As a charter member of the North American autumn appreciation team, I felt it my bounden duty to attempt to capture the evanescent essence of the season. The Adirondacks have put on a splendid show this year—my photos do not begin to do justice to the glory! (You can click on any of the thumbnails to get a closer look, though.)
A lot of vintage linens cross my path. I’ve been looking and loving and buying them for 35 years and, while I’ve seen many that are stunning, my own collection is small. Our lifestyle is very casual so we have no need for formal or fancy linens. I tend to keep the plain and homespun, the quirky, the practical.
I only keep a couple of tablecloths around. To achieve a spot in my permanent collection a tablecloth needs to be good quality, have a design or look that fits the rustic camp aesthetic, and isn’t too fussy or cutesy or precious.
One special tablecloth meets all my standards!
It features a printed design in two understated colors of brown on a just-slightly-off-white background. The design is of a serene and happy fantasy forest with spotted deer, and the odd fox and bunny boy, frolicking amid the pines and birches. Small cozy cottages are tucked in, with smoke rising from the chimneys and the center of the cloth is strewn with falling leaves, dancing on a crisp, autumn breeze. Can you feel the breeze? And to top it all off, no motif is repeated—every border and every corner features different deer.
I find the graphics on this tablecloth endlessly appealing—so much has been accomplished, visually, with so little! The design is charming and nostalgic, without saccharine sweetness. And the simple, stylized elements are consistent with other influences that inform my aesthetic (doesn’t that sound grandiose!)—Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Deco, the artist Rockwell Kent. In fact, look how great the cloth looks with these plates I bought years ago!
I first saw this cloth on eBay and fell for it immediately. As you may know, eBay has moved beyond the auction format and some items are now for sale at a set price. This tablecloth was one such item and the set price was high! At least it was by my standards. I’m used to finding linens at garage and estate sales so a tablecloth that was priced at over $100 produced instant sticker shock. No way, I thought.
And, yet, I kept going back to it. And looking at it again. And loving everything about it. My husband urged me to buy it. Sometimes I listen to him.
The next morning I decided this was one such time and logged on to make that pretty thing my own.
And it was gone. It had been bought by someone else and I was bereft!
I thought about it and pined for it. I stomped my feet and gnashed my teeth. I even pinned it on Pinterest, lamenting that I hadn’t bought it. If I couldn’t have it, I at least wanted to keep a picture of it.
And then, a couple of weeks later, I was on eBay and there it was! Apparently, it hadn’t been sold, but, rather, the listing had ended or something (much about eBay is a total mystery to me!)
The tablecloth was still available and still stunning and . . . it was priced at $30 less than it had been! Still expensive but . . .
I know a propitious sign when I see one! I hit the “buy it now” button and never looked back!
I have to admit, I’ve never put this tablecloth on an actual table, except to take the photos here. We have been known to spill, at our table, and the perfection of this tablecloth is daunting. But buying it did light a fire, to create a display space I’d been thinking about for awhile—vintage glass towel rods on the side of a pantry, which hold some of my favorite linens.
I smile every time I look at it. And is that isn’t a fine criterion for admission into the permanent condition, I don’t know what is!
What? Does that not come as a news flash to you?
I know we’ve all been talking about fall and, really, the signs are everywhere here in upstate New York. Even the calendar says, unequivocally, that autumn began three weeks ago.
But emotionally, for me, summer ended a couple of days ago, when my mother and her husband (E & J) closed camp and left for Florida. Like all the other snowbirds, they trade winter for an endless summer.
I wrote earlier about “opening camp,” and how it looms large in North Country culture. “Closing camp” is equally fraught with meaning.
E & J spend the summers here, in a seasonal “camp” just 250 steps down the road from us.
Just yesterday (or so it seems!), I went down to E & J’s little cottage and threw open the doors and windows, to allow spring to blow through and chase out the winter chill. My husband turned the water back on and mowed the lawn. The rhododendrons out front burst into bloom, to say, “Welcome back!”
E & J arrived and summer had begun.
Summer means garage sales, just my mom and me, driving the familiar back roads and yakking. Summer means the four of us, gathering at water’s edge in the evening for cocktails and a campfire, with my husband’s guitar providing a well-loved soundtrack. Summer means endless hands of pinochle, played with idiosyncratic rules and varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Summer at camp has meant so much to us over the years. My husband and I were married during a summer at camp, almost 25 years ago. My mother and her husband were married during a summer at camp, 3 years ago. Small children have learned to build s’mores and sing along during summers at camp. Crafts have been taken up, explored, and abandoned at camp. Family members and friends have gathered and partaken in the camp rituals of concerts on the seawall, bike rides to the soft ice cream stand, and day trips to Lake Placid.
The summers at camp are almost a cliché. But not quite, because they’re ours and they never lose their originality or become commonplace when we’re lucky enough to live them.
E & J are somewhere on the road right now, heading to the year-round summer they prefer, in Florida.
During winter, they trade wild heron and osprey flying against a twilight sky for a heron who shows up at their house daily, for hot-dog handouts. They trade Saturday evening campfires and wine in big yellow plastic goblets for Saturday morning coffee hour at the clubhouse. They trade kayaking into the long grass at the end of the bay for barefoot walks on the beach in January.
My husband and I are firmly ensconced, now that summer is over, in our autumn home, heading for winter.
We trade the bonhomie of family time for the cozy solitude of couple time. We trade a view of rippling waves and heeling sailboats for wind-sculpted snow drifts. We trade the grill for the slow cooker, the campfire for the fireplace, summer for winter.
We’ve made very different decisions for the part of the year that is Not Summer At Camp. We’re happy, all of us, with our choices and the trade offs.
But there’s one thing we agree on—we wouldn’t trade next summer, together at camp, for anything! Summer has ended. Long live summer!
How about you? Is there a moment when you know that summer is officially over?
It’s dying. It’s incurable.
It’s tragic. It is doomed.
It begs for its story to be told, even as the story comes to a sad, inevitable end . . .
My mother bought a box of vintage linens for me recently, a box full of damask and lace and elegance.
In that box, in a plastic bag, was a garment, a nightie or a slip, and it was so lovely. Soft peach-colored silk with pin tucks and filet lace and a pointed handkerchief hem.
Well, she probably lived in the northeast United States or Quebec. She was here, and wearing pretty things, in the late 1800s or early 1900s. She had enough money for quality silk, at least for this one special item.
Could I learn more by looking at the details? I pulled the lingerie out of the bag, opened it up, and . . .
It shattered. The silk began to shatter and each touch, each movement, made it worse.
It didn’t shatter like glass shatters, into a thousand brittle pieces that scatter and cut you and make you bleed. It shattered as only fine old silk will, into creeping tears in the fabric that appear from nowhere and grow and multiply and break your heart.
According to the Pragmatic Costumer, old silks were created in ways that guaranteed their demise. She notes that, “During the 19th and early 20th centuries, silks were often treated with metallic salts to give them fabulous weight and a pearly sheen.” Because silk, unlike other fabrics, was sold by the weight, the heavier it was, the better. Metallic salts gave silk the heavy lushness and “rustle” that spoke of money, class, and quality.
But those same metallic salts ultimately destroy the fabric. Old silk fans shatter along the fold marks, a man’s silk tie shatters at the knot, the silk patches in a crazy quilt shatter and disappear while the cottons and wools stay strong. Slips and negligees and lingerie shatter when they’re handled.
Every time I move this silken beauty, I hasten its death, killing it softly with my touch. I can’t save it; there are no conservation methods. I can only take pictures to remember it by. And tell its story so it won’t be forgotten when its gone.
Have I mentioned we were in Ireland? (Insert the emoticon with the big dopey grin here!)
Of course, I’ve mentioned it. And clogged up the internet with photos to prove it!
I love that blogging is not only a way to communicate with you but a way to communicate with the future me, the me who has a tendency to forget the small, perfect moments of a day.
My blog acts, in part, to capture thoughts, emotions, and experiences, so I can come back and visit them, and myself, again. So, I’m going to do this one final post about our trip. It’s sort of a “best of the rest” of the trip, beyond Penn State, Yeats, weaving, and ancient sites.
We’ve been to this splendid country before and have done what we wanted to of the obligatory tourist attractions. That meant that, this time, we could walk on paths less traveled.
And we especially found ourselves on beaches. You have to love an island country, where you’re never far from the sea!
We found lots of moments of quiet beauty that slowed our steps and haunt us.
And we had chances to relish those moments that are quintessentially Irish.
Thanks for allowing me to share so much of this trip with you! Angela, from A Silver Voice of Ireland, gave me all kinds of input. Perhaps her best tip was about the creation of the Wild Atlantic Way, a new approach to seeing Ireland while staying near the coast all the way! We followed it for many miles.
When we discover a new hobby, we don’t tiptoe in and explore cautiously. No, we pounce with fervor, dive in head first, go hog wild.
This explains how we came by the room full of metalsmithing tools and lapidary equipment. And the piles of quilting and cross stitch supplies. And the 300 pounds of chocolate and the piles of vintage linens and the nice bikes and ice skates and snowshoes. I could go on.
So, now, it’s weaving.
We started weaving as a direct result of our impulse control issues. Neither of us knew the first thing about weaving when we saw the big, old loom at a garage sale. It was only $150 and came with a lot of stuff. We had no idea what that stuff was, or how to use any of it, but there was a lot of it, it looked really cool, and it seemed like a good deal.
And, hey, weaving sounded like fun.
So, we bought the loom, wedged it into the garage (did you know that some people put their cars in their garages?!), and a couple of years later, we took the classes in weaving I’ve told you about.
And we love weaving!
And love, as you may have experienced yourself, wreaks havoc with impulse control, which we never had much of in any case. And all this explains how, in a recent 24-hour period, we came to have six looms in our house.
We have the big, old 150-dollar loom, which turns out to be incredibly idiosyncratic and difficult to weave on. We have the borrowed table loom, which I loved but wished was wider.
And now we have four other looms that we bought within 24 hours. As I said, impulse control issues.
First, we heard about some people nearby who bought two looms, years ago, for their daughter. Such thoughtful parents! But the ingrate daughter said, “I never said I wanted a loom!” and the looms went into the loft of their barn.
These folks were thrilled to sell us their counterbalance loom, as long as we took the big tapestry loom, too. We didn’t want or need a tapestry loom. We have no idea what we’ll do with a tapestry loom. But what the heck!
Then, the very day we bought the counterbalance loom and the tapestry loom, we heard about a garage sale an hour away. A weaver, selling all her equipment because she has decided to be a quilter (it’s just possible we aren’t they only ones with impulse control issues).
We said, we don’t need any more looms or weaving paraphernalia but let’s just go look . . .
And we came home with two more looms. One big loom, in far better shape than the first one we bought and with eight shafts or harnesses, and that pleases my husband.
With these looms came lots more stuff—benches and books and shuttles and yarn and magazines and cool stuff!
The first big, old, idiosyncratic loom is back in the car-free garage and it may end up as kindling. The table loom will be returned to its owner. The tapestry loom . . . ai yi . . . who knows what will become of the tapestry loom.
And, for now, we have three looms set up in one room in our house. An embarrassment of riches, and looms, for sure.
I’d feel a lot better if I thought we weren’t the only ones with impulse control issues. Anyone out there willing to fess up?
I watch the geese at this time of year, the time of year when they know what they should be doing and the direction they should be heading. And, in spite of responding to an internal imperative to fly south, they seem, on many days, to be heading north.
I can identify. I, too, know what I should be doing and the directions I should be heading and, yet, I can’t seem to figure out if I’m coming or going.
I should be making candy. It’s the beginning of candy season and I have ideas for sweet new concoctions. I should be making those goodies, taking photos of them, and preparing them for sale.
I should be ironing linens. I’ve lucked into many new caches of vintage wonderfulness lately—some beautiful pieces in lovely condition. This is the time of year people look to buy pretty things for their holiday tables and for gifts. I should be ironing.
I should be cutting back perennials. And raking leaves. And putting the geraniums to bed.
I should be writing substantive, deep, and thought-provoking blog posts instead of just posting photos as I have mostly been doing lately.
I should be doing some deep house cleaning (have you seen my shower?)
I should be winding warp because no weaving can occur without a warp to weave into. I should baste a quilt because no quilting can occur without basting first.
So much I should be doing . . .
But all I want to do is travel the byways of upstate New York, immersing myself in the wonders of the season, enjoying autumn.
We drove across New York this past weekend and went through the Adirondacks. Already, two weeks before the date we associate with peak color, we saw trees a-blazing. We saw fall everywhere we looked.
We were driving with a focus, we had places to go, so I just tried to gather as many impressions as I could. My impressions began with the awareness that everything is happening early this year—the people who take the leaf-peeper tours on Columbus Day weekend are going to miss the show, I’m afraid!
I also had the impression that the reds that make this region so spectacular, especially from the maples, are particularly bright and splashy this year. This isn’t a one-dimensional red but ranges from burgundy to flame red to cerise. Some leaves are streaked with stripes of red and green. Add the bright sun and the breeze rustling the leaves and you’ll get one million shades of red. This is what’s meant by the phrase “eye dazzling”!
I had the impression that this, this autumn, is the perfect autumn. The days are “black and blue”—moments of bright and sunny skies, broken in arresting ways by big dark clouds that add drama.
Enough with impressions.
I need to go out and move slowly, and savor this perfect autumn.
I want the smell of wood smoke and the smell of the sun on fallen pine needles.
I want the taste of cake donuts, made with apple cider and covered with cinnamon sugar.
I want the sound of the crunch of leaves as I shuffle through them and the sound of those silly geese, honking their heads off.
I want to feel the warm sun on my shoulders, leavened by a crisp breeze on my face.
Most of all, I need the sights of autumn. The sky the color we call “Adirondack blue.” The leaves putting on a show I can only seem to find trite descriptors for, a show that really does defy description. And the reflection of those colors, softer, moodier, muted, in every pond and stream.
This season, this moment, can’t be postponed. Autumn, the season, may last until December but the essence of fall in the North Country is ever so fleeting.
So, I say to hell with those things I should be doing. This time, the “shoulds” will be trumped by the “wants” and “needs”! Coming or going? My own internal imperative insists that I be going.
Going out to meet autumn, joyfully.