After a weekend of bossing around the men with machines, Mama decided that we would spend Sunday roadtripping down the lusty curves of our favorite country roads to Thomas Jefferson’s personal retreat, Poplar Forest. The destination proved totally appropriate as the removal of a bunch of junk trees in our own backyard has revealed our own small tulip poplar stand, ringing a clearing in our woods. TJ himself called the Tulip Poplar “The Juno of our Groves” when he sent some seeds on to a friend in Paris, and we too are enamored of them since their yellow flower will be a favorite nectar source of our beloved yet-to-arrive-due-to-ongoing-unseasonable-cold-weather bees. The afternoon, glorious, our little family borne about the grounds of the old estate like seeds on the breeze, and we are certain Jefferson would have approved of our continental picnic of crusty bread, various charcuteries, olives, a ripe pear, Cowgirl Creamery cheeses- favorites Mt. Tam and Red Hawk, and, of course, cold rosé. In short, a perfect day for Mamas and everyone. Poplar Forest is to Monticello what Rockaway is to East Hampton- more casual, less people, a little rough around the edges, but if you know what you’re looking for and enjoy simple pleasures, it’s just as good (if maybe not a little better), vegetable garden small and do-able, serpentine wall in elegant decay, slightly falling down.
1000 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”…
This Saturday was Thomas Jefferson’s 270th birthday, so naturally, we went to celebrate it at his house. Monticello is smaller than you might imagine, a mansion on a hill, sure, but gentle in its proportions, the elegant, perfectly appointed rooms small by current American standards. My love affair with TJ has been long and generally University-of-Virginia-Statute-of-Religious-Freedom-Declaration-of-Independence based, but (especially in light of my recent bent of homemaking, garden digging, and general musings on having things just the way I want them) his house really had me in a swoon. A parlor full of antlers, bones, and special weighted clocks, a bedside hothouse with tuberose and gardenia, maps and feathers and natural specimens, a dumbwaiter hidden in a fireplace specifically for bringing wine from cellar to table? Mr. Jefferson, you are my kind of guy. And Albemarle County was in her effortless spring splendor, you can see why the man picked this spot, his little mountain, Monticello. Happy Birthday.
In 1769 Thomas Jefferson (founding father, renaissance man, most handsome ginger) prepared his natural observatory at Monticello to watch as Venus made her way directly between the light of the sun and the earth. It was partly cloudy. He missed it, and it only happens every 105 years. Oh, Heavens. Well, TJ, I have some good news. Yesterday, starting at 6:09pm Venus began her extracentennial trek across the face of the sun, and we saw it! The stars aligned, the clouds cleared, the champagne popped (serendipity that the cork showed a star crossing the Sun??), and we covered our eyes and Douglas’ telescope with the small dark squares of welders glass that Daddy bought for the occasion as the tiny dot of the planet moved against the light of the Sun until it dipped below the horizon. It was, well, Stellar.We toasted to the heavens, listened to an amazing playlist that Daddy made for the occasion (“I’m Your Venus”>”Ground Control to Major Tom”>”Here comes the Sun”>”Age of Aquarius” etc. etc.), and watched the skies turning around us.
Thanks to Clay Jenkinson and his amazing Thomas Jefferson Hour, if Mama hadn’t heard his talk about TJ’s thwarted attempt to watch the 1769 transit, we’d probably have missed it.