This (very) little light of mine

Plants and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. One needs to be in a certain place (both literally and figuratively) to set down roots, to care for something other than yourself, to nurture a thing that takes years in the offing and may or may not say “goodbye cruel world!”, committing herbicide in a strong crossbreeze or going all brown-fronded if you decide to take a few days extra vacation. In my last days in New York City I was *getting* nearer, intellectually, to that place where I yearned for green things and it was perhaps this gentle metamorphoses that finally drew me out of the city and back down south. In that final Brooklyn apartment, a “garden apartment” (read: deepest darkest basement), I kept a tired philodendron right up next to the window. Every day the sun’s slow march up the narrow skyway of our block had the plant pressing its leaves against the wavery old window panes like a little match girl in reverse. What warmth and light there is… out there. City darkness descending at 4pm had me dreaming lustily of golden mote-filled southern farmhouse afternoons surrounded by blooming Meyer Lemon trees and gardenias in winter as if “The South” was some sort of magical giant tropical jungle (which it kind of is) and “my farmhouse” was some sort of airy glassine hothouse (which it decidedly is not). Our house was built in 1895 and, in the manner of houses built before the advent of electricity or running water, it is sited on the highest natural elevation of our land and oriented exactly due east/west. These simple, profound spatial choices make it so that any water runs down and away from our house (no flooding, ever) and that, since the sun travels directly overhead, our house is often 10 or 15 degrees cooler than it is outside. This is just the sort of brilliant old-fashioned use-case practicality that thrills my soul when I encounter it in the wild. How fascinating! How ingenious, you builders of yore! How fortunate we are when the power goes out, say, for a week in an epic summer storm, and we sit, cool as cucumbers, as modern houses with their giant south facing windows and sturdy retaining walls heat up like peeps in a microwave.

The thrill is gone, however, absurd nostalgic feelings of superiority short lived, when one realizes that what this sunshine situation ALSO means is that while our house stays easy breezy day in and day out, direct sunlight shines in the front windows for only an hour or so after rising until the sun meets the roofline and then again for about an hour in the back windows as it retires for the evening. Needless to say that isn’t NEARLY enough to support my own personal citrus grove (I know, I know,  a concerto is played on the world’s tiniest violin). But it IS enough to support a hearty menagerie of general shade lovers wrangled by myself by hook or by DIY crook into the few areas that are treated to the brief patches of sunlight that meander across the walls throughout the day. Several feet of a patch of wall perpendicular to a window in my bedroom gets a generous slant from noon onward… so I built a vertical hanging shelf based on this tutorial using some super old boards and rope that happened to be lying around in the shed.A row of Sweetheart’s tiny succulents and divisions of happy shady growers stands at attention in a motley collection of narrow vessels on the windowsill in the laundry room, gilded for a brief but adequate time in the 3pm-ish range.My search for vertical solutions led me down vintage-style hanging planter rabbit holes, which led me to discover that even the simplest ones were selling for, like, $50 on Etsy, which led me to my first attempt at macrame (decent! I should have gotten special string for the purpose, the twine I had on hand is a little… hairy… but considering the whole thing was basically free? Bon.) using a turned wooden bowl I inherited from Rav as the base……gets suspended in the small patch of diffuse light by the kitchen sink, alongside a mother-in-law’s-tongue (still there, happy…actually very much like my own mother-in-law, these little pals are lovely + easy going and have the best time quietly doing their thing pretty much anywhere where no one will bother them), a prayer plant cutting (no longer there, not bright enough), and a basil start (never had a future there other than as pesto, finally deposited into the herb garden/in my belly):***Note: these are not blog photos! Well, they are, I guess, exactly that, by default of being en blog, but, they aren’t, like, “styled” or whatever that is or means, that striving perfection that might keep people from posting in places for years at a time because oh look at that it’s actual life… see: drying dishes, old tupperware, soda stream, Sweetheart’s aeropress (not the photogenic Chemex set there, just so), an ancient sponge used only for wiping up babe’s post-prandial mat, and the cluttered little hook under the cabinet where I hang recipes from a butterfly clip when I’m cooking to keep my v. limited counter space free from books + papers (from this picture it looks like I was last making an almond cake). Eff it. ***The little landing at the top of the stairs gets the best light in the house, doubled and reflected off the white standing seam roof of the front porch, it’s the only actual direct sunlight we get all day, and it’s absolutely glorious in this slender little zone for a few morning hours. Three plant stands, a small plant table, a terrarium on the floor, and the cat (obviously) soak up any rays they possibly can while they can. It’s like plant YOLO. This is where I put green things that maybe, possibly, just perhaps are inching towards that tropical dreamscape of higher light + care requirements… palm types, jungle types, and an eight year old fiddle leaf fig impulse purchased from the Ikea in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Fiddle Leaf Fig just put out a new branch WHILE WE WERE OUT OF TOWN.

Oh ho ho! My how the tables have turned! I find myself completely surrounded by green things, each with its own distinct personality, each thriving in its own special zone, each chosen to thrive despite perhaps less-than-ideal conditions. Like all things: you might not always get the heady jasmine and winter clementines of your dreams, but finding what fits where and working to make beauty green up and grow in the space you have… well, that’s pretty darn nice too. Or, like someone once said better than me: once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. Or, perhaps even more to the point: you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.

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The Five Year Journal


I’ve never really kept a diary. Younger versions of myself have eternally been enamored of the idea: a tiny special book with a tiny special lock and a tiny special key the trappings of which would enable one to spend daily meditative time alone exploring the wild, wonderful, and occasionally dark recesses of your own beautiful mind and noting them for posterity. I ended up with a few physical diaries in my early days, most quite pink, with gilt edged pages, and inevitable unicorn motifs and the key (! a key for fairies ! a key for setting magic boundaries as if with a tiny spell !) that I would immediately put in one of the series of tiny boxes I have been obsessed with for my entire life and then… forget about. Any attempts I ever made at putting down *feelings* always came out cringingly upon revisiting them even hours later. The ritual of the diary, the strained self-reflection seems… terribly self-involved? (she says from these pages which are wholly about her own self and srsly what is this dern whole blahhhg thing anyway if not a dang diary? We’ll leave that there).

Acknowledging my frilly inability to keep a journal in the traditional sense, a slightly more grown-up version of myself then became enamored of the idea of the 5 Year Diary. Seeing the sturdy little volume on Miss McKay’s beautiful desk in her sun-slanted Oxford studio, delineating quick’n’dirty what she did on that day today and, at the beginning, projecting 4 blank days of possibilities into the future, and (if you kept it up) at the end, a referential document on how you spent your days and seasons for the previous 5 years. Surely I could manage to keep up with that? If I did it I’d be creating a tangible physical record of who did what where when and just the remembering of the event, daily-reminder-style, as I wrote in today’s reveries, would bring with it again the feelings of June’s first cascade of fireflies, of dipping into the coldest water I ever did dip into at the Lac d’Ayous, of eating oysters in Tomales Bay, of making dinner with Sweetheart after a long day of work on the random quotidian Wednesdays in that brief but wonderful season (hello, January, 2015) when we were completely obsessed with making ramen from scratch.

So I got a 5 Year Diary and it was my constant companion, on my bedside, in my carpet bag, getting delightfully care-worn with the juices of roadside berries and pages crimped from salt air mists. And I kept it religiously, every day from January 21st 2014 through November 15th 2015.

Then I fell off. The diary went into the mouse hole in my old desk (which, since the last known record, has moved south six states, is now painted dove grey, and holds my ever-expanding-collection of birds nests).

This coincided with, perhaps obviously, me falling off here, writing in a flurry of monthly and/or seasonal recaps as if to say “hello! I’m here! the dream of the diary is alive!!”. After all, part of the reason I started writing here was to capture those parts of diary-keeping that were compelling to me. Less angsty poetry, more exercise in examining the rhythms and contours of my life and to have a place for remembering and reminding myself of the true beauty and history of life lived well, of annotating of the living of the dang thing. With pictures.

I last posted here two years ago TODAY (see what I’m doing here?), but I started my record keeping again in earnest last February, when my father gave me his own version of a diary that previous Christmas, a University of Virginia 2017 Day Planner with the inscription:

“Merry Christmas wonderful girl! Perhaps you will want to write a short summary of your daily activities for the first year of your life with Thunder Babe! Or not…”

Classic and perfect, Daddio. He was (as he almost always is) definitely correct. In fact, yes indeed, I would, yes please, so very much like to record the daily activities of my first year with my Thunder Babe, the electric spark, the elemental shift, the Pisces, born in late February 2017, the day my camellia bloomed for the first time, my brand new daughter, my Lois Rose. Or not… you know, if it doesn’t feel right, that’s ok, too. “Be gentle with yourself, wonderful girl”.

But, the same dreamy desires that compelled me to attempt to capture the fleeting joys of summery afternoons and footloose roadstrips of adventure-seasons past surely would take a brand new power and potency when documenting A WHOLE NEW LIFE. So I kept a new Journal. A new way of being. A new…everything?Lois’ diary (like everything about Lois) was different. The wonders of these days were, on their face, smaller and quieter than the sweeping vistas of grandiose “before” adventures, simultaneously more mind-blowing and miraculous and more achingly mundane. Every time she did something for the first time I put a box around the word “first” so that reading back on it my heart expands with the simple wonder of the continual stream of “first” things. First dog (Finn), First sunset stroll, First time wearing my work overalls again since being pregnant (me), First time wearing shorts ever in her whole life (her), First Passover Seder, First roadtrip, First time sleeping in a new place, First time meeting her cousins, First trip to Manhattan, First run-in with the NYPD (hai, Papa), First time on a beach. And that was just the week of 4/10/17-4/16/17! Six weeks in the world and already been to Sahadi’s!

My mind explodes with the possibilities on what to write here about Lois Rose, but that’s dangerous territory. The multitude of feels and potentialities of things to share (and things to keep close to my heart like a tiny burning ember that I alone have nurtured in serene darkness) makes it almost impossible to begin. That kind of massive collective synapse gap can keep someone from writing ANYTHING for, oh, about two whole years.

But the diary? What happened? That’s simple. And the constant reminder to be aware of newness, to slow down to acknowledge the wonder of something like never even knowing a dog existed and then… meeting one! And having that dog be Finn-dog!? Or, conversely, the subtle push to be present in the beauty of the simple daily ritual: the walk to the end of the road and back, the shared breakfast on the porch, the daily summer afternoon swim, the endless hours the cat spends under the woodstove… those things are basically the “cinnamon raison d’etre”, as R.S. used to say. The miraculous in the mundane. Who doesn’t need more of that?

When every single day of Grandaddy’s Day Book was filled up with all of the tiny-massive goings on of 2017, I was at an impasse. Do I get another Day Book? Do I stop keeping a record at all and count on my memory (and the rose-colored-glasses version of my memory immortalized on Instagram) to be enough? Will I feel guilty if I don’t use a sliver of my precious free time to record an entry or can I let it go since quiet spots of time are like diamonds these days? Will I regret this later? What is time? Who am I? Did someone just say “mama”?… and then January 1st, 2018, Lois Rose took her first bath in the square tub of my childhood and swum on her belly like a tadpole and I took the path of most/least resistance, got my 5 year Journal out of purgatory, and wrote it all down. Again and Again and Again. Every day up to today and again tomorrow.

And Again, I am here. I don’t think I’ll be up to writing here every day, but I want the record to live. I want more places for wonder in the world. I want the tiny key in the tiny box and I want the tiny babe to have it all, SEO’d with pictures, and so here we are. I see you. You are seen. This all happened. We are together. We are alive.

 

Things I didn’t even tell you

findsHoly Moly, fizz bang oh gee oh wow here we are January, the new year fresh and slick and new and bold and damp and chilly and begging us for a little introspection and respite, a rest from the rest (which I think technically means DOING), the ever-so-slightly-longer twilights an invitation to remember what takes me by surprise every year, the full-against-the-skin feeling of Spring that you get when you can finally sleep with your windows open. But I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s still a long ways away. Darling Rav reminded me today of our joint resolution, the one that we made hand in hand last year at midnight in Cleveland, just the two of us in the fat falling snow drinking bubbles out of impossibly tiny pink glasses. Not a New Years resolution, per se, but a general resolution buoyed by January’s optimistic fresh-startness. The resolution is one you might hear a lot around here: Just Say Yes. Say Yes when it’s easy, Say Yes when perhaps you ought to say No, The world needs more Yes. The world also needs more of this polaroid of me and sweetheart on a ferry in Delaware three days after our wedding. polaroid

Just sayin. This year has been an incredible one for the yes-saying. The doing. The VALHALLA of it all, the grabbing onto the reins and holding on for dear life (which is dearer every moment). And in light of it all, in the trying to do and breathe and live it all the most, I just feel like there are just SO many things I haven’t even told you. For example: did you know Sweetheart and I bought a 1978 tow-behind 13 foot Scamp Travel Trailer for our Honeymoon?scamp

We used it as a photobooth at our wedding. Then we took it on the road. It’s amazing. Details… to follow? Also, did you know: if you get married some people will give you money as a gift? I didn’t know this and was incredibly surprised. But lo and behold, after our wedding we had a small nest egg and that we wanted to do something awesome with it (like, not just pay our bills with it). So, we bought a special Japanese woodstove and a 300 gallon tank that you use to water cattle and built ourselves a wood-fired hot tub and put it back in the woods by where we got married. I don’t have a good picture of this because we only soak in the witching hours of night by the light of the moon (or the fairy stars of the disco ball that our dear Jay hung in the forest for our wedding before he up and married us). But here’s a dark picture of my very pink post-soak feet in Rav’s hobbit shoes and my tie-dyed bathrobe and my so-curious-he’s-blurry-cat (or maybe that’s bigfoot):woodfiredfeet

Also also also, I made fire cider, a crazy herbal remedy that made my mouth sweat but cleared my sinuses, and I made boiled apple cider syrup, and I made gold leaf oyster shell salt cellars, and also also also did you know we harvested FIVE GALLONS of honey from our bees this year? And did you know (unrelated to the honey harvest) we also lost one of our hives? And I sprained my ankle and got a new pair of work boots and gloves. And I fell in love with my littlest cousins. And my oldest cousins. And Sweetheart and I dressed as Annie Hall for Halloween. AND BONIN’ (which is its own story). And I also learned how to shoot a bow and arrow and how to fix a trailer hitch and how to make a flower crown and how to smoke a turkey and how to wire a battery and how to make ramen from scratch and how not to stall out driving a stick shift at a boite diabolique aka toll plaza (ok I only kind of learned that) and how to order a crepe and how to navigate using a baguette and how to cook piquillo peppers and how to get to South Carolina the slow way and how to sell smoked trout and how to pour txakoli from very high into a glass and how to bone a chicken and how to make peach jam and how to tie dye and how to bless a day and how not to cry when you’re singing in someone’s wedding but it’s just so everything you cry anyway but how to hide it pretty good I guess and how to replace studs and rebuild a floor and just how damn good the movie Mannequin is and how to light a menorah (not all at once, one candle each day) and when to plant a peach tree and how to show up and how good my people are and how to do a medicine card reading and consequently that I need to get my frog buns submerged into water every day if at all possible (see: wood fired hot-tub) and how to stay on the chair when you’re actually in a horah dance (knowledge never to be needed again) how to really shuck an oyster and how to write wedding vows that are so true and electric they make your heart swell up to bursting with pride and fierce passion and how to try and live that way forever and and and… Well I guess I’ve been saying yes. Success. Here’s to another year of it. And. I’ll try and share better, yes?

The Tree Farm

ChristmasTreeGeese Back in the sun-drenched wilds of August, I met my dear friend Jennis at the brewery just up the road for a beer. It was one of those slant-light-hot-in-the-sun summer’s end late afternoon that feels endless and magical and lovely and surrounds everyone who basks in its light with an aura of possibility. Jennis had brought a friend and her partner and we spoke passionately about the proposed natural gas pipeline that will probably be destroying our valley soon and about history and land and watersheds and adventure and how to ride in a truck with dudes so they’ll take you seriously (good advice to have in one’s dungaree pocket) and somehow the conversation wound its way around to the family business in the wilds of the valley west of us: a Christmas Tree Farm! What an enterprise, what a place to grow up… what magic! So, we sat in the setting sun surrounded by good vibes lifting our glasses and saying: when it comes time for Christmas (which is most certainly impossibly far away) we’ll have to go to your farm to get our tree this year. And, as time moves ever swifter, this past weekend the moment was nigh, with a chill drizzle in the air, for us to hit the roads and head to the great river’s headwaters and grab bow saws, hanging all in a row from wooden pegs, and walk the fields full of soft-needled, bushy white pines (my favorite, and somewhat of a rarity), Jennis and her sweetheart and two excellent children, adept with saws and ideas and silent stalking like ninja-elfs (see below), discussing the necessary merits of the ideal tree: must not have too many holes (but cannot be too perfect), must be somewhat scraggly (but not too scraggly), must have adequate spots for larger ornaments, must also have adequate room for many presents, bonus points for a birds nest. Geese overhead, the air grey and misty and magical and lovely in its own blustery right, merry Christmas, and god bless ye hairy gentlemen, it’s time for hot toddys.

TreeFarmDoorTreeFarm ChristmasTreeLurker

Times of Quiet…

mistymountain

Strange and marvelous and dark and still and starry like last nights new-moon-ness this last month has been. The most exultant, extroverted, celebratory, look-at-us (no, literally, we require you to actually witness this thing) show-me period of my entire life followed up immediately on its star-spangled-coattails by the most quiet, peaceful, introverted, don’t-even-think-of-leaving-the-farmhouse country respite of a month. Like nothing has changed: we make the broth, we bake the bread, we stoke the stove, we don’t leave the one room that holds its heat, we lavish attention on the cat when his woodstove-fired-stupor yields exceptionally impressive languors. BUT like everything has changed: namely the absolute electric thunderbolt of telling the guy at the Stihl workshop that “my husband dropped off the chainsaw, I’m here to pick it up” which tingles to my very fingertips with strange wonder and that Tony in the shop doesn’t even notice. Having a husband isn’t something to tingle over, I guess, Tony? Except that IT IS. And. Is this what it’s like to be married? Well, I suppose it is for me at this minute by virtue that it is. That everything is. What does this MEAN? Every winter begins with me figuring out how to live within its quiet confines again, yet this one is hugely different, and, of course, eternally changeless. Luckily, I’m not in it alone.

The Good Light

artsandfartsandcrafts

This is the view of the table from this past hen weekend. Birds, feathers, leathers, crystals, palo santo sticks, essential oils, craft supplies, champagne, and the dear paws of my best friends. Perfect timing for this, from Mama:

“The best friendships are like mirrors that show you in exceptionally flattering lighting.”

Thank you, dear ones, for always being my 6pm golden hour sunlight and never being a compact fluorescent.

 

Children on Love + Time

1974.08.24

40 years ago this week, these amazing children were married. Eight years and four months after this photograph was taken, they became my parents. I say they were children because Mama was just 22 and Daddy would turn 22 in November after, and when I think of myself at 22 I think what a child I was. Barely able to keep an orchid alive or make rent much less “hold-hands-with-the-love-of-my-life wearing-kid-gloves-clutching-a-bottle-of-champagne-and-walk-through-a-hazy-scrim-of-thrown-rice-into-a-certain-future”. Children they were, perhaps, but there has always been a feeling with them, a sweet electricity that they put out, like the subtle hum of a vast star-crossed-machinery with all of its tiny parts in harmony, a feeling that they know. That’s the thing: we are all still children, and, to be honest, I think we always will be. The only thing that hints that we may be being grown-ups (and that they have in this picture and every moment afterwards) is this: knowing what you want and taking its hand and walking heart-full with it into the great unknown. I will get married in 43 days, and, though I feel I am still a child in many ways, thanks to these kids, I know what I want and I’m going to hold onto it like a comet’s tail into the future. Thank you for that, sweet children, and congratulations.