three essentials

Date : August 10, 2020

This past week, Sarah Margolis-Pineo, Curator at Hancock Shaker Village and I went on a field trip to meet our collaborator at Camphill Village for a tour.  It wasn’t the astoundingly beautiful and plentiful herb garden or creative energy found in the neat stacks of bound books and elaborate calligraphy that took my breath away (and believe they did), but the three essentials that Camphill is founded on.

Three Essentials

1—Recognition that in every human being lives an eternal healthy spirit no matter the disability.

2—Every human being has the right and responsibility to learn and develop.

3—Continuous striving to create community.


wearing color

Date : July 31, 2020

How do you pick the colors of your clothes?  What if you could only wear colors that you could dye, would this limit your palatte? Or might it open up a rainbow?

indigo dye bath

Recently, I read that the Shakers were allowed to wear any color they could dye themselves, and that fact stopped me in my tracks.  I imagined that the Sisters and Brethren would be clad in garments that were ‘drab’ in color and hadn’t imagined them wearing bright salmon—maybe made from a madder dye bath or pink from cochineal.

shades of madder

“Believers were told they might use any color they could dye themselves, and dye books indicate how broad that color range actually was.  Besides the popular (and practical) blue and the butternut shades, recipes for red, black, “lead or mouse color,” salmon, pink, yellow green, drab, brown, purple, crimson, lavender, scarlet, orange, buff, blue-black and slate were given.  Yellow was not used extensively, and the number of dye recipes for red shades, and, interestingly recipes for the brightest colors (orange, bright green, purple) often specified for dyeing on silk.” 1

coreopsis solar dye

“A variety of other dyestuffs were used during the remainder of the summer. Some were gathered or procured locally (purslain, hemlock, beech bark, sorrel, sumac), but most were purchased from chemist.  A wide range of dyestuffs and chemical “assistants” is mentioned in Shaker account and receipt books.  Cochineal, madder indigo, and logwood were common purchases; and alum, cream of tart, copperas, and bitrio were common setting agent, or mordant, purchases. Other dyestuffs—aleppo galls, camwood, brazilwood, fustic, annatto, redwood, catchetu, weld, and woad—were also mentioned.” (2)

coreopsis gathered from Hancock Shaker Village dye garden

At the moment, madder, woad, weld, and coreopsis are growing in the dye garden at Hancock Shaker Village and indigo in my dye garden.  For cochineal, indigo, logwood, fustic, brazilwood, my source is none other than Botanical Colors.   Purslain, hemlock, beech, sorrel and sumac are easily foraged.  And over the next few months, I will start to make a dye book filled with all the shades of colors worn by Shakers.  

Beverly Gordon, Shaker Textile Arts, (Univesity Press of New England:  Hanover, NH, 1980), pg. 78, 76


hand held

Category : Artists at Work
Date : July 17, 2020

wool handcarders, niddy noddys, spinning wheel parts and wooden mitten molds.

‘tunnel’ bonnet forms for a sister, wide brimmed brethren hat forms and boxes for linen thread.

elegantly curved carpet beaters, irons of all shapes and sizes, sieves and hoes.

potato mashers & bowls, drying racks and butter churns, and rows and rows of wooden buckets.

wide baskets, tall baskets, baskets with handles, baskets without, baskets with woven wire bottoms.

looms and great spinning wheels lined up at the starting gate, ready to spin raw wool into thread. 

flat floor brooms, small handheld brooms, and mops with heads made from rags.

the evidence of hands exists in these objects.  hands made the tools that allowed other hands to stretch the cloth over the hat form, to spin the wool into thread walking many miles alongside the great wheel, to beat the carpets daily to keep them free of dirt, to mash the potatoes to fill the mouths of the many that worked in the field that day to fill the baskets with tomatoes. 

maybe it was the accumulated years of work that overwhelmed me as I stood looking at these objects made by Shaker hands for Shaker hands.

later, this quote found me: “And within Shaker culture, the act of making gift drawings may be aligned with the other modes of labor, such as sweeping, that the Shakers classified as women’s work and sacrilized.  Sacrilization socially legitimated these modes of labor by elevating them to expressions of spirituality.”

“Hands to work. Hearts to God.”

[quote from Francis Morin, Heavenly Visions:  Shaker Gift Drawings and Gift Songs, (Drawing Center, New York, 2001), pg. 31.


reuse & relocate

Category : Artists at Work
Date : July 8, 2020

The Shakers were not shy about retrofitting or changing design to accommodate new needs.  This early practice is evidenced by one of the oldest ‘relics’,  Mother Ann’s rocking chair—an eighteenth century stationary Windsor chair to which rockers were added [in the collection of Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, MA].  

Whilst a chair might be a manageable object to retrofit, a building did not daunt.  The Hired Men’s Shop at Hancock Shaker Village once served as a seed shop and later as a working print shop. This building was not merely converted by simply carting in new equipment and putting up a wall or two, but the entire structure was rolled across busy Route 20 to replace a burned down building.  Using what was at hand for what was needed. 

And for the next six months, the building will function as an artist’s studio for the ARTISTS AT WORK pilot project.  Before moving in, I swept the wide wooden floorboards, for as Mother Ann Lee [founding leader of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, known as the Shakers] said, ‘There is no dirt in heaven.”  

Six windows fill the room with natural light.  A large pot bellied stove sits in front of an faded red built in cupboard with 21 drawers and four cupboards. To my surprise, when opened, the interior of each cupboard is painted a citrine yellow.  We set up a work table and brought in a rocking chair.  

Time to get to work. 


starting with seeds

Date : July 2, 2020

From seed to seedling to full grown plant–this process always amazes me. An entire plant is held in a seed, the size of a grain of sand. Start with good soil, add water and sun, hope for rain and allow time.

Now is the time that harvest begins both at Camphill Village and Hancock Shaker Village. Saved seeds transform into lettuces, peas, radishes and herbs. Pesky weeds are being pulled. Mouths water waiting for the green tomatoes to turn bright red.

Now is also the time to think about what fall crops will follow the glory of summer in the garden. Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed, Camphill’s seed business, is offering selected fall seeds until July 9th. One may purchase seeds through their website, turtletreeseed.org

Tangible parallels between the Villages are seen in their summer gardens–the labors of one for another making a community. New Lebanon Shaker, Brother Frederick Evans said, “Only the simple labors of farming people can keep a community together.”

For more information on Camphill Village, please go to their website and make sure to watch the video on village life.

For more information on Hancock Shaker Village, please go to their website for revised opening information.


Artists At Work | Hancock Shaker Village & Camphill Village

Category : Artists at Work, Farm
Date : July 1, 2020

Today marks the launch of ARTISTS AT WORK (AAW) — a program that pairs artists with cultural hubs and community partners.  I am thrilled to be an Artist-in-Residence at Hancock Shaker Village (Pittsfield, MA)  partnering with Camphill Village (Copake, NY). AAW is organized by THE OFFICE Performing Arts + Film and FreshGrass Foundation. 


“plant-conscious” aka summer reading list 2019

Category : Books
Date : June 24, 2019

And so, we provide our summer reading list.

Summer brings us out into the garden and woods, appreciating nature’s daily changes and honing in on all the residents, both flora and fauna.  Early mornings before working in the garden and rainy afternoons are spent reading to become more “plant-conscious,” as author Richard Powers terms it.

——————————————————————————————————————


The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells (Tim Duggan Books, 2019).

“Personally, I think that climate change itself offers the most invigorating picture, in that even its cruelty flatters our sense of power, and in so doing calls the world, as one, to action.  At least I hope it does.  But that is another meaning of the climate kaleidoscope.  You can choose your metaphor.  You can’t choose your planet, which is the only one any of us will ever call home.” (pp. 228-9).

Casting Deep Shade by C. D. Wright (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

Ben Lerner writes in the introduction, “It is a book full of love and admiration for eccentric arborists and purveyors of folk knowledge, for they are—like the poet—committed to keeping the language and landscape particular, unpredictable, collective. Committed to preserving these slow-growth kinetic sculptures [beech trees] under siege by profiteers and voles. This is an uncommonplace book.” (p. x)

“Journal of Medicinal Plant Conservation,” A United Plant Savers Publication (United Plant Savers, 2019).

“The Theme is Voices from the Land, with intent to share indigenous perspectives in relationship with plants.  This perspective is most profound in the article on white sage and the conflict with commercialization and cultural appropriation of a plant sacred to many…”We have filled this issue with international perspectives on how medicinal plants are managed, such as the innovations in Bulgaria and the impact of communism in regards to the medicinal plant trade in Albania…”In a rapidly changing environment we have a story from the Marshall Islands dealing with climate change, the opportunity of using invasive plants as medicine…”Stories from our Botanical Sanctuary Network and featured artists from our Deep Ecology Art Fellowship bring creativity to how we can enrich our relationship with plants and in return heal ourselves and the planet.” (p. 2)

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and Results by Joy Boutrup and Catharine Ellis (Schiffer Books, 2018)

“For millennia, humans perceived color through nature and its reflections in human interpretation. Throughout the ages and around the world, dyers relied on the colors obtained from plants, fungi, lichen, insects, shellfish, and rock minerals…”We want to understand how dyes and mordants work and how different types of fibers react to dyes, mordants, tannins, water, heat and ulturviolent rays…”Having very clear and precise instructions to follow helps us achieve that goal, but unless we understand the whybehind the how, we won’t be able to make the most intelligent decisions when changing circumstances require that recipes be altered…”Taking such factors into account, this book creates a bridge between art and science, showing us the way.”  (p. 8).

Shaker Herbs: A History and A Compendium by Amy Bess Miller (Clarkson N. Potter, 1976).

“An anonymous Shaker editor of the medicinal herb catalog published by the New Lebanon society gave his readers a bonus—a “supplementary” in 1851 which today would be termed a preface. This was the first time such a statement appeared in a Shaker medicinal marketing publication.  It reflects the reasons the Shakers felt so much care and effort should go into the production of medicinal products:

“Perhaps no study contributes more to the length, utility, and pleasure of existence—which adds to health, cheerfulness and enlarged views of creative wisdom and power, and which improves the morals, tastes and judgment, more than the science of botany.” (p. x).

A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino (will be published in early September by Princeton Architectural Press).

“Ruth looked carefully at everything around her.
“What kind of plant are you? she wondered.“

“What a fascinating shape your shell is, Snail.”

“Hello Spider.
How did you figure out how to make your web?”

“Ruth liked to look at the drops of water in her garden.
She often stopped to notice how the light shone through their delicate shapes.”

——————————————————————————————————————–


Trees.  Plants.  Dyes. Herbal Medicines.  Hands.  And only one Earth. 


“Astonishes the grass”

Date : May 10, 2019

The Dandelion's pallid Tube 
Astonishes the Grass -
And Winter instantly becomes
An infinite Alas –
 
The tube uplifts a signal Bud
And then a shouting Flower --
The Proclamation of the Suns
That sepulture is o'er -
 
            Emily Dickinson, 1881

What if the dandelion heralded the same respect as the tulip or dahlia, commanded high prices, and could only be purchased at select nurseries?  Would it be more highly regarded if it cost more, rather than arrived on lawns and byways for free?  Every year, I am astonished by the number of people that vehemently detest the dandelion and seek to eradicate it by any means necessary. 

Our lawn, shall we say, is ‘littered with” dandelions, plantain, violets of all types, and clover, just to name a few.  Yet when we moved here 11 years ago, the lawn was a wasteland of pure grass, with nature’s bounty obliterated by the indiscriminate use of herbicides and pesticides.  Slowly, we have cultivated a variegated spring crop of wildflowers and now watch the bees and other pollinators relish in them.  We take cues from the bees, and happily gather the plants, adding them into our diet, since all four of the plants identified above are edible and provide nourishment.

One should not partake of dandelion wine or greens, make an infusion with the dainty violet flowers, add young plantain leaves to your spring salad or munch a ripe pink clover from the field, if herbicides or pesticides have been applied.

“Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.”

If one has any doubt about the effects of man and his man-made chemicals on the natural world, the New York Times recently published an analysis of a study done by the IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; www.ipbes.net) that brings clear evidence to our dire situation:

Thoreau noted in his journal on May 9, 1858, “A dandelion perfectly gone to seed, a complete globe, a system in itself.”  Why not, for the good of the globe, let those dandelions grow, feeding the pollinators and yourself, let it go to seed and then rejoice in what grows naturally around you?

——————————————————————————-

Emily Dicksinson, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R. W. Franklin (Cambridge:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press),  pgs. 577-78.

Brad Plumer, “Humans are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘UnprecedentedPace,” The New York Times, accessed on 5/9/2019.

Henry David Thoreau,  The Journal 1837-1861, (New York;  The New York Review of Books, 2009), pg. 495.

——————————————————————————–

Selected favorite books on foraging, plants and herbs:

Katrina Blair, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont, 2014.

Steven Foster and James A. Duke, A Field Guide to Medicinal plants: Eastern/Central North America, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1990.

Euell Gibbons,  Staking the Wild Asparagus, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1962.

Rosemary Gladstar, Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, Storey Publishing, North Adams, 2012.

NOTE: Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the IPBES report in the most recent New Yorker. Here is a link to the podcast: https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/comment/last-chances


summer reading list

Category : Art, Books, Farm, Nature, Plants
Date : July 5, 2018

Summer promises the great outdoors: time to explore new terrains or become more familiar with the world found on your doorstep.  As a primer to our summer exploration, we have been delving into ‘nature based’ reading.

on a colonial farm’s recommended summer reading list:

Carlos MagdalenaThe Plant Messiah:  Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species(New York:  Doubleday, 2017), pg. 6.

“I want to make the world aware of what plants do for us.  I want us to give plants a value and appreciate what they do. I want us to understand their importance for our survival and the survival of our families—our babies, grandparents, and future generations.  I want us to realize that without them we would die, and most living things on land in the air would die with us.  I want us to be enthused by the importance of conservation, to be fired with determination that we should never give up, even if there is only one plant left in the world.  I want us to understand the importance of plants so much that we are moved to do something about it.”

 

Diana Beresford-Kroeger, The Global Forest 40 Ways Trees Can Save Us, (New York:  Penguin Group, 2010), pg. 69.

“But art has a sister.  The sibling is science.  Art and science are of the same house, of the same family.  Art in all its forms opens the way for science, because art is the precursor to science in all things.  Art sounds the bell of change that leads to discovery, and science runs in to listen, to test, and to learn.  Art sometimes molds and other times reflects the thoughts of culture and then defines the tides of fashion.  Science follows in the wake of those tides and looks back at the great fetch of “why” to derive the question “how.”

“There is some time left. There is time for a different way of thinking in which man can rethread the needle and sew a life for the future. For if nature is destroyed, art will stand still and the creativity of science will follow suit. “

 

Tristan Gooley, The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, (New York:  The Experiment, 2010),  pg 3.

“Picking up one simple scent can take the mind on an extraordinary journey.  Sense and thought, observation and deduction, this two-step process is the key to transforming a walk from mind-numbing to synapse-tingling.  One cannot work without the other; the brain can build wondrous edifices in our mind but it requires the scaffold that our senses provide.”

 

 

Richard Powers, The Overstory, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018), pgs.  454-455.

‘ “Trees stand at the heart of ecology, and they must come to stand at the heart of human politics. Tagore said, Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven…..If we could see green, we’d see a thing that keeps getting more interesting the closer we get.  If we could see what green was doing, we’d never be lonely or bored.  If we could understand green, we’d learn how to grow all the food we need in layers three deep, on a third of the ground we need right now, with plants that protected one another from pests and stress. If we knew what green wanted, we wouldn’t have to chose between the Earth’s interests and ours.  They’d be the same.” ‘

 

Andrea Barnet,  Visionary Women: How Rachel Carson, Jane Jacobs, Jane Goodall and Alice Waters Changed Our World(New York: Ecco, 2018), pg. 330.

“People ask how can I as one person can make a difference……But if we can start making considered choices in our everyday actions, the little things – what we buy, what we wear, if we think carefully about the consequences of these choices – how it was made, where did it come from, was it child slave labor, was it cruelty to animals, etc., then we can start making different choices. Small choices. But multiply these small choices by a hundred, a thousand, a million and then a billion and then you start to see a different kind of world.”  Jane Goodall.

 

I will be tucking wildflower, bird and trees guides into my bag this summer, along with newly handmade books to start mapping what I see, hear and smell around the farm.  Delving deeper into where I live and what lives around me, guided by the thought that all is connected, and that by our choices we can make a difference.

 

[Note:  Click on Author’s name for their website, including Carson, Jacobs, Goodall and Waters.]

 


in bloom

Category : Books, Nature, Plants
Date : April 18, 2018

We eagerly await the arrival of spring, more so this morning as snow flakes floated down to outline branches, leaves and stone walls as only newly fallen snow can do. We’ve had a few warm days sprinkled here and there in the past few weeks, but not enough to truly turn the corner and bring on full spring.

Saturday marks the start of the Spring Wildflower Festival at Bartholomew’s Cobble, as well as my third year as a wildflower guide there. On bitterly cold Saturdays in March, we guides gathered to discuss the geology of the site, the area’s ecology and the associated plant botany. We trudged through ice and snow over the trails, imagining the emergence of the green shoots and later lacy spring flowers. Bartholomew’s Cobble is a National Natural Landmark and we owe the rare diversity of the plant life to geological action that occurred 420 million years ago that results in both quartzite (acid) and marble (base) existing side by side–not a normal occurrence.

The “What’s In Bloom’ board at Bartholomew’s Cobble from May 2017

 

In preparation for my walks, I delve deeply into each plant’s characteristics, but I also search for the writings of others that found fleeting ephemerals.

Emily Dickinson, gardener and poet, reports of an 1848 spring walk to her friend Abiah Root:

“There were several pleasure parties of which I was a member, and in our rambles we found many and many beautiful children of Spring, which I will mention and see if you have found them — the trailing arbutus, adder’s tongue, yellow violets, liver leaf, bloodroot and many other small flowers.” 1

Mary Oliver recounts slipping away from school one spring day:

“I walked, all one spring day, upstream, sometimes in the midst of ripples, sometimes along the shore. My company were violets, Dutchman’s-breeches, spring beauties, trilliums, bloodroot, ferns rising so curled one could feel the upward push of the delicate hairs upon their bodies…The beech leaves were just slipping their copper coats; pale green and quivering they arrived into the year. My heart opened, and opened again. “2

On April 3, 1853 , Henry David Thoreau notices one of spring’s smallest flowers:

“To my great surprise the early saxifrage is in bloom. It was, as it were, by mere accident that I found it. I had not observed any particular forward news in it, when happening to look under a projecting rock in a little nook on the south side of a stump I spied one little plant which had opened three or four blossoms high up the cliff. Evidently you must look very sharp and faithfully to find the first flower. Such is the advantage of position.”

Bartholomew’s Cobble rightly boasts about its spring ephemerals and many noted and seen by Dickinson, Oliver and Thoreau—adder’s tongue, bloodroot, blue cohosh, Dutchman’s-breeches, fringed polygala, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, liver leaf, spring beauty, rue anemone, trillium, saxifrage, wild columbine, and violets are there, for example. Stop by on Saturdays and Sundays for guided tours, or ramble on the Ledges trail on your own with eyes wide open. As Oliver notes, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”4

1, Judith Farr, The Gardens of Emily Dickinson, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), pg.97.

2. Mary Oliver, Upstream, (New York: Penguin Press, 2016), pgs 4-5.

3. Geoff Wisner, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), pg. 16.

4.Oliver, pg. 8

Note:  I will be leading tours on April 21 at 12pm, April 22 at 10pm and May 13th at 3pm.  There are guided tours on Saturday and Sunday, 10am, 12pm, 2pm & 3pm. Bartholomew’s Cobble, 105 Weatougue Road, Ashley Falls, Sheffield, MA.

Second Note:  A documentary about Emily Dickinson, Seeing New Englandly will be shown at the Roelieff Jansen Community Library on April 28 at 4pm, 9019 Route 22, Hillsdale, NY.


written words

Category : Books, Correspondence
Date : March 27, 2018

Letters are relics and treasure troves of information, transporting one right back to exact moments in time.

A few years ago, my husband, busy insulating and putting on new clapboards, found a cache of letters in the walls of our old house. These letters were written during 1868-69 from a young man, Joseph, living in our home, to a young woman, Kittie, residing five miles down the road, quite a distance at that time. The bundle only included his letters, which recounted his daily life on this farm, expressed his love for her and told of their eventual break in friendship. Did he ask for the return of the letters or did she bundle them up, delivering them before she headed west? From the inside of the house, there wasn’t a hole in the wall or any other indication what lurked behind.  Perhaps, Joseph couldn’t bear to throw them out and sealed them in the wall for safekeeping. Over the past months, I have talked with his relatives, but none knew of his early love for Kittie. Despite my researching at the local historical society, I cannot locate any information about her. Time for more sleuthing.

Possibly, reading his correspondence primed me for delving into more volumes of letters. Lately, M.F.K Fisher’s letters (1929-1991) have absorbed me, allowing me to journey along as she struggled with her writing, penned many books, traveled across the country and abroad, and lived a very full life raising two daughters. Even though we only have Fisher’s letters, over time one begins to know her sisters, husbands, family and friends, and follow the path of her life. After listening to the novel The Indigo Girl recounting a distinct chapter of the life of Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793), I had to read Pinckney’s letters (on which the book is based). Seventeen year old, Eliza was left in charge of her father’s farm in South Carolina. Saddled with debt, she initiated many farming endeavors, including the farming of indigo. Due to its success, many other farms began to grow and harvest indigo. And this morning found me deep into Letters To A Young Farmer, a series of letters written to inspire, bolster and advise new farmers. Each one is penned with passion for the land and the love of farming. All three books are quite different as to time and place and trades, but all offer a glimpse into a how a life was lived and the paths chosen.

“You are so young, so much before all beginning…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and…try to love the questions themselves as if they were in locked rooms or in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet, 1929. (1)

 

1-Letters to a Young Farmer On Food Farming and Our Future, Princeton Architectural Press, 2017, pg. 1.

Natasha Boyd, The Indigo Girl, Blackstone Publishing, 2017.

M.F.K Fisher, A life in Letters Correspondence 1929-1990 selected and compiled by Norah K Barr, Marsha Moran, Patrick Moran, Counterpoint, 1997.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney, The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, The University of North Carolina Press, 1972.


“honey from a weed”

Category : Books, Farm, Kitchen, Nature
Date : January 15, 2018

“As Carl Wilkens wrote when we make something with our hands, it changes the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes the way we act.” (1)

To make something whole. What does that mean exactly? Does that mean to construct an object from start to finish, as one would carve a bowl from a burl? Or perhaps, to take a discarded or broken item and make it anew, to renew it? To find food, an entire meal, from items deemed ‘weeds’?

As a way to transition into this new year, I set my mind to reading and listening to works by writers and makers. Terry Tempest Williams has been reading me her book on the sacred lands of our National Parks, The Hour of the Land. Many artists have been telling me their ‘making history’ via the Make/Time podcast series. And Adam Federman revealed the life of Patience Gray to me in his new biography, Fasting and Feasting.

Patience Gray, author of the legendary cookbook Honey from a Weed, lived what one could term a spare life, for she and her partner Norman Mommens chose to live “…for more than thirty years in a remote corner of southern Italy–without electricity, modern plumbing, or telephone.” (2) Yet, their lives were rich for the food she gathered and cooked, and for the sculptures he carved from marble, and for the landscape in which they situated themselves.

Gray was quite concerned with the dangers of “consumerland” and wrote about integrating life and art together in her columns for the Observer. In her 1960 article, “Crafts from Obscurity,” she noted, “Can you be touched by the delicate pinks, mauves, magentas, poppy tones in woven hangings without first having seen rock roses, wild mallows, oleander, or cornfields ablaze with poppy, in a landscape of scrub and stone?…Once the outside world has broken in with its promise of Lambrettas and refrigerators and hire-purchase, the self-sufficiency of a village culture is finished.”(3)

What would Gray say to our ‘interconnected world’? Would she relish in the internet and one’s ability to glean information in an instant? It seems rather unlikely, especially as she alludes to these types of modern burdens in an interview on the BBC:

“Life has become burdensome, in a way, in its demands on people. And I can lead them to a bit of daydreaming, which is rather out of fashion now, isn’t it? You could say that I have sort of responded against the present time where I feel that nothing is sacred. It’s a counterpoint to that. Because things are sacred. That’s what I feel.” (4)

Gray wanted her readers to not only daydream but to gather food and sustenance for the mind and soul. “Living in the wild, it has often seemed that we are living on the margins of literacy. This led to reading the landscape and learning from people, that is to first hand experience.” (5)

Each year, I attempt to delve deeper into the landscape directly outside of our front door, not only by observing the seasonal differences, but by also using what is directly at hand for food, healing and dyeing. Over the next months, chapter by chapter, Patience Gray will be my guide to not only the realm of daydreaming, but to the logistics of making whole through our environs.

 

 

Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of the Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, (New York, Sarah Crichton Books, 2016), pg. 140 (1)

Adam Federman, Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray, (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017), Introduction(2), pg. 89 (3), pg. 304 (4.).

Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cycllades and Apulia, (New York: Harper and Row,1987), pg. 11. (5)

Note: Tune into the Make/Time podcast series.


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