Dear Lauren

 

You and me, summer 2014.  Two happy birders
You and me, summer 2014. Two happy birders

March 26, 2015
Dear Lauren,

I think about calling you every day…the thought occurs to me that I would like to talk with you about how much I miss talking to you.

And, if you were here–in this silly world–I am sure we would be sharing things on Facebook. Just stupid stuff — art and birds and other things that make life worth living.

I could have told you about our women’s retreat and the blue yarn and the gorgeous canoe trip on the Alafia River. The river of fire. You would love the river of fire. My friend Mary and I saw a mama gator and her babies, and in four miles of canoeing on this winding  river, we saw only one beer bottle. No other trash. Isn’t that wonderful, you and I would say, marveling and assuring ourselves that life is good.

Alafia--The River of Fire
Alafia–The River of Fire

And then I would tell you about my money raising efforts for our church. About how uncomfortable I have always felt about asking people for money, and how I decided that someone had to step up, and the thing I like about being a Unitarian Universalist is that you get to explore new ways of thinking.  My comfort zone is pretty wide, but it doesn’t include asking for money. We would agree about the money, but I would know that you don’t see much use in belonging to any church, and I would change the subject. All the same, I hope your memorial service will be at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Syracuse. The Art Fair they sponsored was one of your favorite shows.

And there was always the weather. I’d ask you how things are going in upstate New York and you could bitch about the snow and cold. I loved your asteriks –you called it not snow but S***. We really agreed on the stupidity of snow.

You’d share what was happening in your own studio, and preparations for Art Walk, which were always a pain, even though you had it well organized, with meetings and people and new artists on board. Every June, you and your garden made Art Walk rock. Even when it rained and someone took the street signs down.

One of your lanterns
One of your lanterns

And we would talk about Gallery 54 in Skaneatles and how things were going there–what was selling and how many sponge holders and lanterns went out the door. There must be a lot of your sponge holders by sinks in upstate New York. And I know the really lucky people have one of your lanterns. They are magic.

Next to birds, we loved to talk about gardens and plants. What about your gorgeous Japanese maple that snapped off this winter–any hope? I have bird houses in my front garden now, and the pottery head you gave me and my ruined pillar, My abandoned folly.

My front yard
My front yard

I hope someone will care for your garden this spring. And leave some of your ashes there. And put water in the birdbath.

Lauren's garden 2014
Your garden July 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I probably would have told you what I was reading, and then you’d have shared what you were reading, and we would compare notes on Antiques Roadshow finds, and Home and Garden TV. I know we would agree that Fixer Upper was the best show, even though it’s set in Waco. Both of us always liked old houses, especially fixed up old houses, and Chip and Joanna have done some good work, even if it is in Texas. We definitely would have liked Chip and Joanna.

We would have liked Fixer Upper
We would have liked Fixer Upper

Of course, we would talk birds. First a feeder report from you. Is the red-breasted nuthatch still there? I saw a brown-headed nuthatch here in Florida! Nuthatches rule! Only you would cheer. What else is coming in–any red-wing blackbirds yet? One is sitting outside my window now. I would tell you about Caloosa Bird Club trips and how fantastic Wakodahatchee is and that we must go there next time you come to Florida.

And then I would ask about a dessert for eight, and you’d suggest champagne sherbert and I would put it in the little blue glass bowls I inherited when we owned the house next door to you in Syracuse. I would use the recipe you wrote out by hand.

in your handwriting
in your handwriting

Then I would just cry a bit, because you are gone and I miss you. And all the silly trivial things in life that we shared. And all the big stuff too. I know this letter  will never be finished. I will close it the way I always have–
More later,
Love,
elaine

Stone Barns

Stone Barns from garden
Stone Barns from garden

No trip to Westchester County N.Y. is complete without a trip to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.  And if two people you love work there, all the better.  Our beloved son is with the facilities crew and our daughter-in-law is a landscape apprentice.

Julie, landscape apprentice at Stone Barns and daughter-in-law
Julie, landscape apprentice at Stone Barns and daughter-in-law

Stone Barns is in Pocantico Hills, a hamlet surrounded by land owned by the Rockefellers, who originally owned 3400 acres in Westchester County.   Up a winding road, past State Park/Rockefeller property on both sides, you come up open fields and then–stone barns, built to look like barns in Normandy, France. They are made of local grey stone, solid and earthy, but the soaring silos and huge curved windows give the whole place a fairytale look, kind of like Cinderella’s castle at Disney. (Sorry, that castle was imprinted on me in childhood.) The barns were built as a dairy in the 1930s by John D. Rockefeller Jr.  (At Kykuit, the family homestead, see my previous post, http://wp.me/p3cJ8X-lG, he was called “Mr. Junior.”)

Jordan, driving the Kabota
Jordan, driving the Kabota

 

Today,  Stone Barns is a four-season working farm (there’s a 1/2 acre minimally heated greenhouse that operates year-round), with a famous farm-to-table restaurant, a cafe, a gift store, organic market, and education center.

Long story short, It’s about growing stuff without chemicals and then eating it without violence to animals, plants, people or the environment.

In July when we visited, the 6.5 acre outdoor garden was in full fruit and flower, and the wild wine berries were being picked. Chickens were laying eggs, pigs were happy in the mud, and sheep were chowing down on nice new grass. In order to keep the grass green, pastures are rotated, meaning the sheep are moved and so are their fences.

Sheep in the shade
Sheep in the shade

Ditto for the chickens. The turkeys, including a heritage breed called Bourbon Red, also roam around outside once they are large enough to fend off predators.  You can buy one for the Holidays at the Stone Barns farm market–around $6 a pound for a broad-breasted white and $10 for the heritage birds.

Turkeys don't pose well
Turkeys don’t pose well

The restaurant associated with Stone Barns is called Blue Hill, and Dan Barber is the chef.  He just wrote a book, The Third Plate, Field Notes on the Future of Food, and he has quite a following.  (Remember, this is a place that is about 25 miles north of New York City, where he also has a restaurant.) One woman on our tour confided that eating a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns changed the way she regarded food.  Her direct quote, “It changed my life.” If that is the result of eating there, the price really isn’t too steep–but on our tour we enjoyed some nice tea and coffee and  lovely scones in the cafe. See some reviews of Blue Hill at http://www.opentable.com/blue-hill-at-stone-barns

The Hayloft, set up for event
The Hayloft, set up for event

Martha Stewart is a strong supporter of Stone Barns and their mission, and she explains the mission much better than I can. Take a look at her recent blog.  In it, she describes a recent evening event in the Stone Barns Hayloft for backers, including David Rockefeller, last remaining son of John D. (he’s 99) http://www.themarthablog.com/2014/09/an-evening-at-stone-barns.html .

And please enjoy the photographs I’ve included in my slide show, many of them taken by my beloved husband, John Swank, who especially likes flowers and insects.  I like chickens.  At Stone Barns they seemed much more content that the hellish hens I remember from childhood.  Must be the chicken- mobiles. The poem at the end by Wendel Berry, a hero of mine, is also worth a read. Just click in the middle to stop it.

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Skaneateles, Ontario and Green Lake

Skaneateles looking north
Skaneateles looking north

Skaneateles is another lake near Syracuse.  A Finger Lake.  I learned to swim in another Finger Lake, Canandaigua. It was cold. Finger Lakes are stoney, long and narrow, deep, and if you had a map, they look like fingers. They are beautifully framed by long hills,  and home to a burgeoning wine industry.  It used to be that NY State wine was basic rotgut, but that has changed big time.  Read  Summer in a Glass by Evan Dawson, and you’ll be running out to get some.

Beloved cousin Alan's place on Lake Ontario
Beloved cousin Alan’s place on Lake Ontario

Another lake that features in upstate New York topography is Lake Ontario.  It’s a Great Lake.  My cousin lives there most of the summer and delighted us with descriptions of the ice caves that form from wind action on the shoreline in winter. Big ice caves.

Ice Caves are big
Ice Caves

As a child, we went to Lake Ontario to experience big waves in the summer.  Maybe they just seemed big, but that was our little ocean, complete with sunsets from the bluffs of Fairhaven State Park.

Ontario
Ontario in summer

Another exciting topographic feature Upstate is Montezuma Swamp.  It’s a national wildlife refuge, close to my heart because I volunteer at Ding Darlilng NWR here in Florida.

Montezuma, named after the Aztec Emperor
Montezuma, named after the Aztec Emperor

Montezuma is  a great birding spot, especially during migration, but July wasn’t bad either.  We saw black terns (I hesitate to call it a life bird, but it was one, see my post  “A Crow Gets Even”  http://wp.me/p3cJ8X-bd) and many other shorebirds. Great to see birds in their proper colors, unlike the drab plumage we experience during Florida winters when the birds spend their time with us.   Topping off the trip to Montezuma, we counted 22 great blue herons in one spot. That would be a Battery of Herons.

Just a few of the 22 we saw
Just a few of the 22 Great Blues we saw

And then there’s my friend Lauren’s backyard.  She has transformed a  city lot near the University into a Garden Haven. (capitalization deliberate).  She has three ponds, bird feeders, lawn chairs and art shows  in her backyard…she is a ceramic artist who makes pierced  lanterns, dragons and other things, but many come by just to see the garden. You can get an idea why.

It's a narrow lot
It’s a narrow lot

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For our final day upstate, we choose a walk in Green Lakes State Park.  The lakes really are green, and very deep, so deep the bottom water never gets to the top, and who knows what lives down there. Stuff that makes it green, I think.

Green Lake in Fayetteville, NY
Green Lake in Fayetteville, NY
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There are fish in Green Lake

Next up, heading downstate…Stone Barns, Rockefellers and Roosevelts, Storm King and Tarrytown ahead.