Thursday, December 1, 2011

let there be light

A farmer and amateur photographer in Canada is in love with firefly light. He has tried to capture it using traditional methods of slow shutter speeds and excellent equipment, much like an astrophotographer who sits for hours capturing the light from distant stars through his telescope. However, his first attempts didn’t really leave him with the right impression, so he wracked his brain for another method. 

Now, during those weeks of summer when thousands of fireflies come out from their burrows in his fields, he lies in the grass for hours alongside huge pieces of photographic paper on dark nights and watches as the fireflies expose the paper dot by dot, impression by impression. The results are fascinating and beautiful. We can only imagine that they look like photographs of the night sky.

Light is not only beautiful, but also very informative. Physicists have identified the composition of every planet in our solar system by the nature of the light each emits. Different elements, when heated, give off different colors within the known spectrum. Sulfur, magnesium, cadmium, copper, methane, carbon; their light quite literally identifies them. Any good potter knows exactly what happens to the elements of their glazes when fired in the kiln. Color is chemistry. So in December as you celebrate with sketches of light on bare branches, on laurel wreaths, or on swaths of pine and cedar, remember the fireflies. As you set your holiday tables and admire the colors of your favorite plates in candlelight, remember the planets. Color and light are both inspiration and identity.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

joy is not made to be a crumb

“Joy is not made to be a crumb,” writes Mary Oliver.  And yet, there is joy to be found in the smallest of things. 

There is so much to love and admire about Fall: the leaves, obviously, the bright and shiny gourds, and the light which appears whiter and clearer than in Summer.  But, the small should not be ignored. 

Like, the acorn, for example:  Such a humble round kernel of hope.

Winnie the Pooh’s Piglet ate nothing but “haycorns.”  He was small, and easily afraid.  It wasn’t the leaves that were leaving which scared him, but rather, the new ones come to replace the old.  Pooh’s Piglet ate acorns: small buds of promise for large, sturdy trees.   He was a tiny creature living on potential.

There is virtue in small creatures. 

Lao-Tzu wrote,
“…Inside there are things. Hidden! Obscure!  Inside there are essences.
These essences are very real;
Inside them is proof. “

Proof, like the acorn, of hope and greatness. 

Do not ever despair of being small or of relishing tiny tasks, like planting bulbs or picking apples. 

Do you not dream of a world of possibility every time you plant a bulb in fall and dream of color six months hence?  Do you not admire that unstoppable will for transformation?

May we recommend a blog, tastespotting, with the best looking recipes for acorn squash?  Oh, my, oh my, good. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


“I read that blind children, in a room painted deep blue, became more tranquil, at ease, as if what they could not see their way to, informed them… “  —Mark Doty. 

What a lovely concept: Maybe we should all practice going into unfamiliar rooms with eyes shut and see whether we might guess the color on the walls. I bet many of us would be surprised how often we get it right.  We “feel” a great deal more than we often realize or readily accept. 

Those of you who were in the countryside during the earthquake recently may have noticed that the cicadas, the crickets, and even the birds in the trees all stopped making their noises about thirty seconds before the quaking started. It was rather remarkable. The birds felt it from the tops of branches. 

And now, with all the rain we’re getting, it might be nice to ponder the lotus blossom. Mary Ann planted seeds in our pond at The Barn Swallow a couple of years ago, and they spread like crazy. This is their season! Huge pink blooms are opening every morning: tall and so utterly majestic coming out of the bottom muck of a pond. It’s amazing to see something so huge and seemingly unreal come out of that mud in total splendor. Very inspiring.  If you get a chance to come by and visit us, you must go see them.  It’s well worth the trip. Once you see them, you won’t question why so many of the ancient gods were born from this bloom. Next time your feet get stuck in the mud, just feel the soft pink of their petals.  Let it inform you. 

Here’s another poem for inspiration:

Not Poor

We are not poor.  We are just without riches,
we who have no will, no world:
marked with the marks of the latest anxiety,
disfigured, stripped of leaves.
And yet, if our Earth needed to
she could weave us together like roses
and make of us a garland.

For each being is cleaner than washed stones
and endlessly yours, and like an animal
who knows already in its first blind moments
its need for one thing only—

To let ourselves be poor like that—as we truly are.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, July 9, 2011

simple pleasures

"The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet."
--Robert Louis Stevenson

Lately, here at the Barn Swallow our hearts and minds have been drawn to the simple pleasures of life, and of summer here in Albemarle. We thought we'd make a list. If you would care to add to it, please do. 
Take time to think about the little things that make you happy. 

Clutching your favorite mug with both hands.

Caressing the cornflowers on the side of a dusty back road.

Eyes widening for a flawless stem of Queen Ann's Lace.

The perfect poem read aloud on a starry night.

A Bob White resuming his call after a thunderstorm.

Eyeing a glass of homemade lemonade as you peel off your garden gloves.

Unwrapping a fresh bar of soap.

Walking out for any reason with a basket on your arm.

Here's a simple recipe from Mary Ann:

Lavender Lemonade
First make a simple syrup.
Boil 1 1/2 cups of sugar with 2 1/2 cups of water. Add 15 to 20 stems of fresh lavender.
Remove from the heat, place a lid on top and let it cool.
Add 2 1/2 cups of water and 2 1/4 cups of fresh lemon juice.
Then, strain out the lavender.
Serve with lots of ice, sliced lemon, and a few more sprigs of lavender.
Add honey or more sugar to taste.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Our work is meant to be a green work, a greening work, a creative work
—Hildegard von Bingen, 12th century.

“I am the breeze that nurtures all things green. I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits. I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.”
—Hildegard von Bingen

In Hildegard’s visions she imagines the whole cosmos laughing with joy and with a mystical, “greening power,” which she called, ‘Viriditas’. She made up a word to express her belief in renewal: whether in nature, or in life, or spirit.

Once again, we are reminded that Mother Nature does not shy away from color. In a time of aesthetic minimalism, we must still remember that splashes of color are intended to invigorate us and remind us of all the vibrancy that inhabits the natural world. Come rain. Come shine. Don’t shy from creativity.

Don’t shy from renewal. It’s time to dig into the dirt and plant our seeds. If only to remind ourselves that come what may, life returns again and again.

Even in the midst of anxiety, there is peace to be found in the beauty that persists in Nature.

At the Barn Swallow, we feel it every day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Oh, the egg

Well, it is perfect, isn't it: an object symbolizing the possibility of both being and becoming simultaneously. A protected little universe, needing nothing more than what is contained within, yet alive with a promise for transformation. The end of winter makes us all feel like eggs. With hardened shells protecting us from the cold and the dark, we can't help but feel like we've been incubating our imaginations for months now. It will feel good to crack open and peel away the layers. We are ready for change and more than ready to inspire you with our dreams for spring. In fact, we have been transforming the store over the course of the last few weeks.  It is really coming to life.

We do have fresh eggs, by the way. Suzie and Michael Culp of Culp Farm are featuring their free range, organic eggs at the Barn Swallow. These gems are mighty tasty, (perfect yolks), and come in a variety of sizes and even colors. Suggested donation is $4 per dozen.

We carry all sorts of eggs at the Barn: Quartz eggs that glow, especially near candlelight, robin’s egg soaps with a scent we could inhale every day for the rest of our lives, and as you will see here, sculptures of eggs in nests and driftwood made by Mary Ann Burk. These works are really extraordinary. A little haunting, even. They look like fossilized eggs or even like the bones and echoes of eggs from some ancient memory. Brita Lineberger just brought us some beautiful note-cards: prints of her latest water- colors capturing, (you guessed it), eggs. They are just so lovely.

The bulbs in the garden are beginning to pop out a little.
Being an egg.  Being a bulb.  Becoming a bird.  Becoming a bloom. At long last something new.