Inspired by the writings of Katharine Sergeant Angell White, there’s a new series coming to the blog called The Greenhouse Diaries. A week-by-week account of growing flowers, food and ornamentals in a 4′ x 6′ greenhouse in New England, it’s a work-in-progress series that chronicles our adventures as we build the gardens of 1750 House and grow ingredients for our vintage recipe posts.
If you are unfamiliar with Katharine, she was a longtime editor of The New Yorker magazine, working there from its infancy to the mid-20th century. She was also the wife of E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and other fantastic works that delighted the imaginations of both kids and adults.
In the 1950s, when Katharine and E.B. left their New York City apartment to take up permanent residence in their vacation house in Maine, Katharine embarked on a writing career. After decades of working around some of the best literary talents of her generation including her own husband, you might suppose she would turn to writing things she was accustomed to reading at the magazine – fiction or poetry or short stories or perhaps some reminiscences about life in the publishing world that she had known so well for so long. Not so. Instead, Katharine was inspired by the thing that grew around her in Maine – her garden and all that it entailed. From planning and plotting to cultivating and researching, she fell in love with horticulture from all angles. On index cards, in diary pages, and in letters to friends, for two decades she enthusiastically documented her successes and failures, her insights and observations, the learned histories, and the passed-along advice relating to gardening as hobby, art, and food source.
Katharine’s expertise grew by trial and error, by curiosity, and by a passion that captured her attention year-round despite the cold winds that blew off the Atlantic, the snow that inevitably piled up in winter, and the wild, rugged landscape that made growing anything in Maine both a challenge and a reward. Her published pieces eventually led to a book of collected works on gardening compiled by E.B. after Katharine’s death in 1977. Lauded for her fresh perspective and interesting subject matters (like one essay that reviewed the writers of garden catalogs), she had a unique voice that resonated with other gardening enthusiasts around the country. Even E.B. was surprised at his wife’s candor and affection for her subject matter.
As you might recall from previous posts, we have big plans for the heirloom gardens that will envelop 1750 House just like they would have done one hundred, two hundred or almost three hundred years earlier. Having spent most of the spring, summer and fall building and establishing garden beds and planning out landscaping details for the front and back yards, we will be ready for Phase Two of our landscape design by next spring, which means putting the greenhouse to full use this winter. Just like Katharine approached gardening in Maine with continual curiosity and enthusiasm, I thought it would be fun to share our progress of winter gardening as it unfolds. Since we are new to gardening in New England and also new to greenhouse gardening in general, this weekly diary will be an adventure in unknown outcomes. Nature is rarely predictable. Surprises can be encountered at every turn. It’s my hope that by discussing both challenges and successes, this series will help attract and connect fellow greenhouse gardeners so that we can all learn together by sharing tips and techniques discovered along the way.
So let’s get going and growing. The Greenhouse Diaries await…
First and foremost, a formal introduction to our workspace.
Our greenhouse measures 4’x6′. It has a steel base, aluminum framing, a pea gravel floor, a door with a secure handle, an adjustable roof vent, and clear polycarbonate walls. Inside, there is room enough for two metal shelving units, a wooden stool, 33 pots of varying sizes, one galvanized bucket, two water jugs, a hand soap station, and a portable heater. Tucked in between all that, is a little extra space for standing and potting.
We assembled the greenhouse in the late spring in the sunniest spot in the backyard. During the warm months, it held trays of seed starts and some plants that preferred to be out of the direct path of slugs and cutworms. But once autumn came and the threat of the first frost hovered, we turned it into an experiment station. Curious to see what we could keep alive from the summer garden, we potted our most successful growers and crossed our fingers. So far so good. Everything but the oregano and one pot of marigolds have taken well to the location change.
The nasturtiums in particular really like their new spot. Blooming at a rate of three to four new flowers a day, they keep the greenhouse bright with color and the air sweetly scented like honeyed perfume.
Currently, the greenhouse is uninsulated, an issue that will need to be addressed as the daytime temperatures fall into the 20s and 30s. But for now, we have found success in creating a summer climate using a portable electric heater that was put into service as soon as the outdoor temperatures began to repeatedly fall below 50 degrees.
With just the help of the heater and the sun, the greenhouse right now averages temperatures that are 20-35 degrees above the outdoor temperature. Once we get our insulation plan in place, it should become even warmer. For now though, all the plants seem happy with this cozy climate.
I read once that a single geranium plant can live up to 50 years if properly cared for season by season. That’s my goal for the four pots that are overwintering now.
Accidently overlooked, two of the four geranium pots experienced the first frost in mid-November before they made it into the greenhouse. Wilted and weepy-looking, I cut off all the affected leaves and stalks and brought them into the greenhouse, hoping that the warmth might help them recover and encourage new growth. Yesterday, they started sprouting new leaves…
The other companions that make up this house full of green are…
bunny ear cactus
The peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli are all sporting fruit these days. I’m not sure how long they will take to grow and ripen but if we could manage a small harvest in the dead of winter that would be exciting.
The winter crops that we are trying out this year – broccoli, arugula, collard greens and Brussels sprouts – hopefully, will reach maturity and harvest time by late February. We run the chance of running out of room if these guys get really big, but a full house is better than none at all, so we’ll take it one week at a time and see what happens.
In one of her essays, Katharine wrote.. “from December through March, there are for many of us three gardens – the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.” Gardening in a greenhouse in winter gives us the ability to experience all three – to create, to grow, and to dream during a time of year that the outside world reserves for dormancy and hibernation. Our small structure set in pea gravel with a portable heater and a steel base, aluminum framing, and metal shelves shelters big, colorful dreams – ones both realized and yet to be imagined. We can’t wait to see what blooms.
Cheers to Katharine for inspiring this new series, to the greenhouse for holding all our hopes and to nature for feeding our brains and our bellies.
Happy August! As promised in the last post, here is the article written for Artisans List that highlights the beauty and joy of a vintage style picnic. We’ve got just six weeks left before Autumn officially starts, but rest assured that doesn’t mean that picnic season, as we most traditionally know it, is over. There are plenty of Fall foliage opportunities for all you Northerners intent on a day trip and a dine out in nature. If you happen to live in the Southern half of the hemisphere than lucky you – everyday is a good day for a picnic no matter what time of year. When we settle into the cooler months, I’ll also be featuring two outside of the box picnic ideas – the carpet picnic and the car picnic – both which promise to hold as much fun as their summertime counterpart. So stayed tuned on that front. In the meantime, six full weeks of summer still await. From somewhere I can hear a basket calling your name…
Twentieth century foodie, gourmand and all around good cook, James Beard declared that “picnicking is one of the supreme pleasures of outdoor life.” Indeed. No other dining experience seems quite so decadent. The fresh air, the natural setting, the creative food choices, the deliciously idle intentions. Picnics have a wonderful way of engaging all of our senses in such a fantastic way. It’s almost overwhelming.
Those first few moments at picnic’s start – when you are dizzy with the view and the weather and the notion of doing nothing but relaxing and reveling in food and friends – is satisfaction enough. But then a truckload of simple delights follow one right after another. There is that liberating sensation of kicking off shoes and wiggling bare toes in soft grass. The crisp, snapping action of the picnic blanket as it unfurls from containment, joyfully sailing on the breeze before floating to the ground. There is the laying out of the carefully wrapped food parcels and the first sip of a celebratory toast. The giddy laughter, the bird songs, the sound of leafy trees dancing on the breeze… suddenly you are aware of the musical vitality of nature and yourself in it.
On a picnic, the world shines newly bright with details mostly overlooked in the hustle bustle routine of everyday life. It is an activity that encourages you to stop and to breathe and to melt – into your surroundings, into your friends, into the food that makes up your lunch or your dinner or your breakfast time snack. Yes, picnics are a triumphant and pleasurable experience. And there’s no better season for them then right now. In today’s post, we will be discussing the art of of the vintage picnic – how it came to be, how it shaped us, and why we still need to celebrate it now. Highlighting a handful of old, but still very relevant recipes, this post also offers suggestions on how to build your own vintage picnic experience so that you too can succumb to the relaxing style of outdoor eating that our ancestors favored so long ago. It’s history in a most delicious form, unveiled, just as we are about to round the corner towards the 4th of July, the most popular picnic holiday of the year.
This idea of eating outdoors from a basket on a blanket is no trend. It has been around for centuries and has taken eaters on a plethora of picturesque adventures. But it wasn’t always a simple act. At first, outdoor dining began in grand style. Lavish entertaining in lavish settings. In the 1700’s, there were the hunting after-parties which made glorious outdoor feasts of animals bagged from the day’s sport. Garden gatherings in the 1800’s involved fine china, silverware and fancy dress. Plein air luncheons in the early 1900’s focused on seasonal foods, artistic creativity and exquisite manners. Today, picnics involve technology fueled cooling mechanisms, compartmentalized backpacks and fitted amenities made for details and devices. Needless to say, the desire to picnic has never been lost, but the way we eat outdoors has evolved quite a bit over time.
Nowadays, anything goes when it comes to picnic style and presentation. An impromptu paper bag lunch for two in a city park can be just as engaging as a thoughtfully prepared country basket for six. But just like any activity worth doing, there is a certain art form to a well produced picnic that makes for a more pleasurable experience. The vintage-style picnic favors china plates and real glassware, classic cocktails and linen napkins, and most importantly, homemade food. It is the sort of affair that wraps you up in a long, restful lazy day adventure fueled with time-honored tradition and attention to detail. It discourages anything fast or obtuse- like technology and frenzied time schedules and plastic utensils. It champions a slower, simpler and more relaxing rhythm. The type of experience that not only feeds your appetite but also your senses, your spirit and your sanity. Basically, a vintage-style picnic is a big, long break in your day meant for resting, relaxing and restoring through small details… the time-worn touch of an old plate, the taste of an heirloom recipe, the time-out of technology, and the tune in to your natural surroundings.
Legend loosely states that the word picnic stemmed from the French pique-nique which derives from the action of picking and selecting small spots or things. Originally, pique-niques were more like potlucks, in that all invited guests were asked to contribute a little food or drink for the group to share together. But it was England, in the 19th century, not France who created the picnic in the modern sense that we know it as today. Both a mealtime and a leisure activity, the English made picnicking a deliciously long-term and lengthy event that could last all day and well into the night if done right. They played games, read books, plucked instruments, talked, sang, painted, swam, flew kites, played sports and generally just all around enjoyed themselves while snacking on small plates of assorted foods from wicker hampers and baskets.
In America, prior to the Civil War, there were no lackadaisical, carefree picnic outings. If any outdoor eating occurred before that time period, it was eating en masse – generally a large sociable event where whole communities of people turned out to enjoy a barbecue or a church social or a political rally. The Victorians ushered in more intimate, family-style picnic parties, rambling in close proximity to home, as their appreciation of nature and outdoor enthusiasm bloomed in the late 1800’s. But the rise of the automobile, the building of the U.S. highway system, and the introduction of drive-up motor lodges and nationals parks all encouraged a whole new independence when it came to on-the-go eating as the 20th century began. Suddenly, the English style picnic took hold as Americans began exploring their more easy-to-navigate country. Economical, spontaneous and available to everyone, picnics naturally turned destinations into dining opportunities. All you needed was a basket, a blanket, a small collection of foodstuffs and an adventurous spirit. Outdoor eating euphoria had arrived!
Back in earlier centuries, outdoor eating meant bountiful quantities and dramatic fare. Whole animals roasted over fire pits, multiple courses served by domestic staff, exotic ingredients, rich foods, elaborate presentation. But as outdoor dining began to evolve over time into smaller parties and simpler affairs, the food that accompanied it changed also. As serving staffs diminished and people became more independent, picnics and the baskets they represented, became simpler – filled with foods that could be easily made, easily transported and easily unpacked. By the time the mid-20th century rolled around, there was a definite type of picnic fare anticipated and defined by the activity. Fried chicken, salads and deviled eggs topped the favorites list, along with hot dogs, sandwiches, pies, cakes, bread and fruit.
The picnic basket spread out before you in this post highlights vintage recipes that capture that same essence of familiarity and practicality, while also providing a well-rounded balance of flavors and tastes. Vintage recipes include Sicilian-Style Marinated Olives, Oven-Fried Chicken, Deviled Eggs, Cheese Straws and Blueberry Tart. Americanos join the party as a refreshing aperitif to toast the season and the stars.
Ranging from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, these recipes came from a handful of treasured vintage cookbooks. They pair gourmet creations from famous chefs like James Beard with regional favorites from lesser-known sources, like the ladies of the Junior League of Huntsville, Alabama. Covering all matters of taste from sweet to salty, savory to sour, they are considered traditional picnic foods, but each contains an unusual twist in the form of a cooking method or an ingredient pairing that makes them both interesting and innovative. Whether you make all of these recipes at once for your next outing or just focus on a dish or two to sample and try, you’ll discover that all of these options listed here are steeped in simplicity. Almost all of them can be made a day or two ahead of time, so that your restful day of picnicking doesn’t include you running around the kitchen like a crazed cook.
And, just one more note before we get to the recipes. While food is obviously the main attraction in a picnic, the vintage-style picnic places just as much importance on the accessories that go along with it as well – a.k.a. the servingware. While it is true that we may no longer entertain as formally as we did in centuries past, there is something lovely about incorporating some little niceties into your basket in the form of linen napkins, china plates and glass drinkware. These details add an elevated aesthetic to your picnic that reflects the elegant English versions of yesteryear, and really just makes for a nicer overall dining experience. A cocktail enjoyed from a plastic cup or a homemade dessert pierced with a plastic fork is never quite the same experience as using real glass and real flatware. Even James Beard agreed about that point. “Skimp on all the other dishware if you have too – but never on the glassware for your cocktail,” he advised.
A few vintage items featured in this post are a handwoven picnic basket from the 1930’s, a matching set of W.H. Grindley hotelware salad plates made in England (also in the 1930’s) and a handful of embroidered vintage linens in various shapes and sizes. Vintage restaurantware dishes in general are a great choice for picnics because they are heavy duty and aren’t quite as fragile as delicate ceramic or porcelain dishes. Salad plates or bread and butter plates are also the perfect size for your small snack needs and aren’t as bulky to pack as dinner sized equivalents. Likewise, vintage tablecloths make ideal picnic blankets thanks to their soft fabrics (decades of washing and drying!), variety of sizes and nostalgic designs. As you build your vintage accessories collection, you’ll also notice that these elements have a fun way of engaging people in conversation too. Each item in your basket expresses its own unique story. When packing all these elements up I like to designate the sturdy picnic basket for fragile foods, a separate tote bag for the servingware and linens and an additional tote for drinks and ice. That way everything remains intact from the moment you leave your kitchen to the moment you arrive at your destination.
Americano (serves 1)
1 1/2 oz. Campari
1 1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
3 oz. Club Soda
Twist or Slice of lemon or orange for garnish
Add the Campari and vermouth to an old-fashioned glass. Add ice cubes and club soda. Stir to combine. Garnish with a slice or twist of lemon or orange.
Marinated Olives, Sicilian Style (from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, 1985)
1 pound Ligurian, Nicoise or Greek Olives or a combination, drained
8 cloves garlic, cut lengthwise in half
Zest of 1/2 orange
Zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Combine olives, garlic, citrus, fennel and rosemary in a large bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice and oil. Marinate, stirring occasionally at room temperature at least 24 hours.
Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half and remove the yolks to a small bowl. Mash yolks with sardines, onion and parsley. Blend with mayonnaise until you reach ideal consistency then fill each egg half. Chill in fridge until ready to pack into your picnic basket. These can be made up to 24 hours in advance. * If you don’t have a portable egg carrier, disposable muffin tins make a great alternative.
1/3 cup butter, melted but cooled to room temperature
6 cups corn flakes, crushed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, parsley and melted butter in a shallow dish and mix thoroughly. In a separate shallow dish add the crushed cornflakes. Dredge each piece of chicken on both sides in the butter mixture and then coat them on each side in the cornflakes. Place the prepared chicken on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is golden brown and crispy. *Note: This chicken recipe will loose its crunch factor the longer it sits. So if you are picnicking, this should be the last dish you make before packing the picnic basket and heading out the door. That being said, it’s still wonderful hours later or even the next day, but the corn flake coating will have a more breaded consistency rather than a crispy crunch.
1 lb. New York State sharp cheese (or any sharp cheddar), grated
3/4 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper
smoked paprika for garnish
Leave both the cheese and the butter out overnight on the counter to soften. The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together (except the smoked paprika) in a medium bowl by hand. Knead the dough until it turns into a consistency like play-doh. Form into a ball shape. On a lightly floured pastry cloth, roll the dough out firmly to 1/4 inch thickness with a wooden rolling pin. By pressing it into the cloth with the rolling pin, you’ll be able to smooth out any crumbly or wrinkly areas as you work. Using a small star shaped cookie cutter, cut out the stars and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until lightly golden in color. Let stars cool on a rack and dust with smoked paprika just before serving.
Homemade Blueberry Tart (recipes adapted from the Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart)
For the tart shell:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
9 tablespoons very cold (or frozen) butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together. Add the chopped butter pieces and blend with with a fork until the mixture resembles small bread crumbs in various sizes. Add the egg and mix until combined. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Butter a 9-inch tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom). Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured pastry cloth and roll out to a size big enough to accommodate an extra 1/2 inch of dough in diameter when placed in the tart pan. Add dough to pan, trim any excess dough beyond the extra 1/2″inch that hangs over the sides. Fold the remaining 1/2″ inch of dough back into the tart pan, so that you are re-enforcing the side walls with an extra layer of dough. Pierce crust all over (bottom and sides) with a fork. Place tart pan in freezer for at least 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove tart pan from freezer and place directly in oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tart shell turns a soft golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.
For the blueberry filling:
6 cups fresh blueberries
2/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
In a medium saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water and 1 1/2 cups blueberries to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let berries simmer, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes.
In a small bowl mix the flour with 4 tablespoons of water until smooth and then add to the blueberries in the pan. Next, add the lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let the mixture thicken for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in 3 1/2 cups of blueberries. Immediately, add this hot blueberry mixture to the tart shell.
Sprinkle the remaining cup of fresh blueberries across the top of the hot mixture, gently pressing the berries down so that they stick into the hot mixture enough to bind them together. Place the tart in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or at most overnight.
Additional Picnic Companions
One of the joys of picnic fare is the ability to snack and nibble on little bits of food at whim throughout the day. Since the original pique-nique days, small has been the favored size and serving proportion. For that purpose, a wooden cutting board filled with fresh fruit, a sampling of cheeses, cured meats, fresh herbs and bread offer an infinite number of little edibles that can be combined in interesting ways with the food options listed above. From chicken baguette sandwiches to cheese and crackers to deviled egg wrapped prosciutto, variety runs the gamut. The picnic board here included rainier cherries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, goat’s milk Gouda, cave-aged cheddar, blueberry Stilton, herb stuffed salami, thinly sliced prosciutto, Genoa salami, a bouquet of fresh herbs and a French baguette.
Finally, when bellies are full and appetites satisfied, the vintage-style picnic experience celebrates and salutes the pursuit of leisurely activities. There’s no rushing to clean up or clear out once you finish eating. The whole, blissful idea behind a vintage-style picnic is to stay awhile and relax into yourself and your surroundings. One of my most favorite picnic activities is bird watching and tree scouting. I usually tote along a couple of species guides and a pair of binoculars, so that I can identify what’s flying over and growing up around me. Other fun activity suggestions (depending on your setting) include painting, sketching, walking, kite flying, playing cards, reading, talking, napping, swimming, collecting and just appreciating the people and places that share your afternoon.
The world is a beautiful place. Time is a priceless gift. Eating is a ceremonial act. The art of the vintage picnic reminds us of that. Just as it has in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Wherever your picnic adventures take you this summer, I hope they are magical and delicious. Cheers to dining out in nature. Hope it is your best meal yet!
Some time ago, in a dusty section of an old antique shop, I found a broken down book full of beautiful portrait prints. The book was getting ready to be heaved into a rolling bin headed for the recycling center, along with many other books that had been damaged by a recent leak in the shop. Still on the shelf, but tagged for recycling, the fate of the bird book didn’t look good. On the outside, it didn’t have much going for it. The spine was shredded, the cover splotchy with water stains, the dust jacket missing. But on closer inspection, with a flip through its interior pages, a little miracle had occurred. The bird bookplates inside had somehow escaped the water leaks. The images were bright and colorful and perfectly preserved. The birds fluttering among the pages, each depicted in their own natural setting with their mates and their foliage, were too beautiful to be tossed away.
Illustrated by Southern botanical artist Athos Menaboni in the 1950’s, these bookplate prints featured a whole aviary of birds. Many were familiar… geese, hawks, doves…but some were new like this handsome duo…
I liked their spiky head feathers immediately and thought they might be part of the woodpecker family. But I was wrong. Do you know what kind of birds they are? Here are a few hints…
They LOVE to fish.
They come from one of the few bird species where females are more colorful than males
A grouping of them is called is called a crown.
They have big heads and even bigger hairdos, not for vanity, but to accentuate their superior skills when diving for dinner.
Could you guess? Do You know it?! If you said the Eastern Belted Kingfisher then you are correct (and a wonderful birder). The kingfishers capabilities at mealtime know no equal. They are one of the best fishermen on the planet and can gather up enough aquatic life to get a fish fry started in a jiffy. Industrious, talented and always ready to get to work on planning the possibilities of their next meal, kingfishers are wonderful kitchen role models, happiest when engaged in the food options around them. See their expressive personality in this fun two-minute video…
Ever since I learned about these remarkable little birds I have been on the lookout for more of their images and information. Serendipity came calling the other day when I found a vintage 1970’s paper bird model of a kingfisher that had never been assembled.
How exciting! A new craft project – our very own paper kingfisher for the kitchen. Last Sunday, Bradley, the Vintage Kitchen’s resident builder of all things fun and functional, got to work assembling the new paper bird. The whole thing took 4 hours to come to life, but we shortened all that time down to just a 27-second video so that you could see how it all came together too…
Now the Vintage Kitchen has its own little symbol of industry, talent and enthusiasm flying around the kitchen and watching over all our cooking endeavors.
Usually, the birds most symbolic of the kitchen are chickens, roosters, turkeys and pheasants but I recommend the kingfisher any day. Aesop once said it is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. The effervescent kingfisher proves just that. Even though they are beautiful their abilities are even more so.
Look for more kingfisher magic coming to the shop this fall and winter. In the meantime, find their botanical print here along with others from the rescued bird book here.
May your next cooking endeavor be as joyful and as enthusiastic as any kingfisher’s catch. Cheers to the birds who make our culinary spirits fly!
In 1960, John Hay spent the month of November on the coast of Massachusetts.
In 2015, Ms. Jeannie spent the month of November on the coast of Florida.
John Hay was writing a book about the seasonal evolution of life on Cape Cod – a month by month collection of observations he would publish in 1961 under the title Nature’s Year: The Seasons of Cape Cod.
In November 2015, Ms. Jeannie was navigating a bevy of hospital hallways and doctors offices with her sick dad.
John escaped to the beach to think about life. Ms. Jeannie escaped to the beach for a brief break from life. Both John and Ms. Jeannie found solace on the shores of November.
55 years, 1300 miles and 11 states separated John from Ms. Jeannie. Does that matter? Does the seasonal effect of nature change so emotionally at sea? Fundamentally month by month are we more different than alike? Ms. Jeannie thought about these questions while she walked the beach and tried to make sense of the medical mysteries surrounding her father. Decades earlier John thought about these same questions while he walked the beach and tried to make sense of the natural mysteries surrounding humankind.
In this post we’ll be looking at one month from two sets of eyes to see how the natural world compares and contrasts between decades, between states, between regions and between people. Just how different is November from one place to another?
” The clouds cover the sky like gun smoke and the air feels cold and restricting.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In November 2015 in Florida, the clouds also covered the sky like gun smoke but instead of being cold and restricting the air was oven hot and heavy with humidity.
“November rolls into view with cool, solemn, formal consistency…daylight diminishes. The summer no longer pounds at our temples. The fall color is gone. There is nothing to look at and very little to hear… to a city lover it is silent and deadly dull.” John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in 2015, November rolled into view on the body of a heatwave. Temperatures hovered for most of the month in the mid-90’s. The air felt consistently relaxed and languid. If Ms. Jeannie was blind-folded and asked to guess the month she would have said August by the sticky feel of things around her. Summer was holding strong.
“Out on the bay the low waves look as if they have a harder push and pull to make, imbued with new heaviness.”- John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015, the waves are not low. They are tall and fat and strong. So full of energy and life, their crashing chorus’ take up all the audible room in Ms. Jeannie’s eardrums.
“There is a kind of ice sludge being nudged in by the tides along the shore and through rippling purple waters of tidal inlets.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015, the tide drags ashore signs of autumn color in the form of clumpy pumpkin-tinted seaweed that stretches the entire length of the beach.
“Seeds, on grasses and weeds now grow thinner, drier, more colorless, are not only rich in generation on their own account but they provide beyond themselves. The simplest food chain suggests the links in many others. The time for persistence is coming, when those grasses we take so much for granted will hold our earth together.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015 as a whole it is easy to overlook the wild greenery in excitement to get to the water. The waves have a way of calling all attention.
But nature s running its course and Ms. Jeannie sees that the Florida beach grasses are also going to seed. Look closely below and you can see a little lizard scampering around the stalks.
Southern beach grasses wave hello and goodbye all at once as they share their seeds with beachcombers of both the two and flour-legged variety.
“The oaks are monumentally persistent. Cut them down fifty times and they will sprout back from the roots. This is their chosen land. The late fall wind makes their leaves rustle and stir…the whole year is full of the collaborative music of air and trees. ” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015 there are no oak trees. In fact, surprisingly on the stretch of beach Ms. Jeannie visited there were very few palm trees. But what there was in great succession was a thick barricade wall of sea grape trees. Like an enchanted garden, they formed natural vestibules to and from the street to the beach and the beach to the street. Those are the trees in Florida that have made choices. Those are the ones who will continue to fight for life whether they are cut down fifty times or 1500 times.
“Since Cape Cod is surrounded by the sea it has another depth, another range, were other populations roam while the rest of us wait and shiver.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
In Florida in November 2015 the most interesting and immediate animal life to observe was the multitude of shore birds. They provided beauty…
and comic relief…
intrique and mystery…
and even the threat of tragedy…
After a consult with the lifeguard and a call into animal wildlife patrol, Ms. Jeannie was happy to hear that this bird was no sick or injured creature who seemed helplessly hopeless clinging to the sand when she spotted him. Instead he was a just a baby learning how to fly…
“In fact there is no fundamental separation anywhere in this common world of life, despite the greatly various environments of water and and what we use to help us differentiate between the species. Winds blow through. Tides lap over. Each plant and animal is proof of general contact and association.” – John Hay, Cape Cod, November 1960
After seeing the baby gull and running through the gamut of emotions and feelings of wanting at first to observe him, then protect him, then help him, then understand him, Ms. Jeannie realized whole-heartedly that there is no real difference in the Novembers between years and states and places and faces.
Sure the typography changes and the climate varies but similarities are equally as present. We all just want to survive in the place where we are rooted. November is as much a natural state of mind as it is a calendar month, and although the landscapes may vary from North to South and East to West, fundamentally we are all the same at heart. We are all the little gull plopped down on the sand, learning how to fly. learning how to survive. learning how to make it from one day to the next. We are all the little gull trying to make our way in the big world.
Do you have any natural wonder stories from the month of November – something that surprised you dear readers? If so, please contribute your thoughts in the comment section below. In the meantime, if you’d like to see what John Hay has to say about the 11 other months of life on Cape Cod in 1960, you can find him in Ms. Jeannie’s shop here.
For your palm tree fill, visit Ms. Jeannie on Instagram!
Cheers to the new month of December! May it be equally as enlightening:)
This week in the garden there has been a lot of activity in the creepy crawly department. As it turns out Mother Nature was holding early auditions for her haunted garden tour that she’s hosting at the end of October. Naturally you have to pick the baddest of the bad and the most wicked of the wicked, and while there were a lot (a whole yard full) of entrants who came to try out, in the end it came to four who really made an everlasting impression. Here’s the cast of the 2014 Haunted Hollow Garden tour…
…goes to Melvina, a 6″ inch long praying mantis. Six inches dear readers! That’s as long as Ms. Jeannie’s hand!
…goes to Pistachio, the poisonous saddleback caterpillar who auditioned with a hot pepper plant prop. Pistachio was quite cute in all his ferocity with a costume that looked like a cross between a scrub brush and a diseased finger.
If you come in physical contact with him Pistachio will not hesitate to sting you with his bristles – which then causes a welted rash for days. Luckily Ms. Jeannie does not know this from experience! While everything about him from his pudgy belly color to his markings makes you want to touch him – it’s his “eyes” looking at you from all directions that warn against it.
goes to Roberto the red footed cannibalfly for his cool name and his cool conglomeration of costumes. Roberto couldn’t decide on which bug he wanted to be for Halloween so he decided to incorporate elements from all four of his favorites for a really spooky creation…part bumblebee and part beetle with fly eyes and dragonfly wings…
Roberto was sure to incorporate the best features from each bug. He even threw in some spiky hair and extra long legs for added panache:)
And last but not least, the winner of the…
Most Creepy (but somewhat cute) category…
…goes to Wilomena the Wolf Spider and her four dozen back-pack babies! That’s right gang, all those little dots on her back are the kiddos. There was no holds barred when it came to Wilomena’s costume – this year, she was involving the whole family. Nothing like bringing your 57 kids along to make an everlasting impression:)
That’s a lot of eyes looking at you!
Here’s a close-up if you really want to see how that whole baby carriage works…
This picture gives Ms. Jeannie goosebumps every time!
Is Mother Nature holding auditions for a Haunted Hollow tour in your neck of the woods too? If so, You have to let Ms. Jeannie know who your winners are. Maybe next year the whole cast of characters can hit the road and go on a country-wide tour!
This weekend, Ms. Jeannie was invited to a semi-annual cattle round-up at her friend’s organic farm. She had never been to a cattle-round up before. It all sounded very exciting!
On this farm, the round up occurs twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The purpose is to take inventory of the herd, worm all the cows and castrate the baby boy bulls that have been born between roundups.
Being somewhat of a city slicker herself, Ms. Jeannie was excited to put on her rubber boots and spend a day romping around the farm. She brought along her camera to document the experience.
Starting at day break (which is farmers speak for bright and early 6:30am) it took about fours hours from start to finish to move 100 cows through a head gate shoot, where they would be quickly examined,wormed and castrated. The cows on this farm are 100% free range over many acres, so first, they had to be herded together.
Once corraled into one paddock they keep moving into smaller and smaller fenced areas.
For most cows, this is a routine procedure, sort of like a doctor’s check-up for us. They don’t love it – but they endure it just fine. Waiting at the holding gate is like waiting in a doctor’s office. Everyone is antsy to get their examination over with.
While the cows were cueing up Ms. Jeannie spotted the smallest cow in the herd…
…a baby born just 3 weeks ago! You can see see him in this picture with the little white spot on his side.
To keep the cows organized right before they line up for the shoot, they are broken into groups according to size.Which meant Mama and Baby had to be seperated. Baby went to the holding pen with all the other calves to wait
his turn while Mama lined up with the heifers in the shoot.
They both called for each other when they were separated, which pulled at Ms. Jeannie’s heart.
The older cows traveled through the shoot relatively easily. Here is one getting wormed. Which looks like a giant tube of toothpaste that gets spread onto their back.
Some look even downright content like this one…
but the babies are a little more rambunctious since it is their first time in such a confined area. This one below kept trying to figure out how to get her head unstuck.
Mama went through the shoot, was vaccinated and wormed. Her whole procedure took about four minutes.
Ms. Jeannie was surprised to see that when each cow is released from the shoot – they sort of spring out of the gate, sort of half jumping like a bunny rabbit. Free at last! When Mama was released she stood off to the side, just feet away to wait for her baby who was about 60 cows in…way in the back of the calf group. Mama is looking for Baby here in this photo…
Alas! Mama spots him through the fence!
When he got close enough in line, Mama reassured him that everything was going to be fine and gave him a kiss for good luck!
Finally it was his turn in the shoot. His head was collared in place for his exam.
This may look like it hurts, but it doesn’t. Holding them in like this protects the cows from getting over excited and from breaking a leg or hitting their head against the metal rails.
Mama waited next to him the whole time. She touched noses for extra support…
Baby wanted to put his own spin on this whole head lock thing, by throwing a leg out. He was such a little guy – there was a bit of extra space in the holding collar. Why not air out a leg while you have the chance. It’s one step closer to freedom afterall!
Mama advised that this was probably not a good idea.
Moments later, the collar let him go and he was out! Mom and baby headed off together to mull over the whole experience.
Ms. Jeannie was struck by what a wonderful and encouraging mama this cow was. And how Baby really depended on her for moral support. Seeing the two of them interact together was the highlight of Ms. Jeannie’s day!
Etsy is full of whimsical items that celebrate the wonderful relationship between animal moms and their babies. If you need some inspiration this Mother’s Day, take a look…