The greenery is hung, and the tree is trimmed. Mother Nature has set the scene with a blanket of snow. Our kitchen has been the hub of inn activity this week with the production of “Mr. Lewis’s Caramels” and Butter Almond Toffee. Firewood has been cut, split and stacked on the porch. Friends – old and new – are once again dropping in for a cup of cheer by the fire. Family will arrive shortly, and the vigil for Santa’s visit will begin in earnest. As we settle down for the holiday, we wish warmth, peace and contentment for all. Merry Christmas!
The first snow fell overnight and the dreary landscape has been transformed into a veritable wonderland. The bare trees are a lacy delight, and the world somehow feels refreshed. Cardinals and finches are beautifully obvious in the sunlight against the white scrim of snow. The overnight paths of deer are clear on the covered grass. A skim of ice coats the pond. Chester is gracefully settling into the “deep midwinter.”
Thanksgiving always evokes thoughts of gratitude for family and friends. While preparing our traditional “feast” dishes, I felt a great surge of gratitude for the wonderful eggs we are privileged to share with our guests and utilize in our cooking. Our eggs come from the Springtree Commune – someone from there – most often Toots – brings them to our kitchen every week. They are not all the same size, sometimes they have a fluffy feather clinging to them. The tiny pullet eggs have a distinctive flavor all their own. Oversize eggs sometimes surprise us with an extra yolk. Lately the yolks are a brilliant orange because the hens have been eating papayas. Obviously, these hens are pampered! At any rate, we are indeed grateful to Toots and her flock for their contributions to our lives.
The first real freeze has arrived. Migrant birds have fled to warmer roosts. The last rose of summer is on the kitchen table, and the banana trees have turned to mush. A quartet of large bullfrogs still put in occasional, quiet appearances at the edge of the pond. A family of deer wanders through shortly after dusk each evening. This week we’ll pull the annual herbs, put the hardy herbs to bed and make wreaths of the bay laurel. The grounds are settling in for the late fall in all its golden glory. Oh, and yes, we did carve!
Fall has truly arrived . The smell of baked apples permeates the house on Sunday mornings, and wood smoke is in the air. The days are briefer but somehow more glorious – the skies are clear and the sunshine is warming after nippy evenings. This week’s decision of note will involve the two major pumpkins residing by the front door - to carve or not to carve? They will certainly make glorious jack-o-lanterns, but could also add to the harvest theme until Thanksgiving. Stay tuned for the outcome!
Chester has added a “new” native species to our list of plants and shrubs. Joseph Wright who established the arboretum here would have been pleased to note that euonymous americanus is gracing our grounds with it’s “hearts-a-bursting.” This old varietal — sometimes called Strawberry Bush- is quietly enchanting us with it’s brilliant respberry-colored berries which open to reveal five brilliant orange seeds. It is a small, but siginificant, salute to the season.
It’s raining; it’s pouring – and we are delighted! At long last the thirsty trees are able to drink deeply. Perhaps they will hold onto their leaves long enough to show some lovely fall color. As the days are getting shorter, our minds are turning to thoughts of splitting wood and digging out toasty duvets for the beds. Pumpkins have made their way to the front door. Our menus are changing, too. Soon we should have baked apples on the breakfast tables and sauteed apple slices for topping our popover pancakes. Pumpkin pie will appear on the dinner menu. The October weekends are rapidly filling up, but there’s still time to plan a fall getaway!
Well, it is officially fall. The mornings are somewhat crisp and cool. The male hummingbirds have left on their long journey, but the females are still hanging around. A volunteer pumpkin is slowly ripening in the back of the yard. UVA football is looking up – they take on VMI this weekend. And the Land Rovers will return for a major rally next week. All the vineyards are harvesting, crushing and bottling. It’s a wonderful time to be in Virginia!
The chimney swifts have returned! Chester is a resting place for hundreds of the sleek, acrobatic birds on their migratory route to Peru. The species is endangered; we suspect they have been been coming here since the house was built. Since each bird devours over 2,000 mosquitoes and other insects daily, they are very welcome visitors. At dusk we watch them circle the sky and dive into the chimneys with great precision – we’d love to know how they decide in what order they will enter the chimney. Is that last bird scouring the sky the oldest, the strongest or an elected leader? Their final departure may be days or even weeks from now. For the moment they are welcome guests.
Wow! We’ve been innkeeping here at Chester for 15 full years now! Sometimes it feel like 50, but usually it seems like only yesterday that we were working like crazy to get bathrooms completed on schedule, meeting furniture trucks in the driveway at 4 a.m., and worrying over whether anyone would come to visit us. Now we’ve greeted over 5,000 guests at our front door. Many have returned for several years, some have gotten married here, and some have become fast friends. Craig and I are grateful for our tenure at Chester and are looking forward to welcoming the next 5000. Thanks to everyone who has become a part of Chester life.