel mask on.
3 -- Toss a clean rock or seashell inside your bag to weigh it down. I have learned the hard way that even on a day as still as the Sargasso Sea, you are taking ridiculous risks trusting the wind. Winds DO kick up. There are few things more embarrassing than sprinting down the surf after an airborne knitting project, the skein unraveling around bathers and snagging boogie boards.
5 -- If you are knitting socks on the beach, knit both of them there. Maybe it's the salt air, the proximity to sea level, whatever, but a sock you knit seaside (even using the same yarn and the same sized needles) will be looser than the sock you knit in your dry, air-conditioned home. Who wants one baggy ankle?
So, I will close here in awe of mankind's greatest achievement. It's good to know that I don't have to do anything too lofty to take in its unique and ubiquitous value. All I have to do is open a kitchen drawer. Or head to the beach to finish that hat.