I started keeping a 5 year diary at the beginning of this year (the topic of its own post, certainly), and I told Sweetheart that looking back on this month, at least, the days are beautifully, brilliantly similar: a series of good books, many long dinners, most of them just the two of us and that giddily more than enough, the desire to plant, the thwarting of yet more snow, the killing of a snake, the tireless hijinks of squirrels, the beauty of the birds, the bees coming in with new pollen (red maple and alder), the first stirrings of daffodils and crocuses and the buds coming on the lilacs, the thwarting of yet more snow, burning, burning, burning—the last of the cord wood, the first of the burn pile, the long lingering rays of the now-late evening sun, lots of plaid, long baths, good work-sore bones, and coffee and fresh juice waiting for me in the morning. Time flying, but on golden wings. Forgive the radio silence, the music here has been too sweet.
Found this little guy in a patch of dark rich soil that had accumulated at the corner of the woodshed, in theory from years of sawdust and leaf mold and right in the spot where the badger knocked over the grill last summer. Maybe that was the tipping point. Ash and leaf and earth and dirt and dust become soil. It takes a while for the hard clay of this ground to turn into the kind of fertile anything that will encourage growth beyond wild asters, but, like most things, with the right combination of work and the fortune of circumstance small wonders can spring forth. Can you call it luck? I’m not sure what is more miraculous, that a tiny patch of delicate clover sprung from the nothing of a cool and shady previously inhospitable corner of my world, or that I noticed the little shoots yesterday in the midst of my big-doing-striding-purposefully-around the domain rehanging a broken clothesline and picking up the wreckage of winter… and that the tiny majesty stopped me in my tracks and I turned around to bend over the patch and take in its sweet small gentleness, and among them, there was this: a tiny four leafed clover. Good things are happening and good things are going to keep happening.
Six inches of snow yesterday in our quiet little farmhouse world, Mama and Daddy got “stuck” here in the name of icy road safety, so we spent the afternoon holed up at the kitchen table nestled by the woodstove watching the songbirds have a total freakout at the bird-feeders (which D and I had judiciously refilled on Sunday when it was 65 degrees out and the bees were flying). Flurries of sparrows, titmice, gold finches cloaked in brown for winter, blazing red cardinals and their dun lady friends, (Robert) downey (jr.) woodpeckers, red winged blackbirds, and the occasional bad grackle and squirrel are all swooping down and around, 30 at a time (!), a serious all-you-can-eat buffet. And this morning, Mama found the tracks of a solitary wanderer among the ice diamonds on the front porch. It’s probably safe out there in the world, but we’re going to keep it quiet, snuggled in, and snowbound for as long as we can. Time to go refill the feeders.
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.
When we got down south in November, the ground was bare, the trees naked, the garden slumbering or perhaps dead, no way to tell in the dark months. Along the rambling front porch a patch of dirt with two old crookedy lopsided but suprisingly stalwart evergreen holly boxwoods in it, the two wide glorious recently re-ju-jued raised beds by the side porch more bald dirt (allow me to pause here and say, yes, my farmhouse has TWO PORCHES, and neither one of them is a fire escape), the topsoil stained permanently kind of red by the Albemarle clay. Then the world turned round and warmed up a little and she started to stir, sweet and ancient bulbs coming back every year for twenty years, or maybe a hundred. First the crocuses, then daffodil, and in a mad tumble hyacinth, grape hyacinth, tubery iris, and a rush of tulips, polka dotted strewn willy nilly like stars across the two 10×10 beds. And just when we can tell what they are, we decided to move them all, spade deep and turn soil delicately down down searching for the heart and root and oh so carefully extract like a tooth or a treasure. The plan to turn the wide side beds over to the kitchen garden, make the dirt strip in front of the house (where the dirt fizzled in the spring warmth), into a bulb paradise. And so we dig.
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.
I went into the hardware store to get a tiny set screw (to keep the GD TP holder from flying off the wall every.time. from the simple force of tearing a square TMI?). I love the hardware store. It smells like birdseed and leather oil and they have classic rock radio on and the dudes that work there are true dudes and will listen to any strange explanation of a problem and try and help you fix it (remember my camo tarp?). It is one of those places that feels unchanged in at least 50 years and I hope that by not just heading over the mountain and going to Lowes that hopefully it can remain unchanged for another 50. Sigh. After the dudes settled on the correct size screw and were ringing me up, I saw, next to the ancient zagnuts and mary janes and nabs by the register they had a stack of 2013 almanac calendars, $1. No brainer impulse buy.The almanac calendar is full of all kinds of brilliant and random information, useful in a glorious but somehow achingly old-fashioned way. Each day tells you when the sun will rise and set, what the moon is up to, whether there’s going to be any significant change in the weather, if you need to watch out for any Leos in your life, and (of course) how good the fishing’s going to be that day. Red days are days of rest, big woodcut white-faced moons are full and bright in the sky, and any extra space dictated by the length of the month is filled in with information in varying degrees of usefulness: upcoming eclipses, birthstones, how much paint it takes to cover a given surface, animal gestation times, how much of different crop seeds you need to cover a given size plot of land, the vagaries of astrological signs, how to clean windows etc. etc. etc… Today, smack in the middle of primrose February is, indeed, cold after Saturday’s blustery rolling-pin-wielding storms and yesterday’s general mellowness, and the fishing is terrible so I’ll stay inside, avoid any battling Geminis that might cross my path otherwise, and wait with watchful eyes as the days get longer. This can be a life where this information still matters, where the moon and stars are not distant and unseeable, but players on a timeless stage, dictating a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to dance, a time to mourn, a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together. It’s where the almanac hangs by the marvelous stove. So, for general thoughtfulness on this bone-chilled day, Time to plant tears, says the almanac:
September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac
on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.