The Milkweed Diaries

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Visit to Shelton Laurel

Christopher and Maisey and I took a much needed weekend trip to the wilds of Madison County, where our dear friend Dana makes her home.  Dana (proprietress of the thoroughly enjoyable "Dana Dee") is a mountain medicine woman, homesteader, naturalist, sometimes plumber, writer, and generally one of my all-around heroes.

She lives in Shelton Laurel, way up in the mountains, near the Tennessee border in what is most definitely the backwoods. Her home is full of good food, medicinal herbs drying, goofy humor, fascinating projects in progress, and comfy places to curl up with a book.  

I love visiting Dana. I love the little shrines to beauty and wonder and family and plants and animals  that are everywhere in Dana's world - the otter pelt that she tanned, delicate teacups in a beautiful battered old china cabinet, tinctures and syrups and dried roots, little scraps of paper full of notes and poems and tidbits. I also love Dana's clever wit and general hilarity, and her deep appreciation of the absurd.  Basically, I just think she hung the moon, as my mom would say.

Being in the home that Dana created with the help of an all-star cast of friends and roaming the woods around her home place was just lovely.

Great for toddy drinking

Homemade medicines
Little note from Dana's sister Jenna...including tiny usnea tree

Wild pears for a possible future project growing pear rootstock
One of my favorite moments was when D. whipped out the candied ginger that she and Sally made from *fresh locally-grown ginger* -- FOR REAL.  Dana's friend Skelly grew it at Aardvark Farm up in Yancey County. Dana and Sally candied it. You really cannot believe how delicious it was.

Then, just for good measure, they DIPPED SOME OF IT IN CHOCOLATE. I usually try to avoid the all-caps, but there are times when you just have to bring out the all-caps.
 We made short work of some chocolate-covered candied ginger.
The fortunate by-product of this candied ginger project of Dana and Sally's was ginger syrup. As if the candied ginger weren't enough.
We used the ginger syrup to make the best hot toddies ever with some Rebel Yell whiskey.

 As if that weren't enough, Dana made some chicken pot pie.

We brought some chicken from East Fork Farm and Dana sauteed up some carrots and celery from her garden along with some storebought onions.

Softening up the veggies

Working on the chicken

Rolling out the piecrust
Shaping the crust

Filling the pie


The finished pot pie

It was the first chicken pot pie I've eaten in more than 20 years. 

I felt kind of like this guy after eating my first piece.

Then we got to sit around the fire with Susie and Todd and all of the dogs, laughing about some of our favorite things to laugh about and trading tales.

In general, a good time was had by all. We brought Maisey, who spent some down time with the pink plush unicorn.

For breakfast this morning we fried up some Hen of the Woods mushrooms that our friend Alan found on a recent forage and mixed it with some eggs.

Hen of the Woods

Wild mushroom omlet

Looking out over Dana's garden, we had a chance to talk a little about the history of Shelton Laurel, including the period known as "Bloody Madison," guerrilla warfare in The Laurel, mountaineer indifference to the Confederate cause, and the horrible Massacre of Shelton Laurel.

We reflected for a while on the fact that all that most of Shelton Laurel's residents wanted during the Civil War was a little bit of salt to preserve their meat and vegetables.

Later, Dana showed us her ram pump, which was very impressive. 

She pumps spring water up the hill to her house using only the power of gravity.

Then we headed over to Leonard's to get a tour of his off-grid homestead. He lives just across the way from Dana on the side of a mountain.

The power shed and bee hives at Leonard's

Water catchment
Leonard has mad electrical skills and is great at figuring things out and cobbling together systems out of whatever is at hand. When we expressed how impressed we were with his inventor-style innovations, he revealed that Eli Whitney was his 8th cousin.

Leonard and his PV system

Leonard's automatic chicken coop door opener is somewhat legendary - it was great to check it out in person. He's got it set up so that a light sensor triggers a pulley system to close the coop door so that if he's away from home when it's time to close the chickens up at night, it just happens without him when the sun goes down.


Also Leonard has an impressive stockpile of beautiful honey from his three hives and a lot of fabulous little customized setups for himself and his animals.

These are quart jars of honey. There are lots of them.

Cat porch

We had a nice time roaming the woods around Leonard's place with Pixie, his little Blue Heeler, and talking about goats, gardens, and electricity.

A little part of Leonard's woodpile

Happy Maisey
By the time it was time to go, we had all three had a healthy dose of respite.

Thank you Dana and Leonard and Susie and Todd and Hopey and Ruby. And Jenna for letting us borrow your sweet sister for the weekend.

And thanks for reading, readers...I'm hoping this inspirational trip will get me back in a regular habit of posting here!

Favorite little note from Jenna to Dana
Spotted on a bumpersticker
by Susie and Jenna one day
and recorded for posterity


Dana said...

Oh my goodness. You are making us all so famous! I have been smiling and giggling my way through this most gracious description of our lovely weekend. Leonard looks like a rock star in that one picture, and I look like an enthusiastic eager beaver with my ram pump.Perhaps what cracked me up the most was how you felt like the one handed Jesus after eating the first piece of CPP. I had such a wonderful time with yall and am so honored you took a time out to come for the weekend. I can't wait to share this post with Jenna, as her sweet lil notes are highlighted here in such an awesome way. She might giggle and feel famous too.

"Jus grinnin,"
Dana Dee

Milkweed said...

I'm pretty sure that CPP has cured all of my ailments. Thank you for hosting us and for being so fabulous!