19 January 2015

A day out (or two)

As much as Mr. Fuzzy loves Stratheden and Floyd, he can get stale on occasion and a short change of pace is often the perfect tonic. A brief trip to visit an old, old friend in Baltimore fell through at the last moment and a quick trip to Charlottesville was substituted. Calling on friends who venture there often for advice resulted in an invitation to stay with them and have Jeff act as my tour guide/chauffeur/shopping adviser.

Leaving the farm on Thursday afternoon, it was a quick trip to north of Lynchburg to the ancestral homelands of Jeff. A delectable and healthy dinner followed arrival and to bed early for an active day in Charlottesville all day Friday. What a rare pleasure to have someone else do the driving so Mr. Fuzzy could rubber neck and enjoy the fine scenery.

Jeff has been regaling Mr. Fuzzy with tales of the local camera store, PRO CAMERA. It was on the side of Charlottesville where the highway entered and thus was the first stop. It is in a very unassuming building and would be very easy to miss but inside was a different story. A full range of darkroom supplies, digital supplies, of course, new cameras of all stripes, a magnificent machine shop for fabricating repair parts - but the crown jewels were the used equipment; its been years since seeing so much medium and large format equipment for sale. Bill Moretz is a true connoisseur of lenses and a well practiced photographer. It was a severe test of will to keep the credit card from leaping out of the wallet.In the end, a bag of darkroom supplies left with us... but those Ektar lenses from the 1950s and 1960s are still dancing in Mr. Fuzzy's little brain. There will be a return trip... maybe with hay money in pocket in the autumn.

As in any town or city, fine cuisine is an almighty inducement for further pleasure. Our lunch was just off of the Mall at Revolutionary Soups which serves locally raised, sustainable foods. Their menu is inventive, diverse and huge: http://revolutionarysoup.com/menus/downtown/   Mr. Fuzzy's sandwich was Virginia ham, brie and homemade 'grainy' bread, the flavors simply exploded in your mouth. The ham was superb, equal to the finest Parma ham ever to hit these old taste buds, the brie was as good as the farm fresh brie in Scotland, and the bread was a meal in itself. Absolutely the best sandwich in the last five years. Oh, my.

Highly satiated in one appetite, we went off in search of antiques, real antiques, not eh broken bits & bobs passed off as 'collectibles' these days... they seemed to be everywhere. Unlike the camera store, a bit o'change did slip out in one of the antique dens.

After an active day of walking/driving Charlottesville, it was a return to the homestead via Covesville Antique Store where Mr. Fuzzy purchased perhaps a 18th century cream separating crock which carried the finger prints (two thumbs, two forefingers) of the potter who made it when it was removed from the wheel still damp. Once home, a leisurely dog walk in the fading golden winter light over the old farm lands below Tobacco Row Mountain (well marked on Peter Jefferson's Fry-Jefferson 1751 map of Virginia with another home cooked dinner and much entertaining and illuminating conversation afterward. Again to bed early for another stimulating day.

The weather both days was excellent, crisp and sunny, a treat given the time of year. Saturday was perhaps even more active that Friday, in downtown Lynchburg. A fine cup of tea at The White Hart Cafe and Coffee Shop began the tour. A quick look inside of the store where Mr. Fuzzy found a marvelous bit of stained glass on a  prior trip, then around the corner to a large and very reasonably priced antique furniture store. Never have seen so much Eastlake furniture under one roof. Out of the corner of his shifty eyes, Mr. Fuzzy spied something hiding behind a c. 1860 divan, a delicate oval small table, cherry wood, with fine architecture. The single drawer was instinctively removed, the perfect dove tail joints noted then flipped over where the Gustave Stickley mark was found. This was a survivor of their 1960s "Cherry Valley" line and priced at a bargain $60 - but wait - it was a 30% off sale that day - it went into the Honda trunk for $42. As grand daddy Field used to say, "even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while."

Soon thereafter, Jeff introduced Mr. Fuzzy to Tom Burford, dean of American apple experts, the greatest living pomologist and wonderful person. The best part of having great friends is meeting their great friends. Mr. Fuzzy went home with an inscribed copy of Tom's benchmark tome, APPLES OF NORTH AMERICA which elucidates his 192 favorite apples and apple culture. Truly a book for the ages. If you eat or cook apples, you must read it. Tom has designed every cider producer's orchard in Virginia and most in California. he knows his field like no one else. Standing in front of an orchard vendor at the Lynchburg Community Market (begun 1783), he pointed me to Arkansas Black apples... ate one on the way home and have two in keeping, my goodness, they are just superlative eating apples.

It was time for lunch and there were  number of possibilities but Jeff knew the best: Barb's Dreamhut, where Barb herself takes the orders. A warm and gracious lady, she sure knows how to make a barbeque and cole slaw sandwich!
This was the final stop and with a full stomach and full mind, Mr. Fuzzy turned the Honda towards Stratheden.

09 January 2015

Willa Cather

Willa Cather

“Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything.”

Willa Cather, Shadows on the Rock

08 January 2015

The Gift is Small, Goodwill is All, Redux

But first a weather bulletin... it was -1F (-18C) at Stratheden this morn, thus far the coldest this winter by 12 degrees. Its not unusual here at 2,500 feet elevation here in the Blue Ridge Mountains for winter temperatures to approach zero. In the six years at (or should I say 'in') Stratheden, twice it has plummeted to -8F, most recently last February. Then, like this episode, it had been unseasonably warm before the plunge. It must be devastatingly brutal to the wild inhabitants of the farm who have not been slowly acclimated to those potentially deathly lows.

This post has been rattling around in a nearly empty head for several weeks now, attempting to determine how to approach it with greatest clarity. Time to give up and just write, right? What follows is not meant as a comprehensive list of lovely gifts but an especial four that seem to best exemplify the notion and illuminate the variety of possibilities of the title of this posting, "The gift is small, goodwill is all."

A very touching gift, because of its traditional nature and the relationship betwixt giver and receiver, cost nothing. It was a bundle of home grown sage and two small bags of home grown orinco tobacco. Touching the spirit always touches the heart.

Totally unexpected gifts are always powerful and often come from unanticipated givers. The day before Christmas Eve found Mr. Fuzzy motoring through town, headed back to the farm from the eastern side of the county; the hour was past 1:30 and the stomach was in contemplation of gnawing on the backbone for sustenance. The Blue Ridge Cafe was serving lunch and a surfeit of open tables meant service would be prompt. The chicken salad sandwich hardly blunted the hunger pangs and atypically, pie & ice cream was ordered - and consumed. Waddling up to the register, the bill was presented - the amount had to be in error, far too little, and this was raised with the waitress (who was also operating the register), to which she replied (in part*), "Merry Christmas, the pie was from me." With certainty, that was not going to qualify as a 'comp' and it would be deducted from her meager earnings. I stumbled for words and could only mumble 'thank you' as I turned for the door so my tears would not be perceived. [*There is more to the quotation regarding another person but not appropriate to note here.]

A third gift was delivered to the farm, a gift basket with a wide assortment of home made delights. It struck a chord of almost lost memory, back into the 1950s when families exchanged home made gift baskets with other families. Sometime these were in the form of crafts but most often they were baskets of foods with individual servings, one for each family member, tied up in bandannas or cloth scraps - which provided color and were reusable, a virtue then in vogue.

The bottom of  Mrs. Herman Baskett's basket always held a pan of rich fudge for me, wrapped in a blue or red bandanna which served as a handkerchief for me through the year (in those days, they were American made and might survive five plus years in steady use by a snotty kid). The last time such a basket was given in our family was about 1990; now all the old folks who practised humble and heartfelt giving have all gone to their eternal reward - but no, a young woman in Floyd county still kept the tradition. With every bite of a sugar cookie or chocolate encrusted pretzel from the basket, not only was the giver honored but all those of Mr. Fuzzy' childhood. This was not only delicious treats but a link to times and friends long gone except from my memory, a double gift, if you will, and one of much power.

Like the first gift, the fourth gift comes from the eighteenth century and cost nothing monetarily; it was a home made 'craft' small enough to hold in your palm, just a chip of wood and two brass tacks. Well, some might describe it that way. Here, not only is the gift extraordinary, but also the presentation, as one might expect from a Master of Arts like Mr. Lalioff. It is unique, too, because the maker/giver knew Mr. Fuzzy has lusted after this master work for more than a decade. The greatness of art comes from neither size nor complexity...

Native Americans in the northeastern colonies made bowls and ladles from wooden burls before contact with Europeans. The replacement of hot coals and beaver tooth scrapers by steel tools changed the forms but little. All objects except for plain bowls (which may not be of Native origin) always refer to a Sacred Being and must have been reserved for ceremonial use exclusively. A fine 18th century burl bowl can bring $40,000 or more - they are very rare and highly sought after. Even with modern tools, burl's irregular gnarly grain structure makes working the medium difficult, but Lalioff has vast empirical knowledge, having created large bowls and intricately detailed pipes.

Mr. Lalioff was inspired by an original artifact at the Cranbrook Museum of Art in Cooperstown, New York. If most burlware was involved with containing a sacred substance, then some device had to be used to fill the bowl with that material and also to empty it, especially a medicine administered to a human being: a spoon.  In all likelihood, some of the ladles performed this action... but a spoon, hmmmmm.

The architecture and difficulty of construction make this an awesome artwork but the patination is the positive mark of a Master, a creator who makes an exhaustive and integrative approach to bringing an artifact into being. Every aspect must be considered and accounted for in the piece. Mr. Fuzzy is hardly able to contemplate an object more complete in execution. And, as a master considering all aspects, the wrapping was a delight to behold and consider, brain tanned hide, natural linen ribbon and an 18th century newspaper article that the giver knew was attached tot he receiver. Sir, I am awe struck by the gift, the presentation and the thought. On the verge of speechless a fortnight later. It is already called out in my will as it must be cherished by an appropriate care taker.

2014 was a difficult year made right by friends and their particular aspects of thoughtfulness. Just the gift is your friendship is enough, without material manifestation. Thank you all. You bring my life to a special level of fulfillment that cannot be reached by one person alone.