BACK. BACK. BACK. BACK. Oh la la and oh my my, mama, mama many worlds I’ve come since I first left home! Back in a whirlwind to New York, picked up by Sweetheart at the airport, immediately to New Park Pizza for the city’s most iconic slice (when you find yourself in Howard Beach…), and home to Virginia on the wings of a sailing sheepskinned jet lag, home to find the house totally overturned in anticipation of “holy moly we’re getting married, like, NOW, we’d better get this joint fixed up!”, the garden: NOT DEAD! and yielding 1 tomato, 1 yellow crookneck squash, and 1 costata romanesca squash. Heir. Loom. Cukes and Peppers greening and golding up, weeds and dust and vines covering everything like a redneck Miss Havisham. Infinite adventures to recount between now and then (and we’ll get there) but in the meantime, just want to send L.O.V.E. to this cow that McKay hired to wake us up in the Haute Pyrennes so that we could go swimming in that utterly freezing glacial snow-melt lake before coffee (watch the video here. BON JOUR!). As Ann Marie says: If Lac, Then Nage. And L.O.V.E. to these ladies, these women of adventure and grandeur who are at once so different than I and also so very much the same. It is one of the most sincere joys and pleasures there is to crease the map against its folds (I promise), eat the red diamonds, run through the crowd holding hands, be re-taught stickshift, receive energy barefoot in the farmer’s field, cover the car in flowers and honey, and make bread and wine and saussicon in the crumb filled scarf strewn backseat of a Fiat 500 with you all. Nage. Tour. La. Jours, ma biches.
Back in November, dearest Ann Marie, fresh off the heels of tumultuous autumn that precipitated a few enjoyably feisty red-wine-nocturnes at my old kitchen table, got an invite to her friend Jerome’s wedding. A Frenchman she met in Oregon, a bon vivant and adventurer of the old school, she introduced Jerome to his future bride and now got the tap to come to Bretagne for the wedding, to loll on the beaches and drink apple cider from tin mugs and listen as the crackle of drippings from fatted pigs with Norman apples in their mouths sizzled over ancient spits in soaring castles plunked down in the middle of lavender fields buzzing with bees and honey and love and majesty and romance. PLUS ONE. Taking into account all of that+wanderlust+roadstripping histories, and after much discussion about the quickening turn of years and pulling apart of our orbits that we fight against tooth and nail, Miss Ann Marie asked if I’d be her plus one. I consulted the oracles (Mama said DO. IT.), backed into that math (don’t know how I’ll swing it but I’ll figure it out), put on some red lipstick and a beret (obviously), and pulled the trigger. If not this, what? If not now, when? The yes, the spark, the setting into motion a butterfly tumble of good-vibes ripples that actually finds us now, on the eve of departure, a whole clan of women ready to move and meet and join in joy on the gilded coasts of SOFRA (the SOuth of FRAnce), to dance and leap and swim and wrap ourselves in scarves and memories and chilled rosé and funky cheeses and celebrate the living of it because, if you hadn’t noticed, that’s the way that you’ve got. to. do. it. Because, honestly, what else is there? As Daddy says: Life is a Banquet and Most Poor Suckers are Starving To Death. To the feast.
It couldn’t seem like better timing, just as the bee knows when the nectar flows and the hummingbird passes by in his yearly stride, to simply take an impromptu left instead of a right and go down the beautiful winding road that takes me to the peach orchard. As if guided by an unseen compass, the call of the peach, the country song on the radio “Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars/Pointing me on my way into your loving arms/This much I know is true/That God blessed the broken road/That led me straight to you” GAH what is this…country music radio is KILLING it these days for me.
It’s peach season, and it’s wedding season, and it’s adventure season, and it’s firefly season, and it’s baseball season and I am surrounded by love. Coming back from another sweet + heart-full trip south, seeing one of my dearests free to be true and honest in sorrow and joy and held up, that honesty celebrated, by the love she chose (a goosebump, a boom, a fist pump, a blossoming garden, full of possibility and hope, this is just right)…and now packing for the great trip north, kicked off by a celebration of one of the greatest loves I’ve ever seen, pure and fierce and kind and smelling of sage and wildflower honey… So. In with the enamel coffee cups and the scarves and the horizontally striped shirts, go a gallon of peach cider, six impulse peach donuts, and two pecks of glorious dusty skinned peaches. Coming with me to spread their southern sweetness, to hold in our hands and adore, from blossoms to the sweet improbability of something so perfect in spite of everything else. So this. This poem seems to be just the heart of it. The. whole. shebang.
by Li-Young Lee
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Sometimes all it takes to get you back on track is for you to grab your Sweetheart, pull on your working jeans and steel toe boots, take the little white pickup truck over the mountain (max speed 45mph), put the windows down, turn Hitkicker Country on the radio up, and get a new sparkplug for the chainsaw. Take a deep breath, notice this everything, feel that spark. Then go cut some shit down.
Well, here we are. Just a toe dipped into June and all of the requisite tropical afternoons that birth amazing thunderstorms and the gift of cool breezes that come after. Everything in a cycle. Happened: my annual sunburn, a few gardenias blooming on the plant that made it through the winter, a lot of fresh fish and white wine. Yet to happen: fireflies, peach picking tomato sandwiches, the honey harvest, fully conquering this fierce melancholy. Here, right on time, to support the few weeks I’ve been taking to breathe deeply and make balance, some thoughts on happiness vs. wholeness:
I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.
—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life
From here (duh).
I’ll consider this point of view an indulgence for the next two weeks and then I’ll be back to my relentlessly positive outlook. I will say: Sorrow, I acknowledge you, I honor the realness of pain, and the truth and necessary aliveness of the feeling of it, and, thank you, but I’m not going to be spending any more time with you today. These watermelons don’t grease themselves.
And an epic thanks to the beautiful Raphaelite-curled Kaitlyn from Once Upon a Stiletto for including this nest in her Leibster roundup…when the melancholy clears I’m overdue for a link roundup. Le Swoon, Le Sigh.
It has been a wild time. The winter that wouldn’t end ran headlong into spring, stopping only for a moment to catch its breath, send out some delicate green shoots, and deliver some crushing news. Everything here springing up wild and wick, the bees finally hitting their honeyed stride, just in time to get left in a hurry, coffee still on the stove, the needle poised above the record, the bounding radishes and collards and kale unthinned… to head south and attend loss. Then a quick accounting, a slapdash suitcase, and a whirlwind trip out west, full of joy and light and adventure. A perfect time. Then home again, which, after weeks of absence, looked like something out of The Secret Garden or Grey Gardens or Mrs. Havisham or Miss Honey’s House… some lovely testament to elegant decay, but also probably garnering some judgment from the neighbors. Vines and blooms and ripening, peonies bent over double, canary roses full of promise, about to burst, irises sprung up seemingly overnight, grass in the meadow at hip height. Just enough time to gather this hasty bouquet, improbably, the pale yellow broccoli that bolted into unruly flowers in the unexpected heat, the wild spreading white Cherokee roses that make me repeat my grandfather’s mantra (“it’s only a weed if you don’t want it there”), and the sweet buttercups in the yard that I knew would be falling under the scythe in a few day’s time. A funny wild bouquet plucked accidentally, almost out of necessity (leaving the fancy flowers where they were), delicate and dropping petals and perfumed with a sweet fragrance that, for essentially zero reason, always makes me think of Emmylou Harris. Put in the center of the table with a happy sigh. Just in time for more crushing news. And again, we leave the coffee on the stove, the compost in the bin, the laundry on the chair (at least clean and folded if not put away), the bees in the clover, the cat in the window…all to head south and attend loss. It’s what the living do, care for each other in this great yearning, and rejoice together because we must, absolutely, celebrate this wild loveliness that is the. thing.
For that yearning, for this everyday, for the cherishing, so deeply, for the living of it, and for the fierce remembering. I’ve kept this one a secret to myself for a long while, a small burnished jewel in my pocket, but it feels like the right time to share it.
What the Living Do
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
Spotted in Xanadu, the Queen Bee.
I’ve always loved plants, flowers, blooms. Made forts in boxwoods, learned and loved the evocative names Mama had planted in the gracious swooping beds surrounding our house, onomatopoetic almost, Bleeding Hearts, Johnny Jump-ups, Naked Ladies, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Poet’s Laurel, St. John’s Wort, Harry Lauder Walking Stick. I held dear The Secret Garden, Peter Rabbit, and a book called “Flower Fairies of the Garden“ (my copy of which my Mama brought back to me recently for use as a research tome). I’ve always loved plants, but it’s been like how you love Paris or how you love Vermeer or how you love Virginia Woolf. You love them from afar, through the lens of where you are, they’re distant, somehow, you appreciate their beauty and softness and worldly majesty when you are lucky enough to brush by it, but Paris is not yours, the Vermeer isn’t in your care, and you will never truly understand Virginia Woolf, no matter how many times you re-read To The Lighthouse. I’ve always felt the same way about plants. I love them, but that they are not meant for me to understand. And when I try, one of us usually ends up a shriveled brown mess.I think this has a lot to do with our relationship with time. Talking about this crazy winter, the forsythias straggled in just last week, leggy and blown like a horse ridden to far too fast. In deciding whether to cut it back drastically or let time take its course, the words got tossed around we’ll just have to see how they do next year. It’s unfathomable for a person of 25 to be thinking about what a plant is going to do a year from now when they don’t know what they’re going to be doing six months from now. The rare young birds that do have very old souls indeed. You have to be in a place where you’re ready to put your own roots down before you can be worrying about anyone elses.
Understanding a plant takes commitment, the delicate pruning of the lilac, the blooming off of new-wood-old-wood argument of the Azalea (what, that takes 3 years to understand?), and the dauntless perennial bulbs that are springing to life right now, a testament to the staying power of loveliness and perhaps proof of the rightness of civilization. Miss McKay says that her mama told her that if you see daffodils in the country, it means a house used to stand there, the plants become the record of the people, and are still there after decades. And this is the, ahem, root of it. The best kind of plants have a kind of permanence (like Paris, like Miss Virginia) that, literally, takes root and hangs on for years, you are their steward, you have to be in it for the long haul, and if you do your job well, the roots you put down will outlast you. I discovered a stand of daffodils in the back woods, near where some mysterious stone columns have sat, fallen for years like an Appalachian Ozymandius, the dark green shoots bursting from bramble, proof that someone cared here. And I care here now.
This has been our first bee-winter, and, as the weather channel fear mongerers/anyone with eyeballs can tell you, it’s been a real beast. Weeks at a time stretched with the hives covered in snow, with me just watching from the kitchen sink, hoping it was like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter” when they live in the rickety store-bought-wood house in town which, unlike Pa’s hand chinked log cabin in the Big Woods, was always drafty and freezing UNTIL the huge snow, when the drifts rose to the top windows and the girls were finally snug as bugs in rugs… or snug as bees in a hive? Aaaanyway, when the temps slowly started to rise, we saw them making forays out of the hives, sweet bumbling little flights on wobbly wings, proof that they had made it through their own long, hard winter. And, bless them, they would return to the hive, woozy, riding low in the water, laden with pollen. Full saddlebags of bright yellow alder and maple’s greenish grey or dun. In the spring, this pollen is used to make bee-bread, a heady ambrosia of pollen’s protein, a little bit of honey, and some probiotics from the bees themselves that is the stuff that baby bees are nursed on to rear them strong and mighty in time for the coming nectar flow. So, seeing our bees heavy with pollen, we knew that the Queen was holding court, and that the next generation of honeybees are being groomed to flourish. Signs of spring indeed.