Someimes you just have to get out in it. Even it it’s chills bills and the woodstove is so cozy and you might just make yourself a ham sandwich with the seemingly endless linen satchel of Virginia ham that has been magically refilling itself since late November. THAT, in fact is EXACTLY when you need to get out in it. To the mountains, to the chill, to the frozen longest-waterfall-east-of-the-Mississippi in all its thundering glory, to the frost misted mosses and cantilevered rock faces of the world, full of wonder and ancient magics and secret caves and perhaps-hidden treasures and a few necessary vistas of destiny. And when it’s over, you can make yourself that ham sandwich.
Yesterday was my birthday. I spent gloriously long days celebrating with my dear ones, playing music, getting snowed in, having big candlelit dinners with Sweetheart’s homemade pasta, exploring the snowy woods and hiking upupup into the gusting mists off of breathtaking icy waterfalls, having surprise cakes baked for me, champagne delivered to me, fielding multiple phone calls from people singing to me, playing games, reading books, baking bread, having breakfast in bed, receiving small parcels of mulling spices, special ancient bottles of wine with Cyrillic labels, feather birds, and talking poetry and unicorns into the wee hours, and and and…like always, I almost can’t believe my good fortune to have these bold and brave, gentle and kind folk surrounding me. Another sweet year passed honestly and kindly, and celebrated well. And that takes guts.
At the tail end of this weekend, my mama and I stood in the driveway waving goodbye to our dear old friends that had come down for an incredibly warm and wonderful visit involving a lot of cooking, lolling, eating, wine, and laughing… we were waving until they were out of sight, basking in the surprising late afternoon warmth and marveling at how the light just changes *snap* with dastardly daylight savings time, becomes like amber, crystalline, special. So, we decided to take an impromptu hike, as much to get our blood going and feel the cool breezes on our cheeks before cool becomes downright cold as to get up close and personal with the incredible fall leaf situation that’s happening right now. Per usual, I don’t know if I’m specially attuned to it, or just didn’t notice it before, or whether this year it really does seem more spectacular than ever, but the leaves are almost too much to handle. They are simply incredible. Especially when it’s a last minute thing and you just sort of decided to hike a few miles into the mountains and it just feels like the best luck and most excellent choice-making all in a row. Mama, I love to be here with you.
This picture doesn’t even begin to do my dear friend Jay’s meadow justice. His new house (which feels ancient and lived in and almost smoky with tangible good vibes even though they just moved in) is bermed into a hillside and the sloping greens on all sides are simply filled to bursting with wild baby’s breath, black eyed susan’s, zinnias, cosmos, feathery coreopsis, plain little daisies, queen anne’s lace, wild yarrow, sunflowers, branching asters, and the whole thing is chock full of bees. He planted it all, wide strides and a linen bag of seeds at his hip, feeding a rain of possibility across the fall-dark naked earth in last year’s chill, and now it’s this. To me it feels like magic, but he’s the kind of man who makes you see that magic like this beauty is just intention with a touch of wonder. After our last visit, just as we were leaving, his sun-kissed bride ran out of the house with one of her precious jars and a pair of Japanese shears in hand and said you must take flowers with you, take as many as you can. These are my kind of people, in every possible way.
So just when I’m talking about the dastardly squirrel who keeps sneakily sneaking in and stealing bird seed from my birdfeeders and what-all-I’m-gonna-do-about-it I wake up and this is what I find in the yard. Total crime scene, the two long feeders I’d swathed in cages (to thwart the squirrel) ripped off and strewn in the yard, the suet feeder that usually hangs on the right hand hook totally gone, and the poles bent and pulled down. Sir, excuse me, sir, was it you?A BEAR. Our bear? Hmmph. We spotted this wily fellow back in June and, while Nipsey Russell the cat made sure to let the bear know he meant business by hissing at him, I managed to snap this shot from the bedroom window before squeaking “scram! I said scram bear!” which was medium/hardly effectual in getting him to leave. We saw him again (at least I think it was the same bear) last week while Sweetheart and I were doing a painting project in the yard, but he was way bigger— as one would expect after a summer pillaging people’s bird feeders and eating mulberries. Sweetheart chased him away by banging our dutch oven with a spoon. Pretty good for a city boy. Anyway, like most country-type dwellers I think that the bear is majestic, terrifying, beautiful but… if he tries to lay a furry mitt on my bees I’m gonna… well… I guess there’s not much I can do, actually. I should have known better, Bears love Hunny:
This is the year of the rookie garden. Someday I will have my mother’s hands and my grandfather’s understanding of what plants need to go where (or at least maybe my other grandfather’s brilliant knack for just hiring someone to do it right), but in the meantime, I’m just playing fast and loose with seeds and starts and trials and errors and sun and shade and just trying to appreciate the loveliness of small successes as I make a (totally delicious) dinner involving 4 peas and 3 radishes. In all of this vegetable garden planning and hand wringing and dirt moving and cucumber roadtripping, I forgot about flowers. So, in some went. Two packets of impulse-purchase dollar-store wildflowers and the entirety of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange’s Wild Garden Perennial Insectary Mix (for the bees) sown. Look at these seeds! Strange curlicues, barbed instruments of war, tiny drinking gourds, beach balls, tomatillos, snailshells, armaments, and toboggans. Go forth little seeds, go forth and bloom.
This is our fox, he doesn’t have a name, but if he did, we’d call him Vulpes Vulpes. He spends his days skirtling around in the overgrown honeysuckle and mulberry next to our little old beach house, flushing out mockingbirds, sunbathing, and ignoring our attempts to give him baguettes. He is stately and smart and slender and oh-so-foxlike. Vulpes Vulpes, you are welcome to stay here forever.
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.