Following my nose, trying to find what was smelling so bad in the front yard, I almost stepped on him, the Barred Own. Flattened over his prey in the growing dusk I hadn’t seen him. He took off silently. Startling. Here’s what he had been covering: a headless cottontail in the front yard (photo taken from inside the house).

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Soon the hunter reappeared and we could take photos and video of him, ripping and eating, trying to move the rabbit (but he could only drag it a few feet), all the time keeping an eye on the surroundings, us included. He stared right at us, not intimidated.

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Darkness fell fully and we could no longer see him. In the morning this is  all that was left:

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Any day when I walk into my kitchen and come upon a scene like this, is a good day. In the morning my friend A and her family picked me up for a couple of hours pulling carrots at Siena Farm. Every Fall the farm invites their shareholders to come and help pull the carrots for the root cellars and the winter CSA boxes (which both A and I get). It always draws a crowd, and it was no different today in the sun-drenched field. The carrots came up willingly after being  harrowed up with their tractor. We pulled and snapped off the tops, filled boxes and boxes, and boxes.

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It’s the kind of thing you can just happily, mindlessly keep doing as long you don’t get chilled, or have to pee, or are reminded by a teenager that they have a friend coming over. I brought home a bag full of gleaned carrots (broken, nibbled on carrots or carrots that were just too plain funky) and a bag of carrot tops for the chickens. I also put some in a big pot of vegetable broth.

After washing all those carrots I decided to also wash the last apples and make some apple pie – I’ll bake up, sauce and dehydrate the rest tomorrow. My basement is just too warm for apples to keep well, so I’d better get them all in.

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Orphan pumpkins have started arriving at my mailbox. Here’s the first one – in the meantime I’ve brought up twelve, some massive ones among them. With the coffee grounds from the local roaster’s, pumpkins make for the best compost.

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dsc_4301dsc_3901_500One of the changes we made during the Local Food Challenge that we kept was the locally-grown-grain home-made bread. Four Star Farms  in Northfield, MA, has been my go-to place (either through Volante Farm when they stock it, or straight from the farm) for hard red winter berries, which I grind in my mighty Vitamix. Amie and I did enjoy the 45 minute “spin” when we borrowed my friend’s hand mill, but that Vitamix does a good enough job in under 3 minutes.

I use the Farm Feast easy no-knead hold-over-in-the-fridge method for a dense, moist, dark bread. As a whole grain bread it’s a bit finicky, though. It worked better with the Farm Feast’s Red Lammas and Redeemer berries than with Four Star’s Zorro. The latter possibly has less gluten action and often I had breads that weren’t fully risen/cooked. This time around I got Four Star’s Warthog, 20 lbs of it – it takes 1 lb 6 oz for one smallish bread. Let’s see if that is a better fit.

As for even more local eating, a couple of weeks ago I failed to report on my mushroom haul – possibly because it did not result in eating at all. Right down there, in wood chip heaven (heaven for fungi), I found hundreds of King Stropheria mushrooms bursting from the carbon carpet of wood chips after a big downpour (our Fall, compared to our Summer, has been downright delugional). Some were as large as 10 inches in diameter. The King rules! I plucked quite a few, distributing many of them into parts of that garden without, keeping some for ourselves.

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Unfortunately, the mushrooms were wet when I picked them, and there were quite a few more rainy days ahead of us. In the end, they didn’t dry but rotted to slime. We didn’t get a meal out of these, but we did get some neat spore prints, which became more seeds for the rest of the garden.

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Lastly, a small reporting of a conversation between mother and daughter.

  • What are you doing?
  • I cleaned up my car (aka the Bee Mobile, which is my beek office and storage space, and truck for honey-dripping bee boxes and straw bales, chicken food, etc., and which tonight will be the taxi for Amie and her two friends).
  • Yeay!
  • Well, mmm, not “cleaned up,” really, rather, mmm, made room in, for you guys to sit.
  • I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up!

I did put newspaper over the honey spill.

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robbers trying to get into the top entrance (closed)

The robbing at the Common Yard continued, relentless. As soon as I had removed the robbed-out Borgia hive, the aggressive colony started on the next one down, the Constanza colony. A fellow Common beek alerted me and I ran over and closed literally all entrances to all my hives. Hives 3 and 4, resp. Beatrice and Katharina, were holding their own very well, thank you, but it was cold enough for them not fly out anyway. Only these crazy robber bees were flying vigorously (bellies full of honey).

The best was when the owner of the robbing hive showed up. What good timing! He said that, after it requeened itself, his hive (his one hive, he’s a first-year beek) had been a nasty pain to work. They were indeed very aggressive to bees and beeks alike. He suggested, himself, that he should have got rid of that queen, but now it is too late in the season to requeen, so the unfortunate tentative outcome was to lock up the and so  kill off the whole colony. (If anyone objects, let them come over and I’ll even give them a suit and a smoking smoker and let hem open those boxes! Gentleness is most often the first, second or third criterion in a good queen, for the beekeeper as well as the public’s sake.) Luckily another Common beek offered to help him move the colony to the owner’s yard, and then the owner can requeen in Spring. It’s a little over 2 miles away, so I hope those bees don’t find the Common Yard and keep on robbing!

Anyway, too late for Constanza. With the culprit gone today, I was able to open her up and found she is also a goner. There was no queen, only a handful of bees left, not even enough to combine with a strong hive. But a lot of honey, at least 13 full medium frames and 3 full deep frames. Uttering a little apology, I shook the bees out into the grass and locked up the hive. I’ll distribute the honey frames to the other hives tomorrow when it’s warmer (65F!).

I also opened Beatrice and Katharina’s houses and especially Beatrice, the last Italian, is strong: big population covering the bottom deep and two supers and lots of honey. Katharina has fewer bees, but then again they’re Russians, which overwinter with a smaller population. The last hive at the Common, the Russian Tatjana, looks good too, but they’re the adolescent split, occupying only a deep and a super, and I may just give them the super full of honey from Constanza’s leftovers.

Of course, Constanza and Borgia were well-populated, vigorous, honey-loaded hives too, until a couple of weeks ago. So now I’m down to four. I started with four. How many will I have after winter? I bow to the meadow that holds and feeds my bees. May she hold and feed them into the next season.

All last week some of the other colonies in the Common Yard were robbing the Borgia hive. All I could do was close the top entrance, and the  bottom entrance was already reduced to the minimum, which slowed down the process. I didn’t open the hive as it would have invited a frenzy, which I know from  experience is to be avoided at all costs – because the cost is often the demise of either the robbing or robbed colony, or both. Now I wish I had opened it.

It was cold enough yesterday (57 F) for the bees not to be flying and not too cold to open the hive and have a look at what would make such a well-populated, well-stocked, strong-queened colony so prone to robbers.Well, there was no one home. There were just a handful of dead bees on the bottom board (screened, so there was no way to see if there was a mass of mites). All the honey… gone, too. Had I gone in earlier, I’d have saved some of that honey for my other hives. Only some, I think, because interestingly, some of the honey frames were shredded and frayed (a sign of quick robbing), but others were neatly emptied. Did Borgia and her bees swarm or abscond, taking most of the honey with them?

I came home saddened, then went into my two home hives and found Anna too had perished. A sugar roll at the end of August had found the mites below threshold, but clearly I must no longer rely on those: the full bottom board showed tons and tons of mites. Among the fifty or so bees left was Anna herself, the Russian queen. She looks very small. I had never felt happy with this colony’s progress but I wanted to give this queen (whom I gave the last split I made, from Borgia) a chance. There was a little bit of honey left. I’m freezing those frames to kill mites, hive beetle, wax moth eggs and diseases, and will give them to the remaining hives.

I’ve never lost a colony before winter before. And now two. It was a disheartening discovery.

So I’m down to five. In light of the mite discovery in Anna’s home, I will treat with an oxalic acid dribble once the temperatures fall to 40F. It could  be too late for some, but it could make all the difference for others, if not all. I do want to go treatment free, but I have to build up a good apiary before I can start experimenting. With winter coming, more studying and thinking is coming up, but in the meantime I need these bees to survive.

Goodbye Anna and Borgia and offspring. I thank you for gracing us with your beautiful presence the shape of a bee.

I loved going to museums, but over the last couple of  years the simple joy of it got entangled with doubt, guilt, and sadness. With every visit now it gets worse (and more interesting). In the “mummy room” at the MFA I felt a misgiving akin to my horror of zoos. I practically fled from the Peabody Archaeological Museum, where I used to spend contented hours grazing the treasures of human culture, for the sheer shame of it. The sight of the slag heap at the Harvard Semitic Museum reduced me to tears. At a contemporary “traveling” exhibit of Australian aboriginal art at the Harvard Arts Museum I read a curator’s explanation and got so upset I had to sit down for a long time.

On that bench in the full presence of an amazing work of art, the sadness, horror, shame, and anger ran like quicksand. I have not had the energy or clarity to untangle it all. I’m not, it turns out, after all, one of those admirable thinkers – Timothy Morton comes to mind – who can passionately set their analytical skills to the task. I’m in too deep. But I have some insights. They might interest someone.

~

Let’s start with place (always a safe place to start). All art works, artifacts and bodies in art and archeological museums have or used to have a home (a place there they belong and can do the work they are meant to do). For some that home is, for the moment, not safe or welcoming, and so one could say the museum is “hosting” them, intending to return them when it is safe again. Under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) for instance, museums need to repatriate Native American artifacts and human remains when a tribe proves their ownership and claims the work. But that is the exception.

The place, time, culture of most works in museums has passed. Take a portrait by Rembrandt of a wealthy burgher: the seventeenth century parlor that it was painted for, that is even depicted in the background, no longer exists. The neolithic vessel: the culture that utilized it is remembered by no living person. Or a first-century Roman frieze: that temple has long been replaced by an office building, that god by other gods, or none. Homeless works of art, then, and the museum not a host but… an orphanage?

You might say, well, they might now and here be out of place, but in these cabinets of wealthy collectors, art galleries, and museums, they still do very well. Anything is better, anyhow, than oblivion. To which I would say, that may be so, but only under certain conditions – and how could it be otherwise?

~

I sit in front of these now, having paid my ticket, and I am grateful for the privilege of a glimpse of those past, dead, destroyed cultures. As someone who firmly believes that the past (whether it is remembered or not) very much informs the present, I also believe that it is helpful to know one’s past if one is to understand what the hell is going on.

dscf8003smallGilgamesh, you see here on this seal,

with the help of his domesticated wild brother Enkidu,

cuts down Humbaba, the spirit of the great forests,

so that next he can cut down the mighty trees to build his great city and feed its fires

and  when the gods protest, he will cut down the Bull of Heaven as well.

Because if you have an axe, you have to use it, right?

That old image and all the millennia that surround it, what a feast for the eyes and the mind! And in the glass case, the real thing, not a reproduction. It comes from that time, when it meant what it was meant to mean: the proud seal and story of the civilizing power of the man, Gilgamesh, through the domestication of spirits, wild animals, trees, gods and metals. As one who believes that the past informs the present, the original work of art and the absolutely perfect, indistinguishable (and therefore machine-made) copy of it are like the stone and the image of the stone: the one, with the gravitas of a long past of being worked on, in sweat and spittle, and carried through time, and sometimes lost and then found again, against huge odds; the other, a pastless image, three seconds deep. Oh, I appreciate the gift very much.

I can appreciate them on the condition of listening to them speak of what they are and where they come from, of all that being gone, stolen, forgotten, mislaid by carelessness, erased on purpose. This too they give. They are a good thing that is also terribly wrong, a corpse, stolen goods, a crime scene, a gravity well of loss and grief. There is much listening to be done, even more so as our own forgetting time draws near.

~

It’s a hard thing to do, that listening, but that’s not nearly the end of it. Part of the sadness and mayhem is that these dead are not also heard by the curators, funders, patrons and visitors on their rainy Sunday outing. When you hear it you want them to hear it as well. But it takes guts to weep in public places!

Ah, public spaces… Susan Sontag touches on this in Regarding the Pain of Others (2003):

Space reserved for being serious [“standing back and thinking,” and bowing and weeping]  is hard to come by in a modern society, whose chief model of a public space is the mega-store (which may also be an airport or museum). (p.119)

So there is another condition, another task here.

Perhaps that is what we are looking for on social media, Facebook, and in blogs. But those “places” not being places, and those “people” not being people, and those “friends” not being our friends, and those faces not being faces, those are not the public, common space at all. When you weep at the museum, you undeniably are somewhere, being seen and seeing those who see you. And they will see you, in fact, they will stare.

I cry in museums. I bow down deeply before works of art in an offering of humility,

regret and apology.

You may stare, but

I think as time winds down, you will see more people doing it.

Imagine a picture of you and your family on the wall,

People passing by, unmoved –

you’re a beggar with your hand out –

They don’t even say, goodbye, goodbye.

If you think that we have lost the skill and habit of making public our thoughts and feelings in a mannerful, effective, healthy was speak only for yourself, or better yet, give it a try. The expressing of it is actually easy in that it just happens, pretty raw and naked, yet controlled too. You may want to shriek, but you’re in company here, of those who are calling you, and of others who are not hearing it yet. All this has a gentling effect on your expression, and on your mood too. That’s what used to be called “a civilizing effect” – now much maligned. Better to say: you’re paying your respects.

So, not so impossible after all. The difficulty still lies in the reactions of those who witness. You, who weep, know immediately that in one sense you have joined the vanished in the paintings, the mutilated victims in the war photographs, the eyeless mummies in their wooden boxes: your goodbye, goodbye is not understood. But unlike theirs, your grief is heard loud and clear. Where they were but images, objects for consumption, they now sound out through you. You’re drawing them all in, the long dead with their beauties and histories and grievances and joys, and all the living who are staring and hearing it, changing that silent museum/megastore into a common, public space.

So, a call for nevertheless, notwithstanding, going to the sorrowful museums and taking them to task by listening and weeping. And a call for approaching those who cry there and asking them: why do you cry? What is here that makes you cry? And why can’t I hear it? Yet.

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I approached the second-last Farmers Market of the season with winter in mind. More tomato seconds (soup/sauce), more cauliflower (freeze), leek (freeze), corn (freeze if it doesn’t all get eaten before I get round to it), lots of onions, red and white (storage), 4 pecks of Cortland apples (rings and sauce), potatoes (storage), and spinach (freeze). We also got fish (eat immediately: it’s so fresh).  Luckily Russells Garden Center, where the Market is held, provides study carts for lugging bags of mulch and palms in pots, and produce.

It’s not just a joy buying the produce straight from the farmers. Ever since the almost daily routine of food photo shoots for the Omnivore’s Delight challenge I enjoy unpacking it, displaying it, taking pictures. Food is so photogenic.

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Especially tomatoes.

Then chopping and cutting and sauteing or blanching, serving and freezing, and offering the scraps to the chickens, in return for… more food. Serving it to people and getting to eat it together is icing on the cake.

{From Two Field Farm: 8 lbs seconds tomatoes = $16 / 2 lbs red onions = $4 / 5 lbs yellow onions = $10 lbs / 2.25 lb leeks = $6.75 / 2 bag of spinach = $8 / 5.5 lbs potatoes = $16.50 = $60.25 total —– From Brigham Farm: 10 ears of corn = $7.50 / 2 honey cauliflower – $6 / 8 heads of garlic (for seed) = $16 = $29.50}