Auld Lang Syne

“Love awoke one winter’s night
And wander’d through the snowbound land,
And calling to beasts and birds
Bid them his message understand.

And from the forest all wild things
That crept or flew obeyed love’s call,
And learned from him the golden words
Of brotherhood for one and all.”

~Author Unknown

All is quiet here at Briar and Bramble as a single candle lights the table and the frosted fog on the hill hides the coastline from view. In this world of white on white, at the closing of the year, it seems like an appropriate time to let memories color the canvas of the past 12 months. And so, the year in review…

Winter

A time of reflection and dreaming…last year at this time, we tended the home fires. Just as I am now. Garden plots were plotted, firewood was stacked and restacked, bird feeders tended and observed, tracks in the snow followed, and longings for summer harnessed and bent into shapes of birds and other baubles. Dog snuggles and cups of tea provided all the warmth needed to hold on until the return of…

Spring

Battle commenced! The poison ivy retreated from the front slope, replaced with the common soldiers- blades of grass! Some lupine was strategically placed on this board of Risk, and some left to wild abandon. A few blooms this spring whispered promise of more to come in the future.

A leaf strewn culvert transformed into a woodland meadow, overlooked by an extended lawn and winding stone path. New roses now line the back of the house, soaking up the midday sun. An arbor, made of scavenged fallen trees from our wood, rose again and became the support for a long awaited wisteria.

Sometimes, you can’t do it all on your own. As is typically the case in tight knit communities, friends call upon friends of friends to get a job done. Through word of mouth, we were able to find a wonderful local landscaper and excavator to clear the stumps in the front field and lay the foundation for the Someday Meadow. Further help from family enabled us to cover the acre area with a mix of graze grass and wildflower seed.

Garden beds were planted, winter debris cleared, and Garden Center treasures placed in locations of honor…

Only to suffer in the late spring drought! The last bit of help that we needed was from Mother Nature. She held out for a bit but eventually, the plants started to take off. This was a relief, as we had some busy plans for…

Summer

We try to get as much accomplished as we can in spring, because we believe that summer is for celebrating. Summer weekends are for lazy porch breakfasts, lunches with fanciful cakes, lawn games, barbecues and lobster bakes on the patio, star gazing, listening to owls in the night wood, impatiently waiting for the baby phoebes nesting in the porch rafters to fledge, stringing bistro lights, and watching the flowers bloom.

I missed some of my own garden harvests…we were too preoccupied! After a year apart, we were happy to welcome friends and family to Briar and Bramble. Unfortunately, the spectre of covid still lurked then as now, but we had a summer of hope when we could safely and cautiously gather. As a result, between entertaining, working, maintaining B&B, horse showing, and sharing what the surrounding area has to offer to guests…the summer was a bit of a blur! And yet, somehow, against the odds, a meadow began to appear before our eyes in the front field!

There were stresses and trials this past summer as well. Trying to settle my mind and find moments of peace, I spent many an evening simply wandering around the Meadow…sighing as the pink of the cosmos and red of the poppies melted onto the pinks and reds of the sky above. The cosmos were a joy…blooming well into…

Autumn

It did seem as though we got an extended summer this year, which was much appreciated! As the warmth waned and the garden harvests began to dwindle, I spent a few frantic hours in the kitchen…hanging herbs to dry, freezing tomatoes, canning jams and dilly beans, experimenting with pestos, etc. I have to admit, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to do more. Thinking ahead to the flower-less months, I filled books with pressed flowers and began making ornaments with pressed flowers.

I put off the end of season chores as long as possible…where had the summer gone?? Well into October and November, I was still creating new garden spaces for next spring, planting bulbs, and weaving wattle fences. My poor husband continued his endless battles with the practical needs of the homestead- cutting firewood, constantly mending the nightmare driveway, working with my Dad to replace and add to the insulation above the dormers. Finally, I had to accept the inevitable and put the gardens to bed. The outdoor furniture was covered, and the porch swept one last time. Once again, it was time to turn my thoughts towards the holidays and the return of…

Winter

It may have been time to retreat indoors again, but I had Christmas to look forward to! Greens to gather, ribbons to turn into bows, oranges to stud with cloves, cookies and breads to bake, trees to adorn, and all the rooms to decorate! Another few weeks of frenzy, plans changing, an outdoor party to organize, and all the madness of the final hours of Christmas Eve. And yet despite it all, Christmas always arrives in its blaze of joy…a bright flame in the winter’s dark.

And so here we are, in the quiet hours, the soft white days at the waning of the year…taking a deep breath and a moment to give thanks- before stepping off into the New Year…and eagerly awaiting Spring to arrive once again.

Thank you for being here and sharing in our small, but loved, world. Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, safe, and most happy New Year!

Old Apple Tree, We Wassail Thee…

This year, we added a new ritual and celebration to our holiday season at Briar and Bramble…we wassailed the apple trees.

This wasn’t exactly the Christmas carol interpretation of wassailing…or what people would describe as wassailing. To most (Americans, anyway), that vaguely means drinking a type of spiked punch that eventually loosens the tongue to drunken, off key caroling at holiday parties. Originating from the Anglo Saxon period, the term “wassailing” comes from the toast “Waes Hael”…a wish for good health. It became a common practice to visit neighbors and family, toasting their health and prosperity, in the holiday season. Caroling, gatherings, and celebrations followed with time, and the song “Here We Come, A-Wassailing (Caroling)” entered our holiday lexicon.

Apple (or orchard) wassailing is an ancient custom that was once most prevalent in the southern regions of England, such as Somerset and Devon. As with many old rituals, there is question surrounding its origins, age, interpretation, and even actual date. There appear to be two dates, depending on which tradition and calendar you prefer to favor- Twelfth Night/Day (January 6th), or “Old New Years” (January 17th). On either of those dates, tradition holds that revelers fill their mugs and glasses with apple wassail, grab their lanterns and torches, and proceed to find the oldest tree in the orchard. They offer the Apple Tree Man (the spirit of the orchard) a wassailing song, place a piece of bread soaked in cider at the base of the tree or in the branches, and pour cider onto the roots- ensuring the health of the trees and a good crop of fruit in the coming season.

I was intrigued by this, not only as a history buff and Anglophile, but also because we have taken the very tentative first steps into starting an orchard. I have always loved apple orchards and longed to have one of my own. There is just something about apple trees…their gnarled, wizened shape, the appealing and odd names of the heirloom varieties, the beauty of their flowers, the smell of the windfalls, the continuity of their growth with the history of the land…they have always just seemed magical to me. It may be that they feel like a tangible connection to history. I love the heirloom varieties and the thought that there are some trees (or grafts of trees) on old New England farmsteads whose origins date back as early as the 1700s.

We were thrilled to find a mature wild apple tree growing just outside the back of the house when we moved in. It has produced a fair amount of very small, yet surprisingly tasty fruits. We took a few specimens to the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA) Apple Day, hoping to hear that it is a previously unknown example of a rare heirloom variety. We were told that it’s a wild tree, and thus a unique variety of its own. My husband and I think that it’s lovely that Briar and Bramble has its very own unique apple, but we still wanted to have some historical varieties.

So we’ve added four young saplings…the beginnings of our own little orchard. Each tree is a different variety, and most are heirloom- Northern Spy, Black Oxford, Liberty, and Hurlbut. We are learning as we go, with the help of resources such as MOFGA, family wisdom, and books. Judging by the nibbling that has occurred on the branch tips despite netting and caging, I think we probably need to focus more on exorcising the deer rather than appealing to tree spirits. However, since we are committed to a mostly organic and natural garden, and have essentially declared Briar and Bramble to be a wildlife refuge, we are left with the option of pouring cider on the roots of our trees by lantern light on a cold January night!

The Northern Spy on the porch before planting

Although there was a lot to occupy our attention on January 6th, we did manage to take a few minutes to turn to the past and continue the tradition of apple wassailing. We filled a bowl with cider and a slice of bread, topped our mugs with hard cider (a necessity for proper wassailing!), bundled into coats and boots, and tromped through the snow into the backyard to visit our old wild tree. I recited the wassail song and we toasted our trees and one another, wishing and hoping, like so many generations before us, for health, prosperity, and a bountiful crop in the year ahead.

Waes Hael!

One of many variations of the traditional apple wassailing songs from the 18th and 19th centuries, this particular song is from the Somerset region of England:

Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,
Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah,
Holler biys, holler hurrah.

(Source-Wikipedia)