Thursday, June 19, 2014


This Place Is A Beast!

ew York City.

 Here it is. And I am back. As always, this coiling thing inspires both awe and dread in me. I suspect most New Yawkahs will tell you this too, if only in private moments.   Two years ago, I fled this place, figurative arms up over my head, as though running from some proverbial house fire. It would be ironic, considering my secondary name "Asha" was given to me as a teenager, a nickname for avoiding the "ashes" of getting burned; I had the ability to stay out trouble then. But not in New York.

Indeed, everything was burning then, everything I thought to be important going up in smoke. Somewhere in between my father's death, and a dream job in Kansas falling apart, all the New York anchors were cast off. My work in the arts, my work with bees, my fiance. It all sort of lay in shambles, one right after the other. In some ways my journeys on the road started by just walking away from it all in New York City, the uselessness of believing in certain people or circumstances, and realizing it might have all been a strange veneer of falsehood. New York will do that to you. It lures you in before it bites. Only the highest of skilled warriors have enough armor to avoid being vanquished.

I came here years ago, like so many, courting this stunning, sparkling, alluring mistress. But she was a fickle thing, viper-ish, with a love that ran hot-and-cold. Trust me, New York is just that kind of beast. Even now, it churns and moves, a leviathan of energy and chaos intertwined.

Oddly, I'm much calmer now, years of meeting people and being in unusual circumstances having probably better prepared me to dissect and examine the strange bedlam that makes this thing what it is (and who wouldn't be calmer, when the least of your problems has been driving through two states, for two hours, with no brakes).  And it is extraordinary indeed. It starts with the massive tumult of traffic, as you enter the gates of this place.The static, jerky, daring bravado of its impatient drivers extends down to the constantly inhabited streets--pedestrians, dogs, bicyclists--all intertwined in some sort of furious street carnival that one dares not understand.There is yelling in the streets, from building to sidewalks, down the block, loud and drunk, young and crazy. There is running, jumping, rolling skating, roller blading, too much movement. Lights emanate big, loud, from everywhere, and the glare blistering. I sit in subways and watch the faces of people, masks of tired resignation or, at least, self-preservation. A car-full of one-hundred strangers who do not realize they can be friends.

But there are shining acts of kindness. I watch a young woman--pretty enough to be a model, and with a killer outfit to match--stop and help a woman that may be as old as the prophets cross the street, inch by inch.  I help a man who is lost by letting him use my cell phone, and he thanks me profusely. Young kids are enchanted by a street mime, who will not take their money. It's a strange reprieve from the pummeling mayhem.

There are too many touchstones here: the East Village, where I graduated, and which still holds ideas of success and love, the Bronx, where it all came toppling down. It's always interesting to see the stores that have closed and metamorphed into something else. This place is like that, cannibalizing part of itself in the name of money, space, time. Capitalism reeks in this place.

I am in the midst of this Fellini sideshow, as my own part. It is a respite (if one can call New York City a respite), and a place where at least my creative soul feels at home. For now, it is a temporary little camping spot, as I am putting out feelers for a couple of projects. For now. There will be more travels to come, of course, as there ever are.

For now, I will watch this carnival of dark and light, a serpent of so much contortion and surprise and frenzy and fancy. It is a strange dance, indeed. So far, I have not been jangled, which is a good sign. I have seen friends and they have buoyed my spirits and reminded me that there is good kinship here, too. It is a big crazy blur of EVERYTHING. For now, I will dip my toe in these waters. It will be, I'm sure, an interesting journey unto itself.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Bee Reprieve

Photo by Jenna Wogonrich
Find More of HER version of this story by scrolling to the end of her fabulous chronicles, HERE

had just finished up an exciting trip and discussion about bees, you see. I was at the home of noted farm author Jenna Wogonrich, and the place was a small, charming village of animal and plant citizenry, a cohesive village of livestock and farm buildings and hay and manure and offspring and the hum of work and life.

I had been teaching beekeeping classes there, and it was a hoot. I had met six new, cool, farm friends, and I was about to meet a whole new group too. See, I had planned to stay at Common Sense Farm, just down the road from Jenna. After a small reprieve getting homemade icecream from the local Stewart's (which, in my estimation, was akin to the NYC Starbucks or the Philly Wawa) and after eating a ridiculous three-scoop-advertised-as-one-scoop gigantic mound of it (man, was it tasty), we headed off to the farm.

That place, sometimes called a commune, was a massive thing on about 200 acres of land. It housed about 90 people who had come to build an intentional community raising animals and making soap. Othniel and his wife Yeshiva seemed to be the go-to people of the farm, which still was beautifully old-fashioned, but clearly not small. There were chickens, ducks, goats, peacocks, even donkeys.  Someone had even found a baby deer, apparently abandoned by its mother, and were feeding her goats milk, which was supposedly gentle on the stomach. There were bees in top bar hives. There were plenty of children running around. Mostly there was kindness and politeness and, indeed, a sense of community.

I lived off of that generosity, eating good food that no one would accept money for, meeting a young girl from France who was traveling through the Americas by herself, and then an older woman, who appeared to need the farm for solace. I spoke with the beekeeper, Andre, a bearded, wizened looking man, who was as eager to hear from me, as I was to hear from him. It was a fine exchange, indeed.

The next day, I awoke and was ready--lock, stock, and barrel--to roll out by 9 AM. I cruised the town a bit, before I thought to head over to Jenna's. I'd honestly just gone to say a humble goodbye and purchase her farm fresh eggs (support a small farmer!), but once I got their, it was decided that I should check her hives to make sure her newly minted colony had released their queen properly.

This was nothing new. I'd done this for our own hives, waaaaay back when I was tending to bees on a city rooftop--the same sort of stuff that managed to get us into a film. New packages of bees come with their queen secured in a small box. The box is lowered into the new hive. One end should have a candy shell, and the bees eat through this until the hole at the end is exposed, and the queen moves through it. This should usually take about 4 day. However, if the candy is too hard, too big, or some other mishap occurs, then the queen cannot be released, and if she stays there too long, she could starve. So, it's always good for the beekeeper to suit up to check that things were going smoothly.

I donned the outfit that I had for such an occasion, and used the good tools to make my way into the hive. Jenna, meanwhile, had been working on her new bed of spring greens right next to me, and right up behind us, closer to the curving mountainside property, were her two horses, Jasper and Merlin, nickering their approval.

The day was beautiful, brilliant hued blue-skied and cloudless, The Perfect Day. I could hear chickens gallivanting in the background. Even with the hive wide open, there was nothing to worry about. I hadn't worked a hive in a couple of years, but it's sort of like riding a bicycle, I suppose. I'm not a big advocate of smoking a hive, so I simply blew them out of my work path. I saw the box easily enough, the bees had pretty much combed around the thing so that it sat right at the top of the frame, in easy view. It took a few tries, slowly, with my hive tool, to pry the thing loose, but once I did, I found the box utterly empty. I smiled and thought "All Hail The Queen."

"You are so CALM," Jenna exclaimed. Of course. You can't teach it in beekeeping 101 and not live it. At that exact moment I wondered what my European grandfather, the one who started this whole beekeeping thing in my family, would think of this. He would have no idea, in his lifetime, that eventually would come back around to this way of living. I smiled.

The farm, at this moment, looked the way romantic visions do. The wayward girl runs feral, lives her own life, owns this wonderful house, these animals. It's something out of a postcard. And seeing Jenna toil quietly, contentedly, one gets a very simple notion, too. Don't be fooled. It's hard work and it will break your heart sometimes...even in my limited visits with women and men such as she, I know the grit under the silken veneer. The things farmers must go through to get food on the table is something we conveniently take for granted.

So here's to that hard working, soil obsessed lot, the animal wranglers and weather watchers and dirt-under-your-nails sort. They're a wicked brave lot, indeed, taking risks you'd never fathom. Maybe we'll appreciate the farmer ilk, one day.

And the beekeepers, too.

I'll miss this place--I've still got to meet a small society I missed this trip around; it's definitely an excuse to come back 'round, I don't mind courting this place some more, in the future. That is, if they'll have a wayward writer-artist-beekeeper type in their midst.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Of Bees and Antlers

Hanging out with Gibson. His misstress wrote the fine book I'm holding.
For more on Jenna's writing, check out Cold Antler Farm!Photo by: Jenna Wogonrich

So here I was, on the road again. With over a week under my belt since I got back from my grand New Jersey excursions, I had saddled up my wayward van, and we were gulping down long stretches of black tar pavement, gallivanting three hours north of New York City.

I was there on another mission, you see. This one was to see a gal about her farm and her bees, and to impart a little third generation beekeeping for those coming to her farm, to see me. Don't be fooled though, in many ways, I was coming to see HER. Heck, many people were. See, this wasn't just any other farmer and this was no typical sojourn...nope. This was a visit to the farm of Jenna Wogonrich, of Cold Antler Farm, who possibly single-handedly made farming cool for the young (and old) folk.

Nearly a decade ago, ripe with old age in her early twenties, she graduated college with a graphic design degree and then decided to blow everyone's mind by deciding to make farming a main focus of her life. Actually, the more I learn of her, the more I realize that it is the love for the old ways and adopting those ideas and ideals as a lifestyle, that she has embraced. Nevertheless, in an era before self-sustainability became the buzzword of the day, when most young people considered farming dirty and useless work, this woman got herself some land, and then wrote about her adventures with words so fine and clever, you would mistake them for sonnets, high compositions, masterpieces.

Plus, all the information she imparted, wrapped in fine description and tooth-cut with hands-on experience, helped start a small geyser of new interest in back-to-the-land love, even if that love was in window-silled pots in urban apartments.

Natch, the girl wrote so well that she soon followed her online adventures with the real thing; she's got five books (or more? I've lost count) to her name, each imparting a different hue of life on a farm. It's a fine accomplishment. 

For all that, or perhaps because of it, she's a humble and down to earth (literally and figuratively) soul. My first encounter with the gal was when I interviewed her for my farm show a few years back: yes, that farming thing runs pretty deep 'round my neck of the woods. She was direct and no frills, and clearly passionate about what she did.

In many ways, it would be no different this time 'round, either. Her farm is found three hours outside of New York City. It was a beautiful drive--in many ways like the one I had always taken on these jaunts, but always flavored slightly differently by where I am. The Northeast holds a particularly hard grip in my heart. I suppose it's that way for many people. The rolling of the hills, the vibrant tree colors, the glimpse of farmstock all along the way...that is my heaven. Having left at an obscenely early hour, I enjoy sunrise, and the quiet of the country roads. Jenna's farm is smack atop a mountain. The farm house is utterly charming, and the outside jigs with sheep, dogs, goats, fowl, and a wiry pony and majestic black Fell pony. It seems like a typical, if staid farm scene, right? But you will be shocked, as you walk around back, to see a falcon perched outside. Yeah, Miss Jenna's a falconer. She also is an archer, fiddler, beekeeper, singer of old songs and keeper of traditions. Typical thinking, it doesn't work around here.

She walks out, all smiles and gusto. She is friendly, and direct, and without any guile. She takes me to the inside of her house, which I love: it's brim-ful of old antiques that are used in utilitarian style. An old steamer trunk is a table, vintage farm dishware is still used. I am offered cool water from a mason jar, and stare at wall hangings that are a mix of antique farm signage and Celtic paraphernalia.

I smile. I may have finally met my match, level 10, for antique love and traditions keeping.

Her house is old-time mountain d├ęcor meets 18th century farmhouse, and she moves through it in a purposeful flurry. That's farming for you--you never really do stand still. At some point, I got a sense that she was sort of apologizing for the way it looked, but I scoff at that. I consider her life an enviable one; there are at least a dozen stories I could tell her of friends who live in tiny hovels with jobs that make them cry every morning. I just left those friends three hours ago. Plus, having traveled to so many different farms and done farming has made my perspective such that you can really sense the grit of the farmer, and this farm is all heart.

By and by, our class participants arrived. There were Kathy and Mary from Albany, Darcie from Massachusetts, and Holly and Ruth a mother-daughter team. Soon enough, I was imparting the knowledge and stories about my grandfather's beekeeping, the same story I'd been teaching in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida. My audience was a fun group who jumped in with their own stories and questions. We spent several hours like this, even goofing off right before lunch break.

Kathy shows off an amazing archery bow...

And so it went--beekeeping basics were dispensed, and a cauldron-full of ancient bee lore, for good measure. There was one refreshingly off-script moment where Mary, who was facing the porch's windowed door, pointed out to Jenna that her sheep had actually managed to escape the fencing and were headed across the road! In true farmer form, Jenna simply got up and tended to them, while we carried on with the class. That's just farming, folks!

In bouts, Jenna also showed us her sheep, we did go look at her hive, we met her equines-- Jasper the smaller Pony Of The Americas, and the magical Merlin, the black Fell pony.

There were chicken, turkeys and geese. There was Bonita the milking goat and her daughter. There were two pigs in the barn, and greens in the garden. Italics is the name of her Red-Tailed Hawk, a well mannered juvenile. She explained her use for all of them, and it was magical.

This little ewe was a bottle lamb, and the daughter of Maude the Angry Ewe, from Jenna's original flock...

Bonita and her daughter.

Soon enough it was time to go. I would be whisked off to the neighboring farm called Common Sense to spend the night, and already it was too short a stay.

At the end, I asked Jenna to kindly take a picture with her leading man. He had salt and pepper hair, in a way, and was full of energy and a great big smile. It was her border collie and partner-in-crime, Gibson. This fellow was quite the showman and ambassador for Cold Antler, rounding our feet all the while. As you can see by the photogenic outcome in the pic at the top of this story, he might well be a model in the making, though I'm sure Jenna would scoff at her sheepherding partner's would-be career change.

In the end, I made a whole gaggle of new friends.

Rock on, beekeeping friends!

Heck, I was so enthralled I actually asked for real estate brochures. Did I mention I loved the Northeast? And farming? Ehh, maybe one of these days. At the very least, it would be cool to get some more Cold Antler in my life. You should, too!

*Jenna's Books: "Made From Scratch," "Chick Days,""Barnheart," "One Woman Farm," "Cold Antler Farm."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jersey Wild III


After a fine day of ornament-making frivolity, it was time for other hijinks. After all, I had been in New Jersey for all of two days--there was still much to do, and see.

Luckily, on the same day that I had finished teaching a soft cloth ornament workshop, there was also a car show in town. So after my students had packed and carted off their newly birthed cloth ornaments, I went out into the fine sunlight, to see some old cars (and old cottages).

This car show is not a new thing, and it's annual arrival into town plays Pied Piper to a whole slew of different types of folks. They flock in droves: the young and curious, the young-at-heart car enthusiasts, rowdy bikers, families of all shades and striped.

The cars line the middle of town, proudly polished and showing off their fine pedigrees. I'll be honest: I didn't know what I was looking at, half the time, but I was impressed. All sorts of fine old historical automobiles shared space with muscle cars and bikes, slick hot rods, cute and curious chuggers, and strange contraptions on wheels.

Look at these wheels!


Yellow VW trveling van. My wandering heart was in love!

I walked the streets, sort of proud of this little place. I know it wasn't my town, but the bright charm and interesting events around here make for an interesting stay, even to a temporary foreigner, like me. I wandered 'round, like those slurping cold drinks and chomping on ice cream, gawking at the pretty cars, and perusing the magical little shops in town.

19th century building that now houses the antique store Finder Keepers

The lovely little cottage that is Endless Treaures

In the middle of town was this funny VW beetle. The idea was part of a fundraiser. You paid $5 and got to paint a little bit on it. The money funds the local theater...

Seems like a clever idea!

In the meantime, I had one more class to teach, a red hot scorcher to take place the next day. It was a wood burning class, of course. I had been a pyrographer (or wood burner) for a couple of years, and had created  and sold wood spoons, boxes, plates, and ornaments. To be able to teach this strange, pyromaniac habit to others was something new to me, but I had some excellent (and humorous!) students.

To be fair, this was really done through a favor of the cottage neighbor of my hostess. Holly's next door business neighbor (and friend) Mary and her husband Rich own the Pinelands Folk Music And Basketry Center. Inside are amazing mountain music instruments, baskets that Mary weaves herself, gourds, gems, crystals, and all manner of native or primitive objects. This place makes my heart sing.  Mary is a kind and creative soul--heck, most of the shop owners here are friendly and helpful. They pay for brunch, pay for my classes, talk to me in an encouraging manner.

I also meet her son, a fellow vagabond like myself. Stephen is as lean as a wire, and he travels 'round, making and teaching basket making to people in various places. It's noble, carrying on his parents' legacy, and it's a thing of wonder to know that I'm not alone in my strange wanderlust lifestyle. He tells me about his Memorial Day plans of going out with friends to train-hop from Philadelphia to Virginia. My eyes, widen, incredulous. "You mean like the hobos in other eras?"
"Yep," he says simply, guilelessly. I realize, then, that he probably has an honest love for this type of radical living and even I have to admit, I'm not sure I'd pull of that risky and illegal stunt. He may actually out-vagabond ME.

The class I am teaching consists of Mary, her friend Ronnie, and Rosemary, an enthusiastic local. Since it is rainy, we decide to hold it indoors in Mary's work studio, to avoid fumes in Holly's immaculately kept store. While the subject matter might seem unnerving, anyone can be a proper wood-and-fire-starter. It really is just about the right kind of wood, burning tool, and hand/wrist  technique.

My charges were enthusiastic enough. After basic instruction, it was time to get to practicing. Confession: the wood we were using was probably more rough hewn than useful for our class, but we all dove right in. 

Mry, rocking the wood burning...

Rosemary gives it her best shot.

Ronnie, wood burning  a tree design.

Some cool and lovely work came out of that session, and even though a fire tool seems like a daunting thing to use, it made me proud to see everyone giving it the old college try!

Ronnie's finished tree burning....

Soon enough, the class was finished. It would be time to go. I had spent an amazing four days at this place, locked away in it's own little magical world.

Holly was kind enough to send me away with a sweet care package--they included wood pieces, a mug, and other fine things from Jersey Made. The knife there, was a gift from my uber-vagabond friend Stephen. Apparently when not train-hopping, he give knives to girls as gifts, in this case, a handmade knife with a wooden hilt. I couldn't help but blush and laugh... and realize that my charmed life has weird edges. I can't help but smile--I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thank you, Jersey Made!

What a grand Jersey adventure...I strongly suggest you see these fine artists and vendors--support local businesses and fine creations when you can!

But my travels were nowhere near finished! I was about to see a fine author, farmer, and fellow Vagabond, in a mountain tale as fabled and fun as the beekeeping class I would be teaching there!
TOMORROW: Cold Antler Farm in Upstate New York!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Jersey Wild, Part II

t had been pouring rain, on the second day of my trip to New Jersey. Indeed, it had been a long, strange, almost dangerous trip until this point, though it had also shown glimmers of being stunningly beautiful as well.

The rain did not dampen my mood--there was much to do and see in this enchanted little town where I was staying, and its people were wonderful characters, as well. This place, as with most small towns, boasted a close knit group of people. Holly Doyle, my hostess, might as well have been the unofficial Mayor of the place: she either stopped, or was stopped by, everyone in the street. She knew everyone, it seemed, and always had a funny or kind thing to say about them.

Many of the class attendants were such friends, or had been a part of one of the other prolific classes that were offered up at Jersey Made, the wonderful store and art space that Holly owned. In that little shop, surrounded by whimsical, wonderful, and clever items handmade by Jersey residents, those little classes chugged along, with strange and fun touches for the next few days as part of my stay.

My first night was spent teaching "Outside Of The Box Living." It was a study on how to live outside the conventional norms. As dubious as that may sound, there are actually techniques to living the life you want, away from corporate jobs, nine-to-five schedules, big house payments, and general forms of this form of strange, "capitalist slavery."  I was heartened to see a young lady, not yet out of high school, another traveling type, and an older woman show interest in this class. Really, there are many ways to be clever and creative in one's way of life. I hoped they'd walked away with some form of cool new way of seeing life, and I was humbled they had managed to come out to see me on my first day of teaching classes...

The next day was a bit of celebration, as my class was to be held on the same day as that of a planned exhibition car show, set to headline the middle of the town. To prepare, Holly gathered up several fellow shop owners and had helium balloons posted at the front of each shop. The inside of her store suddenly became a large, festive, showroom....

Lovely balloons color up the ceiling...

A bevvy of attendants help with balloon decor...bck (l-r): Mary of Pinelands Folk Music and Basketry Center and Rachel, a local and one of my class attendees.
Front: Tess of Earth Angels shop, and Holly my host.

Once that was done, our official class was underway. I was there that day to teach a class on how to make a stuffed cloth ornament. The whole thing would involve sewing stuffing, and painting a specific cat ornament. Luckily, my students were creative, fun people willing to try something a little different. It was quite a fun day!

One of my class attendees, Rachel, started on her she is cutting out the pattern from cloth...

Rachel, rocking the sewing skills....

Her stuffed cat doll ornament is ready to paint...

She and fellow ornament workshop-er Jennifer then proceeded to paint their ornament dolls, with some intruction....

While fun, the painting did take some time. At one point, I excused myelf to the bathroom, telling the students to "try to keep from getting paint on yourselves" before I got back. Which apparently, was the wrong thing to say. When I got back...well, you might notice some shenanigans...notice the cat whiskers on these two??

Lot of laughs, learning, and painting later, we have our finished ornaments!

I loved teaching this class! What fun and great people.

Our hostess, Holly (pictured in the middle of the above pic) was kind enough to field soap and art sales on my behalf while I taught. My "students" are a classically trained violinist and spinner (Rachel) and one of the shop artists (Jennifer) who also brought by the sweetest baby tutus she had made. It was wonderful knowing fellow artists were supporting my funny little classes.

And my Jersey stories STILL weren't over!
TOMORROW: Wild Cars and Woodwork...