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.
There are living things covering pretty much every surface of the house right now. I used to make it a priority to always have fresh flowers at the Brooklyn brownstone but, with the exception of when I smuggled bundles of fresh apple blossoms from our newly-discovered tree up there last time I went, or when I felt like celebrating something big by dropping some coin at the Chelsea Flower Market for lilacs or anemones, Brooklyn flowers usually means whatever-is-cheapest-at-the-bodega-on-the-way-home-from-work. Slim pickins’. Lots of daisies, the occasional lily, gorgeous hydrangeas that die immediately. Always lovely, never bountiful. But, ah, bounty! Right now we have these beautiful, delicate pink roses that Jeff, chimneysweep and green-thumb extraordinare, brought us yesterday when he came to ready the woodstove for next season and make sure no birds would build their nests in the chimney in the meantime. We have fig cuttings Miss Ravenel brought me from her french fig tree in rooting medium on the windowseat, hoping they’ll take root and we’ll have figs next year. There are peonies blooming on the coffee table (and I stole one for my bedside) courtesy of Abby and Catherine, who came by to get our bride ready last Saturday. There are peonies in the bud at the kitchen sink, brought by my mama. There is a low slung bowl of languorous thyme, trimmed from an unruly transplant. A clear bottle on the kitchen counter with Brookie’s rosemary, a pint glass of mint plucked from by the stairs for juleps. Bud vases of lysianthus and spirea dot the sideboard and on top of the piano, and there are pink trumpet azaleas brought in from the garden to amend the last gasp of sweet Meags’ parrot tulips. It’s a serious bounty, and to be surrounded by such love and beauty is a rare thing indeed.
Today the men are coming, and they are bringing their machines. The big diggers and claws and shovels and saws will take care of 50 years of brush piles, fallen trees, wild honeysuckle, deadstands, and brambles, revealing wild cherry and strawberry and apple and hickory nut already (and that’s just before 9am). I’ve never seen a more beautiful sight. They might as well put this backhoe in a centerfold.
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.
No post yesterday and just this shorty today because, well, we got a load of dirt delivered and spent the better part of yesterday day moving it from one side of the house to the other. The late bloom of spring keeps pushing our garden planting back (we got frost just on Monday!), and now as it finally warms up, the push is on! Sweetheart and I worked, sweaty, dirty, happy, until just before sundown, when one of those sky-opens-up-feels-like-summer-warm torrential rainstorms came blowing in from the west. Our little plants got a watering indeed. And when it was over, as soon as it had begun, the setting sun made a rainbow. The end of a good day, and one we hope to replicate exactly today. Lather, Rainbow, Repeat.
I was making lists. Things to clear, paths to make, planning Arcadia. Skirting around the perimeter of my land, just where it turns to woods, where wild honeysuckle and climbing rose (both way more insidious and terrifying than they sound) have covered everything in their path, where volunteers of privet and poplar and droopy maples have popped up unchecked among the brutal devil’s cane, it was there we saw it (well, Kitty, my botanist town mouse saw it). Alone and unnoticed amongst the bracken, just another overgrown old thing… until it flowered, an Apple Tree. A remnant of a forgotten orchard, or just a single tree someone used to sit under sometime, there it was, the branches with their perfect knobby geometry, the blossoms with their true sweet perfume. It needs tending to, but what thing of beauty and sweetness doesn’t? I don’t know if it will bear fruit, but I am in love with it, and so will be the bees.
1000 feet of vegetable garden. Perfect row upon row of standing onions, winter savory, bulbous dark cabbages, the beginnings of carrots the ends of broccoli, each variety labeled in a slanting hand with common and latin names (some of the heirloom types the very same varieties that we ordered from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for our own tiny-by-comparison plot), some under clay bell jars, some just noticeable from the brick and glass garden-flourishing observation gazebo, the spring-ready plants drawn out with compost-dark soil which, in this Albemarle clay you just KNOW took, well, about 300 years to look this good. That is what Thomas Jefferson has set up at Monticello. Oh Man. Talk about Garden Envy. We’ll just cross our dirt stained fingers and say “someday”…
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.
We are getting bees! We are in week three of our ahhhmazing beekeeping class, a collaboration between the Central Virginia Beekeeping Association and Parks and Rec (I can’t help but picture Ron Swanson). We will be installing our hives in April, with hands on help from my honey mentor, McKay, whose HiHat hives have made the best honey I’ve tasted out of Brooklyn and whose bees are currently pollinating the dogwoods and magnolias of Mississippi. The more I learn about the bees, the more I love them. They are brilliant and capable and changeable and what they can do is some sort of ancient magic. I can’t wait to share my adventures with them here.
incredible salivation worthy hive image from the ever-beautiful Wayward Spark
So, if you couldn’t tell over here at Feather by Feather we have a serious thing for birds. A certain type of person might blame my Brooklyn tenure, where you can’t swing a taxidermied cat at the Brooklyn Flea without hitting something someone’s put a bird on (watch it again, it’s amazing). But that type of person would be wrong. When I was growing up we had a big bay window in our living room and my Mama kept birdfeeders out there and I’d sit in the window seat and watch them. Tiny delicate songbirds and dun lady Cardinals and big bully Jays. I got to pick out the birdbath at the Pottery Factory (a ruffly concrete number) and when it was time to get more seed, Mama would take me with her to Southern States, a small regional farmers co-op which, in addition to fodder, seed, tractors, and tools ALSO sold Breyer model horses, another ob.session of 8 year old me. I digress. The birdseed was stored there in large self-serve half barrels, black oil sunflower seeds for the Cardinals, millet for the Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice, thistle for the noble and special Goldfinch, and cobbed corn for any lame fool addled enough to want to feed a squirrel. I remember so well running the seeds through my hands, the smell of the thistle, the dust floating in the sunshafts streaming in the windows by the big checkerboard Purina logo. So. Now that I have a window seat of my own, my Mama passed along her birdfeeders to me. Hung on shepherd’s crooks and complete with baffles to keep those fat, oil-furred country squire squirrels at bay, the birds love them, and I watch them come and go and talk and pick and dance and swoop all day (below photo taken after I chased them all away with my camera, of course).