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August 2008

            The house spoke to me a day or two ago.  For the very first time.  Oh, it has known me for over thirty years and is, of course, more familiar with me than I am with myself, but never took it upon itself to express itself in words to me.  Feelings, yes.  Words, no.  It knows my weaknesses, as do I, whose prime occupation, of late, is to remind myself of them, at all times, if possible.  But what it also knows is something I have quite forgotten.

            The hollyhocks in the vegetable garden are enchanting this week.  My daughter had sent me some seeds from California and my neighbor had given me some as well.  They are both deep rose in color and a dark rich winery red. Some little ones that had been transplanted that spring have filled out nicely and while quite a bit shorter are also thick with buds.  The French garlic I bought in New York are budding out.  Art Nouveau in form, a lovely contrast against the gooseberry bushes hung with round ruby jewels.  The vegetable garden was created on a slightly sloping piece of ground.  I've managed to plant it in tiers.  The taller plants in the outer edge, with hollyhocks and currant bushes, both red and black, as well as the gooseberries, still fully bearing up the symmetry.  They add some interest to the dimensions.  I left an unidentified green bushy weed in the middle of some of the beans.  It, too, adds dimension.  There is a last plot of grass bordered by stone paths on four sides that hasn't been dug yet.  It is mowed when I mow the lawn.  A neat and perfect rectangle.  The broadest stones have been laid in that part of the garden.  It waits for me.  I've piled some large flat ones in the middle to be a sort of bench.  Perhaps I shall never plant that plot.  It could become my little grassy park.  It waits for me. 

            A stranger came yesterday to see the apartment that needs to be rented.  She had much to say about the people who must have lived here once and had painted a border of deer and pine trees on the lower landing.  She was quite certain of the national origin of the people who "used to live" here and who had decorated the lower landing.  When she came up for air I said it was I who painted it.  What I didn't point out, it would have been impolite, was how far off she was.  It was my copy of a one hundred year old French wallpaper.   

            Last night I sat in one of the few rooms in the house that is almost finished.  It is painted, ten feet tall walls and curved ceiling in a shell pink that becomes different colors depending on the time of day and the kind of light the sun has decided to offer.  It once was two rooms.  A servant's bedroom, one of several, and bath.  The dividing wall was torn down.  It then became a longish room with three windows.  In a burst of wishful thinking, hope reigns eternal.  I had a window seat built in with a featherbed covered in velour on which to lie and read.  Two little curved shelves were added on which to rest a coffee cup and plate of cookies.  A silver tray sits on one, with a vase fitted with dark green quince leaves.

            The little root cellar in the basement now has a stone floor and a very pretty little white Art Deco hanging lamp that actually works.  Ernest Westcott had built me some shelves in there for storing apples.  Slatted ones.  Spaces in-between so the apples won't touch each other.  This year's apple crop only lends itself to freezing apple sauces, unfortunately.  Only the applesauce tree seems to be bearing this year.  I don't think there shall be much else.  Early spring freeze.  But there may still be some out in the pasture that would be good to store.

            I've vinegar painted the mudroom floor in goldenrod and sienna.  And stenciled the recently installed ceiling border in the dining room with a trailing vine.  No repeats for eighteen feet.  It looks as if it came through a window.  Oh, the garnet velvet drapes have not been sewn yet.  But the velvet sits in a good safe place and shall manifest itself as curtains on the windows in due course of time.  And a stone floor has been laid in the room below it, now called the outdoor living room.  Some Sweet Cicely has become a bush near the stone steps leading into it.  And the day lilies are a minor bush as well.  Together they form a pleasing well balanced curve around the stone path leading into it.  A porch I had built next to all of this has merit as well.  Its flat spindles were copied from some that were around the stairwell in the carriage house.  It is a broad porch with a wide railing on which I sometimes dry garlic.  There are stems of black currant bushes rooting in the dining room window facing the porch.  Hope reigns there as well.

            Today, the sheep in the lambing room are to be moved to the south pasture with their lambs.  The lambs are the prettiest I've had this year.  Two ewes with fuzzy fleeces to keep.  The rest are ram lambs to go for meat.  With any luck I'll manage to get the rest of the lambs that are running with the flock in that pasture as well.  There is such nice grass there.  The donkey lives with them, their protector, as well.  Guarding the livestock.  Unfortunately the chickens in the portable coop had to be moved to another field.  It was so nice having them all together.  They, the poor dears, carry parasites that are harmful to both lambs and kid goats.  They now live a peripatetic life being moved several times a day around another pasture.  The Buff Orpingtons are escape artists and manage to worm their way out of the smallest hole in the netting.  If I can't capture them they find themselves to be a late night supper for someone, a night bird, I suspect.  There are only four left.  The Cuckoo Marans suffer no such fate.  One, unfortunately for me, has decided to become broody, therefore no eggs.  The others lay every day.  Nice speckled eggs to sell at Annutto's.  I, unfortunately, only get to keep the occasional one that gets cracked.  One of my favorite summer dishes is chard stems reduced in heavy cream added to eggs as they are scrambled.  There is enough chard.  Not enough eggs.  The sale of the eggs pays for the goat grain and laying mash each week.  And so, I don't use any unless they become, quite mysteriously, available. 

              The dogs provide me with a great deal of joy early mornings.  They are learning to obey commands separately.  Nelly.  Down.  Stay.  Glencora.  Come.  Now.  Nelly is becoming a tiny bit adventurous, and today slipped into the lamb pasture.  Nelly.  No.  Here.  Now.  My favorite command is "Go Running" which is given after a suitable interval watching the chickens in the portable coop, Nelly and perfecting "That Will Do!", Glencora.  I love to watch them race each other.  Glencora is fast.  Nelly thinks.  She takes an inside curve when racing Glencora.  A clever way to end up at the same place in the same moment.  Sometimes they dive at each other with a ferocity that belies their affection.  Their feet pound the ground like miniature horses.  And when told "Kitchen" at the top of my voice, run in tandem to the back porch to sit and wait to greet me, eyes shining.

            I am sitting on a chair that was made a long time ago, looking at the hollyhocks and rethinking the visual balance of the vegetable garden.  For some poorly thought out reason, a black currant bush is sited behind the biggest of the gooseberry bushes in the gooseberry section of the garden.  I am the culprit.  And across the stone path is a tiny transplanted bush that will someday be just as big.  Next to that is a very tiny red currant bush.  Should those two grow as one, the view I like so much shall be completely obscured.  Whatever was my gardener thinking of?  The earth in those plots was probably conducive to transplanting at that moment.  Now those little ones need to be transplanted. And that shall alter the shape of the entire garden.  So be it. 

            This house and buildings were built by someone named Greenleaf, a long time ago.  I have seen in some local records the name of someone by the name of Thomas Greenleaf.  Knowing that my part of the history is misrepresented somewhat, I am uncertain of the accuracy of any information that I've learned to date. However, I do know that the next owner after the Greenleafs lived here only two or three years.  Then came two others.  Both farmers.  And the third was I. 

            The Greenleafs had a great deal of money to spend.  The south pasture had a clay tennis court. I don't have any.  They paid a great deal of attention to detail.  As do I.  The two farmers in between us loved the house and, fortunately for me, committed no remodeling of any kind.  They simply closed the doors and left things alone.  I have added to it here.  And struggle to not pay any mind to impolite comments about what I have not yet done from people who have no concept of common courtesy.  The house spoke to me a day or two ago.  And said, how glad it was that it is I who am here.

Sylvia Jorrin

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