It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

shinrin-yoku 森林浴 (submitted by lightofthestar)

7

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
Both of my parents grew up in the former Soviet Union, the former ‘Holy Russia’. The apocalyptic transformation of an entire civilization (Stalinization / The Great Famine), the deportation to the stalags of Germany, and their banishment was the foundation of a ‘new life’. Emotionally and physically traumatized, these experiences reshaped their youth, as well as their former Communistic upbringing into a creation of a ‘Shangri-La’ with mythic proportions. Real facts that they had once encountered were interwoven into tales of beauty, heroism, and a longing for an ideal world. As a child and young adult, I felt a loss of identity, akin to ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ by Robert A. Heinlein. During my former life as an artist I was fascinated by the fabricated mythic tales of Joseph Beuys; during World War II he was shot down in his plane, crashed, nearly died, but was miraculously resurrected through spiritual and shamanistic rituals of the inhabitants of the former Ukraine.

This story stands opposite against the reality of the death of my uncle, a former Soviet fighter pilot, who was shot down and died. The myth of Joseph Beuys transformed me as an artist; and the death of my family member made him into a mythical hero.


Go inside the studio of Wladimir Moszowksi

every year, i visit the cemetery at least twice. i see the same people there. the gravedigger and the groundskeeper. every year the grass grows the same length. the same spotted dog runs between the trees. the birds sing the same solemn song.

this is where i learnt poetry. when my siblings and i stopped playing our games of jumping from one stone to another because the grass is on fire. when we stopped looking for the the oldest dead person. when we stopped arguing whether the bat was a bird or the bird was a bat. when i stopped being scared of Lucia who died as a nine-year-old girl like me because i turned ten the next year, i learnt poetry. because the grass is green and brown and never on fire. because there were bats and birds and they all screamed at us.

i learnt poetry with the way lampposts flickered twice at exactly six in the evening before they finally turned on. how the gravedigger wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand after shoveling eighteen spadefuls of dirt. with the way weeds clammed shut when you touched them. but mostly, i learnt poetry by reading from grey slabs of stone. 

sometimes i have to scrape the candle wax off before i could read the writings. and i’d come home with dried blood underneath my nails. it takes a few hours before the throbbing would go away completely. when it does, i’d miss it. and i’d will it to come back. but it never does. that’s why i go back. i always do. and i always will.

—  MJL

Harry & Snowman

Harry & Snowman is a new, feature-length documentary film telling the story of the deep friendship between a former plow horse and a gifted equestrian, who together make an unexpectedly formidable show jumping team. The world premiere screening will be held on Saturday, April 11 at the Full Frame Film Festival in historic downtown Durham, North Carolina.

Conversation following screening with filmmaker Ron Davis and special guest Harry deLeyer.

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Cheesemaker Visit: Kurtwood Farms

Last week found me in Seattle, Washington, taking care of some family matters, but with a little bit of time in between to do some cheese exploring. Figuring out that I could squeeze in a half day trip early in the morning, I decided to head out to Vashon Island, to the west across the bay from Seattle and only accessible by ferry. The Island also happens to be the home of a cheesemaker whose cheeses, and story, I’d long admired: Kurt Timmermeister of Kurtwood Farms, maker of the Dinah and other cheeses, and author of Growing A Farmer and Growing A Feast.

Kurt’s story is of particular interest to anybody who’s ever daydreamed about fleeing the city life to become a farmer/cheesemaker, as that’s exactly what he did, pulling up roots from Seattle to move full-time to Vashon Island and turn a rough-around-the-edges patch of land into a small but thriving farm. Kurt arrived with pretty much zero background in agriculture at a time when Vashon Island was a sleepy island, recovering from the industries such as lumber and gravel that had dominated it for many decades, and years from the weekend destination it eventually became. When he took the property over, there was nothing but a single log cabin on the property, the acres were well overgrown with brambles and trees, and the soil was stripped and distressed. Originally, Kurt was just looking for a location that was affordable but still near enough for the daily commutes to his restaurant businesses in Seattle, but over time the farm took over and became his focus. Kurt cleared it himself, acre by acre, and added buildings and barns along the way, eventually getting himself some cows and beginning the journey to becoming a farmer.

The farmstead cheese came later, and he came to that as a greenhorn as well, but soon developed his first successful cheese, the Dinah (named after his very first cow, whose face graces the label of the cheese), a Camembert-style cow’s milk bloomy rind. Dinah is distributed mostly to local Washington State restaurants and stores, but finds its way to points further east and south every now and then. Production is relatively small: with only 13 acres of land, up to 15 cows at any time, and a small cave cut into the hillside of one of the pastures, he is limited, but likes it that way, and is not eager to try to scale up just to meet demand.

When I arrived, Kurt was in the Kitchen, a space he had constructed originally to make up for the lack of cooking space in the log house. It eventually became the site of the farm-to-table meals that Kurt started hosting, prepared with the produce and meats of his own farm as well as other farms on the island, bringing people across the bay from Seattle for evenings of food and wine and becoming a bit of a destination for area foodies. For many years this was his primary activity, but when cheesemaking became the focus he shifted away from that and no longer holds these events. We talked about cheese, the farm and the history of the island while munching on some of his fresh-baked corn muffins, then headed out for a tour of the land.

We went first to the creamery, passing the greenhouse and vegetable garden on the way; we couldnt enter the space for sanitation reasons, but looking in through the window could see the Dinah’s in the multi-moulds, draining on the stainless steel tables, and the small vat where the cheesemaking happens. Looping around to the other side, we saw the wheels of Dinah aging on racks in the tall coolers that Kurt uses. The Dinah’s spend a week here before being wrapped and moved to cooler temperatures. A short hike from there brought us up into pastures, past young heifers grazing, their winter fur still fluffy in spikes and patches. Kurt’s herd of milking Jersey Cows was in the field just overlooking his cheese cave, a structure that at first glance, with its grassy dome, rocky, fern-covered entrance and wooden door set into a concrete wall, resembled something like a modern-day hobbit house. This is where he ages his LogHouse, a Tomme de Savoie style cheese that is named for his home.

He’s quick to dispel any romantic notions about the farming life, however. In his book, Kurt recounts his discovery, the hard way, that female cows will sometimes try to mount their human caretakers when in heat(!), and the fact that cows are acutely sensitive to even the smallest traces of electricity (he found himself on his knees licking concrete in search of an electrical charge). He also discusses life on the island, challenges to the inexperienced farmer, and the cheesemaking process, including the extreme measures taken to ensure total sanitation of the make room (only two people ever enter the room under any circumstances: Kurt and his cheese maker) and the frustrations of having makes inexplicably fail and having to chase down the causes. He also talks about how Dinah, despite being his first and best-loved cow, had comically tiny udders, making her an extremely difficult cow to milk. Those first wheels of her namesake cheese were most definitely earned through cramped hands and sore muscles.

After returning to the Kitchen, we tried some of the Dinah’s; the rind was velvet-molded and pillowy, giving way to a pale gold, oozing paste, buttery and rich, with a complex flavor redolent of mushrooms, wet grass (in character, given its Pacific Northwest island terroir), hints of barnyard and a delicate meaty pungency and lingering finish. The Dinah is a worthy homage both to the Camembert cheeses which inspired it and the wonderfully fresh milk from which it is made. As Kurt explained, the milk goes straight from the cows to the vat in a matter of minutes, still warm, ensuring that it is as fresh as possible.

Next we sampled the LogHouse — named for his residence on the farm — a Tomme de Savoie-style pasteurized cow’s milk wheel with a rough, rocky-gray exterior and smooth golden paste, with an aroma of cave walls and an earthy, milky sweet flavor and notes of hay, nuts and a tangy start, with a subtly bitter finish.

We also tried the Flora’s Cheese, a fresh cheese with a bright, briny flavor that is similar to a  Feta or Queso Fresco and is perfect for crumbling over salads, tacos, eggs and more.

While we tasted the cheeses, Kurt talked about a new venture on the horizon: he plans to open the Kurt Farm Shop, a small ice cream parlor and food shop in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, which will serve ice creams made with his own milk as well as his cheeses and other products. 

So if you find yourself in Seattle or the Pacific Northwest, seek out Dinah’s and LogHouse! In Seattle you can find them at Calf & Kid, Beecher’s, DeLaurenti, and other locations. Kurt’s books are available in paperback now as well.

Most amazing places in the world. Part 1

There are various beautiful places in the world that you wish to visit before you die. Here are some of them:

Aogashima Volcano, Japan

Still considered a Class-C active volcano by the Japan Meteorological Agency, the last eruption of Aogashima was during a four-year period from 1781-1785.

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