Weather Stick

DavisHillWeathersStickSweetheart’s Mama gave me this for my birthday maybe three years ago when we were still living full time in Brooklyn. The Davis Hill Weather Stick. A short wizenedy looking stick with a tag on it that proclaims:

Weather Sticks will tell you what the weather is doing. With good weather they will point to the sky; and when things aren’t so pleasant they will point to the ground. We don’t know why, but the Old Timers had faith in them and that’s good enough for us.

This little missive was followed by instructions to mount the stick outdoors, nail side up, under an eave or window frame, somewhere you can see it from inside. Now, Sweetheart’s Mama is an awesome lady. She saw this strange and ancient meteorological thang and thought “I know just the almanac-reading girl who would like a funny old fashioned item of use and beauty such as this”. She might not have realized, though, that the weather stick was a tiny call to action. In our sweet old Brooklyn brownstone basement we didn’t have an eave, our windows had bars, and the only thing we could see from inside was other people’s legs as they walked by on the sidewalk. Hardly a place for a natural barometer, hardly a place where the coming of rain means nothing much but a proliferation of guys selling cheap umbrellas outside of the belching mouths of the subways. So I’ve been carrying this stick around for, literally, years, it lived on the dashboard of my car for a while (a wanderlust call to arms) until I finally hung it last week. Outdoors, nail side up, under the eave of the shed with the sunflowers painted on it, where I can see it from inside. And this morning, as it is quiet and grayly raining, it points down. And tomorrow, when the sun will shine, it will point up. Just as it should. DavisHillWeatherStick

At the end of the day

RainbowVirginiaNo post yesterday and just this shorty today because, well, we got a load of dirt delivered and spent the better part of yesterday day moving it from one side of the house to the other. The late bloom of spring keeps pushing our garden planting back (we got frost just on Monday!), and now as it finally warms up, the push is on! Sweetheart and I worked, sweaty, dirty, happy, until just before sundown, when one of those sky-opens-up-feels-like-summer-warm torrential rainstorms came blowing in from the west. Our little plants got a watering indeed. And when it was over, as soon as it had begun, the setting sun made a rainbow. The end of a good day, and one we hope to replicate exactly today. Lather, Rainbow, Repeat.

A sweet surprise

AppleTreeI was making lists. Things to clear, paths to make, planning Arcadia. Skirting around the perimeter of my land, just where it turns to woods, where wild honeysuckle and climbing rose (both way more insidious and terrifying than they sound) have covered everything in their path, where volunteers of privet and poplar and droopy maples have popped up unchecked among the brutal devil’s cane, it was there we saw it (well, Kitty, my botanist town mouse saw it). Alone and unnoticed amongst the bracken, just another overgrown old thing… until it flowered, an Apple Tree. A remnant of a forgotten orchard, or just a single tree someone used to sit under sometime, there it was, the branches with their perfect knobby geometry, the blossoms with their true sweet perfume. It needs tending to, but what thing of beauty and sweetness doesn’t? I don’t know if it will bear fruit, but I am in love with it, and so will be the bees.AppleBlossoms SpringAppleBlossoms BloomingAppleBlossoms

Mr. Jefferson’s Garden

MonticelloKitchenGardens1000 feet of vegetable garden. Perfect row upon row of standing onions, winter savory, bulbous dark cabbages, the beginnings of carrots the ends of broccoli, each variety labeled in a slanting hand with common and latin names (some of the heirloom types the very same varieties that we ordered from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for our own tiny-by-comparison plot), some under clay bell jars, some just noticeable from the brick and glass garden-flourishing observation gazebo, the spring-ready plants drawn out with compost-dark soil which, in this Albemarle clay you just KNOW took, well, about 300 years to look this good. That is what Thomas Jefferson has set up at Monticello. Oh Man. Talk about Garden Envy. We’ll just cross our dirt stained fingers and say “someday”…MonticelloVegetableGardenMonticelloBellJarsGarden

Hyper Hyper Wanderlust

This week has been a big one! The fruits of our labor haven’t yielded any fruit, but rather two vast looking stretches of dark brown dirt, a glorious site, ready for fruit. The beautiful old fashioned bulbs and wild violets that had graced them moved on to greener pastures, and the spiny weeds that had all but taken over tugged and dismissed by Sweetheart (who, in his dirty white V-neck and busted old Levis looks as much the dirt farmer as he does at home on the last reaches of the A-train, le sigh le swoon). Our beehive boxes are built, we are moving on to the innerworkings of the hives, while our bees, as stymied by the cold snaps as the redbuds and forsythia, won’t get here til May, but we’re getting ready. All of this homesteading, though, doesn’t mean that when sweet Miss Lucy sends me the above video that BAM WANDERLUST HITS YOU LIKE VERTIGO and maybe I should leave all that dirt in the dust and hit the road. And thus is life. How sweet it is.

And the Bees

BeesWe are getting bees! We are in week three of our ahhhmazing beekeeping class, a collaboration between the Central Virginia Beekeeping Association and Parks and Rec (I can’t help but picture Ron Swanson). We will be installing our hives in April, with hands on help from my honey mentor, McKay, whose HiHat hives have made the best honey I’ve tasted out of Brooklyn and whose bees are currently pollinating the dogwoods and magnolias of Mississippi. The more I learn about the bees, the more I love them. They are brilliant and capable and changeable and what they can do is some sort of ancient magic. I can’t wait to share my adventures with them here.

incredible salivation worthy hive image from the ever-beautiful Wayward Spark

The Birds

IllustratedBirdDictionarySo, if you couldn’t tell over here at Feather by Feather we have a serious thing for birds. A certain type of person might blame my Brooklyn tenure, where you can’t swing a taxidermied cat at the Brooklyn Flea without hitting something someone’s put a bird on (watch it again, it’s amazing). But that type of person would be wrong. When I was growing up we had a big bay window in our living room and my Mama kept birdfeeders out there and I’d sit in the window seat and watch them. Tiny delicate songbirds and dun lady Cardinals and big bully Jays. I got to pick out the birdbath at the Pottery Factory (a ruffly concrete number) and when it was time to get more seed, Mama would take me with her to Southern States, a small regional farmers co-op which, in addition to fodder, seed, tractors, and tools ALSO sold Breyer model horses, another ob.session of 8 year old me. I digress. The birdseed was stored there in large self-serve half barrels, black oil sunflower seeds for the Cardinals, millet for the Nuthatches and Tufted Titmice, thistle for the noble and special Goldfinch, and cobbed corn for any lame fool addled enough to want to feed a squirrel. I remember so well running the seeds through my hands, the smell of the thistle, the dust floating in the sunshafts streaming in the windows by the big checkerboard Purina logo. BirdfeedersandSeedSo. Now that I have a window seat of my own, my Mama passed along her birdfeeders to me. Hung on shepherd’s crooks and complete with baffles to keep those fat, oil-furred country squire squirrels at bay, the birds love them, and I watch them come and go and talk and pick and dance and swoop all day (below photo taken after I chased them all away with my camera, of course).BirdFeeder

Garden Maps

jaysgardenmapWith the cold frames comes the (very very very) exciting discussions of what we will be growing in the garden this coming season. Talks of my Mama shelling peas with her grandmother on her porch, thinking about the tiny harvests we’d pull from our Brooklyn backyard, remembering this past summer, heading out to the country on a whim, stopping at Jay’s en route to pull potatoes, get dirty, and jump in the pool. I snapped this picture of his garden map then, as if knowing I’d need as much far off moral support as I could get. Per usual, the more maps you have the better. And hopefully we can have something like this going on too…lilyandpotatoes

Cold Frame

 coldframeOn the docket today: building cold frames with Maman, who is bringing up some extra windows for the purpose. For those of you who, unlike me, haven’t been fiendishly googling them for the past two weeks, a cold frame is like a miniature greenhouse, slanted into the sun. They’re good for incubating seeds, rooting clippings, and (perhaps most exciting?) allowing tender lettuces to be grown steps from the back door long after the first frosts come fall. Getting ready for spring!

drawing (and excellent instructions!) from here

Almanac Calendar

AlmanacCalendarI 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.AmericanWeathervanesAlmanacThe 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… AlmanacCalendarCleaningToday, 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:

Sestina

Elizabeth Bishop

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.

 

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