Actually, TODAY was the day. Mama and I went out to the east side of town to pick up our two nucs from a very sweet beekeeper named Jacob who I immediately wanted to set up all of my friends with (laaaaaadies? he breeds his own queens!). You can see our two nuc boxes resting on top of the two hive bodies above. A “nuc”, or nucleus hive, is a short box containing a fully-functioning mini-hive, five frames (as opposed to the 10 in a standard hive) of bees who have already drawn out and built the wax comb every aspect of their lives is based on, who have already been storing honey and pollen in those combs, and a beautiful queen painted with a red dot who has already been diligently laying brood to make more bees to go off and harvest the sweet nectars that are flowing as we speak. Last night, we strapped down the two long, audibly buzzing, rectangular boxes to the back of our little pickup and began the hour long trek home. When we got back, not only was it dark (ok for bee move-in day) it was also raining (NOT ok for bee move-in day). So we had to put the bees under cover and wait for the morning to move them in. When we woke up, the pent-up bees were making so much heat trying to cool down their plugged up hive, it fogged up my camera lens, air hot to the touch being beaten out of any vent hole by the flapping of 40,000 wings.We puffed them with smoke to calm them down, then sprayed them with sugar water to zuzz them up and then moved them, slowly and surely, frame by frame, from their temporary cardboard hutches to their forever-homes. They immediately took up ancient established positions- some moved to the empty frames to start exploring, some situated themselves at the door of the hive, fanning their wings with a special perfume to let any sister-bees know that this was home, so come on in, and some of them alit on the dewey honeysuckle nearby to cool off after a hot night in cardboard city. Needless to say, after our very first time handling our very own bees, meeting our very own beauties, Mama and I are two very happy beekeepers.
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.
I found my new place. This happens about, oh, once in a New York Blue Moon. It hasn’t happened to me since 2006 when I found 7B covered in fake snow and possibility a block from my first-ever 6th floor walk-up. It goes like this: you stumble upon a place by some wild and karmic circumstance, you’re in your own neighborhood, maybe the bar you thought was your place inexplicably had a $5 cover and sheerly on principle you refuse to pay that and you happen down some stairs you’ve passed before in the strange new one-way-warren of Bed-Stuy, and behind a caged door is shangri-la with a Little Richard doorman and an exquisite jukebox immediately playing Jennifer Holliday and then Ray Charles and then Al Green and the lights are pink and there’s hardly anyone there and whoever’s been there has been there for years and you know there’s food but there’s no menu you just have to guess that they’d have fried whiting and chicken wings with bright red sauce and french fries and good cold beer. I didn’t take any pictures, out of respect for the Sasquatch-like-awesomeness of this place, but I found the one above, my new place, The Tip Top Bar.
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.
A much-needed rainy day after the sweet melee of this past whirlwind has us watching our sprouts take off (with little twinges of worry like Brooklyn parents- is there such thing as too much water??), hearing the rain on the tin roof, drinking lots of coffee, getting work done, listening to this.
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.
This weekend we hosted what we are certain is the first Passover Seder Dinner in our dear old house’s 100 year tenure. Sweetheart rode the rails south from New York, where his family loaded him with extra haggadahs (the text of passover, published by Maxwell House), a matzo cover, and this seder plate. For those of you who might not know (as I did not until arriving at Sweetheart’s Aunt Sheila’s Upper East Side aerie for the first time a few years ago with a bottle of the nicest kosher wine I could find), the Seder dinner is the retelling of the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, the bondage, the plagues, the passover, the parting of the seas, the wheels of fire. Anyone wanting to learn more could do copious research OR just watch “The 10 Commandments” with Charlton Heston. As Sweetheart says, it’s a great story, one worth telling and re-telling around a table of loved ones, to discuss and to share together and lift glasses and drink wine and remember. This year we had we had 15 people around our long table, with a few extensions, a pink depression Marie Antoinette glass by the woodstove for Elijah, friends from all over, traveling Jews en route to LA and Jerusalem, both, we had a babe in arms, and someone younger than Sweetheart to look for the afikomen (though she still hasn’t found it in the freezer where I hid it) and have the capacity to inquire, and our dear friend the carpenter whose Jewish mother re-married a strict catholic when he was very young so had always wished for the traditions, this was his first seder too. We dipped and read and discoursed and Sweetheart led it like a true patriarch. And the food. Oh my, the food. I made matzo balls, Sweetheart made brisket, and, as it must be said, the wonderful Miss Ravenel made Gefilte Fish, from scratch. What the what? I hardly took any pictures because it was one of those big lovely dinners that travels of its own accord and doesn’t slow down just to be chronicled, but here’s a good one. With love, next year in Jerusalem, this year at Fennario.
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.