Tag Archive | honeybees

Among the Cleome

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Cleome serrulata, Rocky Mountain Beeplant, wild relative of gardeners’ Spider Flower, is a magnet for native pollinator species as well as honeybees.

Someday, I will find the photo I took of acres of beeplant along the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument when I was a ranger there decades ago. Acres of it! Right next to the river, in a disturbed field. That was my introduction to this native medicinal, dye, and food plant. When I lived in a trailer here 26 years ago, I scattered a native seed mix, including Gallardia, Ratibida, Linum, and Cleome. Of those four, only the beeplant has appeared erratically. Some years there are many, some, like this year, few. Maybe it doesn’t like drought. This particular patch, essentially two large stalks, I let grow in the raised bed between the Mystery Tomato and the Bolting Leeks.

Certain times of day, much of the day, these flowers buzz with the camaraderie of multiple insect species feasting at the same table. What is wrong with us? IMG_6541-109-110IMG_6222IMG_6330-101-102

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I don’t know everything. But it looks like this tiny native bee is shaking or rubbing pollen from a Cleome stamen. Another series of photos shows a big yellow bumblebee stroking the underside of two stamens with her antenna, but for some reason they won’t export. Oh well.

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This juvenile Rufous hummingbird sips the flower, which simultaneously produces fruit and seeds as blossoms continue to bloom and ripen up the stalk.

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Two distinct colors of honeybees inhabit my yard, a range of light bees, and one dark strain.

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I also don’t know the name of this bee, or even if it is a wasp. It’s over an inch long, and I only see it on the Cleome. It usually curls in on itself on these flowers.

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Bye from the Beeplant

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Young hummingbirds, this year’s fast-fledged hatchlings, seem to experiment more with the flowers than adults who’ve become accustomed to the quick-fix of the single feeder that hangs below the deck. They’re trying out the patio pots with red and blue annual Salvia, and the hanging baskets.

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mean… fuzzy wuzzy!

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Next time, the Bountiful Peach Tree.

Amidst loss and chaos throughout the summer, in my personal life as well as in community and country, and around the planet, this peach tree has brought peace and joy. Nurturing and watching from the last snow, through leaf and bloom, drop and grow, these last weeks of ripening, I’ve savored this tree in far and away its most abundant year. It keeps reminding me what’s real. One fruit of the romantic debacle/deception is that it’s driven me deeper into the larger love of my closest friends, my community, and my garden sanctuary. Let me remember to be grateful for love and lessons, every living moment of every day.

 

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Spring Feeding Frenzy

 

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Through the crabapple tree, Eurasian collared doves perch in the old feeder tree, with the West Elk Mountains beyond still white with recent snow.  

The first of these exotic (read invasive) birds arrived in Colorado in the mid-nineties, and twenty years later they now inhabit all 64 counties, with a recent Christmas Bird Count total of almost 20,000 individuals. Purist birders despair, hunters revel, and me, I just think about how fast our world is changing, how many species are going extinct, how arbitrary some of our values are, and how glad I am to have any doves at all in my yard. I don’t feel as tolerant of invasive exotic plant species, however, like cheatgrass, whitetop, tumbleweed… that list goes on and on, and is the bane of any gardener’s existence.

May just may be the sweetest month here. Mountain bluebirds perch on fenceposts, swooping on grasshoppers; house finches nesting in the gutter over the front door fledge in the dead juniper, and magpie babies squawk from their high nest north of the house. From inside yesterday I watched a fragile house wren flap its new wings like a butterfly, and got outside just in time to see the last one leave the nest in the adobe wall. Black-chinned hummingbirds court and feed in the yard. A large black and yellow bumblebee as big as my whole thumb circles the lilacs and leaves, a small fast hawk flaps and glides across the flat bright sky on this unusually cloudy humid day with no chance of rain.

It looks like I’ll have peaches and apples this year, as those trees transition from bloom to fruit. The mingled scents of newly flowering trees waft through the yard and into the house through open doors. I’ve stood with my face in the crabapple tree inhaling deeply, watching bees, who scatter if I exhale without turning my head away. Honeybees don’t like carbon dioxide, and who can blame them.

I can capture all the photographs and video and audio I could store and more, and never capture the scent of these flowering trees, this luscious pink crabapple, this effulgent lilac, or last month the almond tree at night. The fragrance seems to pulse, as though the trees themselves inhale and exhale at their own extended respiratory rate, slower than we notice, mostly. Certain times of days the bees will flock to one or another.  

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The crabapple has never been more beautiful than it is this year, and never had more bees.

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Possibly Bombus griseocollis, the brown-belted bumblebee.

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For a few days this ornamental plum shrub was full of bees and other bugs.

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Get your nose out of our business! cried the little bugs to the honeybee, all pollinating the apple tree.

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A tiny sweat bee drunk in a tulip cup.

My bumblebee anxiety has dissolved even further this past week, with scores of them on NepetaAjuga, and the mind-bending lilac, another tree that’s never been more full of flower and fragrance. I sit with it an hour a day all told this time of year if I can, breathing its cleansing, intoxicating scent. So moved by its power over me, I sought lilac essential oil online with mixed and disappointing results. Many sources say essential oil can’t be derived from lilac for various reasons, and there are many brands of lilac ‘fragrance’ oil for sale, but I did find a few sites with directions for infusing lilac flowers in oil or water.

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This is me, these days, wallowing in lilac like this Bombus huntii.

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Fat red Anthophora bomboides, or digger bee, and below, a moth.

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So I’ve ordered a bottle of grapeseed oil, and trust the deep purple lilacs on the north side of the lilac patch will be in perfect bloom by the time it arrives. Meanwhile, I’ll make lilac scones again this weekend. Last year Chef Gabrielle and I candied lilac flowers, and that was a lot of work for a lovely but minuscule result. The lilac scones provided much more gratification for significantly less work. The lilac, by the way, is also a non-native species, though not aggressive enough to be considered a weed…

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In other spring food news, I’m set for the next few weeks for my greens intake. I made a dandelion smoothie for breakfast the other day, with apple, flaxseed, nuts, yogurt, blueberries, and ginger root. Yum! There’s a nearly infinite supply of dandelions to share with the bees, and Biko the tortoise who relishes both flowers and leaves.

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Wild asparagus from along the neighbors’ driveway, and a secret place in the woods, chopped small for Cream of Asparagus soup: vegetable stock, sautéed onion, asparagus, and fresh cow’s milk blended with a dash each of salt, pepper, and homemade paprika, garnished with a dab of yogurt mixed with parmesan cheese and lemon zest, topped with nutmeg. 

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Fresh Snow on Mendicant Ridge

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The perfect apricot tree with junipers, and Mendicant Ridge in the background with fresh snow. We’ll see about fruit this year: We’ve already had two nights at 23 when the apricot buds first started to open, and Friday’s low is predicted to be 20.

It’s been a busy week. The past couple of days in particular, maybe because I ran out of decaf and drank full strength. The biggest news of the week was the storm that blew through here on Saturday night. It felt and sounded like a cloud unleashed itself fifteen feet over my metal roof, which jolted me from a sound sleep, and sent the black cat flying. Raven and Stellar just raised their heads. Wow! It only lasted a couple minutes, but it was the loudest rain I’ve ever heard (including a Florida thunderstorm over a quonset hut).IMG_0586Though the storm dumped a good amount of snow in the mountains, that won’t by itself protect us from extreme drought by midsummer, but it will help replenish the reservoirs. Still, a day after the storm, even the mud is dry.BQAV6086.JPGThe other big news is, at last a bumblebee on the almond tree! I’ve been most anxious, because usually there are bumblebees all over the almond tree, and I’ve not seen one until today. When I saw a bumblebee, so still not that reassuring, but better than nothing. Though by the time I got back outside with the camera, she was gone.

Meanwhile, the tree continues to buzz with all manner of bees and other insects.IMG_2178IMG_2273

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The adorable beefly, Bombylius, looks like a pussywillow with wings and legs.

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The first mason bees appeared today.

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Not sure whether this is murder or mating! But my money’s on mating.

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Clouds of these fast orange bees swarmed the tree a couple of days ago, and it took some extra patience to catch one still enough to try to ID…

 

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My best guess for this one is Andrena auricoma, another mining bee. Below, the same kind of bee faces off with a big black fly.

IMG_2168IMG_1958IMG_1960IMG_1962It’s charming to me that sometimes the honeybees open a bud, rather than land on an open flower. I’m sure there’s something special inside. She starts with her tongue, then pushes her face deep into the bud.

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Those leeks I mentioned last week, being inspected by Ojo. The shorter tops are the refrigerator leeks, while the taller overwintered in the raised bed.

 

 

 

Resurrection

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The very first European pasqueflower attracted a few bees a month ago.

 

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One day in early March there were about a dozen honeybees exploring the little irises. This shot clearly shows the concave pollen basket on her back leg.

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A bleak beginning to bee season had me worried most of this month. After a few honeybees dipped into the first spring crocuses in February, and a few more came for Iris reticulata earlier this month, there were no bees in my yard for weeks. Meaning, more accurately, that I didn’t see any, and I was looking. I checked the irises, the pasqueflower, and the silver buffaloberry daily; I glanced at the first few almond blossoms as they’ve opened this week, and nary a bee, native or otherwise.

But at last the silver buffaloberry is in such bloom that even I can smell it, and I stood under it this morning feeling my first real sense of joy all month. The tree is full of bees: all the honeybees have nearly identical oval packs of pollen on their back legs, incidentally the exact same size as the unpopped buffaloberry buds, and they won’t sit still on a flower. If they’re not just skimming they’re crawling, even ambling across the clusters of tiny yellow blooms, gathering while they may their ample pollen. Plus there are clouds of sweat bees, a few mining bees, and a large black fly or two.

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After an anxious month observing a paucity of bees, I was thrilled to stand beside the thorny buffaloberry in a fertile buzz of native and honeybees.

IMG_1325Andrena, or mining bees, are known as a spring bee, and are valuable spring crop pollinators, including fruit blossoms, apples and almonds in particular. However at Mirador this week, there are way more Andrena on the buffaloberry, above, than on the almond tree, which is happily buzzing with honeybees.

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The almond tree is getting tall enough that I can capture bees from the deck above.

IMG_1541I never thought I got all that depressed here in the winter. I think of it as my hibernation, but I’m usually pretty content. This year, late winter, after we’d had barely any winter at all, I found myself getting testy, snappish, and feeling downright dead inside. There were a lot of reasons I could suppose, but the return of the bees has so lifted my spirits that I know part of it was anxiety about their whereabouts. As the garden is coming rapidly back to life, so too is my soul resurrecting.

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The native bee house filled up beautifully last fall, and I can’t wait to see the bees emerge. 

Sandhill cranes have been flying over most of March, sometimes in the hundreds, definitively trumpeting spring. The flicker in my eaves drills most mornings on the cornice, alarming out insects for her breakfast. Songbirds returned gradually over the past month and now serenade each sunrise.

The redtail hawks are finally sitting on their nest by the road, but nobody returned to the canyon cottonwood this spring. Concerned last summer when the nest appeared abandoned, I watched through the seasons, the weathers, the winds, as my hypothesis proved true: Over time the far side of the nest sloughed off, and by last fall there remained only a small cluster of twigs around the southwest anchor. I surmised it was a young pair of birds who simply hadn’t constructed the nest securely enough, and that a big storm blew out the back of it, dropping the eggs down the canyon side before or just after they hatched.

The leeks I left in the ground over winter are four inches tall and bright green. The leeks I left in the refrigerator all winter are just an inch behind! The last leek harvest was mostly small doubles, and I cut their tops off and stuck them in a bag in the fridge, intending to use them. But they slipped to the back and by the time I found them they were a little shriveled, and I put off using them. I looked at them a few more times through winter, and couldn’t bring myself to either cook with or compost them. Late February I pulled them out to dump in the compost, and found green sprouts emerging, so I split them up and planted them. And they’re coming along fine!

Meanwhile, I’ve still got a beautiful fifty-acre field for sale. I had hoped I could sell it this week to a lovely retired couple, dreaming of doing the very thing with it that I had intended to do when I bought it, before my health and strength fell short of what is needed to nurture that land into a thriving subsistence homestead. When I think about that field’s short history in my life, and its significance to me, and the fact that it is my 401K, I just can’t part with it for 20% under asking price. The domestic water tap alone is worth between $15,000 and $20,000, and water is of course the essence of life everywhere, but especially here in the high desert. At some point, the fact that it’s in conservation easement and borders a 105-acre protected wildlife sanctuary, will be an asset rather than an encumbrance. The perfect buyer will come along, I’m sure of it.

In the meantime, the Dutchman next door intends to fatten up the field with fresh fencing and cows to fertilize and plow the ground. Not selling it this week isn’t the worst thing. And the sense of rejuvenation I have this Easter season, with the advent of the bees, allows me to breathe easy despite my disappointment. Anyone out there “looking to move farther up the watershed” as one new farmer here from California said, call Bob at westerncoloradorealty.com and check out this gorgeous, peaceful piece of paradise.

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The field in spring, and below, after a successful haying season.

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Tracking Tulips

IMG_3396It’s been an amazing month. Spring has sprung like a flower from a clown’s buttonhole, boing!! On my days of rest I’m exhausted. But the other days are like a carnival, one ride after another, both sequentially: a carousel of tulips, the apricot tree’s long flowering waterfall: after a short climb to full blossom a burgeoning of bloom then a whoosh to done the past few days, weeds emerging like a lush jungle ride faster and thicker than I ever remember; and in layers: all at the same time, each tree, shrub or part of the garden following its own trajectory, with its own protean pace and colorful convolutions. Like gardening inside a Picasso.

European pasque flower popped up near the front door in a place I suspect I transplanted it to last year, and I inadvertently started tracking it in photos. While it’s one of the earliest blooms, showing up shortly after crocuses, it doesn’t attract many bees. It’s behavior through the years has charmed me. From the same deep rhizome it sends up sequential purple bell-flowers. As each old flower sheds petals and unfurls its silky seedheads, a new bud grows from the root.

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This sequence will continue for weeks, until eventually buds will cease forming and seedheads will grow tall and topple, sowing themselves in a circle around the original rhizome. That plant will expand each year, dropping more and more concentric rings of seeds, growing new little pasque sprouts. An ingenious propagation adaptation, in my estimation.

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Because I know what I’m seeing in this largely unhelpful image, I can count at least 17 young plants at varying distances from the mother plant. Let’s keep an eye on this growing family, in the crabapple bed down north by the pond, as summer progresses.

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Each year this red tulip group morphs and grows. I divided it last year and spread some of its stray bulbs down the bed. For a few weeks in spring, it’s a punctuation mark in my yard that everyone remarks upon. Some years ago I planted a handful of standard red tulip bulbs that I bought on impulse at the Farm and Home store in town. Deer ate them the first few years, but somehow over time I think they hybridized with the hardy little naturalizing tulips (which the deer largely ignore) growing shorter and clumpier.

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And this morning, after the 19 degree night, they woke tattered and frost-covered. I touched them: frozen solid. I really thought that was the end of them…

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…but by this afternoon they had perked up remarkably.

The little wild tulip, Tulipa tarda, originally from central Asia, has been in commercial cultivation since the 16th century. In my yard, it’s grown for around fifteen years, following the red tulips in bloom. They’ll stay closed all day in clouds and rain, but give them a few hours of full sun and they’ll pop open. Below, a cluster the other day at 12:45, and the same shot two hours later. I lay on my belly and watched them for about an hour, counting it as meditation, and actually slowed myself down enough to see micro-incremental movements of petals.

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Busy Bee Preparations

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I’m coming up from the morass that is the inside of my mind ~ not that it isn’t sometimes a sea of serenity ~ but the past months have flown from winter to summer with my hardly noticing. I’ve been immersed in bees, pleasantly, putting together this show. The past week or two I’ve been repeatedly bowled over by unforeseen eventualities: printer challenges, supply insufficiency, poor prior planning despite my best efforts to think everything through well in advance, and not least simple operator error. But I’ve learned so much! About the big printer I keep upstairs and use so infrequently we have to become acquainted all over again every time I do turn it on. About Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop, programs I’ve been slowly learning for years, but have immersed myself in since January. About my capacity for patience with myself, the incalculable value of dogs and cats, the benefits of meditation, and trust in the flow of life. Also learning that life’s a lot easier if I just don’t get mad in the first place.

Also, I keep learning more about native bees. With the help of this amazing app, Wild Bee Gardens, and an unexpected friendship found through it, I begin to grasp the parts of bees more deeply. As with my digital education, I’ve known the basics for a long time: head, thorax, abdomen. And wings, of course. Now I’m learning more details of their body parts, variations among which can help identify different species: the specialized pollen packing hairs called scopa, the three tiny “simple eyes” on top of their heads called ocelli, and the middle part of a bee’s face called a clypeus.

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The clypeus on this male digger bee is the bright smooth patch between his eyes and above his labrum, or upper lip. Males of many native species have this brighter or lighter colored clypeus, which helps us know their gender.

As well as greeting cards... I also couldn't stop myself from ordering a fleece blanket with this adorable honeybee

As well as greeting cards, mugs, tote bags, posters, and dozens of framed prints, large and small, for sale at the show, I also couldn’t stop myself from ordering a fleece blanket with this adorable honeybee. If no one buys it, I’ll certainly enjoy its warmth myself.

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Last week I finished the three-part banner of honeybees in comb that I’ve been dreaming for months, and installed it in the Hive. Below, postcard-size magnets of a segment of it are on order; I hope they arrive in time for the opening Friday night.

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The breakfast table holds all the small frames as I fill them from the workshop in the sunroom.

The breakfast table holds all the small frames as I fill them from the workshop in the sunroom.

Downstairs has become an impromptu frame shop, the small printer humming, prints drying, tools on tables, frames in various stages on the way to filling up with bees. I’m recycling frames, partly to make these bees affordable, and partly because why not? I’ve got so many already; I’m emptying them of junipers and landscapes from past shows, pulling ancestors from old family frames, filling the assorted empty frames any family full of artists ends up with over years. Stacks of stagnant frames are morphing into stacks of vibrant colors; I can hardly wait to see them all on display at once later this week.

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Upstairs prints hang to dry as the big printer keeps chugging away.

Some of the bees are framed in mats of willow rings woven by Ryan Strand, who will also have his willow sculptures on display at the Hive.

Some of the bees are framed in mats of willow rings woven by Ryan Strand, who will also have his willow sculptures on display at the Hive.

Turkeys held up traffic the other day as I drove to town, a big male displaying in the right lane for half a dozen hens milling around him. This morning as I drove along the Smith Fork, another big male down in the valley, tail feathers fanned, most hens up near the road but one watching him devotedly; all the apricot trees along the road in full bloom. My apricot not so much, though thoroughly pruned last week and ready to bear fruit. The almond tree, though: spectacular. Up against the house in a warmer micro-climate, it’s full of fragrant white blossoms. Bees and flies are drawn like me to the scent of them opening in the sun against the dun adobe wall.

At the end of the balcony I stand, looking down at this sapling’s grand florabundance; black flies, shiny tiger-striped native bees, fuzzy golden honeybees buzzing among the tree’s budding, blooming twigs; down on the ground along the path, pointed yellow tulips in dense clusters bloom, amid soft green groundcovers churning snowmelt and sunshine into foliage. All day, running up and down stairs between printing and choosing which images to print, I step outside frequently, enjoying the sweet sight, sound and scent. Last night when I let the dogs out, temperature dropping to freezing, the fragrance of the almond tree overwhelmed, so strong I didn’t immediately realize whence it came: in sun the scent wafts intermittently, you have to sniff to catch it. This wintry night it enveloped me, almost brought me to my knees with wonder, in the cold dark below the waxing Pink Moon.

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Meanwhile, it’s been during this frenzied time that the kittens turned one year old, and learned how much fun it is to get me to let them in and out. And in and out. And in and out. My eyes cramped up last week: I drove out to buy ink, and overnight my Rx sunglasses were worse than nothing! It turns out that yes, your eyeballs can cramp; the doctor told me the 20-20-20 Rule: For every twenty minutes that I’m looking closely at the screen, turn and focus on something 20 feet away for twenty seconds. Most days during this project, I’ve been up that often to let a dog in or a cat out, or a cat in and a dog out, or to fill their bowls, or to fill mine. So until I became addicted to building the banner in Photoshop, I gave my eyes a natural break often enough for the focusing muscles not to cramp. Days like today I need to set a timer to remind myself. It’s cold and gray again, and none of us want to be outside. We’re warm and well-fed, and while the other mammals nap I keep printing and framing, the big push in the last week before the opening five nights hence.

 

Beesession

One of the year's first bees midst the yellow and white crocuses which have already faded away.

One of the year’s first bees midst the yellow and white crocuses which have already faded away.

Or specifically, Bee Obsession. While I’ve only seen a few bees so far this spring, mostly honeybees on the crocuses and miniature irises, I’ve been obsessed with bees since mid-Winter. On Earth Day I’ll be opening a show at The Hive in Paonia, called A Thousand Bees. This idea has been in my head for a couple of years, and the time hasn’t been right for one reason or another to manifest it, until this winter. And it’s perfect that I’m still working on bees inside, it keeps me occupied during this windy confusing season of early spring, when I tend to get too excited about the garden and start seeds way way too early.

Beautiful blooms have already come and gone in the spring bed, with miniature and regular tulip greens triangulating their way out of the ground, mini irises already faded, their strap leaves growing tall and green; the white grape hyacinth are up, never very many, and the snow-in-summer is spreading far and wide. This morning I sorted and arranged hoses, aiming for the least drag factor with the most coverage for hand-watering and sprinkler attachment. Over the years I’ve accrued quite a collection of hoses, ultimately ending up with half a dozen Gilmour Flexogens. These are great, flexible hoses with a lifetime warranty. Last winter I snipped both ends off of three repaired Flexogens and sent them back to Gilmour, and three brand new hoses arrived in the lengths I specified. These are grey and blend much better with the landscape than the original mint green hoses, so I’m using them in front. With half a dozen in a mix of 25-, 50-, and 75-foot lengths, I think I’ve finally got the yard covered, like spider legs out from the house. Is it the most efficient ever? We’ll see.

Where do hoses come from, anyway? I don’t even want to know the nature and extent of the resources involved in getting the best garden hose to my yard.

Why I have disappointed myself in my resolution to post Morning Rounds at least once a week is this:

This poster holds 156 (of the thousand) images, and will be printed poster-size. I've also made a poster of 54 native bees, and one of 54 bumblebees. So there's sure to be some bee for everyone to love. 

This poster holds 156 (of the thousand) images, and will be printed poster-size. I’ve also made a poster of 54 native bees, and one of 54 bumblebees. So there’s sure to be some bee for everyone to love.

Since January I’ve culled around 1200 images of native bees and honeybees from the startling eight thousand or so I’ve taken over the past four summers. I continue to cull, and to perfect each image. Some of them will be mounted in round willow frames made by a young man who is sharing the Hive space with his own exhibit featuring woven sculptures. Some of them will be huge in regular frames, some will be in small frames, some on mugs, tote bags, and greeting cards. Altogether I intend to show in one space a thousand unique images of bees. A thousand different bees? No. A thousand images. Some are the same bee on the same flower, at different moments. Still, a thousand images I think will give quite an experience of bees!

But why? That part is not clear to me yet, but has something to do with celebrating the fleeting beauty of our fragile planet. I’m happily driven to spend hour after hour, day after day playing with my images of bees, wallowing in the certainty of this one beautiful thing in this one moment, in this enervating erratic weather. I want people to learn to love bees, people who don’t already love them; and those who do I want to give this joyful experience of color, light, and life in a form they can take home with them.

So this is the world in which I have dwelt more or less full time since late December. And my little world continues to spin around me. The kittens now dwell from early morning til mid-afternoon outside; when they come in they eat their fill and go right to sleep. I rarely see them again until they jump up at bed time.

Little black panther in the juniper woods, alternately leaping up trees and chasing his sister as they leapfrog along on our daily walks.

Little black panther in the juniper woods, alternately leaping up trees and chasing his sister as they leapfrog along on our daily walks.

Bedtime finds me trapped like a pencil between cats on one side and dogs on the other.

Bedtime finds me trapped like a pencil between cats on one side and dogs on the other.

Meanwhile, seismic changes seem to be shifting inside me. We’ll know more later.