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.
I’ve always loved plants, flowers, blooms. Made forts in boxwoods, learned and loved the evocative names Mama had planted in the gracious swooping beds surrounding our house, onomatopoetic almost, Bleeding Hearts, Johnny Jump-ups, Naked Ladies, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Poet’s Laurel, St. John’s Wort, Harry Lauder Walking Stick. I held dear The Secret Garden, Peter Rabbit, and a book called “Flower Fairies of the Garden“ (my copy of which my Mama brought back to me recently for use as a research tome). I’ve always loved plants, but it’s been like how you love Paris or how you love Vermeer or how you love Virginia Woolf. You love them from afar, through the lens of where you are, they’re distant, somehow, you appreciate their beauty and softness and worldly majesty when you are lucky enough to brush by it, but Paris is not yours, the Vermeer isn’t in your care, and you will never truly understand Virginia Woolf, no matter how many times you re-read To The Lighthouse. I’ve always felt the same way about plants. I love them, but that they are not meant for me to understand. And when I try, one of us usually ends up a shriveled brown mess.I think this has a lot to do with our relationship with time. Talking about this crazy winter, the forsythias straggled in just last week, leggy and blown like a horse ridden to far too fast. In deciding whether to cut it back drastically or let time take its course, the words got tossed around we’ll just have to see how they do next year. It’s unfathomable for a person of 25 to be thinking about what a plant is going to do a year from now when they don’t know what they’re going to be doing six months from now. The rare young birds that do have very old souls indeed. You have to be in a place where you’re ready to put your own roots down before you can be worrying about anyone elses.
Understanding a plant takes commitment, the delicate pruning of the lilac, the blooming off of new-wood-old-wood argument of the Azalea (what, that takes 3 years to understand?), and the dauntless perennial bulbs that are springing to life right now, a testament to the staying power of loveliness and perhaps proof of the rightness of civilization. Miss McKay says that her mama told her that if you see daffodils in the country, it means a house used to stand there, the plants become the record of the people, and are still there after decades. And this is the, ahem, root of it. The best kind of plants have a kind of permanence (like Paris, like Miss Virginia) that, literally, takes root and hangs on for years, you are their steward, you have to be in it for the long haul, and if you do your job well, the roots you put down will outlast you. I discovered a stand of daffodils in the back woods, near where some mysterious stone columns have sat, fallen for years like an Appalachian Ozymandius, the dark green shoots bursting from bramble, proof that someone cared here. And I care here now.
So, yes, I know that Valentine’s Day was over a week ago, but but but there were literally FEET of snow on the ground on the actual mostromanticredrosebannerdayoftheyear so, I wasn’t allowed to actually break out my valentine until just this weekend, when the temperatures inexplicably were in the low 70’s. Let me just say: after an incredibly long winter of incessant snow-fall, shin-deep city sidewalk slush, and muddy-pawed squirrels tirelessly breaking into my birdseed, 70 degrees on the naked skin feels totally, utterly, soul-rising-in-the-body-like-sap-in-a-maple incredible. But, I have to say… it doesn’t feel as incredible as the revving and rumbling motor horsetremble of my very own gorgeous gas powered lady sized Stihl chainsaw. Which is what I got for Valentine’s Day this year. To be fair, Sweetheart and I actually got it for each other (and we’ve decided this is how we’re going to roll on Valentine’s Day from here on out: an excuse to buy the big-ticket-thing we’ve both been jonesing for together), but, per usual, even though it’s “ours”, he’s letting me take the reins, letting me wear the orange-kevlar-pants, only yelling from the side (he has to yell since I’m wearing safety ear-muffs) “PLANT YOUR FEET! DON’T SWITCH YOUR HANDS WHEN YOU TAKE OFF THE CHAIN BRAKE! DON’T LET THE CHAIN HIT THE GROUND”. Bellows which, honestly, are sweeter than any sweet nothing whispered into a naked ear by a moon-eyed-cassanova. Be still my beating heart, it’s revving at 2.3 HP, fully oiled up, and ready to take on the world.
You may be pushed to your limit, but you will take this in stride. Your trademark humor, faith, and talent will be your greatest asset.
Sent to me by the most marvelous Miss Rav, who is always on my team.
At the beginning of the summer we strung fairy lights in our meadow, slung in lazy arcs over the triangle of ancient oaks that top the flat little rise before the whole thing goes sloping into queen anne’s lace and deer trails. The New York City free-craigslist picnic table Sweetheart and I snagged from a strange side yard in a Yonkers adventure is going strong (even with the repairs I made after Miss Lucy and Rav and I broke it dancing on it at the first party we threw, whoopsie), and we’ve been dining under the lights at least once a week since. How easy and wonderful and magic it feels to have it set up out there, ready and waiting for us. And something about it is pretty magical, as if you are in a room made of glow. And after Miss MoMo took the above shot during Dear Miss Ann Marie’s jubilee birthday dinner this past weekend (officially the end of summer, but not the end of lightmagic), I realized that everyone who comes over takes a picture…here are some of my favorite friend’s snaps from this summer under the stars, amidst the sweet and easy shine of the lights. Thanks, of course, to mollyleddbetter, ammmr, mrsravenel, lucymcfa, aransler, likeyouwalkacross, mckaymc, and thefieldblog for coming to dinner and for being so beautiful themselves.
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.
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.