Leaves with Purpose

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“There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

 – Hamlet 

The town where Sithean stands is an old one, by American standards.  It was incorporated in 1650, and the miles of old stone walls and the ability to trip over history everywhere you go bears that out.

Prior to incorporation, the Annisquam Indians called it something that translates to ‘the pleasant place by the flowing waters’, and that still holds true today – it is a pleasant place to be, with meandering country roads, wildflowers everywhere, and gardens of blossoms and vegetable gardens.  

We reside in a spot called ‘Witch Hill’.  The Salem Witch trials were not confined to what is now Salem, Massachusetts.  In fact, Salem Village is now named Danvers, in one of the earliest efforts at image rebranding ever to occur – Salem was anathema after the Witch Trials, for good reason.

Witch Hill got it’s name because Mary Eastey, sister to Rebecca Nurse, came here to her son’s home after being released from the Salem Witch trials.  She and Nurse were both upstanding citizens, and married to landholders.  Even Judge John Hathorne, who presided over the trials, and an ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, went so far as to ask if the girls accusing her if they were certain she was a witch.

It’s hard to visualize what it might have been like.  Suspicion, and not a little bit of vengeance, reigned.  Women were dragged from their beds in the night and put in irons.  They didn’t eat unless their families brought food, and then it might be stolen by their jailers.  They didn’t bathe.  They were housed in places where it was cold, dark, and bug-infested, on the words of a bunch of pre-teens and teenagers.  If you ever doubt the need for due process but also the ability to challenge it by citizens, the transcripts are worth a read.  The originals are in Salem, but the University of Virginia keeps a copy online. 

After all, the Witch trials were perfectly legal.  Moral – not so much.

For Mary Eastey, she is released after 2 months in prison, on May 18th.  She came here to Topsfield, but not for long.  2 days later, Mercy Lewis accuses her again.  She was dragged from her son’s home in the night and brought back to prison.  She was hanged on September 22nd, 1692.  Her death, along with others, was the tipping point in bringing Witch Fever to an end.  On the gallows she begged for the murders – for they were that, trial or no – to stop.

Superstition seems to be part and parcel of the human spirit.  Here on Witch Hill, the real story of Mary Eastey has long faded, and she is spoken about most typically in order to establish the historical bona fides of this place.  In some ways, the peace and beauty force that forgetting.  There is no time of year that I don’t believe I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Making it more so is one of my greatest goals.

One of the interests in the back of my mind as I have gardened over the years is herbs.  Herbs have very real benefits – let’s be clear here, there’s no magical food, essential oil, or herb that is going to change your life.  Herbs, oils and supplements have become intertwined with the idea that if we just consume cleaner, healthier and purer, we will be safe from disease, early death, etc.  It’s true that the healthier we eat, the healthier we live, sure and some exercise is necessary.  Herbs are helpers when used correctly.  They can relieve anxiety, calm a stomach, make a headache go away, and even restart a heart or kill you.  That these things can just grow by the side of the road, in nature, can feel a lot like a gift of magic, and maybe they are.  There’s much that still defies human understanding in the natural world.

Herb lore is intricately tied up in superstition and magic.  So while I diligently plant flowers to attract pollinators and vegetables and fruit to feed us, I’ll also be adding Witch Hazel, Dittany, Rue, Valerian, Yarrow, Lavender and others.  Sure, they are (mostly) edible, have medicinal benefits, and they are all lovely.  But they are also the herbs of protection.  From what?  I don’t know.  Maybe nothing.  It doesn’t matter.  But here at Sithean history incorporates both the beautiful and the not-so-much, intertwined together, and sometimes, like with magic and herb lore, the beautiful and the not are one and the same. As I grow them, I’ll post about what they do and how I use them.

Next year we will plant both a fig tree and a Rowan tree. The former will feed us, but of the two, I tend to think the latter will be more important.

Trefoil, John’s Wort, Vervain, Dill
Hinder Witches of Their Will
Betony, Dittany, Yarrow, Rue
Deprive Witches of Their Due

 

Background Music

peep

Our babies arrived yesterday, all 27 of them.  After several springs of co-chickening with the neighbors, and losing just about all of them to predators, this year we chose a different course, and ordered a large chicken coop with an enclosed run.  We could have given up on chickens altogether, but we just couldn’t bring ourselves to that decision.  Sithean is a place for fruit trees and gardening and chickens.

Still, this is a leap of faith for us, after burying as many chickens as we have to date.

We waited on tenterhooks for them to arrive, having never gotten chickens in the mail before.  Eli spent hours on Tuesday preparing their bin and food.  The local post office was alerted, and at 7:42 am they called us, long before they opened for the day, and we rushed to get pick them up.  Our babies are here, and the endless peeping is the background music to my day.  My children have taken to even eating breakfast in front of their bin, endlessly fascinated by their ‘chickle babies’.

Baby chicks can survive up to 48 hours in transit after birth, but we worried from the moment the shipment notification kicked off our waiting period.  Our babies were cold and alone and what if something happened to them?  There was more anxiety in our household for the 36 hours from that shipment notification to their arrival than perhaps in the history of our little family.

When we picked them up, safe and sound, the relief was palpable and the excitement was for all 4 of us.

We do have one little runt named Peep, who is smaller and not as energetic as the rest.  All we can do is watch out for her and make sure food and water are available.  ‘Failure to thrive’ is real in the animal kingdom, just as it can be in the human one.  We’re hopeful and watchful.  If she makes it, she is almost certain to be the most petted and cosseted chicken in history.

In 6 months, there will be eggs, lots and lots of them. Before that we will be able to use the chickens as the disposal point for most leftover food.  Between compost and the chickens, our food waste should drop to almost nothing.  This summer, they will be allowed out of their coop to roam a few hours a day to eat ticks and garden bugs.  Chickens are curious creatures, and I look forward to them tromping around behind me this spring as I garden and weed.

This is Eli’s first experience with baby chicks, and I’m enjoying his relative awe and wonder at it too.  Two years ago our first batch of chicks grounded us here at Sithean, turning it from a place we had just landed to a home, weaving itself around us.   It’s happening again, this time for the four of us, one little ‘peep-peep’ at a time.

Gregory Peck March 13 2019

Making Home – Sithean By Design

About 4 years ago, I went from a 2500 square foot house to a tiny apartment, with very few possessions carried with me.  I effectively started over, needing even dishes and forks, along with beds, a couch and almost everything else.  I have always loved putting together found objects, antiques, yard sale finds and hand me downs and making design from them, so it was a little disorienting to have to choose how to fill my new little place all at once.  Fun too, but more of a challenge than I thought it would be.  “What do I like?” was a question that ran through my head, over and over, on everything from plates to bedding.  What I like was of course limited by budget and practicality, but it had been over a decade since I had made those kinds of choices alone, and it was harder than I thought it would be.

When we moved here, I had a little time to start to think about what I like, and I found myself influenced by the house itself.  Built in 1850 as servant’s quarters, the house itself is not very big, and while largely modern, still carries with it a sense of stepping back in time.  The rooms are comfortably sized, but still somewhat delicate-seeming.   I decided to let the house dictate the design as much as my own taste, and the smallish people weigh in too.  Eventually some things from my previous life came back here, but each time I touch a space here, it is tailored to the house itself.  In doing so, I found myself drawn to smaller, more delicate pieces than I might have, and a touch of the fey everywhere – birds, vines and even some magic, all the while covering for the fact that shelves and closets are sadly lacking.

I add and change a little at a time, as budget, time and inspiration allows.  I don’t want it all done at once.  Making an old home beautiful again doesn’t need to cost a fortune either, it can be done slowly, a small touch at a time.

The first room to be changed was the dining room.   One of the Moms did all the work, and it is all beautiful as a result.  It is waiting for me to make valances from some bolts of fabric I found at a yard sale, hopefully by Christmas.

Dining Room

The red ceiling was my daughter’s idea, based on a picture she saw.  The table had been a hand-me-down from my older sister, and the only furniture I’ve added is the bird etagere, which goes with my antique dishes, a favorite find.

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Bird Etagere

Pretty and practical, the etagere holds things that I didn’t have a good spot for, but loved too much to get rid of.

The landing for the stairway was a large blank wall.  Up went a wallpaper mural which makes me smile every time I see it, a touch of watercolor whimsy.  At about $125 for the custom-fit paper, it was a deal, and if I ever tire of it, off it comes.  But I won’t.

Wall Mural

My son’s room was next.  The supreme act of maternal love is letting your child pick their room color, but in this case I happen to love the bright orange for his small angled room under the eaves.  His room is loosely designed around the world of Peter Pan, with a mural of the Lost Boys tree house, and the Jolly Roger as a light fixture hanging from the ceiling.  His bed is shape like a cabin, with canvas window and door coverings that roll down for playing fort.

An oddly shaped corner of my room has been turned into a desk/vanity area, a perfect resting spot for books we are reading before bed, and Kiera Dolly, my daughter’s most prized possession.  The mirror is an antique meant for a fireplace mantel.  The vanity table top opens up to a secret mirrored compartment, where I often find things the smallish people have hidden.

Resting Spot for Kiera Dolly

In the living room, a corner cabinet, found and refinished in grey and blue chalk paint, has been added for more shelving space.   I grouped things that are generally blue and white, from the tea set made by my great aunt to another teapot, found for $2 at a yard sale. along with a lone ginkgo leaf saved from our time in Florida.

Throughout the house are tiny framed prints of Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies – gorgeous antique pictures of ancient flowers and trees. . Each print costs little, and they add touches of color to various corners.  When I find frames and more prints, I add them, a little at a time so as not to clutter the space.

I’m working on the guest room now, tying in birds, flowers and watercolor designs, and my daughter’s room will follow that.  There’s so much to do, but that’s the fun of it.   Just a little paint, a few spots to put things, and a touch of whimsy make me happy to be here every day.  There’s lots of stores, TV shows and websites that will make you believe that renovations are all-or-nothing, but sometimes little modifications – color, placement, style, are all that you need to make your space just a bit more homelike.