I just read another great post by fellow blogger and Transition worker Charlotte Du Cann (in UK) in which she writes about our need to listen to our ancestors. She writes:
Because you realise we have put the best of ourselves out with the trash, and what we have now is the life of a dog and a cockroach. A subservient and a scavenger existence in a technological cityworld.
This has come at a cost: it has cost us gratitude.
We haven’t paid for a long time and the debt is long, stretching back through history. Our dreams tell us this. What we have forgotten, what we have thrown away, what we have become. A pack of English hounds thirsting for the wild red fox, a thousand cockroaches ravening in a New York larder.
No one has said thank you for a very long time.
When I read that I immediately thought, “No one has said sorry either.”
And suddenly I got it.
I have been working on a short story, a letter from a healer and mother in the end days, when her community has failed to listen, failed to adapt and is, as a result, rapidly declining. Though it is often on my mind, I have never set down a word of this story because I could never grasp her voice. Imagining her, I knew she was trying to tell me something but I just wasn’t getting it. For instance, her central monologue goes like this:
Now that we’re here, people still don’t say “I’m sorry.” Instead they still say “I didn’t know.”
I always knew that this is the heart of the story, of the character, but I could never imagine what goes around it. It seemed too bitter, a dead end, a vacuum. It was not me - I admit it, who else could this woman in my story be?
But now I get it. And now here’s also a little test, a surprise for you, reader, as well.
By “I’m sorry” she doesn’t mean mea culpa, “I am to blame”. She means ”I grieve with you.” By lamenting that others are still not saying “I’m sorry,” she is not accusing them of shirking blame. She is lamenting that they are still not grieving. By saying, basically, that they should be sorry, she is not putting blame on them. She is wishing on them a gift.
Do you see? How often have you said “I’m sorry” to someone and have that person respond with “oh, it wasn’t your fault”? How often have you said (or thought) that when someone said it to you? When you read her monologue – “they should be sorry” – did you too see only bitterness, hatred, revenge?
(*) I totally stole that title from my friend and fellow chicken and beekeeper, Kath, who blogs at This One Good Life. She too had to do what I did today.
Neither Hive 4 and Hive 5 , both installed on May 5, were doing well. In Hive 5, the split off Hive 3, I’m pretty sure the bees killed the new queen the moment they had a chance. No eggs in there whatsoever, but a strong population, and some new bees still eclosing from the brood frames I had put in: in other words, a colony worth saving. Hive 4, the new package, had a bum queen. While there should already be nice patterns of brood in all stages, there was one measly patch of eggs and some larvae on one frame, and the bees didn’t seem to take any interest in those. Neither did they take interest in the queen.
So today I picked up two brand new queens from my supplier. Installation in Hive 5 was easy: it’s only one box and I was pretty sure, after several searches, that there was not already a queen in there. So in went the new one. The bees were very interested, crowding her cage. I hope they make it this second time around. Installation in Hive 4 was more difficult: they have two boxes, and there was still a queen in there. I located her, caught her (the workers weren’t in the least bit interested in her panicked reaction) and stuck her in a cage. Then I installed the new queen. Fingers crossed.
I brought the old queen in. We studied her a bit, then I chopped off her head and put her body in alcohol. The idea if to extract and preserve her queen pheromone to trap swarms.
Queen Bee Floating
Speaking of swarms, Hive 3 is extremely strong. There’s already a super on it for Spring honey. Unfortunately on a previous inspection I found the queen walking around in it and eggs. You don’t want grubs in your honey, of course. Also, brood comb wax gets dark and gross with the skins of pupating bees lining the cells. You want your super honey comb to stay clean and light-colored.
I went in and looked through the super, frame by frame. I found lots of honey, some almost ready for capping, and no queen. I set it aside and went in deeper. The queen was in the second last frame in the lowest deep (that’s 28 frames into my inspection!). She looks so good, that queen, big and round, and judging by the care her attendants give her and the amount of brood in that colony she’s still good in her second year. I carefully put the frame with her on it back in, replaced the second deep, then put on a queen excluder which will prevent the queen from going up, then the honey super. I’ve only once tried the queen excluder and back then none of the bees even wanted to go through it to go draw out the super. But this super is already drawn out, so it might be different this time.
I also found many swarm cells! Last year’s swarm of Hive 1 severely weakened the mother colony and it made hardly any honey, then didn’t make it through Winter. So I’d like to prevent a swarm this time or, if I can’t, catch it. I’m ready with my swarm box!
Amie will eat only greens from our garden. Yesterday after school she got to go with my friend M and I on one of our adventures, which always seems to involve loading heavy things onto trucks or car roofs, having fun with straps and bungee cords, followed by somewhat-anxious driving and a slew of cars lining up behind us (at a safe distance). We were dropping off the extra totes at the school gardens, so luckily it was very local.
On the way back a grasshopper jumped into Amie’s shirt and it was high drama. M, whose kids are grown up, was quite shaken, I think, though not as badly as the poor grasshopper! Our Amie is cool, though. She refused to squash it and let me free it. Also, her class is doing a unit on community and when he teacher asked who is important in a community, the answers were “fireman, policeman, teacher, etc.” to which Amie added: “Activist!”
A few weeks ago a very good friend and I were driving through town, delivering signs for an event. We were discussing vacation plans and I told her about a rule I’ve been tinkering with, that I would fly only to visit family, not for recreation. She asked me why, which surprised me because she knows me so well. I explained that I want to keep my carbon footprint small. She immediately said, “Oh, so you’ve been riding your bike around town then, have you?”
That struck me dumb. My first (unspoken) reaction was: so a thing is only worth doing if one can do it perfectly? Is that a standard you hold yourself to, or do you only take it out when it suits you? I didn’t say that, of course, but I think my words still had an edge when after a deep breath I said: “I will not take that poison of purity. Yes, I’m not perfect, but that shouldn’t stop me from doing what I can.”
There was so much that was not right about that whole conversation. We were both on the defensive, there was no conversation possibly after that – thank goodness there was work to do! More importantly, I had failed to see what was really going on. The exchange had not, fundamentally, been about purity. It had been about guilt. Always it is guilt, the elephant in the room, behind which hides the mammoth: grief.
I had spoken from responsibility: I take responsibility for the grievous things I do, and thereby work to minimize them. My sense of responsibility stems from grief – some of which is grief that I cannot indeed be pure in a perfect world. I no longer feel guilty about what I can’t do or haven’t done, but I do grieve them. And I find that grieving gives me insight and strength. It also, seemingly paradoxically, gives me great joy when I do find a way to make things better. I write “seemingly paradoxically,” because there is no paradox: that is what grief does, it allows for joy, it is, indeed, joy’s necessary companion (*). Guilt, on the other hand, is all-encompassing, it smothers everything that is not guilt: if you act for the good out of guilt, you will always only find more guilt, more ways in which you haven’t acted or can’t act, for the good.
So, there it is: I spoke from grief. She instantly turned it into guilt.
Why? I don’t know. I know that our culture mistakes grief for guilt. Why? I think Stephen Jenkinson would say it is because to grieve means ultimately to face death (that we cannot be pure and everlasting in a perfect world), and our dominant culture fears death so much it would rather embrace guilt. Guilt, in its passionate accusation seems to be – seems to be - more about life, more enlivening, but in the long run it is what kills life. Now there’s another culprit: the “long run”. We are no longer capable of thinking seven generations ahead. I’ve even heard a parent say, jokingly: “our kids will solve it!” That’s the same as saying: I refuse to grieve – and therefore I am incapable of taking responsibility. Or perhaps it is because grief, unlike guilt, is not something you can give away or project onto someone else. It is so intimately yours and yours alone and you are alone in it…
This Summer I’ll be growing food all over town. The black dots indicate where. The lower one is at the Ecological Food Garden at the popular Hannah Williams Playground, which we established last Summer. The middle dots is at my house. The one to the North is at the Community Gardens, where I was allotted two adjacent 20′x30′ plots.
At the Hannah Williams Garden most of the plants that made it through Winter. We’re expecting lots of strawberries, and all the onions are roaring, and the comfrey is humunugous already, attracting lots of pollinators. We’ll divide all these and puts them in empty spots, spread the wealth that way. A local preschool also wants to bring the kids over to do some planting too: there is a whole section set aside for just that kind of thing.
As for our Community Garden plot, they’re indicated by the white arrow.
On these plots I’ll be growing annual edibles that, after they’re established, won’t require me to hop over there every day – a six-mile trip there and back. They’ll be dry beans (Calypso, Red Kidney, Cannellini and King of the Early, all Fedco seeds), two kinds of sweet corn (which silk out at different times, hopefully thereby minimizing cross-pollination), and Mammoth Grey Stripe sunflowers (the kind you grown for eating the seeds). I’ll also get to know all the good people who garden there. It’s an extensive garden, with about 100 gardeners (I estimate) of all ages and – I heard – lots of gardening experience and skills.
When I went over there to check on my plots, the head of the Conservation Commission and one volunteer were trying to stake out the temporary plots that get plowed each Spring. I got roped(almost literally) into helping and the three of us made quick work of it. Standing in the field, the turned soil crunching underfoot, talking gardening, food, and the goodness of people: it was good.
Some time ago (April 16) we returned to the field of the Full Moon/Grief walk. Our group was smaller this time. We had timed our congregation to dusk, because that is when the male woodcock performs its sky dance for the benefit of the females of the species. Woodcocks are crepuscular, most active around dusk and dawn. Every year around April, a flock takes up residence in this particular hay field in the Greenways Conservation Area in Wayland, to woo, mate and nest. Every evening for a month or so, one, two or three males perform a dance in the sky above the wide-open field for who knows how many females watching from the bushes on the field’s edge.
It’s too dark to spot him (let alone the silent females), so you mostly catch the woodcock by ear. When on the ground, he makes a distinctive peent-ing sound. I think it means: Are you watching me? Here I go! Then you know he’s taken flight when you hear the whistling, twittering sound from his voice and the airflow through his feathers. If you’re lucky to spot him against twilit (or street lit) clouds, you’re taken aback by how diminutive he is, and his lack of grace. He is all wings, a small ball of feathers flung up into the sky in a messy, wind-driven spiral. What falling up would look like. Your eye invariably loses him against the dark horizon, the dark earth. Still, you know he landed, and more or less where, when he betrays himself with his peent.
But as I describe it – and even as Aldo Leopold describes it, much better than I can, in The Sand County Almanac – it just sounds way too… big. I’m afraid that I’ve raised your expectations, that when you go looking for the woodcock you’ll be disappointed. He is really only the size of a robin, a small, ruffled silhouette barely distinguishable against the pewter grey sky. The peent is subtle at a hundreds yards’ distance. The pretty twitter is even more subdued and you have to turn your head to aim an ear at it. The wind will try to rob you of your already fragile experience of him.
But we were there to witness the woodcock and we were determined. There we stood, seven humans, in the middle of the grey, breezy field, hummocks of hay, timothy and weeds still small, but tenacious, underfoot. ”Where is he?” someone whispered. “Wait. Listen.” Peent! Snickering. “That sounds kind of rude!” Then, ”He’s up! Hear it? Sounds like…” and “I see it! It’s there!” I looked from the sky down to the group: six dark statues, all with heads raised, some pointing. The question presented itself: what are we doing? What’s with the words, the pointing (like that helps anyone)? The answer struck me hard: you have to care.
There were some among us who didn’t care. Their words, their body language were of puzzlement bordering on disappointment. Was that it? Was it these woodcocks? (There were three hard at work in the field that day.) Or are all specimens of their species this… fragile? Or was it the place, the car noise and orange street light? Or the weather, the thieving wind? No, it was that they couldn’t bring themselves to care.
I realized that I was having to work hard at it myself. These birds, their dance, they live on the edge of our common senses. I was pushing my caring to act like an extra sense to allow me to experience these birds. I wasn’t just paying attention, though that too was necessary. Not content with just hearing two faint sounds and seeing a ghost of a shape, I was also investing myself, digging deep, giving much, caring, so as to drag every bit of marvel and awe out of the experience.
What I found was, again, grief, quite specific this time. This field, where the woodcock has been coming, decade after decade, gets mowed around the time the females lay their eggs on the ground on the edge. The noisy, colorful combine will come for these dull-colored, quiet birds. This field is also being considered for sports field. The flash and shout and strife of bats and balls and orange-clad running bodies, the flood lights at dusk, the fuming parking lots, the weekly mowing, the trash… the woodcocks will not compete.
There are two extinctions here. The birds’. Ours, at least the extinction of a part of us. The suburban noise of the leaf blower, the honking cars, blaring sirens, the slick feel of our plastics and shock of ”butt-kicker” movies, the flash of street and traffic lights, computer screens, the clothes we wear have robbed us of our experience of these dull, small animals, who are nevertheless more alive than cars, leaf blowers, movie action, computer models, gaudy fabrics, plastics…
But they will not show themselves. It is up to us to care about them. So unless we can get more people, more than just seven, to come and stand in that field and to care that much, the Greenways’ woodcock’s passing will not even be noticed, and we will have lost yet another opportunity to connect, the practice connection, to care.
Spring is supposed to be wet. Here in Wayland, Spring often means flooding in many basements and parts of town, sometimes even busy intersections and the public library. But until today it hadn’t rained for weeks. Drought is a relief from flooding and mud, true, but it brings fire hazard warnings, and having to use tap water in the garden, which I intensely dislike because 1) it has chlorine in it, which isn’t good for the creatures in my carefully tended soil and 2) is costly, in so many ways.
That is why DH and I hurried to get our BIG WATER system installed. This is a system I’ve been coveting for years, now, and it finally came together. Part one is the rain water catchment.
275 gallon IBC totes with two seven-year-olds for scale
The rain comes off our biggest roof, first goes into to two first-flush pipes, which will hopefully catch the debris, dust and pollen, then moves on to the totes.
The top tote fills first, then overflows into the bottom one, which overflows into the bed behind it which has Elders and Lobelia, all moisture-loving plants. We’ll be using the top tote for our gravity-fed irrigation (which is why that is our primary tote: the higher up, the more pressure).
That’s part Two of BIG WATER. I put down the drip irrigation in a while ago. The garden still looks a little like a patient hooked up to life support what with all the tubes and hoses snaking all over the place. Once the top tote is full and we’ve connected it up to the irrigation, we can check for pressure and leaks. Then I’ll bury the tubing in the beds under straw and the pipes in the pipes in the wood chips.
Other news: 1) Success! After two nights and two days in the “broody buster,” Toothless the broody hen is no longer broody. 2) The BEE talk went off spectacularly well. There were 35 people people of all generations above 14, mostly people I hadn’t personally invited (maybe I should stop inviting?). Many signed up indicating they wanted to start bees. 3) I got the news that we (Transition Wayland Foodshed Group) were given two 20′x30′ community garden plots for our grain experiments. I went to scout them out this morning and they’re beautiful, permanent plots on high ground. They’ll need tilling, and then I have to decide what to plant, and then I get our volunteers lined up…
The little chicks enjoyed yet another Summer Spring day outside in their table chicken tractor. Amie was feeling better so I set up a teepee. She spent most of her time watching them and then hammering nails into a piece of wood.
And look who’s in the naughty corner ”broody buster”?
It’s Toothless. She went all broody on us two days ago and this is a sure fire way of breaking her broody mood. It says so on the Chicken Forums. What do I know!? Anyway, it was good to isolate her from the others because she was upsetting the whole coop with her hissing and pecking and monopolizing the favorite nest box.
When she ruffles those feathers and makes that cat-like sound, watch out, but she really is a beautiful hen. One more day in the broody buster for her and then we shall see.
My poor Amie. For months she and her orchestra colleagues worked on four pieces for her concert at Jordan Hall today. On Friday she had the sniffles, on Saturday she went rapidly downhill, and this morning it was obvious she couldn’t go. She spent the day in bed, reading, watching Youtube and napping.
In the morning I went to pick up my package of bees from my bee supplier, who gets them in Georgia. He drives down there with a trailer, brings back a thousand or so packages (10.000 bees each). After driving around with live bees most of the day, I can only imagine the stress when taking a tight bend. Anyhoo, weather and high winter losses slowed bee production considerably, so Rossman Apiaries in Georgia hasn’t been able to keep up with demand. The package pickup was delayed three times until today, the worst of all days, of course, what with the concert in the Big Town looming. But off I went, brought home one package with 10.000 bees and a marked (Italian) queen as well as a small box with an extra queen (a Carniolan) and some attendants.
Amie checks on the Carniolan Queen
The right-most bee is the queen. Carniolans are darker. The white stuff is the sugar plug, which the bees will have to eat through to get to her, initially to kill her, because she’s not their queen, but by the time they’ve eaten through, her pheromone should have conquered them, and they’ll accept her (hopefully).
First I installed the package (“hived the bees“) which took me half an hour. Then, seeing as I wasn’t going anywhere, I went into the strong hive and stole three of its most valuable frames, i.e., frames with capped brood plus all the bees that are on it (but make sure the queen’s not). I also took two frames of honey and pollen. Stuck all of these in a box, sealed it. Drove it more than 2 miles away to a friends’ yard, where I set up a hive box, installed the new queen, then transferred the frames and (unhappy) bees and supplemented with more drawn out, empty frames. That’s a split! Soon I’ll be back to three hives.
My friends’ place is like a spa for overworked bees, though of course they still get to work. I’ll collect them in two or three weeks time and move them back to the ole homestead.
On my way home (finally in a bee-less car) I smiled, driving past the Library, because of this:
I live in such a bee-loving town! The speaker is me, by the way. Wait a moment, it’s the day after tomorrow!?!
Then I am also dealing with a broody hen. I’ll write about that tomorrow, because it requires pictures and it’s too dark to take any now.