Tag Archive | beehive

Rapid Change in an Ambivalent Season

The return of bees to the early crocuses thrilled and salved my soul.

The return of bees to the early crocuses thrilled and salved my soul.

The first few days after the crocuses opened there were no bees. When I was outside and I paused the noise in my head for a moment and just listened, the silence was eerie. I felt so sad. The naturalizing irises and daffodils began to open, and they were empty. It’s all starting for you, I’ve done everything I can to make it good for you, so please come! I thought to the bees I knew were somewhere near. I saw plenty of flies, even some small fucking grasshoppers. On Valentine’s Day! It was too weird.

Chris called that morning. I was just heading out to hand-water some things. “Already?!” she said, aghast. “Your damn onions!” I said. “They dried out over winter in that hoop house.”

In truth it wasn’t just the onions. The whole spring bed, the border on the south side of the house with the early bulbs and groundcovers (the crocuses, naturalizing irises and tulips, the thymes, veronicas, mat penstemons, mat daisies) was desperate for snowmelt. My approach to this bed in particular is “Prolong snowmelt.” This year I began prolonging snowmelt in earnest the second week in February. In previous years I haven’t had to water until late March or April, rarely as late as May. For all the fun of the balmy weather we needed snow badly.

We talked as I watered, and the conversation quickly turned to the bees. She said, “I thought you might tell me about your ambivalence.” I knew it was going to come to this, I’ve just been putting it off. What are my deeper, more complex feelings about the loss, the death of the beehive? What are and were my responsibilities? How did I succeed and fail? What did I learn? Shall I choose to feel guilt?

Chris talked about really learning to let go, and being amazed every day at how much she thinks she knows and then finding out how little she really knows. I think it was her way of encouraging me not to feel guilty, and it helps, but I still have this fundamental feeling that it was my fault the hive died because I didn’t know enough; going into this project, I acted in confident ignorance rather than in a “beginner’s mind” spirit of learning. I’m still unpacking my feelings. Meanwhile, as we talked, I saw a bee in a crocus!

“Gotta go!” I said, hung up the phone, and ran for the camera. For a few hours I was ecstatic.

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The Bee Doctor told me two years ago that these bees chose me, and the reason was mine to figure out. All along my intention was for the hive to act as an incubator, to grow enough bees for them to swarm out into the forest and the canyon, year after year, to populate the wild. The experiment was to try to establish a hospitable habitat for wild bees, not for me to get honey. I hoped they would manage themselves appropriately with minimal intervention from me.

I forgot the beekeepers’ wisdom, “When in doubt, wait it out,” and I made a mistake at the end of their first summer. Their hive was pristine before I opened it that time. I flooded it with honey and dead bees, I stole their larvae accidentally, and they were righteously angry. I can’t help but wonder if I derailed their success in that one stupid move. They had been calm until then; after, they were defensive. I went in the following spring with the Bee Doctor, and he told me they were more ancient, more wild, than any other hive he’d seen around here. When we opened the hive he mentioned that some of their behavior was more like Africanized bees. “Don’t wig out,” he said, clarifying that it was just an example of their wildness, not that they were Africanized. But in that moment, they were cast in a more primal light for me. It’s the honeybee not the bear, but it’s still a wild and dangerous organism.

Perhaps I subconsciously arranged their demise with my reluctance to try again, to persevere with this hive. Last fall I did have, in the most private inarticulate place in me, the thought that maybe they would get honey-locked this spring and leave. I could start over with more mild-mannered bees. When I saw how few bees were in the dead hive, I hoped it was because they had swarmed. But then, a few days after pulling the last combs from the hive, I found this:

It pains me to share this picture.

It pains me to share this picture. In front of the hive, behind the insulating straw bale, a mass of bee carcasses. Maybe they didn’t swarm. Maybe they were busy all summer and fall hauling out mite-killed bees, and that’s why there were fewer bees going into winter. Maybe there just weren’t enough healthy bees for the hive to survive.

How did the mites get into the hive, anyway? Where did they come from? Unfortunately, as one local beekeeper said, “The mites win all too often.” From what I’ve read, these mites arrived in this country in 1987, and spread rapidly through the wild honeybee hives. Originally parasites on another species of bee, Apis cerana, the mites jumped species, and Apis mellifera has not been able to cope well with them. In combination with neonicotinoid pesticides and possibly other environmental factors, the varroa mites are wiping out honeybees everywhere. I’ve read that they can travel from one hive to another on the bodies of drones, which are apparently allowed to enter any hive. In a sense, the mites are like a sexually transmitted epidemic. Once inside a hive they reproduce inside brood cells, raising a whole family in the time it takes a larval bee to mature, and compromising that bee’s health.

It’s time to really let go. I know today how much I don’t know about bees and how to keep them. If I’m going to continue to try to help save them, I’ve got to do it with Beginner’s Mind, and a lot more courage and skill. I hope that more good than bad has come out of my first foray into bee guardianing. Either way, I need to forgive myself my assumptions and mistakes with them and move on. Forgiving and moving on have never been easy for me, but I’m learning, and not just with the bees.

Honey candy, dense crystallized honey and comb.

Honey candy, dense crystallized honey and comb.

The last honeycombs from the salvage operation, three on the right from the middle of the hive and four on the left from the front.

The last honeycombs from the salvage operation, three on the right from the middle of the hive and four on the left from the front. There’s not much honey in the front combs, I may do something else with them.

Honey in various stages of salvage.

Various stages in the honey salvage.

Experimenting with the best way to get the honey out of the combs.

Experimenting with the best way to get the honey out of the combs.

I’ve got one loaded comb left to process. The honey is so thick it’s taking a long time to drip out of the combs. After slicing the caps off sections of comb and letting them drip, then flipping them over and letting the other side drip, I squish them and let them drip again. Not very efficient, but I get to lick my fingers a lot.

Meanwhile, outside I’ve been cutting back and raking paths and pruning shrubs and trees. This is the best place to be on any day in any season in the garden: I can look out with pleasure at what I’ve accomplished thus far, and simply sit with the joy of it, a dog rolling at my feet, far more done than undone at this point in the season, the whole garden vista ahead of schedule.

A bitter wind blew in a few days ago, ahead of the snowstorm that started yesterday morning. Evening grosbeaks peck in a frenzy at the sunflower feeder. The patio rug blows up with a thump against the table. I scramble to batten down the hatches. This constantly shifting spring weather heightens minute to minute uncertainty: A cold shadow falls over the yard with a bleak wind, the mood becomes more urgent; the sun blows free of the clouds and optimism surges. There is this apocalyptic deep fear: what will happen next? The clouds exacerbate that, the sun relieves it; being thirsty exacerbates it, a drink of water relieves it.

Just yesterday morning when this snowstorm was starting.

Just yesterday morning when this snowstorm was starting.

Twenty-four hours later we have eight inches of snow. All the little flowers and shoots are buried, and getting a deep drink. More snow is expected later this week. What do we call the spell of spring that lasted almost a month and brought so many species out of their winter sleep? If the warm weather that follows the first cold spell in fall is called Indian Summer, what is the name of the first warm spell that precedes actual Spring?

I never thought I’d be grateful to live in Colorado because of the mild winter! Though we loved this balmy break in our short winter, everyone is celebrating the return of the snow. We think about “percent of normal” snowpack in the mountains, and what it means for our water this summer. Skiers are ecstatic with feet of new snow in the high country. Down here at 6800′ we welcome the moisture in fields, yards, gardens that were already drying out. The almost non-winter this year is as eerie as the absence of the bees. So with deep relief, after a brief frenzy of garden cleanup, I settle back into winter pace. When the snow melts again the garden will be well ahead of itself, and maybe the grasshoppers will have frozen.

Free at last, thank Dog, I'm free at last!

Free at last, thank Dog, I’m free at last!

And once she was off the leash, Stellar just had to make her play.

And once she was off the leash, Stellar just had to make her play.

Big goofball heeling for no reason.

Big goofball heeling for no reason.

A dark-eyed junco fluffs in the desert willow outside my office window.

A dark-eyed junco fluffs in the desert willow outside my office window.

A young buck mule deer passes in front of the lion gate after digging and browsing around under the snow in the garden.

A young buck mule deer passes in front of the lion gate after digging under snow and browsing in the garden.

Beenundrum…

The first crocuses opened this morning, bereft of bees.

The first crocuses opened this morning, bereft of bees.

One day a month or so ago I saw bees flying in and out of the hive. It was very early, some time in January, but it was a warm day. I was a little surprised but had enough else on my mind that I didn’t pay attention to it other than to pause a moment to watch them. There weren’t a great many, which made sense for the time of year. I wish now I’d watched longer, paid close attention to what they were doing, where they were going, if they were only bringing carcasses out of the hive or were flying for water or what. I may have been in the midst of the Raven crisis, or it might have been even earlier, in December. It struck me as only a little odd, and easily explained by climate change (or just weather). I failed to write it down.

Then it was cold again for awhile. And then it was warm again. Early last week the eerie absence of bees came over me like a chill when I suddenly realized it was warm enough for them to be out. We were just days away from crocus blooms, and I’d heard the occasional bee buzz by during the week before. I went to the hive with foreboding. Sure enough, dead silence. I unhooked the insulating panels and looked in the window. No bees.

In the doorway, a couple of dead bees. I pulled them out and more dead bees fell into the doorway. I scooped out three or four spoonfuls with a twig, until they stopped coming. I did what I always do with a shock: acknowledged it and moved on to something else, set it aside until I could pull together the wherewithal to face it. In this case that meant, in addition to emotional fortitude and another pair of hands, a big chunk of time free of other obligations and demands, uncluttered and scrubbed kitchen counters and sinks, and a collection of sieves and containers.

I anticipated a large honey haul, one silver lining in this bee tragedy. Another was a sense of relief. Maybe there are just those two, maybe I’ll come up with more as this loss unfolds. I’ve not been in right relationship with these bees since the beetastrophe at the end of their first summer here. I fucked it up. I learned a lot from that, and I’ve learned a lot more investigating this beenundrum.

So far the honey haul hasn’t materialized, and the relief has darkened with sorrow. The only comfort I can take is that in the fall, before I hooked on the insulating panels, I could see there were far fewer bees in the hive than there had been going into the preceding two winters. They must have swarmed sometime during the summer and I missed it. I wasn’t outside as much as usual. I was away five days in September. It could have happened any time.

All along in this adventure my primary reason for keeping the hive has been to provide habitat for bees, a garden for them to feed in and a home base for them to swarm from, intending that they would spread out from here, colonize the canyon, some of the hollow trees in the woods. In short, especially since the beetastrophe, I have regarded my hive as a conduit for the propagation of this superorganism rather than as a honey source for me. So if they swarmed at least once they’re on their way.

We used the hive tool to scrape propolis and separate the false back and the first bar.

We used the hive tool to scrape propolis and separate the false back and the first bar.

Deb and I opened the hive on Sunday afternoon. The lid was sticky with a big wad of propolis in one back corner, but there was nothing trapped within it to suggest an invader. The bars were tightly sealed together and to the hive frame with propolis as well, and a good comb had been started on the back of the false back. It took forever to get the back off and the first bar separated, and when I lifted it out it was solid honey, and I mean solid. It had all crystallized, like maple sugar candy only honey instead. It was delicious.

Clean empty comb on the back side of the false back. Hmmm.

Clean empty comb on the back side of the false back. Hmmm.

The first bar of honey was SO heavy, and even the comb had been crystallized. Eating a mouthful yielded only a tiny bit of wax.

The first bar of honey was SO heavy, and even the comb had been crystallized. Eating a mouthful yielded only a tiny bit of wax.

We worked apart the next three bars one at a time, a tedious sticky task, and the scene became macabre. Dead bees littered the floor, and clung scattered to the combs in various positions as though frozen, some emerging from the combs, some heads in; some with an arm raised or tongue out, wings open or closed. As we worked, a lone honeybee sipped from the exposed comb oblivious to us. This was heartening; at least there are some bees in the yard from somewhere.

Small and large blackish patches showed on the walls and the floor and we wondered if they were mold. As we pulled each bar we scooped dead bees off the floor. Those next three combs each had a lot of capped honey and a little bit of empty comb. Much of the capped comb looked greyer than I thought it should, and we wondered if that was mold, but when I sliced off the caps the honey inside looked clear and dark and perfect.

A robber bee from somewhere else drinks from exposed comb as we work.

A robber bee from somewhere else drinks from exposed comb as we work.

We see dead bees on the floor after we've removed the first two bars.

We see dead bees on the floor after we’ve removed the first two bars.

Three bars full, heading for the kitchen to see what we can salvage.

Three bars full, heading for the kitchen to see what we can salvage.

Slicing off the caps reveals clear dark honey inside the cells.

Slicing off the caps reveals clear dark honey inside the cells.

I decided the honey was clean and the caps look grey just because the honey is so dark and distilled; these back combs must be two years old. I didn’t open the hive last spring because I was dizzy, and never quite had the confidence or energy to tackle that task. I have only harvested honey twice, and the first time was the beetastrophe. The second time, with the bee doctor here, went well. We pulled three combs that were golden and full, but only about half the honey had been capped; the rest were cells that were half-full of half-formed honey, more like thick nectar. So I don’t really know what fully capped honey should look like especially if it’s been there awhile, or what range of colors is normal for healthy comb.

Sunday evening I cut and sliced and tried to chop two of the combs into pieces to strain through a screen colander into a stainless steel bowl. Much of it was crystallized or so thick it just wouldn’t drip from the comb. The next day I tried the the third comb in a stainless colander with bigger holes, and it still drained sluggishly. I put both bowls in the sunroom, and warming the comb helped it drain better. Still, for all the pounds of honey in those combs precious little fell through to the bowls.

Moving toward the front two bars at a time the dead bees on the floor become thicker.

Moving toward the front two bars at a time the dead bees on the floor become thicker.

Frozen in time.

Frozen in time.

Dark old comb near the nest holds more dead bees, and what are those weird nipple-like things in the caps on the top right?

Dark old comb near the nest holds more dead bees, and what are those weird nipple-like things in the caps on the top right?

As we proceeded pulling bars the next afternoon, the honey caps continued to look grey, and most of the empty comb darker and darker brown the farther forward we got. That made sense; this was the original brood comb, yet parts of these combs were also full of honey.

Another couple of bees flew in from somewhere to scavenge with us. We found more black stains on walls and floor, more dead bees on the combs, and more and more on the floor. In the front corner where they clustered there was a mound just behind the door. I slid all the full bars toward the back and we scooped out the dead bees, then I put fresh bars in the front of the hive and we closed it back up temporarily.

The rest of the honey salvage operation will have to wait until I process the three combs we pulled Monday, and I’m still puzzling over the best way to do that. Will it all be as thick as the first three combs? Should I try to cut off all the caps or just mash the comb? And where in hell did I put my honey-straining kit that I spent good money on and saw when I was cleaning out the storage unit last fall but can’t for the life of me find right now when I need it?

Deb doesn’t like the look of the capped comb, which is funny because I’m usually the germaphobe and I feel oddly secure about this honey. She doesn’t want me to put any more of it in my mouth until I’ve ascertained whether it’s safe, i.e., exactly what happened in the hive, and is the honeycomb moldy or otherwise tainted?

I’ve looked online and found a few videos of dead hives, all of which look similar to mine: Bees frozen in place, comb of all colors, capped honey from gold to grey, masses of dead bees on the floor. Some of the narrators concluded that their hives froze; another sent his bees off to a lab and confirmed varroa mite infestation. One showed how to look for tiny white specks of mite poop in the cells. Nobody mentioned the various comb and honey colors.

So I pulled out the microscope, and shook some of the dead bees out of the jar I’d collected them in onto a piece of freezer paper. Sure enough, mites. Lots of them. Maybe it was mites alone that killed the bees, weakening them or infecting them with a virus. Maybe the extra warm winter combined with the insulation caused a ventilation failure and mold contributed to the die-off. Maybe they did freeze, one bitter cold day in January following their first foraging. Maybe all these challenges stemmed from the mess I made of their hive that first terrible time I opened it. Probably some combination of the above wiped them out.

Now that I've seen the mites through the microscope I can see them in this image. Naked eye not so well, especially in the first flush of discovery. But now I know what to look for.

Now that I’ve seen the mites through the microscope I can see them in this image. Naked eye not so well, especially in the first flush of discovery. But now I know what to look for.

Same thing here: mites everywhere in and around the pile that dropped in front of the door.

Same thing here: mites everywhere in and around the pile that dropped in front of the door.

Once I dumped some of the dead bees onto white paper and looked under the microscope it was easy to discern the varroa mites.

Once I dumped some of the dead bees onto white paper and looked under the microscope it was easy to discern the varroa mites.

Zoom. Two mites. Nasty creatures.

Zoom. Two mites. Nasty creatures.

I’ll continue to investigate and inquire. Meanwhile, the house is redolent with honey. I need to clean up the kitchen and jar the honey I’ve already collected. I need to decide whether to try to salvage the rest of it, or simply cut the combs off the bars and fling them willy-nilly over the cliff for spring bears to find and feast on. I need to steam clean the hive at the car wash. I need to look up how to make mead. I need to take a nap.

I don't know enough to say what I'm seeing here. Some of these cells may have held bee larvae. The white speck top center might be mite feces. The glistening blobs inside the cells could be calcified honey. The bee doctor identified some cells as such when he opened the hive two years ago, and he was perplexed by the phenomenon.

I don’t know enough to say what I’m seeing here. Some of these cells may have held bee larvae. The white speck top center might be mite feces. The glistening blobs inside the cells could be calcified honey. The bee doctor identified some cells as such when he opened the hive two years ago, and he was perplexed by the phenomenon.

In the center cell in this image there are a couple of white things that look like the discarded skins of the last stage of mite metamorphosis.

In the center cell in this image there are a couple of white things that look like the discarded skins of the last stage of mite metamorphosis.

Just another cool picture of the comb.

Just another cool picture of the comb.

A poor dead bee like so many just hanging out where it expired. It strikes me as odd: Did they all die at once, instantaneously? Why are some frozen in mid-stride and others fallen to the bottom? Complex and full of mystery.

A poor dead bee like so many just hanging out where it expired. It strikes me as odd: Did they all die at once, instantaneously? Why are some frozen in mid-stride and others fallen to the bottom? Complex and full of mystery.

“Will you get more bees?” the friends ask. I don’t know. Not this spring, unless they move in on their own. “How do you feel about this?” they ask.

The bees gave me three summers of ecstasy photographing them, and three years of living intimately with them. I learned a whole lot. They inspired me to buy close-up binoculars and an excellent macro lens, opening a grand new universe of tiny creatures in the garden that I had never seen before. They enhanced and expanded my world view. I feel exceedingly grateful. If they did swarm, those bees know where the garden is and will be back. I feel hopeful. The silence in the garden makes me ache like the absence of a dead pet. I feel sad, but not guilty.

I did not have great success with mammals initially either. The hamster died when I was six or seven, the rabbit a couple of years later, both probably from neglect. It took decades to learn the patience and the language required for each species, each individual dog or cat that followed those first ill-fated pets. Animal care is a steep learning curve, and mistakes can be costly. Now I’ve got the mammal thing down. I’ll try again with bees eventually, and I’ll be a better bee guardian for all I’ve learned during these first few steps into the realm.

Friday, light snow and fog

East from the patio, agave pods cling to the stalk, mountains shrouded in clouds.

East from the patio, agave pods cling to the stalk, mountains shrouded in clouds.

With a small fire in the wood stove, all day, and a white cloud outside. Light snow falling off and on, a thin crust of ice on things this afternoon. It’s an inside day, and soft as… a snowflake, a down pillow, a requiem. A black and white day, starting with vintage news coverage of Kennedy’s assassination. Back when anchors had time to process the news they were delivering on TV. Then classic rock on KVNF all day, interspersing dishes and sweeping and stoking the fire with writing toward my 50,000 words in November. Morning Rounds didn’t happen til almost five o’clock; an owl whoooed out through foggy junipers somewhere toward the canyon, softness continued to fall.

Beehive under birch in lightly falling snow.

Beehive under birch in lightly falling snow.

Blue Avena grass, dusted.

Blue Avena grass, dusted.

May all beings be free from suffering.

May all beings be free from suffering.

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Stellar poses by the Lion gate as snow quickens.

Stellar poses by the Lion gate as snow quickens.

 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bees flying in and out of the hive on an extra warm day last week show up as golden specks against the still-green rosebush.

Bees flying in and out of the hive on an extra warm day last week show up as golden specks against the still-green rosebush.

I’m glad I got the beehive all set during October, with insulation panels and straw bales around the pedestal. Working early on a few cold mornings I was able to get the panels on and the straw bales situated without disturbing anyone. We had such a mild, long, lovely autumn! The colors in Buck Canyon, the Smith Fork, and along the North Fork seemed to last longer than usual and shine more brightly. Did I say that last fall? Each fall is such a delicious season, each fall unique; each fall a new and wondrous season unfolding like you’ve never seen it before, feeling so like the first fall you can’t remember another; each fall a treasure, maybe the last fall ever.

Rocky on the rim of Buck Canyon two weeks ago.

Rocky on the rim of Buck Canyon two weeks ago.

Stellar surveys hid domain.

Stellar surveys his domain.

At a leisurely pace, I have been cleaning up the yard for winter, which is almost here. Light snow overnight here, still falling in a haze over the mountains. Not a lot of cover up there, just a freshening of the white blush that’s remained since our last snow weeks ago. All the trees have lost their leaves, except the almond, oddly green. But they’re fading fast. Planted on the southeast corner of the house, its microclimate, backed by an adobe wall that soaks up sun from early morning til late, mulched with pink gravel, and edged on two sides with brick and concrete, allows it extra warmth.

One of my favorite junipers on the rim, with Needle Rock and snow-covered Coal Mountain far beyond.

One of my favorite junipers on the rim, with Needle Rock and snow-covered Coal Mountain far beyond.

A walk in the woods the other day captures the spirit of impending winter.

A walk in the woods the other day captures the spirit of impending winter.

Stellar in the Sitting Tree

Stellar in the Sitting Tree

The first icicles form and fall in Ice Canyon. Raven watches, flummoxed by the sound of their crashing down.

The first icicles form and fall in Ice Canyon. Raven watches, flummoxed by the sound of their crashing down.

A sharp wind blows this morning. I continue to revel in all the deciduous leaves that flutter and clutter the paths, the beds, the yard. It’s been so long since I’ve had autumn leaves to enjoy, their colors first, then their scents and sounds. The giant rose is dropping yellow leaves everywhere around the tower. Beech and aspen, elder, nanking cherry, snowberry have all now lost or are losing their leaves, their baring branches showing this summer’s growth. This cold, drizzly day foreshadows winter. Already I’ve settled into hibernation mode. Such early dark brings closure to the day with so many hours left to stay awake. A time of deep interior begins.

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This winter I am writing the book that has been in me since I completed Killing Mother. I continue to delve into the love and disillusionment between my parents, in hopes of understanding all of us better. Reflecting on their lives and histories before I knew them, and exploring who we all were, in that military culture, as I grew from a bright-eyed happy child into the woman I am today. But, it’s a novel, so I can make shit up. I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, to jump start this story that has been murmuring in the back of my mind for years. By November 30, I need to have written 50,000 words, more or less in a rough draft form. As of this morning, I’m up to 20,963; not quite halfway there and just over halfway in time.

the day the birch tree lost its leaves

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Yesterday the winds before the storm blew through the yard, and the birch tree, splendid yellow until then, lost its leaves. I stood for quite awhile in the glory of their blowing flying falling, watching and hearing the essence of autumn. Potted snapdragons, pansies and petunias still punctuate the patio with pops of vivid color, while the trees and shrubs I’ve planted in the past decade have finally filled the yard with fall color. The peach tree orange, scarlet maple, and one rosebush somewhere between; the tiny aspen quaking gold, and the beautiful big birch showering me with lovely yellow leaves like petals. Leaves! I have leaves!

Leaves of all colors blow, from snowberry and sand cherry, honeysuckle and rose, apple and crabapple, lilac, foresteria, forsythia; the apricot alone holds out, still mostly green but turning. I have leaves enough in my yard to rake, at last! But I will likely leave them where they lie, except I’ll rake the pink gravel paths; elsewhere they will stay in layers and piles where they fall, enriching the ground. All the grasses tawny and the seed heads tan and brown, the garden proves itself as gorgeous in late October as at the height of summer bloom. It’s been a long, lovely, and loving autumn. Today is grey with rain and snow on the way, and still the garden glows. A few more days or weeks, if we’re lucky a month, some short span of time, and winter will be upon us.

October 2, the Amur maple in full scarlet splendor, the birch tree still green.

October 2, the Amur maple in full scarlet splendor, the birch tree still green.

October 6, morning walk to the rim of Buck Canyon with Raven and Stellar. The cottonwoods are beginning to peak and the oaks are still green.

October 6, morning walk to the rim of Buck Canyon with Raven and Stellar. The cottonwoods are beginning to peak and the oaks are still green.

October 9, suddenly all the deciduous shrubs and trees in the canyon are glowing.

October 9, suddenly all the deciduous shrubs and trees in the canyon are glowing.

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October 12, the colors continue to intensify.

October 12, the colors continue to intensify.

Gloves and digger in the garden.

Gloves and digger in the garden.

Pulling another batch of carrots and harvesting more parsley. Both have been bountiful and delicious, making me feel oh so healthy. A couple of carrots grated super fine, mixed in with a big bunch of finely chopped parsley, a few cherry tomatoes, some lemon or lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, makes a wonderfully energizing and refreshing salad.

Pulling another batch of carrots and harvesting more parsley. Both have been bountiful and delicious, making me feel oh so healthy. A couple of carrots grated super fine, mixed in with a big bunch of finely chopped parsley, a few cherry tomatoes, some lemon or lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, makes a wonderfully energizing and refreshing salad.

Second harvest of Sangre de Cristo potatoes yields abundant spuds. Allegedly good keepers, we'll see.

Second harvest of Sangre de Cristo potatoes yields abundant spuds. Allegedly good keepers, we’ll see.

October 13, the Wall of Inebriation holds back the flow of color from the berm, notably burgundy hardy plumbago, and another Amur maple. This one never has gone scarlet, but tends toward orange.

October 13, the Wall of Inebriation holds back the flow of color from the berm, notably burgundy hardy plumbago, and another Amur maple. This one never has gone scarlet, but tends toward orange.

October 13, the maple in the bee bed has lost half its leaves, as the birch begins to turn yellow.

October 13, the maple in the bee bed has lost half its leaves, as the birch begins to turn yellow.

Back at the canyon on an afternoon walk. Living inside a kaleidoscope...

Back at the canyon on an afternoon walk. Living inside a kaleidoscope…

October 20, the canyon just keeps on giving. This is undeniably its most glorious time, and this year it's been especially spectacular.

October 20, the canyon just keeps on giving. This is undeniably its most glorious time, and this year it’s been especially spectacular.

Looking northeast across Buck Canyon toward the West Elk Mountains.

Looking northeast across Buck Canyon toward the West Elk Mountains.

Picking up poo in the yard a couple of times a week is a quiet meditation that I actually enjoy. More about that some other time. Here, a colorful surprise, Nicrophorus marginatus, a burying beetle; I left that load for later.

Picking up poo in the yard a couple of times a week is a quiet meditation that I actually enjoy. More about that some other time. Here, a colorful surprise, Nicrophorus marginatus, a burying beetle; I left that load for later.

The bees still fly about a lot on a fine day like this one, but other colder days are hunkered down in the hive. Time for straw bales and insulating panels.

The bees still fly about a lot on a fine day like this one, but other colder days are hunkered down in the hive. Time for straw bales and insulating panels.

October 28, the day the birch tree lost its leaves.

October 28, the day the birch tree lost its leaves.

First Day of a New Year

View from the deck last Friday night. Alpenglow has been unreal this winter.

View from the deck last Friday night. Alpenglow has been unreal this winter.

Learning to walk, the path opens before me.

This has been my subterranean mantra for more than a decade; almost since I moved to this land. This land has been my most generous teacher. By land I mean this place, this singular spot on this whirling planet; the snow-covered earth beneath my feet, fleeting sunshine with low clouds settling through it, gradually veiling Land’s End, Coal Mountain, Mendicant Ridge; this forest in summer scent or winter wonderland, in sandals or snowshoes; this little fenced yard with garden paths among full bloom or shoveled clear through one-foot snow.

The larger question of place, where we live as a network of loose-knit communities, a tapestry of peoples that inhabit the two main valleys along this forked river system, intricately woven with smaller streams and valleys among mesas of many elevations, this land has also been a generous teacher as I, since I moved here two decades ago, have been learning to walk.

Most recently my ambulatory education has included really comprehending the phrase "use your legs, not your back" when lifting.

Most recently my ambulatory education has included really comprehending the phrase “use your legs, not your back” when lifting.

These past few weeks, Morning Rounds has consisted mostly of shoveling paths through the frequent snows to get where I need to go: the back gate, the compost, the bird feeders, the generator, the front gate, the car, the woodpile.

a foot deep down by the bird feeders...

a foot deep down by the bird feeders…

a mess up by the woodpile...

a mess up by the woodpile…

and a vertical endeavor shoveling snow off the tarps to get at the firewood.

and a vertical endeavor shoveling snow off the tarps to get at the firewood.

 

From the bird seed and the generator back to the house my shovel has kept plowed.

From the bird seed and the generator back to the house my shovel has kept plowed.

The beehive should be well-insulated by now.

The beehive should be well-insulated by now.

Marla helped me re-insulate the beehive a couple of weeks ago, right before the snow started falling. We pulled off the top strawbales and affixed, with some fumbling, blueboard-lined pine panels around the sides, and also put blueboard beneath the peaked roof, on top of the flat roof the bees sealed to the hive with propolis months ago. The first bees probably awoke as we removed the roof, its protective overhang too big for us to work around. As we fretted and fussed with the panels the bees began to stir, two or three first stepping to their threshold, then even flying out. It was very cold even then. By the time we got the panels set and the roof back on the whole hive was buzzing. They weren’t coming out, but we stood close and could hear them very busily buzzing some essential message to one another. A few hours later they were completely quiet again. I haven’t seen a bee since then, as the snow piles up on their roof, merging with the snow on the bales, creating a cozy snow cave inside which they are protected from the elements of what has turned into a very cold very snowy winter.

IMG_9060

Cattle drive into Crawford, last Friday.

Cattle drive into Crawford, last Friday.

Other memorable moments since Christmas:

Textural Affection

Textural Affection

Champagne with pomegranate seeds floating up and down like a lava lamp.

Champagne with pomegranate seeds floating up and down like a lava lamp.

Candlelit crystal

Candlelit crystal

A perfect light lunch on a snowy day, half a perfect avocado with a little Caesar dressing. When almost every dinner is a feast this time of year, a healthy snack midday makes sense.

A perfect light lunch on a snowy day, half a perfect avocado with a little Caesar dressing. When almost every dinner is a feast this time of year, a healthy snack midday makes sense.

Sunday's dinner starts with individually plated spinach salad from Ruth's garden, including carrots, the last of the beets, and greenhouse-grown spinach. Connie brought cheesy stuffed mushrooms to start with cocktails, and I roasted a happy lamb shoulder and mashed my entire potato harvest. Frozen peppermint cream in wine glasses finished the meal like an expensive aperitif. Yum.

Sunday’s dinner starts with individually plated spinach salad from Ruth’s garden, including carrots, the last of the beets, and greenhouse-grown spinach. Connie brought cheesy stuffed mushrooms to start with cocktails, and I roasted a happy lamb shoulder and mashed my entire potato harvest. Frozen peppermint cream in wine glasses finished the meal like an expensive aperitif. Yum.

Art Shot of the Day. Who can say what it is?

Art Shot of the Day. Who can say what it is?

Last night, sharing yet another holiday feast with good friends, this time we took ourselves out. We say again and again, “We can get better food at home when we cook for ourselves,” and it’s generally true. So many among us are excellent cooks, and that way we don’t have to drive at night and can be in our PJs by nine-thirty. We are rural dwellers who are getting older. We like the comforts of our homes. But last night we made the trek in the dark through light snow over roads plowed awhile ago, the four or five miles from our various homes to convene at The Vagabond in our little downtown. Dick Berardi has been a well-known Colorado chef for many decades, and plies his trade these days in downtown Crawford. A full menu met our appetites, and in that small dining room with other friends nearby and neighbors we didn’t know we ate and drank, talked and laughed, amid all the sparkles we needed for New Year’s Eve. And we still got to get in our PJs by ten.

Deco bling with a Dali lens

Deco bling with a Dali lens

surf 'n turf

surf ‘n turf

carnivore's delight

carnivore’s delight

homemade spumoni!

homemade spumoni!

 

 

 

 

 

Beetastrophe!

A Sazerac at 626 Rood on Saturday night took a bit of the sting out of a traumatic hive opening Saturday morning. Picked up a friend at the airport and treated ourselves to a fancy meal, before coming home to deal with the aftermath of the morning’s beetrastrophe.

The yard looks entirely different to me when the bees are angry. The pervasive, comforting hum I’ve grown accustomed to has become an ominous, threatening buzz. For three days I couldn’t walk through the yard even to move a hose without an angry bee dive-bombing my head.

I had to suit up Saturday afternoon to water the potted patio plants, after we had opened the hive in the morning. I could appreciate that. Opening the hive was traumatic for everyone. The combs were crooked and not well attached to the bars, and we ended up having to remove three of them. Each one came out in sections, falling to the hive floor, dropping lots of honey, smothering bees. We filled three pots with pieces of dripping comb, trapped and dying bees, only later discovering a few sections with larvae. We had inadvertently removed some brood comb as well. No wonder they were so angry.

We scooped what we could from the hive floor, a mess of honey and honey-covered bees, but left plenty they’d have to clean up themselves. Joseph was matter-of-fact and calm, and so I was. It could have been worse. They were agitated as we did this operation, but not overly aggressive. Ideally, we would have taken one or two combs of capped honey, and they would have been hanging cleanly on the bars and come out easily, with minimal disruption to bee harmony.

Aftermath: we left pans of carnage and honey near the hive for a few hours so that what bees could would fly back into the hive.

We had the best intentions. Removing these combs in early August theoretically ensured that they did not get honey-locked and swarm out looking for a new home too soon before cold weather. It gave them space to rebuild and have a hive just full enough to provide thermal mass and food for winter. Had it gone well, I might have gone in another time or two to remove a comb before fall, keeping pace with their construction frenzy.

I removed every bee from each pan as quickly as I could, setting aside those still alive, sticky with honey, and putting them a dozen at a time in grass under a running sprinkler, hoping some would survive the rinsing.

By the time I got to the last bowl they had all died, along with some larvae. So sad! But the honey that emerged from the strainer was clear and good.

Know that it broke my heart to see these hundreds of bees drowned in their own gold. I kept a stiff upper lip and did what I had to do to salvage something good from the mess we made of harvesting, but I did not enjoy it.

Sunday morning a bee buzzed the head of my out-of-town guest, driving us inside from tea at the pond. That afternoon I got stung on the shoulder as soon as I started with the watering wand. Monday I was almost done, two pots left, when I was stung on the elbow. These two bees didn’t even threaten me. While another bee was distracting me, they each settled quietly, flattened onto my arm, and stung so subtly it took a second to realize what was happening.

This last sting felt inconsequential at the time, but overnight swelled into a big red knot with a quarter-sized white center, and I began to worry. What if I develop an allergy? Have I created a monster superorganism that will keep me locked inside all summer? Will they ever settle down, forgive me, let me be a peaceful bee guardian again? Can I ever again sit in a silk slip three feet from the hive with a friend drinking cocktails and marvel at their industry and beauty? Is there a standard time limit on their aggravation? Does saving wild bees really mean that much to me? Does honey?

Some of these questions matter more than others. I can live without sitting near the hive, but I can’t keep the bees if I develop an allergy to their stings. I made a substantial commitment, both emotionally and financially, to being a Bee Guardian. I believe in the philosophy, and I do like honey. I’ve been growing a wildlife habitat yard for almost twenty years, and I’m committed to providing birds, insects, and any animal in the vicinity who can benefit from my yard with  sanctuary in a human-dominated world that is increasingly hostile to wild life. I’ve made a haven for creatures of all species, and now my newest, most precious golden children have locked me in the tower, shut me out of the wild flowering, ripening landscape humming with life.

What to do?

Joseph suggested I go back in in a few days to see if they’re building straight comb, and straighten it if necessary, before they get too far along. He also suggested putting a full, capped comb from another hive midway to prevent the queen from laying brood comb too far back in the hive. I am currently inclined to leave them alone until spring, because I don’t want to go through another week under house arrest this summer. More company is coming, more weeds growing that must be pulled, more vegetables to harvest. I can’t afford more inside time.

“It’s a long-term relationship,” Joseph reminded me in a cloud of angry bees, after we’d closed up the hive on Saturday. Hmmm. I’ve never been very good at those. But I’ve been learning in recent years to let things go; I’ve been practicing forgiveness; I’ve formed a secret group of two, so far, whose motto is Love ‘em anyway. I can only hope the bees will do the same.

Both Joseph and Corwin Bell have shown me by example with bees, When in doubt, wait it out. So I will find plenty of projects to accomplish inside for the next few days, and sneak out periodically to slip unobtrusively along the paths moving hoses, and wear the damn bee suit to water the patio plants, and send the damn bees my loving intentions. I will juggle the fear that rises when I hear their buzzing close to me, with the investment I’ve made in their future, with the satisfaction I feel in those six small jars of golden honey on my kitchen counter, and the taste of it with toast and tea. In the words of Favorite Auntie, “We’ll know more later.”