The cucumbers have not been happy. And, as we all know, the most surefire cure for a little malaise, when your roots are in a twist and you need a little sun on your shoulders is a ROAD TRIP. So we packed a wagon with all of their earthly possessions and have gone on a little adventure, all the way across the yard. We’ll see if they like it.
After a weekend of bossing around the men with machines, Mama decided that we would spend Sunday roadtripping down the lusty curves of our favorite country roads to Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat, Poplar Forest. The destination proved totally appropriate as the removal of a bunch of junk trees in our own backyard has revealed our own small tulip poplar stand, ringing a clearing in our woods. TJ himself called the Tulip Poplar “The Juno of our Groves” when he sent some seeds on to a friend in Paris, and we too are enamored of them since their yellow flower will be a favorite nectar source of our beloved yet-to-arrive-due-to-ongoing-unseasonable-cold-weather bees. The afternoon, glorious, our little family borne about the grounds of the old estate like seeds on the breeze, and we are certain Jefferson would have approved of our continental picnic of crusty bread, various charcuteries, olives, a ripe pear, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses- favorites Mt. Tam and Red Hawk, and, of course, cold rosé. In short, a perfect day for Mamas and everyone. Poplar Forest is to Monticello what Rockaway is to East Hampton- more casual, less people, a little rough around the edges, but if you know what you’re looking for and enjoy simple pleasures, it’s just as good (if maybe not a little better), vegetable garden small and do-able, serpentine wall in elegant decay, slightly falling down.
This weekend we hosted an 18 person slumber party at our house, friends flung back into our orbit from New Orleans and New York, Washington, Richmond and Los Angeles, all to come see us and the horse races, to toast champagne, try their hand at moonshine, eat fried chicken and enjoy the glorious southern spring in all of its almost-unbelievable beauty. The air was crisp, the sky was clear, the horses were swift, and the company was excellent. What more could a girl ask for? Oh yeah, for the day to end with 30 people singing and playing music around the campfire.
Today we head to New York (the great experiment continues). Seedlings on pause, Sahadi’s awaits. My what a world this is, this morning it was all fresh daffodils and birdsong, tomorrow we’ll wake up with the mists swirling over the river and the Manhattan Bridge lifting up her skirts to keep them dry. Or, depending on how the city summer’s swinging, these swirling misty platforms may have already burnt off by 8am. You never know until you’re in the thick of it. But this, I love. From Meags:
Manhattan Dawn (1945)
There is a smoke of memory
That curls about these chimneys
And then uncurls; that lifts,
Diaphanous, from sleep
To lead us down some alleyway
Still vaguely riverward;
And so at length disperses
Into the wisps and tatters
That garland fire escapes.
—And we have found ourselves again
Watching, beside a misty platform,
The first trucks idling to unload
(New England’s frost still
Unstippling down their sides).
To catch blue truant eyes upon us
Through steam that rose up suddenly from a grate . . .
And the grin slid off across the storefronts.
Dawn always seemed to overtake us, though,
Down Hudson somewhere, or Horatio.
—And we have seen it bend
The long stripes of the awnings down
Toward gutters where discarded flowers
Lay washing in the night’s small rain—
Hints, glimmerings of a world
And office towers
Coast among lost stars.
This week has been a big one! The fruits of our labor haven’t yielded any fruit, but rather two vast looking stretches of dark brown dirt, a glorious site, ready for fruit. The beautiful old fashioned bulbs and wild violets that had graced them moved on to greener pastures, and the spiny weeds that had all but taken over tugged and dismissed by Sweetheart (who, in his dirty white V-neck and busted old Levis looks as much the dirt farmer as he does at home on the last reaches of the A-train, le sigh le swoon). Our beehive boxes are built, we are moving on to the innerworkings of the hives, while our bees, as stymied by the cold snaps as the redbuds and forsythia, won’t get here til May, but we’re getting ready. All of this homesteading, though, doesn’t mean that when sweet Miss Lucy sends me the above video that BAM WANDERLUST HITS YOU LIKE VERTIGO and maybe I should leave all that dirt in the dust and hit the road. And thus is life. How sweet it is.
When I was little, not little-little, but, tomboy little, 8 or 9 maybe, around this time every year, as soon as it started to get warm enough outside, I’d start going around barefoot. Little by little, short bursts to get the mail, into the backyard (carefully avoiding the deep bed of prickers fallen around the holly trees), across the driveway, ours smooth black asphalt, working up to our dear neighbors ohmygod EXPOSED AGGREGATE the ultimate bane of bare feet. The first liberation of winter white little toes, carpet-soft heretofore be-slippered paws that had been swaddled in socks and winter boots for months. I called it “getting my summer feet”, my 8 year old notion that if I started getting the bottom of my feet prepped in April, by the time June rolled around I’d have leathery indian feet, ready to go in the woods, play kickball on pavement, traverse hot sands, climb seaside and riverdeep rocks, go clamming, and repel splinters and blackberry thorns with ease. Today is the first day it’s been warm enough to go outside barefoot, and as I stepped outside to water our newly transplanted bulbs and yet to sprout seedlings, I thought: Ouch. It’s been YEARS since I’ve let my feet loose from their high-heeled-and-pedicured-city-street-subway-stair-walking duties. YEARS since I had summer feet. And then I thought: YES! The countrification of these feet begin today! Summer feet: 20 years later, now with hot pink nail polish.
After our joyous whirlwind in New Orleans, Sweetheart headed back north to the big City and I headed back up the Natchez Trace with Miss McKay into the deep wilds of Mississippi where she makes her home. The plan was to revel in the southern spring, luxuriating in the three hundred mile latitudinal difference between flourishing banks of azaleas (there) and tiny nodding crocuses who blew it by showing up a little too early and then it snowed again (here). The plan was also for me to tag along on McKay’s first full beehive inspection of the season. She comes from a long lineage of beekeepers, and I used to visit her Brooklyn rooftop hives with her a few years ago when we were all gathering nectar in that sweet borough. She writes about her adventures in honey here. Unfortunately, Mississippi’s spring hasn’t sprung any more than Virginia’s, and it was just too cold to open up the hive. So, instead, I just inspected the honey super McKay’s planning on adding to her hive to give them space to grow in the next month, happy to have some up close and personal time with the frames and the drawn comb, with its Fibonacci beauty and funny beautiful irregularities.
The tambourine and stomp and chant came up the block from around the corner like a distant heartbeat, getting louder and louder until the chief came around the corner. It being far after Mardi Gras, I certainly never expected to see a Mardi Gras Indian on this trip to New Orleans, let alone a Big Chief. Without his retinue, in daylight, he was ever more resplendent than I could have imagined, the strut and swagger and waft powerful and mythic, otherworldly posturing earthy-real humanity at the same time. The beginnings and traditions of the legendary Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans are shrouded in mystery like so many technicolor feathers (origin stories and pictures way more awesome than mine are to be found at The House of Dance and Feathers, an indian-curated museum to the art and majesty of these chiefs), but the one truth apparent to me as a visitor and outsider is that they are beautiful, powerful, and rare to see. This chief had come out to trumpet that the Indians would be masking that night, St. Joseph’s night. We just happened to be there at the right place, and not the wrong time, and after sun-down, the tribes met to march and encounter and shake their feathers and assert their might and be beautiful. Out of respect I didn’t want to use my flash to take pictures, so, that’s that:
After a few too many days (or far too few, depending on your point of view) of beer battering and deep frying ourselves, Sweetheart and I lit out of New Orleans headed for the swamp. Listening to WWOZ 90.7 (which just might actually be the “greatest radio station in the known world”, as they say. I recommend judging for yourself here). The great vast and secret network of swamp trails and lagoons that spreads over south Louisiana like a heavy green petticoat has been a place of utter romance and adventure for me since I was little. Daddy used to tell me tales of a one-eyed alligator who wore a beret and an eyepatch and cruised the bayous making merry and trying to stay out of trouble and the sights of hapless poachers named Bubba and Ernest (one time he caught a train to Galveston by rolling off an aqueduct onto a bed of coal-car sugarcane, but that’s another story), followed quickly by Nancy Drew’s bayou adventures, the smoke hazed tales of mooncussers and rum runners using the natural canals for piracy under dead moons, and, of course, the song “The Battle of New Orleans”, which, I believe, is an entirely factually accurate account of said battle (including the part where they use an alligator as a cannon when theirs melts). So. Let’s just say I have a bayou kinship. Our destination: The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve on the very land where the Battle of New Orleans happened (! in 1814 !), and hiked the four mile bayou trail. We saw two gators (neither in beret or eyepatch, which is just because my gator is too smart to hang out by the trail), a scarlet ibis, and miles and miles of lacy mire, loud with cicadas, and (our luck) full of strange cool breezes. You’d better hope that the next time I see you, I’ll have outgrown the pretty bad cajun accent I acquired walking around these swamps, but it’s not looking good dere, cher.
And in case you forgot, some good gator advice.
That’s what the ancient woman in the white dress said: “In New Orleans, you’re never hungry and you’re never lonely”. A motto for the luscious crescent city where I’ve spent the last woozy week, certainly, but crystallized there could be my own personal motto. Never Hungry, Never Lonely. My heart vibrates on that powdered-sugar dusted string. On that resonating note, our incredible hosts told us that if you love New Orleans she’ll love you back, and I think that’s absolutely true. The wet-hot afternoons and perfect spring-chill evenings, the orange blossoms, azaleas, and bougainvillea, the endless strains of music, the big dusky river wind in your hair, the endless flavor and constant cocktail, the ease of it all, never hungry, never lonely. I have a lot to share, so I’ll just start now with some greatest hits:
From top: The incredible beignet choux rolling machine hiding secretly around the back corner at Cafe du Monde, the actually-better-than-Cafe-du-Monde beignet at Cafe Beignet (don’t be fooled into thinking that I had a single morning without a chicory-coffee-and-beignet breakfast at several different locales), Preservation Hall, a tray of 50 cent oysters that we devoured with Sazeracs like good tourists/brilliant geniuses, One of infinite glorious balconies in the French Quarter. That’s some hits, tomorrow, the adventures.