If it's February, someone must be pruning. And there must be camellias blooming--somewhere. This time a year ago I was in England, at Great Dixter, Christopher Lloyd's marvelous garden, learning about winter pruning. (I wrote about the garden for Travel and Leisure and the article will be out soon. Meantime, the gorgeously eccentric Lutyens house is on the cover of World of Interiors.) I'm quite tired of the greys and browns of winter. I've been reading an excellent short biography of Churchill, who said of his own painting: "I love the bright colours. I feel sorry for the dull browns."
I just got back from the Napa Valley, where I gave a keynote address for The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers--sharing that honor with Gerald Asher. I have written perhaps 25 words on wine in my lifetime, but I have done my share of running wine stories, having launched the redoubtable Jay McInerney as a wine columnist at House and Garden.
While in the Napa Valley, I got a dose of camellia bliss. And I got a little lesson in pruning grape vines at the Honig vineyards; much like pruning rose bushes. It had been raining hard for a couple of weeks and the plants were well hydrated; within seconds, the water coursing through the plants beaded on the newly cut tips.
I have never been to a writer's conference; I've never taken a writing class, or learned the rules of exposition and etc etc. Fascinating. So much of what I've done has been instinctual. Maybe all wrong. Too late. Oh well. I've also never sat in a roomful of people tweeting and blogging and emailing constantly, all while listening and participating in the dialogue. That's how you have to be if you want to play the social media game. I think I am not big on parties, even virtual ones. I find it impossible to keep up with it all. Oh well again. Still, I learned a great deal from several people: the accomplished, elegant Bruce Schoenfeld, who writes about food and wine for Travel and Leisure; Corie Brown, the founder of the engaging ZesterDaily; Joe Roberts, of 1WineDude fame. I include their links here because they are all wildly entertaining and hot-headed too. I happen to love being around people who are passionate about food and wine and writing--the important things, in other words.
Ben Weinberg, the smartly energetic blogger at Unfiltered, Unfined, included me in a dinner with the fascinating Bruce Cakebread; he has started traveling to India and China to open up new markets for his family's vineyard. Why did I have to get a stomach bug on the last day of India? Why does wine not drown stomach bugs? Frances Dinkelspiel, whose book on her great great grandfather, financier Isaias Hellman, a founder of California, looks fascinating and is on my order list. Frances also helped start Berkeleyside. As Berkeley is one of my fantasy places to live, I'll start following that site when the wanderlust takes over. I have no idea what, exactly, I will do with my newfound knowledge of what makes for decent wine notes, or even whether there is any need at all for wine critics, or how to monetize my site. Worse, I kept wanting to write posts about India, while I was sitting in California, and I could see that I had really lost some mental alignment. Unanchored, you might say.
My jet lag is so severe that I've traded day for night. Which doesn't do anything for the old mood swings. This morning I woke in New York City, feeling quite jaded. I know, I know; I hear you all: get a dog. I decided to go out to the park and investigate dogs.
Then I realized that what I was really missing was my old house and the garden full of spring blooming bulbs in Pelham, New York. This is the time of the year (in the Northeast) when gardeners look forward to spring--and that's exactly what I needed: signs of life.
In spite of the frigid temperatures, ice was melting and slowly dripping off the edge of large boulders. And then--sheer joy! I found the first snowdrops of the city spring.
Long wands of blooming, fragrant witch hazel were sparkling in the sunshine. Daffodils were reaching up out of the ground. I inhaled deeply, and caught the fragrance of warm earth. I can't wait to get back home to Rhode Island, to see what's happening further north, but in spite of jet lag, I'm glad to have missed most of the brutally cold, windy and isolating winter up there.
Bessie Potter Vonnoh; the little girl has such grace.
It was good to be moving again. Sometimes I have to learn the old lessons all over again: when you are feeling down, get out. Move through the world. Motion softens the heart, relaxes the grip of the anxious mind, sets the heart free.
I finally began to see where I was.