It’s been a whirlwind spring full of adventure and blossoms (and yowza is it summer already?). Tales of THUNDER to come, but in the meantime, a little shout out to my girls in Shangri-La who we thought requeened themselves last fall and now we have proof. In short (just to blow your mind if you don’t know too much about bees/love Shakespearean-style epics): a beehive always knows how their queen is doing. Much like in any period drama, a small scrim of bees called the “retinue” surround the queen at all times and groom her and feed her and generally worship her. Only a few bees at a time comprise the retinue and they swap in and out so many bees have a chance to get close to the queen. Once the bees closest to the queen have swapped out, they then are able to send the pheromones of the queen to every ladybee in the hive in a complex game of telephone, so that every bee in the hive knows exactly what the queen is up to at all times. This is super important to all bees, as the health (and fertility) of the queen is necessary to the hive’s survival. If something happens to the queen, the hive can immediately tell. If the queen dies, if she gets squished by the beekeeper, if robber bees kill the queen, if her pheromones start to get weak, if the queen is just getting old, the hive will know. A very strong and intuitive hive (disclaimer: beekeepers are infinitely desirous of anthropomorphizing their hives. I do it, like, one million percent) will get the sense that their queen is failing and they will pick a part of the hive where the current queen seldom goes and they will start grooming a replacement to overthrow her. I put this Shakespearean cloak-and-dagger impulse in italics because it is truly incredible. Various factors (brood pattern, queen cells) led us to believe that we had this exact “re-queening” situation in Shangri-La last summer. Like her sister queen in our other hive, the old queen in Shangri-La had a red mark on her, so the only way to be sure that the hive had, in fact, re-queened itself, was to spot a new, unmarked queen in her place. This spring, we saw her, in all of her huge, beautiful, un-marked glory. Proof. Proof that these crazy divine bees know what’s best for themselves and proof that (on however small a scale) by keeping bees we are helping the species overcome the obstacles that we as humanity have set up for them. She’s in the bottom right corner, with a shiny exposed thorax (where a store-bought queen would normally be marked) about twice as long as the worker bees and surrounded by cells of larvae. Long live the Queen.And in case you have trouble spotting her, here’s an image with an arrow:
Holy Moly, fizz bang oh gee oh wow here we are January, the new year fresh and slick and new and bold and damp and chilly and begging us for a little introspection and respite, a rest from the rest (which I think technically means DOING), the ever-so-slightly-longer twilights an invitation to remember what takes me by surprise every year, the full-against-the-skin feeling of Spring that you get when you can finally sleep with your windows open. But I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s still a long ways away. Darling Rav reminded me today of our joint resolution, the one that we made hand in hand last year at midnight in Cleveland, just the two of us in the fat falling snow drinking bubbles out of impossibly tiny pink glasses. Not a New Years resolution, per se, but a general resolution buoyed by January’s optimistic fresh-startness. The resolution is one you might hear a lot around here: Just Say Yes. Say Yes when it’s easy, Say Yes when perhaps you ought to say No, The world needs more Yes. The world also needs more of this polaroid of me and sweetheart on a ferry in Delaware three days after our wedding.
Just sayin. This year has been an incredible one for the yes-saying. The doing. The VALHALLA of it all, the grabbing onto the reins and holding on for dear life (which is dearer every moment). And in light of it all, in the trying to do and breathe and live it all the most, I just feel like there are just SO many things I haven’t even told you. For example: did you know Sweetheart and I bought a 1978 tow-behind 13 foot Scamp Travel Trailer for our Honeymoon?
We used it as a photobooth at our wedding. Then we took it on the road. It’s amazing. Details… to follow? Also, did you know: if you get married some people will give you money as a gift? I didn’t know this and was incredibly surprised. But lo and behold, after our wedding we had a small nest egg and that we wanted to do something awesome with it (like, not just pay our bills with it). So, we bought a special Japanese woodstove and a 300 gallon tank that you use to water cattle and built ourselves a wood-fired hot tub and put it back in the woods by where we got married. I don’t have a good picture of this because we only soak in the witching hours of night by the light of the moon (or the fairy stars of the disco ball that our dear Jay hung in the forest for our wedding before he up and married us). But here’s a dark picture of my very pink post-soak feet in Rav’s hobbit shoes and my tie-dyed bathrobe and my so-curious-he’s-blurry-cat (or maybe that’s bigfoot):
Also also also, I made fire cider, a crazy herbal remedy that made my mouth sweat but cleared my sinuses, and I made boiled apple cider syrup, and I made gold leaf oyster shell salt cellars, and also also also did you know we harvested FIVE GALLONS of honey from our bees this year? And did you know (unrelated to the honey harvest) we also lost one of our hives? And I sprained my ankle and got a new pair of work boots and gloves. And I fell in love with my littlest cousins. And my oldest cousins. And Sweetheart and I dressed as Annie Hall for Halloween. AND BONIN’ (which is its own story). And I also learned how to shoot a bow and arrow and how to fix a trailer hitch and how to make a flower crown and how to smoke a turkey and how to wire a battery and how to make ramen from scratch and how not to stall out driving a stick shift at a boite diabolique aka toll plaza (ok I only kind of learned that) and how to order a crepe and how to navigate using a baguette and how to cook piquillo peppers and how to get to South Carolina the slow way and how to sell smoked trout and how to pour txakoli from very high into a glass and how to bone a chicken and how to make peach jam and how to tie dye and how to bless a day and how not to cry when you’re singing in someone’s wedding but it’s just so everything you cry anyway but how to hide it pretty good I guess and how to replace studs and rebuild a floor and just how damn good the movie Mannequin is and how to light a menorah (not all at once, one candle each day) and when to plant a peach tree and how to show up and how good my people are and how to do a medicine card reading and consequently that I need to get my frog buns submerged into water every day if at all possible (see: wood fired hot-tub) and how to stay on the chair when you’re actually in a horah dance (knowledge never to be needed again) how to really shuck an oyster and how to write wedding vows that are so true and electric they make your heart swell up to bursting with pride and fierce passion and how to try and live that way forever and and and… Well I guess I’ve been saying yes. Success. Here’s to another year of it. And. I’ll try and share better, yes?
Spotted in Xanadu, the Queen Bee.
This has been our first bee-winter, and, as the weather channel fear mongerers/anyone with eyeballs can tell you, it’s been a real beast. Weeks at a time stretched with the hives covered in snow, with me just watching from the kitchen sink, hoping it was like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter” when they live in the rickety store-bought-wood house in town which, unlike Pa’s hand chinked log cabin in the Big Woods, was always drafty and freezing UNTIL the huge snow, when the drifts rose to the top windows and the girls were finally snug as bugs in rugs… or snug as bees in a hive? Aaaanyway, when the temps slowly started to rise, we saw them making forays out of the hives, sweet bumbling little flights on wobbly wings, proof that they had made it through their own long, hard winter. And, bless them, they would return to the hive, woozy, riding low in the water, laden with pollen. Full saddlebags of bright yellow alder and maple’s greenish grey or dun. In the spring, this pollen is used to make bee-bread, a heady ambrosia of pollen’s protein, a little bit of honey, and some probiotics from the bees themselves that is the stuff that baby bees are nursed on to rear them strong and mighty in time for the coming nectar flow. So, seeing our bees heavy with pollen, we knew that the Queen was holding court, and that the next generation of honeybees are being groomed to flourish. Signs of spring indeed.
This picture doesn’t even begin to do my dear friend Jay’s meadow justice. His new house (which feels ancient and lived in and almost smoky with tangible good vibes even though they just moved in) is bermed into a hillside and the sloping greens on all sides are simply filled to bursting with wild baby’s breath, black eyed susan’s, zinnias, cosmos, feathery coreopsis, plain little daisies, queen anne’s lace, wild yarrow, sunflowers, branching asters, and the whole thing is chock full of bees. He planted it all, wide strides and a linen bag of seeds at his hip, feeding a rain of possibility across the fall-dark naked earth in last year’s chill, and now it’s this. To me it feels like magic, but he’s the kind of man who makes you see that magic like this beauty is just intention with a touch of wonder. After our last visit, just as we were leaving, his sun-kissed bride ran out of the house with one of her precious jars and a pair of Japanese shears in hand and said you must take flowers with you, take as many as you can. These are my kind of people, in every possible way.
This is called bearding and lots of people confuse it with swarming, but it’s just a few ladies hanging out, cooling off in the late indian summer afternoon.
So just when I’m talking about the dastardly squirrel who keeps sneakily sneaking in and stealing bird seed from my birdfeeders and what-all-I’m-gonna-do-about-it I wake up and this is what I find in the yard. Total crime scene, the two long feeders I’d swathed in cages (to thwart the squirrel) ripped off and strewn in the yard, the suet feeder that usually hangs on the right hand hook totally gone, and the poles bent and pulled down. Sir, excuse me, sir, was it you?A BEAR. Our bear? Hmmph. We spotted this wily fellow back in June and, while Nipsey Russell the cat made sure to let the bear know he meant business by hissing at him, I managed to snap this shot from the bedroom window before squeaking “scram! I said scram bear!” which was medium/hardly effectual in getting him to leave. We saw him again (at least I think it was the same bear) last week while Sweetheart and I were doing a painting project in the yard, but he was way bigger— as one would expect after a summer pillaging people’s bird feeders and eating mulberries. Sweetheart chased him away by banging our dutch oven with a spoon. Pretty good for a city boy. Anyway, like most country-type dwellers I think that the bear is majestic, terrifying, beautiful but… if he tries to lay a furry mitt on my bees I’m gonna… well… I guess there’s not much I can do, actually. I should have known better, Bears love Hunny:
Here is Sweetheart on his first-ever hive inspection, and he’s a natural. Just look at that frame full of capped honey! Xanadu is almost full, we are considering whether or not to harvest some (just a little?) before the fall nectar flow. Toto, we aren’t in Rockaway anymore.
It’s funny, when people you love learn that you love something, you all of a sudden end up with a lot of it. My grandmother is known for always wearing fabulous scarves, in fact, the only time I’ve ever seen her without a scarf wound impeccably around her crown is when she’s swimming (in which case she wears an awesome old-school bathing cap)… but I digress. The point is, she loves scarves and I bet every holiday she unwraps at least three new ones. Dear Miss McKay’s Granny somehow got a reputation for loving pigs, and now pig-jars, pig cutting boards, piggy banks, and winged pig figurines fill the surfaces of her brilliant turquoise kitchen. My own mama loves bird nests, so Miss Rav sends them to her in the mail when she finds them, thatched with Samson’s fur. It’s sort of a commerce of affection, you become linked with the object in the minds of those that love you. For me, this has most certainly been the case with honey. Since I’ve been blathering on to anyone with earholes about how awesome bees are and how fascinating their behavior structures are and how CAN YOU BELIEVE IT they will actually overthrow their queen like something out of Shakespeare if she starts acting unruly, it seems that my dear circle has taken notice. Honey from an old beekeeping couple Rav’s family lets keep hives on their South Carolina farm, honey from Miss McKay’s old rooftop hives that I taste once a season to remind myself of those sweet old days, honey from Anna’s acres, honey from Abby’s north wilds, honey from the beekeepers with the roadside sign, honey from Mexico, honey Rachel picked out, honey Mama and I helped extract from Art’s hives, all laid out in glorious honey jewel tones waiting for teas and hot porridges or even just a tiny spoonful dip to taste on the kitchen windowsill. Such sweetness.