There are some people who have an ease about them, a way of being that you immediately know is in harmony with the natural world. Jana Blankenship is one of those people. We’re longtime fans of her clean haircare brand Captain Blankenship (certified B Corp), and she’s written two books, Wild Beauty and the recently launched Seasonal Family Almanac (co-authored with Emma Frisch), inspired by her deep connection to nature and her family.
Acknowledging signs, transition as a constant state, and a deep reverence for the earth we inhabit are just some of her guiding principles. We recently visited her at home where a family of bald eagles had taken up residence in the backyard, the crystals were in abundance, and the violets and daffodils were in full bloom.
The last thing that stopped me in my tracks:
Just this morning, I noticed the first buds opening on one of our lilac bushes. They are one of my favorite flowers and so fleeting. The precious scent is green and honeyed like no other. I buried my nose in those blossoms and time stopped for a little while.
On found objects:
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been a treasure collector. Growing up, I had a prized rock collection and I still do. I get it from my mom who my whole life will return home from trips with luggage heavy with rocks! We live at the base of the Shawangunk mountains, which have quartz crystal veins running through them and “crystalling” is one of my all-time favorite activities. I have many beloved crystals but one in particular that I found, a large point that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, is very sacred to me. I also love to collect feathers, skulls and shells.
The next place I really want to travel (to collect found objects!):
Iceland. I’ve always wanted to go there as long as I can remember. I was obsessed with Bjork growing up and love Icelandic musicians Sigur Ros and Mum too. I want to hike and soak in the healing waters there, visit the glaciers and hope to see the Northern Lights for the first time. You can now fly there directly from our regional airport in Newburgh and I’m hoping to go this year.
My ‘heart home’ - the place I return or travel to again and again:
Downeast Maine. Ever since I was a kid we have spent summers up there and now I take my kids there. Even though we aren’t there full time, a piece of my heart is there. I love the ocean and the wildness of that landscape. The wild roses, seaweed, usnea lichen and blueberries. Swimming in the cold water is such medicine. We have bald eagles who have a nest in front of our home here and also up where we go in Maine. It feels like that’s where we are supposed to be.
Also, Taos, New Mexico. I have been there four times now and I’m feeling pulled back. It’s a magical place where the horizon seems to go on forever. The scent of white sagebrush cleansing the air. My favorite painter - Agnes Martin - lived there and her paintings express the vastness of that landscape so well. There are hot springs and so many crystals there too, sigh.
Next up on my dream to do list:
I would love to write more books! My most recent book, Seasonal Family Almanac, co-authored with my dear friend Emma Frisch, just came out last week. I also will be working on developing more products for my clean haircare company Captain Blankenship. Our new Golden Shimmer Sea Salt Spray just launched this week!
One of the other places I really want to focus my energy is on the beautiful river in our backyard. We live on the banks of the Wallkill River, whose waters bring so much life. I walk down to the river and see the eagles’ nest in the tall oak tree, the rock on which the fox sometimes takes morning naps, notice fish jumping and turtles sunning themselves on the rocks before slipping back into the water. The river is northward flowing which is very unusual and sadly is very polluted from runoff from farms and from towns dumping their septic overflow in the river. Not to mention the trash washing up on the banks. At Captain Blankenship, we donate a percentage of our revenues to nonprofits that help clean up rivers, oceans and waterways, one of which is the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance. I want to personally get more involved in this nonprofit and efforts to help clean up the river. They are holding an annual summit in May in New Paltz and I’ll be there!
What I’m listening to:
I have been listening to this gorgeous new album by Steve Gunn and David Moore called “Let the Moon be a Planet.” I have loved Steve Gunn’s music for a long time and this album is such a beautiful improvisation of Gunn’s guitar and Moore’s classical piano. It is really shimmering and ambient, it’s been a really good album to calm down after a long day.
What I’m reading:
I just finished Enchantment by Katherine May. I loved her book Wintering and I think Enchantment is equally amazing and feels so resonant right now in this post-pandemic age of anxiety and burnout. It is about reclaiming attention, wonder and enchantment in our daily lives. She describes enchantment as an “essential nutrient,” which I love. Her writing is just so sumptuous and she weaves stories together in such a masterful way, it’s truly captivating. I drank this book up in one week and am ready to read it all over again.
A quote I love:
“Attention is the beginning of devotion.” -Mary Oliver
A valuable lesson I’ve learned from nature:
Everything changes, everything has its season.
My favorite spring potion:
Wild Violet Mist (yield 8 oz liquid)
Wild Violets (Viola odorata) are some of the earliest flowers to peek their heart-shaped faces sunward in the spring. Just seeing them makes my heart leap with joy as I know spring is here. They are also called heart’s ease and are a beautiful embodiment of hope. This colorful potion makes for a really joyful sensory morning activity with kids that you will all enjoy long after you make it. Violets are small but mighty plants that have antiseptic and skin healing properties. Violet leaves and flowers help tone, moisturize, reduce inflammation, soothe and reduce redness, and are also an incredible decongestant for all skin types and all ages. They also have a lovely deep green scent that is infused into this potion. This mist is great for skin, hair and body and is a refreshing bearer of spring tidings.
½ cup fresh violet flowers and leaves 1 cup boiling water ½ cup witch hazel (optional) 20 drops violet leaf absolute, lavender or neroli essential oils (optional)
1.Find a fresh patch of violets. Try to harvest first thing in the morning or earlier in the day. Respectfully pick 1/2 cup violet flowers and leaves, cutting just what you need with scissors.
2.Place flowers and leaves in a clear glass heat proof container with a lid. Pour 1 cup boiling water over plants and close the lid. Let the water infuse with plant material for at least an hour. Watch as the water turns stunning shades of blue and green.
3.Strain plant material from infused water with a fine mesh strainer. Put infused water in a measuring cup or spouted bowl. If desired, add essential oils and 1/2 cup witch hazel to infused water (as a preservative and astringent).
4. Pour into two 4 oz glass bottles with fine mist sprayer or one 8 oz bottle. Use any remaining water and flowers in your bath.
5.To use, spray onto face post cleansing and follow with face oil. Spray onto body and hair as a lovely refreshing mist throughout the day. If you didn’t add witch hazel, store in the refrigerator for up to one month. A cool mist is the ultimate refresh on a hot summer day. If you did use witch hazel, fine to keep at room temperature for one month, but it will last in the refrigerator for up to six months.
Note: there are hundreds of species of violets that grow all over the earth in an array of colors from purple to pink to speckled. This recipe works best with wild violets that are a bluish purple for the most colorful effect, but other varieties will have the same medicinal properties.