Just went on a magnolia binge. I spent the weekend in Tennessee at Blackberry Farm, courtesy of my friends at the splendid magazine Garden and Gun. Quite a title. It has an odd, family resonance for me--as my father is a Southerner. He grew up in Kentucky. He is a great shot (clays, not animals), and he taught me to garden. So how could I not be drawn to a magazine by that name, especially when it is beautifully edited, art-directed, and produced. Award-winning, too. Sid Evans is an excellent editor.

Last spring, I wrote a profile for the magazine of photographer Jack Spencer, one of my favorite artists. He hates having his picture taken, as you can tell. If you visit his website (it takes a moment to load up, but well worth the wait, be sure to linger in his Notes section, as his writing, and his trawls through other writers' works, is exceptional.) He is a "restless" artist, and multi-talented. He had just finished a video of Emmylou Harris, which the magazine posted along with a piece about her pegged off her new album. The DVD production is quite simple. Her refined spirit really comes through. (I give you the link, but I had trouble getting it to download smoothly.)

Garden and Gun asked me to interview Jack during the retreat for their audience, made up of magazine supporters, investors, and advertisers. We got off to a rough start with the video consoles, which made me long for the days of old-fashioned slides. Except that they were always falling out of the trays, and warping, and that sort of thing. No one is ever happy with technology, especially an artist, who sees all sorts of problems with color, balance, light, depth. Everything. But we got past that. And had a great conversation. Jack talked about how photographs are self-portraits, in a way. You learn a great deal about the person behind the lens in seeing what they see. He also mentioned that he no longer uses film; and he uses photoshop, which seemed to have horrified some in the audience. In true Spencerian form, he pronounced himself horrified that anyone wouldn't use photoshop. It is like painting, he said. Another tool in the kit.

Well, there was a whole lot of learning, and a whole lot of portraiture going on that weekend. There's nothing like Southerners for partying hard. Unless it is Connecticut WASPS at Christmas. Just so you know, I'm not discriminating. Some people moved into different time zones. Others found a world of hurt. No matter, everyone had a great time.

Blackberry Farm is a fabulous resort, one of the best. I was lucky to have been invited along. The food was exquisite; everything they do is of a high quality, not only in design, but in materials. They served every hearty drink (not martinis, but whiskey sours, for instance) in jelly jars. Very toothy, very pleasing to the touch, that fat lip on the jar. It made you feel you could take a bite out of your cocktail. Which would explain a lot.

Blackberry Farm's grounds are beautifully maintained--along with magnolia gazing, I became mesmerized by the miles upon miles of intricate white fences and the patterns they made across undulating lawns.

I took a couple of very long walks in the woods, which is to say, I got quite lost, as I kept forgetting the name of the trail I meant to be following. It was supposed to be a level walk, which mattered as I only had Keds, still, I found myself climbing steeply. But it was fine, once I stopped worrying about where I was.

I came upon some lichen that distracted me from my panic for a while, and then I just decided to go downhill any which way. It worked. I picked up a trail leading out of the woods. Did I already say that Blackberry served absinthe cocktails, too? and drinks based on Chartreuse, as well. Disorienting.

The meals were delicious, many-plattered things of wonder. Blackberry Farm has been written about a great deal, so I won't dwell on it here. Let's just say that I have to go back to a diet of boiled eggs and green tea for a while, to compensate. And ponder the sensual beauty of the magnolia.


pve design said...

makes me want to paint a magnolia and drink tea from a ball jar.

Tru Dillon said...

""Some people moved into different time zones. Others found a world of hurt."""
Classic! great description.

Violet Cadburry said...

Jelly jar cocktails and magnolia gazing in late spring. Sigh. Did you wear a flirty frock and indecent heels?

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,

Well, that's a lovely posting.

I should say that, next time you get yourself lost in a county where my family's lived since about 1790, all you have to do is to keep searching for that lichen....then?...just feel the trunks of the trees as you wander in the darkness (avoid moonlit nights and the county-riders)....figure out where the thickest moss lies on the tree trunks, and go in that direction.

It's generally a mistake (don't, for once, follow your instincts) to keep going downhill and following the creeks, all of which could send you smack-dab into folks who just might sell you down-river, where you will have to work harder than you ever even imagined doing at H&G.

Basically?, follow the lichens and mosses, and you could conceivably end back up in Freedom Land after some months and some hard walking.

Blackberry Farm is. of course, lovely. Apparently Herve's following my suggestion, and he'll be sending his parents there for part of their annual three-week stay in the Fall. They're French and will find it all charmingly rustique.

We might join Les Parents, and we might not. This household's initial reservations were compounded by your mention of those dang mason-jar "glasses", filled with concoctions coyly involving absinthe and chartreuse (we got ourselves plenty of both in this house, although we're so uninspired as to simply drink them from utterly unremarkable glasses).

I read that business about the mason jars and immediately recalled the time (this would be during the heady days of oil-boom, 1978-84 Houston...a venue with which I gather you're familiar?) when I would go for stays with a Sewanee friend's family in that River Oaks (google it, other readers) neighborhood. I quickly gathered, upon my first visit, that one was to refer to it as a "club", rather than as a "neighborhood". I thought that was silly, even when I was 19.

that said?....Everyone in river Oaks was simply all-giddy, in 1980, with feigned astonishment/delight over my college friend's mother's using COTTON BANDANAS (!!!!!) as napkins for dinner parties and lunches. What a Card she was!!!! Such FUN!!!!! Who would have THOUGHT of it!?!?!?!!?!?!?!!?

This was the same woman who, when I first visited, was awfully pleased with herself to show me that there was a trash-compactor (generally concealed behind an end table or picture) in every single room of that enormous, brand-new house with its eight, two story, front-porch columns (pronounced "coll-yooms"). According to her, she didn't like to "have trash in the house". Hence, the trash-compactors in every room.

I haven't the slightest doubt that the woman's now (I haven't seen her in at least 15 years) delightedly using mason jars as cocktail glasses these days.

Experiencedly yours as ever,

David Terry
(click on the "How to Turn your Tenant's Old Feedsacks Into Terribly-Amusing Tablecloths For your Next Junior League Luncheon!!" icon for handy tips on "Southern Decorating!")

Unknown said...

What wonderful photos....indeed photoshop lends a whole new dimension to photography....there are days I yearn for the film, but on the whole digital is so much easier, cost effective, and down right fun. Your last photo is interesting....the dead tree in the distance...smiles.

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

Lovely as those acres of green lawn are, they are anything but "green."

ceecee said...

I saw an exhibit of Jack Spencer's work in San Miguel de Allende some years ago and was deeply moved. To see these photographs in person - in the silence of that gallery - in Mexico - was unforgettable. Their mysteries capture you...and all these years later they've never quite let go. I think of those photographs often.

Ellen said...

Hi Dominique. I almost skipped this post but was drawn to read it by the idyll you saved for the end...the white fence framed by two scraggly pines. The quality of the dappled light made we want to be there.

Thanks for your thoughtful posts, and sharing your travels with us.

Scribbler said...

I'm going there soon. It's been a goal for a while. Should I start dieting now and get ahead of the game?

Unknown said...

Beautifully descriptive. Made me want to join you on a contemplative walk, only to return to sit with a jelly jar drink in my hand....just to contemplate the walk.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this TN place beautiful? Your next stop should be Georgia's own The Lodge at Smithgall Woods (people who go to Blackberry, go to this one):

david terry said...

To Eulalia....

"Lovely as those acres of green lawn are, they are anything but "green."

In defense, I suppose, of Blackberry Farm?....That entire region (I'm from there and still go home all the time) is absolutely chock-a-block with major rivers (there are four in my home county, not counting the ones running underground in limestone caverns), about a million hillside creeks, and over fifty large TVA dams (each of which has its own, bigass lake). If water ever stopped flowing downhill, the whole area would look like the Okeefenokee (basically, think Seattle if it had sun).

The winters are cold enough to keep most bugs and diseases in check, so nobody (at least no one I've ever known) sprays his lawns with chemicals.

Bascially, given all the water and the markedly temperate weather, far East Tennessee is a lot like my in-laws' property in the Loire Valley. Like my father, the in-laws just haphazardly stick roses in the ground, go away to read something, and end up with enormous, gidddily floursihing, 6 foot bushes.

Visiting the in-laws or my own parents is, consequently, always a bit dispiriting; I live in central North Carolina where, as you suggested, a green lawn like those at Blackberry Farm is scarcely ever "green".


David Terry

lesliebasham said...

Blackberry Farm is my heaven on earth!!! Jealous!! Love your blog, book etc.

Cristina said...

no wonder you couldn't refrain yourself from wandering around in that blissfully wonderful place.
and, by the way, I was sure that it was honey in jars, not whiskeys!

Warren said...

Dominique, while this may seem a stretch, sometime will yourself along on a very Southern, very sedate quail hunt behind a brace of pointers. You will probably sit in a mule-drawn buggy and have a great time. You will come away with an appreciation for why there is 'Gun" in the title of that magazine. The images of dogs and guns and birds flushing will stick.

There is a lot of wisdom in Robert Ruark's article about quail hunting, "This little bobwhite was a gentleman, and you had to approach him as a gentleman... The way you handled quail sort of kicked back on you."

On another level "Meditations on Hunting" by Ortega y Gasset may help some folks understand the deeper feelings about the subject, and go a long way to explain why locavores are raising their own critters.

Hunting doesn't make us into killers, but it does make us want to conserve. Last weekend I had to run around the backyard to save a baby bird from my bird hunting dog. Most of the conservation movement was started by our greatest hunting president. Go figure.

Go kill those ants. And let me know if you come to Seattle for any book tours so I can get a book signed.

Calder Clark said...

Gorgeous commentary on one of my favorite places and a state from which I hail. Loved discovering Jack Spencer through your eyes, as I only knew of his friend and peer Sally Mann. Loving the SLL blog too! Seems we all could slow down and breathe and give more to each moment. I'm working hard on just that as well.

Judith Ross said...

Hi Dominique,

I just remembered that I wanted to comment on this post and let you know how much I enjoyed your piece on Jack Spencer. Garden and Guns. Wow!

After reading the piece I also did a bunch of research on Sally Mann, whose work I have long admired. I just rented the film about her, "What Remains...." and look forward to watching it.

Your blog has taken me to many new and exciting places this year. While I'm about to embark on a trip of my own, I look forward to seeing where you take us in the months to come.

Ciao/au revoir,hade

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