It’s been a whirlwind spring full of adventure and blossoms (and yowza is it summer already?). Tales of THUNDER to come, but in the meantime, a little shout out to my girls in Shangri-La who we thought requeened themselves last fall and now we have proof. In short (just to blow your mind if you don’t know too much about bees/love Shakespearean-style epics): a beehive always knows how their queen is doing. Much like in any period drama, a small scrim of bees called the “retinue” surround the queen at all times and groom her and feed her and generally worship her. Only a few bees at a time comprise the retinue and they swap in and out so many bees have a chance to get close to the queen. Once the bees closest to the queen have swapped out, they then are able to send the pheromones of the queen to every ladybee in the hive in a complex game of telephone, so that every bee in the hive knows exactly what the queen is up to at all times. This is super important to all bees, as the health (and fertility) of the queen is necessary to the hive’s survival. If something happens to the queen, the hive can immediately tell. If the queen dies, if she gets squished by the beekeeper, if robber bees kill the queen, if her pheromones start to get weak, if the queen is just getting old, the hive will know. A very strong and intuitive hive (disclaimer: beekeepers are infinitely desirous of anthropomorphizing their hives. I do it, like, one million percent) will get the sense that their queen is failing and they will pick a part of the hive where the current queen seldom goes and they will start grooming a replacement to overthrow her. I put this Shakespearean cloak-and-dagger impulse in italics because it is truly incredible. Various factors (brood pattern, queen cells) led us to believe that we had this exact “re-queening” situation in Shangri-La last summer. Like her sister queen in our other hive, the old queen in Shangri-La had a red mark on her, so the only way to be sure that the hive had, in fact, re-queened itself, was to spot a new, unmarked queen in her place. This spring, we saw her, in all of her huge, beautiful, un-marked glory. Proof. Proof that these crazy divine bees know what’s best for themselves and proof that (on however small a scale) by keeping bees we are helping the species overcome the obstacles that we as humanity have set up for them. She’s in the bottom right corner, with a shiny exposed thorax (where a store-bought queen would normally be marked) about twice as long as the worker bees and surrounded by cells of larvae. Long live the Queen.And in case you have trouble spotting her, here’s an image with an arrow:
A Bird in the Hand
Yesterday morning, just as the kettle began to rattle and sing for coffee, a bird came into the house. A little sparrow, a melodia, a song-sparrow, the kind with the delicately tiger striped tail feathers, the kind that came in the house last time when we had the downstairs window open all day to run the wire for the new antenna on the roof facing into the mountain shadow so Sweetheart and I could watch Jacques Pépin on the free PBS channel whose mascot is a dancing paper bag (oh the thrill of our bear muffin lives!), the same kind that Nipsey the cat caught in his mouth in 2.5 seconds like a jungle beast, the kind that Sweetheart liberated from the cat’s mouth while I squeezed shut my eyes and hopped in a circle almost crying saying “please fix it, please fix it” (and he did, the kind of bird that lived), you know, that kind of bird. In the house. He made a few mad circuits of the dining room and kitchen as I wildly shut the cat out and opened all the windows and doors and gently and firmly intoned “Bird, Bird, this way, this way”. The bird does not answer to Bird. The bird landed on the windowsill of the last closed window, sat there, and let. me. pick. him. up. I held the bird, with no birdlike tremor, just a tiny and soft warm little parcel, how brave, in my gentle paw for only as long as it took me to open the window, the screen, and set him on the porch in a patch of shade. I did not take his picture, for he was very real. He sat there, very still for a very long worrisome moment, and then took a deep breath and swooped off into the hedge. They are singing right now outside, the song sparrows, their wonderful looping and cascading trill, call-and-response. Is one of them him? The bird who I held in my hand? I do hope so.
We are all creatures of habit, or rather to say, humanity loves a ritual, or maybe that’s just to say, I love a ritual. The ritual of the bath, the ritual of the fire in the woodstove, the ritual of making sure we soak in the wood-fired-hot-tub every new and full moon (that’s a new one over here). Sweetheart and I aren’t always together, he travels frequently, we spend some time in NYC, we are out in the world, honestly, more often than not (where I try not to get freaked out by the disturbing lack of rituals in place when, say, one is eating boiled peanuts for breakfast in the lowlands of Mississippi… breathe sister, for this is the world and it is glorious). When we are together, though, two snug bugs in our old farmhouse, our days form a pleasantly worn pattern like the sound of a foot-treadle sewing machine, in and out with our carefully calibrated daily rituals of acknowledging beauty (which, let’s be honest, are mostly just about food and when to have it). We have long loved the ritual cup of tea in the evening, before bed, with generous spoonfuls of our bee’s honey put right in the hot water to melt off the spoon. We try not to be too precious with the honey we harvested last fall (it’s good for the soul + body + sinuses we say!), but it still feels insanely indulgent to actually eat it. And, since we can’t abide caffeine at the late hour (and because I grew up drinking it when Mama would enact a similar ritual of fixing it and reading to us while we drank it before bed ONE CHAPTER ONLY NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF A CLIFFHANGER IT IS), we drink Sleepytime Tea. Waiting for it to steep the other evening and looking at the iconic box in the pantry, it occurred to me, we live the life of the Sleepytime Bear: With his cat, who flops, laid out like a hot breakfast on his worn-in oriental rug… And his roaring fire… His strange window full of jewel-bottles and plants… and his radio, and his cotton night gown, and his club chair, and his basket full of antlers or whatever. I mean look at him! The Sleepytime Bear knows what’s up. Basically, he’s our aspirational life model and we. are. nailing. it. Except for one thing… when I mentioned the startling similarities between the bear’s sweet set up and ours, Sweetheart said: Yeah, but he has muffins. Well, damn. Indeed he does. We decidedly never, ever have muffins. BEAR LIFE FAIL. Luckily/fortuitiously/as if she could read our bear-minds, the next day, Mama sent me this muffin recipe, which employs chickpeas, almond flour, and olive oil in lieu of butter and white flour and has a healthy kick of cardamom and lemon (one of our/the bear’s probably favorite flavor combos). Once made, they have now and forever been named: Bear Muffins. Enjoy, and keep on living the life like a bear, one ritual at a time.
adapted from the CIA
1 3/4 cups chickpeas (1 15 oz. can), drained and rinsed
Zest from two lemons
Zest from one orange
The juice from those lemons
The juice from that orange
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
2/3 cup whole wheat or regular flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tsps ground cardamom (I love cardamom, so I keep upping it every time)
1/3 cup almond flour a handfull of sliced almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar (I use sugar in the raw or demerara)
Things I didn’t even tell you
Holy 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.
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?
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):
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
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.
The Morning Sky by Radio
Every morning Sweetheart makes his way downstairs before me, puts on coffee, stokes the woodstove, blends a thick green juice the color of cedar boughs that is undoubtedly very good for you, and then he puts on the radio. WNYC streaming at us live from his hometown, just like we used to do in our Brooklyn apartment every day (except for the part about having a downstairs, a woodstove, and space for a blender). We are such oldballs. We love the radio. One of Sweetheart’s most mystically endearing qualities is his utter mastery of the radio in modern times. Using the TuneIn Radio app he mines for hours of perfect programming. Weekends it’s music. We spend Saturdays with the Rhythm Revue (WBGO, classic soul and and motown from 10-12), then WKCR funk + soul from 12-2 with Across 110th Street, then Sunshine Daydream on WTJU (the Grateful Dead Hour) at 6pm. On Sundays we take WKCR’s Moonshine Show (old time bluegrass), into The Tennessee Border Show (Early country), and then onto WFUV, which has American Routes into Rich Conaty’s Big Broadcast. For us, because we’re pretty much 137 years old, Sunday nights mean making dinner listening to big band music and doing the Sunday crossword. We pretty much live by the radio like it’s 1923 and we really like it that way. Weeknights, it’s cooking to WWOZ out of New Orleans. Weekdays, it’s talk. Move over, Ira: We LOVE Brian Lehrer. Today he did a thing (that got me thinking about how much I love the radio, see above) where he asked all of his listeners to take a picture of the morning sky wherever they were at 7:10 am and post the shot with the hashtag #BLS710 (Brian Lehrer Show 7:10 am). What a simple pleasure to capture that moment, all of us, radio lovers under the same sky, what commonalities we share, and what perfect evidence of what a great humanizing (and unifying) force the radio is. Lest we not forget. My shot started out the post and here are just a few of the hundreds of shots taken this am at 7:10 (beginning with Sweetheart’s):
Times of Quiet…
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 Beautiful Buzz
Two weeks ago today, Sweetheart and I got married. I’ve been feeling like one of those old fashioned towers of champagne glasses, where the top one bubbles up, full to its very brim with joy to the overflowing and then it’s a giddy cascade of beauty and glittery light all the way to the bottom. And repeat. I’ve thrown parties before and I know what a great party feels like and our wedding was a. great. party. But I couldn’t have ever known how the wedding part of it would make me feel because holy moly who could ever know? How to even begin to describe it? As a lover of words I’ve been searching for both a way to put into language this giant feeling, this overcoming overflowing, this electric joy and abundant love that at once floats our little boat and also eddies around us like a current…but I also kind of don’t want to put it into words. Like: I don’t want to name it or to look directly at it, it’s too bright or maybe it might be too fleeting…it is at once a giant thing of celestial proportions and also something small and private like a delicate clockwork. Something to shout? Something to hold dear above all else like a fluttering bird against your beating heart? Something to whisper oh-so-quietly about in the half-dark with the leaves finally coming down against the tin roof? All of the above? Fortunately for me, since I can’t even really begin to explain it in words, my dear sweet cousin Charlotte (who is a brilliant filmmaker in addition to being an excellent human, lucky me) shot the day on film with an old super 8 camera. She made this movie for us (with help from her own sweetheart, Jesse), and it says absolutely everything I can’t even begin to speak. It is perfect. You watch it, and I’m going to go and let my heart explode. Again.
SUSANNAH & ANDREW from Charlotte Hornsby on Vimeo.
First picture taken by the incredibly talented and dear Kate Reeder who has an eye like an eagle and a heart like a unicorn. More to come.
Portraits over Gchat
I have a confession to make: I am a kickstarter impulse-supporter. I usually impulse-buy/support to get things: the quilt with the October sky’s constellations stitched on it in gold, a “finally a flattering well made maxi dress!” (which still really wasn’t that flattering… I was really hoping…but at least it served as the final confirmation that maxi dresses are not for these hips. It’s not you, it’s me, clingy tube of death), a folding origami hanging wall planter, an ergonomic laptop lifter (which if it ever arrives, SPOILER ALERT AMR: I backed enough to get one for Ann Marie too… among many other things, we share laptop posture fatigue), a tiny magnetic thing that wrangles your iphone cords, a cat calendar of a cat that looks a lot like Nipsey Russell dressed up in a different costume every month, viking lawn games, an obscure typeface, support for a band who never made me the mix CD that my backing earned me (ahem ahem, SWEETHEART), a present for Daddy and a present for Mama that must not be named before Christmas… mostly it’s actual things, bizarre and beautiful creative ephemera. I get the emails, I click through, I drop $10-ish dollars, I get something weird months later in the mail. It’s just my kind of esoteric delayed gratification retail therapy. But I recently took part in a different kind of project, just as impulsive. I paid a dollar to have a stranger execute my portrait in 5 minutes over gchat. His plan was to sketch each of the backers in order, all in a row, in real time, and be done the same day. Things I learned a) the internet is amazing b) it is impossibly hard to sit still even for just 5 minutes. No wonder Las Meninas all have those crazy looks on their dwarf faces. This is me, second from the right on the bottom row:
The Good Light
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.