Today THE BEES ARRIVE! I hoofed it back from a whirlwind time in New York specifically for their arrival. A Bee Meeting. My Mama and I will don our suits and veils and drive “Yota” (our little old pickup truck that has a tape player and only two tapes in it- Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic” and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s “Deja Vu”, not too bad if you have to only listen to two tapes for eternity) and drive out past Zion’s Crossroads to pick up our little ladies. When we bring them home we’ll install them in the hive bodies and frames we’ve built from scratch, the frames numbered with the year so, with hope for the future, we’ll be able to re-use comb and frames and know which hive the wax came from, the hive bodies themselves painted a very pale pink (my mother’s day present to sweet Maman). Photos and beeswaxing poetic to come later.
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.
Sweetheart’s Mama gave me this for my birthday maybe three years ago when we were still living full time in Brooklyn. The Davis Hill Weather Stick. A short wizenedy looking stick with a tag on it that proclaims:
Weather Sticks will tell you what the weather is doing. With good weather they will point to the sky; and when things aren’t so pleasant they will point to the ground. We don’t know why, but the Old Timers had faith in them and that’s good enough for us.
This little missive was followed by instructions to mount the stick outdoors, nail side up, under an eave or window frame, somewhere you can see it from inside. Now, Sweetheart’s Mama is an awesome lady. She saw this strange and ancient meteorological thang and thought “I know just the almanac-reading girl who would like a funny old fashioned item of use and beauty such as this”. She might not have realized, though, that the weather stick was a tiny call to action. In our sweet old Brooklyn brownstone basement we didn’t have an eave, our windows had bars, and the only thing we could see from inside was other people’s legs as they walked by on the sidewalk. Hardly a place for a natural barometer, hardly a place where the coming of rain means nothing much but a proliferation of guys selling cheap umbrellas outside of the belching mouths of the subways. So I’ve been carrying this stick around for, literally, years, it lived on the dashboard of my car for a while (a wanderlust call to arms) until I finally hung it last week. Outdoors, nail side up, under the eave of the shed with the sunflowers painted on it, where I can see it from inside. And this morning, as it is quiet and grayly raining, it points down. And tomorrow, when the sun will shine, it will point up. Just as it should.
These little guys are in. Transplanted in their New York Times paper-starter pots alongside many direct sown seeds they are the only little greenies showing yet in the garden. Boston Pickling cucumbers, Lemon cucumbers (which grow round and yellow), old fashioned White Wonders (which grow fast and white), classic slicing Ashleys, and one solo vine of Costata Romanesca summer squash. While we’ve been waiting and tending and watching and fussing over these precious little heirloom seedlings, we’ve also apparently been forgetting to turn the compost (whoopsie embarrassing). It seems that given half a chance, some cucumber seeds, composted leftovers from last month’s cucumber sandwiches, have sprouted over in the compost bin. Are these little guys from Brooklyn? Hardscrabble seeds flourishing, finding a place to put down roots amongst the Chemex paper coffee grounds and banana peels (and seriously digging the reclaimed-wood-shipping-pallet decor of the compost bin). Brooklyn Cukes indeed. A testament to the power of compost and that maybe we shouldn’t be so precious with our little plants. If they want to grow, they will grow. Can we keep ‘em?
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.
Infinite thanks to Miss Lucy and Miss Abby for these pics, they have great eyes and hearts.
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 Saturday was Thomas Jefferson’s 270th birthday, so naturally, we went to celebrate it at his house. Monticello is smaller than you might imagine, a mansion on a hill, sure, but gentle in its proportions, the elegant, perfectly appointed rooms small by current American standards. My love affair with TJ has been long and generally University-of-Virginia-Statute-of-Religious-Freedom-Declaration-of-Independence based, but (especially in light of my recent bent of homemaking, garden digging, and general musings on having things just the way I want them) his house really had me in a swoon. A parlor full of antlers, bones, and special weighted clocks, a bedside hothouse with tuberose and gardenia, maps and feathers and natural specimens, a dumbwaiter hidden in a fireplace specifically for bringing wine from cellar to table? Mr. Jefferson, you are my kind of guy. And Albemarle County was in her effortless spring splendor, you can see why the man picked this spot, his little mountain, Monticello. Happy Birthday.
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.
Before we left for New Orleans, Sweetheart and I pored over the seed catalogs I ordered back during the cold, dark months. We decided to order from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, an organic seed saving co-operative that’s about an hour away from us, figuring that whatever persnickety planting instructions they might have would ring true for us too. We were intoxicated with the sheer HOPE of the whole thing, the tiny paper packets full of possibility, with their seductive heirloom names (Lazy Wife Greasy Bean, Drunken Woman Lettuce, Ice Cream Melon, Whippoorwill Southern Pea, Yellow Moon and Stars Watermelon), and family origin stories (Violet’s Multicolored Butterbean: saved by 4 generations of Violet Brady Westbrook’s family, Banks County, GA, Turkey’s Craw Bean: according to folklore, a hunter shot a turkey and removed a bean from its craw; the bean was later planted and saved, hence the name Turkey Craw). When we returned we had a fat package of seeds waiting for us. We awoke to a frost today, but we’ve got to get our buns in gear! Dirt under our fingernails, the sun on our shoulders, the possibility of the soil, we are drunk with it.