Oh, our valley. Our little farmhouse is nestled, as we like to say “in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains”, and this isn’t necessarily, literally, true since the honest, round shouldered mountains I look up at from my kitchen sink are too kind to throw their shadows over us. Instead those mountains, my mountains, Buck’s Elbow, Calf Mountain, and the big mama, Afton, lie quiet and strong, old and wise, the Farmer’s Almanac to the Rocky Mountains’ Motorcycle Diaries, close enough to touch, and easy enough to climb. In the winter sunlight, their bare branched sides look like tawny brushed velvet from the middle distance, and in the far away reaches of the valley, they do, indeed look blue. We’ve explored up and down the back side of Calf Mountain from the windy switchbacks that rise above the peach orchard, an adventurous drive that requires kicking it into 4 wheel and along which live several beekeepers who keep their bee yards fenced in electric wires (by necessity they have to be more serious about bears than we do), but we hadn’t ever taken the swift and easy hike to the top of it via the Appalachian Trail.Cold, clear, and winding through golden chaffed meadows dotted with relics of ancient apple trees, the most amazing thing about the simple hour or two we spent taking our time was (duh) the view from the top. Calf Mountain rises, stately, and, again quietly, between two valleys, ours, the Rockfish to the east, and on the other side, the legendary Shenandoah to the west. From the top of it, you can sit quietly in the still, warm, shadow of the wind, and see the valleys, spreading away from Afton in front of you like slow honey off into the distance, the peaks bluer and softer as they hold hands and walk farther and farther away, chiaoscuroed by the smokes of a thousand woodstoves as far as the eye can see.Forgive the awkward stitching on this photo, it was too majestic not to even try to capture it…
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.
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 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.
Today THE BEES ARRIVE! I hoofed it back from a whirlwind time in New York specifically for their arrival. A Bee Meeting. My Mama and I will don our suits and veils and drive “Yota” (our little old pickup truck that has a tape player and only two tapes in it- Bob Marley’s “Natural Mystic” and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young’s “Deja Vu”, not too bad if you have to only listen to two tapes for eternity) and drive out past Zion’s Crossroads to pick up our little ladies. When we bring them home we’ll install them in the hive bodies and frames we’ve built from scratch, the frames numbered with the year so, with hope for the future, we’ll be able to re-use comb and frames and know which hive the wax came from, the hive bodies themselves painted a very pale pink (my mother’s day present to sweet Maman). Photos and beeswaxing poetic to come later.
Sweetheart’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.
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.
I fell in love with this incredible Katherine Wolkoff photograph of a deer bed after seeing it in Abbey Nova’s house tour (loving, lurking), and actually went so far as to contact her gallery and inquire after prices (as they say, if you have to ask…). The whole series of photographs is stunning, but it’s the idea of the deer beds themselves that I find so compelling. To make their beds the deer press down tall grasses to create a little room, grass walls shield them from predators, grass-over-brush makes a soft place to curl up. Something from nothing, softness and sleep. Imagine my joy when on walkabout the other day in the backyard, trying to figure out where to start digging for the firepit, I noticed my very own deer bed amidst the grasses being kept long for winter, to be turned under when spring comes*, but in the meantime, satin sheets for sweet does.
*also when spring comes, and this deer bed comes with a “free continental breakfast from my tender garden shoots” I’ll probably change my tune as to how sweet these does are, but for the time being, they are welcome to lay their winter bones here.
So, this is my woodpile. The big kahuna arranged for two separate deliveries of a half cord of mixed hardwood to occur in the same afternoon (the trucks passed each other in the driveway). The first load delivered and joyously/haphazardly stacked by two young hirsute hippies who, in addition to the firewood operation, have a band, a furniture shop, and an antiquing business on the side. They spent their time unloading discussing how hard it is to find good drummers (this seems to be a universal conundrum across state lines?). The second load delivered by a “You’re my boy, Blue!” look-alike with a turquoise bandana, shoulder length white white hair, and a shirt with howling wolves on it under a denim jacket. A good spectrum of dudes to have on call. I dallied to get a tarp to cover it, because I liked going out there and looking at it, walking around it like it was a horse I might buy, picking the best pieces for my little nightly load. I felt like I was living in this tumblr. But then there was snow in the forecast and my practical side prevailed. When I got to the store, all they had was camouflage. One left.The sweet angel of a man at the small, local, awesome hardware store (who keeps a bird behind the old, wooden counter, and also cut me a length of carpet tape on the house to see if it would be strong enough to hang my knife rack without drilling into the brick) told me that ever since Sandy hit, he hasn’t been able to order any new tarps larger than 6×8 because they’re all being funneled into New York. “They need ’em more there then we do here, at least until spring” he said. Truer words, sir, you have no idea. So. I am now the proud owner of a 12×16 Camo Tarp. Over the winter it’ll keep my precious woodpile safe and dry and, hell, come spring I might just put on an American flag bikini and rig up a nice lil slip’n’slide with the thing. The best part is that now (duh) it’s pretty well camouflaged, which is actually quite nice.
En route to a dear friend’s wedding, I came down to south early this week in the name of TCB: seeing Miss Ann Marie’s new digs in DC and handling some doctor’s visit nitty gritty (did you know that under the small provisions of Obamacare that have already been enacted my insurance is required to cover my lady-doctor checkups!? Pretty stellar considering how essential these things are. But I digress.). It has been glorious Indian Summer in Virginia, maples just starting to change, the last yellow wildflowers and British Soldiers brimming over well kept yards and highway medians alike, beautyberries shining purple, zero humidity (!), and glorious sunsets. Last night we went out to the original Jamestown landing site for a party. Bluegrass (played by my dad’s band, featuring the head archeologist for the active Jamestown dig on banjo), BBQ, and this view through the magnolias. This 1607 landing spot was the place of the first permanent English settlement in America, where the first vote was cast, the first beads traded, the first oyster eaten. Yesterday it seemed as if they may have picked this location for its beauty, its softness and light. But, then you’ve gotta think they picked this spot essentially because this island is the only place on the James river between the Chesapeake and the impassible fall line at Richmond where they could pull their boats right up to the land, tie their bowlines to the trees, and hop ashore. In essence, and perhaps with the most American impulse of all, they stopped here because it had the best parking. In fact, I think that’s why New York wasn’t settled until 1625, those guys had to keep circling the block looking for a spot.