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.

Most of the ones I saw weren't my style. They either looked too needy, or overpowering. I'm not sure I saw a single one that made me think we would understand one another. Anyway, what would I have done if I had spotted one I liked? Asked the owner if I could have it? I thought of a man who told me his idea of heaven was to own a large dog that would leap up and greet him at the end of the day, licking and panting and throwing itself (herself, no doubt) at him. I can see the appeal. I guess. I'm afraid I might want a dog that would greet me in a more reserved, though loving, fashion. And, as I thought further on the matter, I would hate to be a dog home alone all day, waiting sadly, pining, for her master to arrive... I began to see that I was on thin ice, mentally, or at least there were signs to that effect...that's what jet lag can do to you. I swear I could feel my brain joggling around in my skull. The idea of getting a dog naturally raised the problem of settling down, which led to thoughts of how I would travel so much if I had a dog, which led me to wonder why on earth I, who love to be home, have become suddenly so peripatetic...and etc. My canine search was doing nothing for my fogged, befuddled soul.

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.

Signs of rebirth and regeneration. Sap rising. So rather than watch the dogs scampering past, I decided to focus on where their noses were going--on what might be stubbing its way up from the ground.

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.

I started feeling like a dog myself, snuffling through the dead leaves, looking for greens, turning my face to the sun to bask in its warmth, visiting some of my favorite spots in the upper reaches of Central Park. I've always loved the Secret Garden statue by 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.


Anonymous said...

As always beautifully written. I go with you on all your amazing journeys. Probably time to go home and just sit. Pets would tie you down too much and then there wouldn't be as many adventures for us all to follow. Love your pictures of beginning spring.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I have been experiencing jet lag myself this week. Most unsettling. I'm hungry for clementines and cheese at three in the morning. I would highly recommend a dog for you, but not if you are away all the time. They do like to have you near most of the time. But I have no doubt you could find your perfect canine soul mate. I did.

ZinniaRose said...

I absolutely love and adore your blog. I feel as though I am traveling to far away place when I visit - there are good vibes when I click on your blog. What a beautiful gift you have...

I have two little dogs, couldn't imagine how empty my life would be without them. :)

Your photos are always amazing.

Have a wonderful weekend.

SweetRetreat said...

No wonder you are suffering from jet lag after all the traveling, not to mention giving a keynote address! How nice to know you are thinking of dogs. I can't imagine my life without mine, imp that she is.

I have hope now that we will see bulbs out of the ground here, once the snow and inevitable March storms are gone. Your photos and blog are wonderful.

Vivien said...

Your descriptions of India have been fascinating - thanks (I've never been there - don't like flying!)

I like other people's dogs, but they're a big tie to own, unless you have relatives/friends nearby who can take them in when you go away. And they do tend to depend on you for an identity. Cats are a lot easier, in fact they usually organise their well-being themselves - as they say, "Dogs have masters, cats have staff".

Lovely Spring photos.

Dominique said...

Vivien, that is so funny about cats having staff. And it rings true. To all: I'm so glad if my posts give you a chance to travel; that makes it worthwhile! Happy Weekend.

Jen said...

I'm glad you never took a writing class, because then your writing might not be so very you. I adore your books and look forward to reading your posts. They are thoughtful and evolve and progress and meander in a genuine and satisfying way. Thank you.

William said...

Think very carefully before getting a dog. It changes EVERYTHING and that is in both good ways and not so good ways. I kept "our" dog after a relationship ended mostly because he had become "my" dog during the relationship. I was the one who fed him and walked him and took him to the vet and arranged for care when we were traveling and on and on and on. He's my buddy and I love him very much, but he is A LOT of work and a huge time commitment. He's an English Lab - very active - and demands and deserves a tremendous amount of exercise. Thankfully, Central Park is my backyard. Spontaneous travel is not possible without boarding expense and guilt and staying in on those snowy and icy mornings is no longer a possibility. But then there is the wagging tail when I walk in after having been out and the snuggling up on the sofa to catch up on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (yes, pathetic, I know) and his sleeping with his head on my foot while I am working at my desk- that I can't imagine living without. If you do take the plunge do a lot of breed research and get a good trainer - a good trainer makes all the difference.

Rose said...

I saw my first witch hazel EVER in Mt. Auburn cemetery today, barely blooming. I am delighted to see your pictures of witch hazels and snow drops.

Leah in NC said...

Welcome back! I absolutely love the photo of the pink camellias! I have some red blooming at the moment, but those make me think of peonies! Maybe a pink bush is in my future...

You don't need any writing courses. You've already passed them all; you're a natural.

There's a book you might like called "Pack of Two" by Caroline Knapp...

Maggie said...

At the Philharmonic in Naples Florida this month Shirley MacLaine asked us, the audience, if we would would like to meet her dog whom she motioned offstage to come out and meet us. The dog walked on stage to applause and promptly curled up on the stage floor next to her wing chair to take a nap while she finished her show. She said she buys an airline ticket for the dog who goes everywhere with her. Her other dogs do well with caretakers on her farm when she travels to do movies and shows but this one is more closely bonded to her.

quintessence said...

I'm with everyone who has mentioned how much they loved their vicarious travel with you. But I must admit it's nice to have you back - so ably articulating so much of what we all feel. I love traveling though your eyes and mind - seeing your lovely shot of the snowdrops is indeed encouraging. Although I am finally seeing grass, there are as of yet no signs of spring. As for the dog issue, do consider this very carefully - I adore mine but it is another level of responsibility, with or without the peripatetic longings.

joan mckniff said...

I rescued cat in Madagascar with the clear intention to give to family once cat healthy and healed; certainly I, a single woman, traveling diplomat, could not take on a cat! Three continents and 12 years later, I am now retired from Dept of State, living in Florida,in order to work full time in service to Sakamangabe, aka Snagglepuss.

ps One assignment was Paris, easiest place in world to find apt/cat sitters. Friends from USA and Guatemala flew over. Was it just the cat?

My Dog-Eared Pages said...

Welcome back! It's so true about getting out and moving through the world, or the park. It's lovely what a snowdrop can do!

LIsa said...

Because of the title of your blog, I was sure you were back home in New England and my first reaction was how much your first photos looked home. Of course they were, as I live just over the hill from Napa in Sonoma County.

Just as your photos and musings of India reminded me of how much I loved my own journey there, your photos of the Wine Country captured the beauty that keeps me here. I've lived in New England as well and love being able to look at it through your lens without having to manage the snow!

I understand your dilemma about a dog. It does make travel harder. But I also can't imagine life on my own without one (in my case two). I work from a home office, which makes it possible. And in this economy, I have no trouble getting kids in their twenties who've moved back home to come housesit when I'm away. They like the break from their parents' houses. There are also many older adults who are unencumbered by children and happy to housesit for the chance at a change of venue.

If you do keep looking, consider English Cockers. All the personality of a lab without the size or shedding.

Welcome home.

davidt terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning, et al.....

1. As I recall, I'm the reader who first suggested that you get a puppy. At this point (and having read your posting) I'd also emphasize that I suggested your doing so only as an alternative to having another baby (which would, certainly, leave anyone with VERY little time for pondering how anyone-except-the-baby feels), As I stated at the time, however, having another baby would, to one degree or another, entail having another husband or boyfriend....both of which seemed like more trouble than you necessarily needed at this particular juncture in your life. Not to mention that new babies make the older babies jealous (another dilemma you probably don't really need right now).

In any case....my very Good Guess is that you don't need a dog, and that you probably should regard them as my very-smart father advised me to regard swimming pools and beach houses. That would be: "Make FRIENDS with people who have them and just go visit those friends when you get a big-hankering for a swimming pool or beach house.....but don't get one yourself, just because you like being around them from time to time.......".

I'm lucky in that, with a houseful of West Highland terriers and a travel schedule that keeps me away or abroad about half of each year, I also have a boatload of local family&friends who actually compete for dogsitting/house-sitting "privileges". In that respect, I'm quite like my sister-in-law....who has two children...and both a mother and mother-in-law living within a mile of her house. Her worst "problem" (and she's a 35 year old woman with a very full-time job) is settling disputes between which unpaid babysitter got to keep the children more than the other one during the previous month.

Such "problems" are, I know, to be envied.

2. Incidentally (and I should emphasize that I've never owned a cat in my entire life, although I find them interesting)....the narrator (an editor, trying to assist young writers) in Muriel Spark's novel "a Far Cry From Kensington" says:

""For concentration you need a cat...And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give you back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence is enough."

3. @ "Joan McKniff"....."....Paris, easiest place in world to find apt/cat sitters.". You're right. We've got a large, 1910-or-so apartment (inherited from Granny) which sits about a five minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. Until recently, it housed (for about eight years) a very nice, sweet, stray cat that Herve had rescued from a Paris dumpster. Oddly enough, we never had to "do" anything about Elise, since the apartment (in which we've spent exactly two nights over eight years) seems to always be filled with visiting friends or relatives who were required to do nothing more than feed the cat and clean the litter box....which they EAGERLY did.

Until the dang cat died this past year, I used to say that she was, basically, the Johnny Carson of Paris.....just sitting there every night, while a never-ending series of guests showed up, eager to please.....

Bemusedly as ever,

David Terry

Sarah said...

Lovely photo of the pink camellias. Just last night I pulled together a post featuring pink camellias to share later this week.
Love the photo of the Secret Garden statue. Central Park is a special place for me. ~ Sarah

Anonymous said...

Jet Lag is a bear...no two ways about it.....just have to plod one's self through it......smiles.

tuto said...

lovely post.
have dogs.
still have jet lag.
the body jet
the spirit lag behind
a week later they are united.

Warren said...

Be kinder to yourself. A dog won't cure what's ailing you. Now's a good time to diet. Though I have this secret craving for putines. The utterly gross sounding version with fois gras I saw in Montreal (there that image should be good for another couple of pounds of diet); I will probably have to settle for the bland cheese version I just discovered in Seattle.
Trained or not I do read your every word. And your eye is relentlessly accurate and filling.

Anonymous said...

Why American men should boycott American women


I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.


William said...


I hear you! After reading your intelligent insights I am stunned that a woman would cheat on you, or divorce you or not want to have children with you!

What happened to the days when women really knew their place and a man could come home to his castle, a clean castle!, to a nice well-prepared dinner?

I agree with you, the worst part is how mentally unstable women are and I sense that is something you really know a lot about.

Thank you again for your intelligent enlightened post!

Dominique said...

Have at it, fellows!
Thank you Warren for the diet suggestion. How did you know? And you're right, dogs don't cure jet lag. I'm just trying to be open-minded about all of life's vast possibilities. By the way, I meant to comment before on your remark about reading human emotion into an animal's eyes....I don't know if you are right, that that is simply an imposition. We can't entirely know what animals are feeling, but I cannot believe that they don't express some emotion through their eyes, and their faces in general. I've definitely seen animals looking morose, I've even met dogs who smile. So why not elephants? ah well, the mysteries of life....

david terry said...

"Have at it, fellows"...?

All I have to say (and this would, as ever, leave me looking like nothing so much as one of my maiden great-aunts) is that "engaging" is a risky business.

You'd better know exactly what you intend to demand before you go sticking your un-gloved hand under the bridge to investigate what the troll wants.

Advisedly yours as ever,

David Terry.


William said...

Although I didn't check out BOYCOTT AMERICAN WOMEN's blog, I'm certain that it contains some good pointers for American women on exactly how to behave! In fact, I am going to reccomend it to several of my American women friends who are currently going through divorce. At the very least, they probably will pick up some good tips on how to properly treat men - and who knows perhaps BOYCOTT AMERICAN WOMEN might be available for dating, for the right gal of course??!! Dominique?? Just planting the seed! He does sound like quite a catch!!

Elisa Georg said...

This boycutter guy, is against US women marrying a guy. There are risks, for sure, especially if you treat them the way this weirdo does, then you can't expect anything special, unless you're used to a surplus of chicks that like to be treated like shit, and don't hit back, just lay there like potato and take it, but that's not the USA way, and so maybe, just maybe you disgusting petitioner are in for a surprise!!!

William said...

@Elisa Georg

Thank you for your comment. It was refreshing to finally read a comment from someone who actually 'gets it'. Your comment is complex and deep and my guess is that most people won't understand exactly what you are saying, but I do. I'm going out on a limb here, but I am going to say that the 'boycutter guy' has really met his match in you, on many many different levels. Thank you again for speaking up and not just "laying there like a potato and taking it". I bet he would have thought twice about posting what he did if he knew someone like you would stand up to him the way you did!

karenleslie said...

good laugh - thanks william.

William said...


Thanks, I'm glad somebody has a sense of humor! :) I swear for some of these commenters Dominique should enforce a 'webcam only' rule to be able to watch these people compose their comments. I guess that is the nature of blog comments, lots of 'legends in their own mind' commenters. Amusing at times and dizzying at other times.

Thea said...

i do so love how you write. i have two dogs, most beloved they are. and i accept the limitations they give me, though i don't always have the network required to take off on an adventure whenever i please. honestly, i would suggest you not make such a commitment at this time when your life is so busy and in demand. in terms of dog's emotions: if you have not yet experienced the cut direct from your dog, well, you just haven't lived! if you've watched them have a battle royal with two squirrels (that went on for 2 years or more) then you know that there is so much more going on that we mere mortals can comprehend. I find it all fascinating.

Cristina said...

please, don't ever stop filling your blog with many amazing pictures!
the combination with your writing is exquisitely agreable.

Deidre said...

I agree with Leah, Pack of Two is a great book. Caroline Knapp was a sharp writer.

Getting myself a copy of your book today because I was laid off this week from my media job and my own Slow Love Life is beginning. You've inspired me for years, more now than ever. Thank you.

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Anonymous said...

Thought you might like to read this about my recent travel to China. Doesn't compare to India still my favorite.

Suzanne said...

great post .. you have a wonderful eye for beauty!

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