We drove to Bath County yesterday, through clouds and some rain. The leaf-changes grew brighter as we moved through the mountains, more so since cloud light concentrates the colors into transcendent, luminous garlands strung throughout the woods. Passing one field, I saw a black walnut tree whose leaves had fallen, but the green fruits still hung from crooked branches. We drove into Hidden Valley (that’s really what it’s called), and crossed the little Jackson River on a bridge just like my old driveway in Sugar Hollow. In fact, this whole place bears such a strong resemblance to Sugar Hollow that it tears at my heart. We’re staying in a cottage that’s part of a B&B. One big room, with tiny kitchen on one side, a gas fireplace at one end, and real fireplace at the other.
Rob went off into the fields to track deer. I drove a couple miles down the road to Warm Springs, and took a soak in the mineral spring at the Jefferson Pools. Two bath houses sit by the road there in Warm Springs. One dates from the 18th century. The women’s bath was built in 1836. Round, wood-frame buildings, open to the sky at the top. Inside, there’s a walkway around the pool, with little changing rooms all the way around. You can see the light coming through the boards all around. I forgot my bathing suit this trip, so shivered out of my clothes, walked au natural along the cold wood to the steps, and slid down into the warm water. Several ladies floated together, talking. I watched the steam coming off the water and floating up through the white light, out the roof. I trod in slow motion on the rocks beneath, and watched bubbles rise from between them. The pool is just under 5 feet deep. The temperature is warm, but close enough to body temperature that eventually your edges seem to just dissolve. It took at least 20 minutes for me to really let go and relax, for my mind to quiet down.
Back at the cottage, I parked the truck and headed out to walk, since I knew Rob would be hunting till dark. No wind blew at all, so between clouds and still air, sounds carried further. My footsteps felt heavy. Crows called up the mountain, jays screamed close by, water dripped from branches onto leaves below, but all of this amounted to silence, in contrast to my breath and the blood coursing through my ears. Out of the car, walking through the colored woods, leaves yellow and red glowed so brightly through the stillness it felt like singing.

Of deer, cows and dried apples

I am feeling very sentimental about Apple the cow today. Maybe because my yogurt was so good this morning. Apple is the cow at Avery’s Branch Farms in Amelia County, in whom we own a share. Here she is with some of her family:
We get a gallon of her milk every week, from which I make yogurt, and sometimes cheese. It’s sweet and rich and beautiful. When we skim off some cream and whip it to go with sour cherry pie or peach tart, nirvana is achieved.
In other local food news, hunting season (archery only) is on. The husband’s bow is repaired at last, and he’s spending a lot of time in the woods. Yesterday his friend took a big buck–really big. After ballet class yesterday, I received a beautiful and strange picture message on my phone of the deer’s face crowned by its huge rack of antlers, resting on leaves, blood on its mouth.
The entry of hunting into our lives two years ago has taken us on a journey. It coincided with our growing interest in local and sustainable eating. Otherwise I might not have been ready for coolers full of deer meat coming home fresh from the field, or photos of the triumphant hunter holding the dead deer. But he hunts for food, and would not take an animal we were not going to eat. And I find I’d rather be closer to the meat I eat than totally removed from the idea of it ever having been an animal, which is what big business meat seems to be about.
So he hunts, and I gather–uphold the gender roles! I gather in the broad sense of running around town meeting up with farmers, visiting markets, and finding new sources for local goods. Driving out to farms and picking fruit: sour cherries in June, peaches in July, concord grapes in September. The seasons have come to dominate our city kitchen, and it’s funny to me that this feels novel and exciting, where years and years ago it was an inescapable fact of life.
This year we’ve worked on preserving: peach preserves, tomato sauce, dried apples, pesto, grape jelly, really just a little of each. Looking at the few jars of sauce, three jars of peaches, and two tupperware containers of dried apples, I marvel at how much work it would take to put up enough food to actually last through the winter. Many have done it, even now, and Barbara Kingsolver talks about it most eloquently, of course, in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. [Note: This week’s New York Times magazine is devoted to food and its physical, political, sociological, environmental ramifications. Includes a big piece by Michael Pollan.]
All of this effort and attention ratchets up the gratitude a hundred-fold. Each meal feels that much more satisfying when its components can be traced from the plate, through the kitchen, and out the door into the countryside, to the gentle cow, the farmer’s fields and hands, or to the woods and the husband’s sure-sighted arrow.


Last night I got caught up reading a New Yorker short story before bed. It caused me to think briefly, while brushing my teeth, about why I don’t seem to be inclined to write fiction. I wondered if I’m afraid of it. It feels huge and god-like, full of overwhelming choice. I think writing, like all art, seeks truth in different forms. Truth–meaning that a piece of writing captures an experience, an emotion, a presence, in a way that resonates with its reader.
And right now I feel most comfortable with the microcosmic construction of truth in poetry. Or the (somewhat) more objective truth-seeking of journalism. Or the (hopefully) educated truth-telling of criticism–where I tell you my experience of a performance, and I draw conclusions about its effectiveness at truth-telling based on my understanding of its form, intention and execution.
Fiction feels like the uber-truth, a substantial construction from your experience but not of it. And how could I possibly choose among all possible paths through a story? How could I feel comfortable wielding such ultimate authority over characters and their actions?
I’m not ready for it, but sometimes I see it glimmer down there, fish in a shaded pool.

done in

To exhausted to write much here lately. Much writing and grading and reading ongoing. This week must write a sestina for Form & Theory of Poetry class. Sestinas make sonnets, or even higher math, look like a walk in the park. And they were invented by 12th century French troubadours on purpose to be difficult.
Food news…not too much. Sliced and dried a bunch of apples from the last of the fruit CSA. Made apple crisp on Sunday. And, the rustic loaf bread from the New York Times recipe which I refer to as “miracle bread.”
Still need to make more grape jelly from the juice I have leftover from the first batch of Wenger’s concord grapes, and I’ve given away most of the jars from that batch.
The cats’ coats are thicker, the house is chilly, and the husband is taking his bow into the woods this weekend. The year turns.