Friday, October 29, 2010

Dead Among the Living

Maybe I'm just a bit twitchy lately, but things are getting a little creepy around here...  Last night I dreamed I was adrift on my own sturdy raft, in dim waters, when quite suddenly I found myself floating at the end of an untethered dock, at some distance through the cold night from my vessel, a seeming source of power.  To lose it, or to go after, and risk being drownd by the downward drag of my garments?  With no feeling of certainty I felt I must follow. I slipped in and began to swim, when I perceived the raft moving toward me, propelled by none other than my self in shadow, paddling with sure speed...yet as the craft drew closer I saw that it was not I who approached, but a black-robed witch, wearing tall and wide-rimmed hat and wielding a long stick which she deftly turned out of her last stroke to extend to my accepting hand, pulling me safely from the black waters in which I would otherwise have perished.  I climbed aboard, and it was then I learned that she was no witch, but my sister.  (And the dream continued.)

On waking this morning, I found myself thinking about Paul Wellstone, for no particular reason more than that I was singing to myself a sweet tune by John Lennon and wondering what the fuck is wrong with everybody...and then, while I was on the way to work a short time later, a voice on the radio spoke his name, and of his death--not that there's anything out of the ordinary about such an occurrence, mind you.  (No black cats crossing any paths, either, just the regular old grey variety.)

It's not around the house alone, where the whispering creaks and groans of the settling cold assume a new dimension, but out in the lot, the hall, the stairwell... Is it the just waning light that plays upon mine eyes?  But a chill wind in my ears? Or does the veil indeed grow thinner?  This I can not tell, only wonder.  I really can't say I see dead people but I am rather more interested in this aspect of America's favorite Celtic holiday than I am in sexy nurse costumes.  Shall we know death, or just fuck it?  If you know what I mean.  I think it's probably worth at least a couple days' consideration.

With all that and more in mind, come Sunday, I would like to honor the passing of The Year I Spent Inside, the bones I buried and the maggots that ate my flesh, giving rise to winged creatures of compound eyes; I want to acknowledge the end of life and the advent of death, not black or obscured but of full color, of chrysanthemums and bonfires, of ancient teeth as bright as the sun; I turn, for guidance, to those who have been bold enough to lead the way; I hope to welcome the rest of the Fall, of the passage through darkness toward the gentle light of Winter; I look forward to squash and fungus and homebrew and roasts, early nights spent stirring pots, playing chords, stoking fires, reading stories; I wish for blankets of deep rest and everlasting change, everlasting change...and I realize that I am going to kick the bucket, sell the farm and give up the ghost sooner or later. Wear your masks, lanterns lit, and recognize the dead among the living, living among the dead.  Happy Halloween, y'all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Some Company

Oh my invisible friends.  What has been requested of me, of late, is tantamount to being asked to find three needles in three haystacks, without knowing whether there is one in each (maybe they're all in the one I'm not looking in?) while at the same time sorting each and every piece of straw by length and width, and then (assuming the needles have been found) having to painstakingly stitch it all together into a magnificent straw house--before the snow flies, mind you--in order that it might be made available for blowing down by something big and bad... But hey, lucky me--everyone's shitting bricks!  Meanwhile there are no bales left for bedding, the eggs are all cracked or stolen, there are snakes in the grass, the cat's away, the cow's in the corn and the rest of the animals are on the loose.  Sound familiar to anyone?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Honey Do

I forgot to mention that I got my first look inside the hive last weekend.

Despite my hopes and promises to share "all things bee" here, I neither immersed nor versed myself in bee culture this season, which by most accounts flew by all too quickly.  However, I did spend a fair amount of time just hanging out with the bees, in close proximity, which I found to be a stimulating, fascinating, relaxing and peaceful pastime. Having no allergy or other aversion to "bee-ing" in close range, I felt comfortable and un-threatened within just a few feet of the hive even when standing in their line of flight, a pleasantly energizing experience.  On a couple visits a single guard gave me a buzz, just to check things out, but only once did I feel the need to flee, and that was more than likely unwarranted.  I'm really not afraid to get stung--I have on occasion even welcomed bee stings, odd as that might sound--but I'm very not interested in finding out what it feels like to raise the ire of an entire hive.

As I understand it, this particular breed of bee, the Minnesota Hygienic, has been specifically selected for it's docile and tidy nature as well as its resistance to disease and pathogens, including the Varroa mite which has wreaked havoc on colonies around the world for decades or longer.  I'm not sure whether or not this breed has also demonstrated strength against the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder which has presented a more recent, and more disturbing, threat to the global bee population.  It is not really clear to me whether or not CCD might be a form of strike by these long-depended-on (as in we humans smoking hives from the time we could climb trees) and sometime-abused (as in commercial beekeepers trucking colonies all year round like so many migrant workers) and unarguably invaluable pollinators who its estimated by the UDSA are at least partly responsible for one out of three mouthfuls eaten by us persons, as their sort of way of saying "Fuck you" to the Man, in solidarity with all the other insect species that humans have eradicated from this life-loving planet in our subconsciously genocidal way.  Likewise, while I do indeed feel that this vanishing is yet another proverbial canary (only hoping its song might be missed) I have no sense of the degree to which any or all bees might be aware of this, although I have to say that they seem to be pretty on top of their game.  (Also, I am still in the dark as to what relationship any of this might have to alien-human relations or Moulder and Scully's lovechild.)

Anyway, the little complex in my backyard has been under the dedicated care of a colleague of mine, who took up beekeeping last year with two hives, adding a dozen or so more this year.  I've learned any number of fascinating facts from her, most of which I cannot recall with any eptitude (and yes I know that's not a wurd) but all of which have contributed to my feeling that we humans could learn a lot from bees.  Take, for one, following a Queen, not of the Elizabeth or Mary sort but more like one big giant mama.  It's a pretty good idea that a lot of sensible people have endorsed.  Caring for the brood, placing the hive's health above individual ambitions, spending all day flying around and being gingerly attentive to the sexual organs of other living beings, making sweet and wildly delicious food in abundant amounts, constructing magnificent architecture to house every member of the community, sharing information through dancing, knowing the way home without fail... These are all things I can get behind.

So, seeing the hive with the lid off was pretty cool.  Basically a "traditional" hive consists of a stack of boxes which are open to each other, each containing a number of frames upon which the bees construct their comb, which is made of wax that's extruded by the female workers and then carefully manipulated into near-perfect geometry.  (Imagine doing that with your mouth!)  Incidentally, the male drones don't lift a leg to help; they're just there to produce the brood.  The comb is built and filled from the top down, with some of it being used to house babies and some to store food.  As the comb fills up, more boxes are added, maybe once or twice during the summer, to give the bees room to expand their operation.  My hive turned out to be a pretty productive one, and ended up consisting of two large boxes and three smaller ones.  A large box might hold 100 lbs of honey, a smaller one might hold 80 lbs, full.  My whole hive wasn't full of honey, but I think the estimated take was around 200 lbs.  I'm looking forward to getting a taste... oddly, I haven't really had any honey for the past year or so, having not bought a jar since I moved into this house.  (This wasn't exactly intentional and actually strikes me as a little strange; although I've been relying on agave syrup as my go-to tea amendment and occasional cooking companion for some time, I've always loved honey and have in the past relied rather heavily on it as a source of sweetness, as well as beauty.)

The keeper used a smoker to keep the bees calm, but it seemed to me (as an onlooker) that they were relatively unconcerned by her, or my, presence.  She wore a hat with face netting, as a matter of course, but I stood nearly as close and was not at all bothered by bees in the nose (could have had something to do with the sedative effect of the Fall weather).  She set the boxes on the ground, one by one and loosely stacked, freeing frames with a small prybar (honey is sticky stuff) so that they could be removed and examined.  After disassembling and evaluating the hive, she took away two of the boxes along with a good portion of the honeyed comb, leaving behind the original three-box stack, with enough food stores to see 30-40 thousand bees through the Winter.  Even so, the hive is likely to incur a few losses before Spring, when they'll be provided supplemental food to get them through the days between their stirring and there being an adequate supply of nectar in the neighborhood.  Until then, they'll still be active, just in a low-energy mode.

What else?  I've left out a lot.  Like how gorgeous they are: beautiful soft-haired and almond-eyed stripey wonders who move in patterns barely discernible to my naked eye (as evidenced by several photos I've captured of their seemingly synchronized movement) and with a grace that's both light as flight and heavy as honey, if I might put it that way.  Also, the way they smell--and by this I don't mean their incredible olfactory sensibilities but the stink of their stack, which is not entirely unlike a not entirely unclean and yet totally funktasticly soiled sock, dipped in fairy piss and kissed by a horny toad, or something like that.  (It's the kind of thing that makes some people sick, if that gives you a clue.)  Or the sound of them, cutting through the sky, with a mind on the sun, every moving moment.  And that they have helped root me to this place, as if it's not only possible but pretty much imperative to find a route home, from just about damn near anywhere, and once you get there, to spread the ancient and ever-present wurd by dancing yr ass off.

I schmokes mine pipe und I vatches dose bees,
Und I laughs till mine schtomack goes schplit,
Ven I see dem go schtrait for Hans Brinkerhoff’s flow’rs
Und nefer suck Yakob’s vone bit.

Eugene Secor, Songs of Beedom
(Cited by Ribbands, 1953, P. 184)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wild winds tonight, and fierce.  I don't usually feel too vulnerable driving around in a Volvo station wagon, heavy as all get-out, but tonight my windshield actually said "maybe" while I rode the waves home, watching signs bend to and fro, passing fallen branches, and I have to admit I was relieved to make it home and find everything safe and sound.  Despite the insistent gusts, even the garage, with its slightly cock-eyed support system, offered not a hint of weakness.  The bee hive remains tightly covered and my house lets be heard not even the whisper of a whistle through a window, much less a groan or shake.

Arriving late, I stepped out in the dark to secure the hive, at the bequest of its keeper.  I grabbed a large wedge of rock from the doorstep--still don't know from whence, or whom, that came--but on placement it seemed too light, so I traced the curving path through the garden, angling here and arching there, to fetch a heavier stone.  What a lovely feeling it was, in the damp and the lateness and the pressing wind, to feel my feet fall just where they should, as if treading a well-worn path through the woods.  This I love, such knowing.

I've been busy lately, unduly burdened not by work but by my job, which is not only keeping me up late at night but is also keeping me up late at night.  I'm not going to get into it here, so let it suffice to say that the way things are shaping up, I'll be lucky to get my bedroom painted before my next birthday...  I'd hoped to move in there by the one-year mark, but time is getting tighter and the weekends are filling fast.  My job is demanding travel and, in other news, my brother is losing his house and home of many years, so there will be much sorting and packing and moving and leaving to do, in the weeks ahead, before Thanksgiving.

Here at my humble abode, I've for the past few weeks been quietly taking stock of the past year.  While little has changed on the surface of the interior, much has been set in motion outside...Perennially, I've introduced a robust old rhubarb, a cluster of tenacious asparagus, a thriving peach, an ambitious plum, a modest currant and several assertive strawberries, as well as many species of herbs and natives and others, both humble and showy, among the residents.  Room has been set aside for bee forage, for fruit and nut shrubs, for an expanded vegetable garden and for mixed fencerows and corner pockets, next season.  More recently, my neighbor felled the young ash tree which shaded the southwest corner of my yard, clearing a sunny space for the cherry I envisioned there.

Now, as the daylight wanes, I turn my attentions inward again...with the shift of the light (set back coming soon.) I begin to change my habits of food and of rest, of rising and setting... Already my heart is filled with dreams of falling snow, mounds of pale soft quiet and the rush of my waxed weight on each downward slope, yet to climb again... There's still a way to go before that, though--two fat pumpkins sit in my entryway, awaiting the knife, and All Hallows Eve lies just ahead.  It looks as though the Bare Bones show is right on the mark this year, as usual, and boy am I long overdue for a reality check of the other-worldly kind...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Right Where We Belong

"No.  No, they can not watch the show from backstage.  Wait a minute...That's it!  That's what's been missing from the show...That's what we need!  More frogs and dogs and and bears and chickens and...and whatever!  You're not gonna watch the're gonna be in the show! C'mon, everybody!!"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chopping Broccoli strikes me tonight that I must've been pretty checked out for a while there, seeing as I've got a couple really lovely little heads of broccoli going to flower in my modest garden, which I've been walking past daily for how long now? and these are the second heading (the first I picked at almost peak and then let turn brown, nargh.)... Granted, I do appreciate the way their flowers grace the garden, and I have snapped off at least a couple pieces to munch on the way to work, but seriously--where in the heck have I been??  I love broccoli!!  Nuts.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crescent Moon: Winds of Change

Through the normal course of things, I chanced today upon this modest rhyme, after being greeted this morning by a colleague bearing a heavy heart, and the news of two deaths--one expected, one not, both quite tragic in their way--in one extended family, in one day.

A spider web pulled tight between two stones
With nothing left but autumn leaves to catch
Is maybe a winter sign, or the thin blue bones
Of a hare picked by ants.  A man can attach 

Meanings enough to the wind when his luck is out,
But, having stumbled into this season of grief,
I mean to reflect on the life that is here and about
In the fall of the leaves–not on the dying leaf. 

Something more tough, reliable and stark
Carries the blood of life toward a farther spring–
Something that lies concealed in the soundless dark
Of burr and pod, in the seeds that hook and sting.

I have learned from these that love which endures the night
May smolder in outward death while the colors blaze,
But trust my love–it is small, burr-coated, and tight.
It will stick to the bone. It will last through the autumn days. 

- Winter Sign, by Loren Eiseley

There is, also, Fall, who this time has chosen to caress with warmth our living skins, before we softly slip them into the long sleeves of our shortening days...The wind is generous tonight; he stirs the pot, that the Moon might sup, and that both might rest by morning.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Would You Eat This?

I'm guessing you probably wouldn't.  What kind of person would look at something all split and browning and puckered and think hey, let's give that a try?  Well, I would, and I'm glad I did, because that melon, which spontaneously cracked open after a week in my fridge and which I then left untouched for another four long weeks, daily observing its demise with a certain amount of dismay accompanied by the vague feeling that this melon--which faced me at eye level every morning and night as if to say "your Summer is over, and what have you done?"; which I knew to be the end of a chain of events circling the last few years (from my innocent dreams of cultivating such sumptuous roundness to the gathering of many seeds to the promise of stout magical seedlings to their delicate struggle against a season of cold to a little taste of magic frozen possibility to the coming of another Spring to my mother's continuing commitment to a Summer of perfect growing conditions to a bumper crop to the hands that picked it to the day it cracked to the weeks it gently pulled away) and yet was unable to truly appreciate, even with the awareness that it could not have been brought into existence without me, in some way--this melon was seemingly less a pleasure to be enjoyed than a manifestation of the unrealized potential of several months of my own growing season, as well as being the largest representative of a very small harvest now going to waste in my kitchen though I was not so long ago capable of handling I was a little skeptical about cutting it in half this afternoon but thought what the hell.  As it turned out, it's still completely perfect inside, cracks and scars and all, not merely edible but actually good, the way a melon should be, and moreover it is the only crisply deliciously sweetly juicy thing that could possibly make any kind of sense today.  So let that be a lesson to me: there are plenty worse things than having a cracked melon.  (Yes, I downed the whole thing.)


In other news, I made a very late decision to stay at home today so that I could devote a little attention to my lately neglected yard and gardens.  I'm glad I did; the simple routine of mowing the lawn got me looking around at all the digging I've done here and all the little plants I've put in (some, not so small...the Datura could seriously cover a queen-size mattress, at least) and I realized that--though I might have done more--I've made a reasonable amount of progress here during the past eleven months.  Among my other small efforts this afternoon, I filled in a few deep-ish holes in the lawn and moved the last of the shit pile onto the dirt pile--oh and by the way, a few weeks ago I redistributed what was left of the previous owner's "pumpkin patch" into a new bed formation and laid down new paths...all worked out pretty nicely.  Also, after nearly a year of our not having really crossed paths, I finally met my southern neighbor--a nice simple bachelor--who pulled up while I was out by the garage, moving manure.  We chatted for a while and I learned a few new things about my place, among them that there were at one time three apple trees in my backyard which were all struck by lightning (presumably not at the same time), and that this entire neighborhood was once a dump, which (so he says) is why such oddities as mug handles and marbles and the like keep turning up in the gardens around here.  (That may explain some things, but I suspect it was gnomes who left the tiny green treasure chest I found in the garden today, discreetly snuggled into the side of a mound.)  I also found out that his family has a cabin very close to where I grew up....Small world.  Huh.


It's Sunday morning now.  It's been a while since I spent a morning out in the felt good to sow seeds--rye & vetch on the new garden beds and around the hive, crimson and red clover on the mound in the center--and to rake them under the cover of loose soil...I just realized that those may have been the first actual seeds I've put in the ground here...oh, no--there was the pumpkin, sole gesture of hope, still blossoming freely... Well, anyway, I'm headed out now, to join family and friends for a barn dance, up north.  Enjoy the day.  

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Retraction: Our Only Hope

First of all, I've always been a lot more into the little things, like Ewoks.  Secondly, who leaves out Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt, or frozen Solo, among others?  Were there even any Storm Troopers?  And where in The Hell was Obi-Wan??

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

(We're All) Just Biding Time Until The Next Big Thing

Thinking of my brother, who's fallen on hard times, and sending this out to those among you who once had, still have, or ever really, really wanted a big box of Star Wars toys...