Tag Archive | snow

Raging Spring

Dramatic weather on the national news: record heat in the Northeast. Katie reports it was 91 in New Hampshire, Julie said 86 in New Brunswick. This afternoon I sawed a large limb off the wild plum, once the snow had dropped off it. Last night late, when I let the dogs out for midnight whiz, I was staggered by the weight of snow on all the trees and shrubs in the yard. With all their spring leaves on, their fading blossoms and baby fruits, they’ve so much more surface to hold the snow.

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A twelve-foot tall New Mexico foresteria outside the front door, flattened by snow. Behind it, that white mound between two junipers is the Amur Maple, easily a fifteen-foot tall sapling, limbs bent to the ground.

This was an especially dense wet snow. Limbs were down all over town.

I’ve felt particularly useless all day. Some national and some extremely local politics have drained me. I woke up anxious, felt like a fish out of water all day. My head is full of spaghetti. I am uncharacteristically dark; or perhaps I am cyclically dark. I gather this is the kind of matrix that causes spring’s swelling suicide rates. Winter has gone and things remain the same; snow returns with vigor. This too will change.

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The wild plum tree, broken under melting snow. Below, the same tree forty days ago…

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The massive pink honeysuckle, its fragrant blooms just opened days ago and covered in bees, bent this morning under a thick blanket.

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The flowers were resilient. Irises so recently in bloom I’ve haven’t begun to photograph them, bowed but not broken, standing nearly straight by afternoon, after everything melted. Before it started snowing again.

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Everything all gorgeous last weekend when I started planting annuals in pots, bringing out herbs and dahlias, potting up tomatoes, sprouting peppers.

Tonight I find surprising relief in watching the Weather Channel. Powerful storms rage across the central plains. Twelve tornadoes so far today, again. The winds this spring and last have been planetary. The atmosphere whips itself into a frenzy. We see only a small segment of the world’s weather on our television, maybe it’s different in other countries. We only see, for the most part, the weather over the continental US.

I might have been driving across the continental US this very day. If so, I’d have been glued to the Weather Channel, on TV if I could get it, or on my laptop, if I could get internet wherever I was hunkered down for the night, at whatever state park or back road hotel. Many’s the night I’ve fallen asleep to the weather, having memorized my place on the map, what county I was in so I’d know the name if I heard it under a tornado watch or warning, knowing the nearest towns in each direction, my exact location on the weather map as it flashed on the screen so I could track the radar at night.

There was a thrilling sense of aliveness on those treks across the country; knowing how near I was camped to a train track, so I would know if I heard a freight-train that it might actually be a train and not a tornado; knowing whether I was above or below a nearby dam, in case it blew; taking my chances having weighed all factors I could conceive of, always having an exit plan. I let myself escape the frustrations of today, my own harsh judgments, in the shiver of excitement watching weather. Feet of snow in the Rockies. Trailer park flattened in Kansas, tornado vortex signature in Missouri, spectacular lightning in Oklahoma. I might have been any one of those places today, but I’m not.

I inhale deeply, and exhale, my first relaxed breath of the day: I could have been there, driving my dogs and camper across the country to be with my dear auntie next week for her ninetieth birthday. I had planned to be on the way. But I decided a couple of months ago not to go, and I could not be more grateful. I did something right today, anyway: I stayed home.

Spring as Sure as Anything

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Brief glory Iris reticulata varieties, budding and blooming between the challenges of single digit nights, blowing snow, and someone biting their little heads off.

The big winds we had Sunday and Monday must have blown open the mechanical room door. I hardly went outside the whole 48 blustery hours, after battening down (almost) all the hatches in the hours before the “wind event” started. Once the clouds cleared the night dropped to nine degrees, and the water pipe between the pump and the pressure tank froze. When I woke yesterday morning all I knew was that there was no water in the house.

Here is an instance where I can recognize the benefits of daily meditation. I said Oh, and was glad I had filled the pitcher the night before, poured some for the cats and the coffee kettle. I broke the thin ice on the pond to bring up a bucket of water to flush the toilet. Suddenly the orchids I forgot to water the previous two days were in desperate need. I left a faucet open while I meditated, and when it began to trickle I ran all the faucets one by one. Once they were all primed I felt competently satisfied. A little later I heard a strange sound: out in the room with pump, water heaters, solar controllers and batteries: a geyser shooting at the north wall!

I flipped the pump breaker and shut the valve to the house. I realized later I could have run inside and run water into the sinks to help empty the pressure tank, cutting down the flood in the mechanical room. But I never felt the frustration and blame I once would have in this situation. I called my regular plumber. He was swamped, but said he’d come at the end of the day if I couldn’t find someone else. I called a number of plumbers, spoke to several pleasant people, and found one happy to come by around four. Then went back to work. All with remarkable calm.

I knew I washed my hands a lot during a day; I was more amused than frustrated to note just how many times I reached for the faucet or wished I could. Oh the sweet relief of hot water and soap! I felt so grateful to be able to wash the dishes. I had a lovely day despite the in-house drought. And I filled the pitcher and watering cans just in case last night.

This morning I was still thrilled to have running water! I tried out this turmeric lemonade recipe: 4 c. cold water, 2 T powdered turmeric, 4T maple syrup, and the juice of one lemon. Eh. I added the juice of one whole lime and a splash of cayenne, all in a quart jar, shook and chilled it and shook before drinking. Yum, finally! I’ve tried the capsules, but can’t even remember my regular vitamins half the time; I’ve tried the golden milk but don’t want to mess with that at bedtime and don’t really care for the flavor. This will be a great tonic to sip on throughout a hot summer day when I’m in and out gardening.

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Turmeric lemonade, anti-inflammatory and touted anti-depressant.

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Little yellow irises were just getting ready to open when a late February snow buried them. They waited just so for a week before it was warm enough to open. Below, the purples at ten am, and an hour later. 

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OK, this happened in December, but it sure felt like this when snow blew in while the buds were trying to bloom. Then perhaps this same doe came and ate their tops off.

In between editing audio meditations and video yoga, I’ve been getting outside to dabble in the garden again, on mild days for the past month. The first slow flat stretch of the roller coaster has begun. Cutting back dried stems, mindful of possible preying mantis or other egg cases; raking winter windfall leaves and snowbreak stalks, pruning broken limbs, trimming thymes, pulling off old iris leaves where new green tips stick up. Clearing the early-spring bulb bed. These first splashes of color signal the end of winter. We’ll see more snows, maybe some big snows, but they’ll melt within a few days and the flowers will appreciate the moisture. As sure as anything, there’s no stopping their reach for the sun.

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The Right Tools for the Job.

 

And the Sun Shines Again

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Raven on leash restriction for a few weeks after her annual New Year’s veterinary emergency, and happy Stellar bounding up the driveway on a rare sunny break between snowstorms.

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Most days looked like this when we all walked up the driveway, two dogs, two cats, and me.

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The garden in winter. Lots of shoveling.

It’s been a pretty good month, despite various personal, climatological, and political frustrations. Raven’s annual New Year’s veterinary emergency wasn’t too bad or too expensive, just ripped the annular ligament, separating her little toe on her front foot, and nothing to be done about it but time and rest. Lots of health challenges for me, but all turned out well, including my new bionic eyes, two cataract surgeries in the past three weeks. I can see the dirt and dust bunnies in the house so much better, and also the wrinkles on this almost-60 face. But also, read the computer and see the mountains without glasses. How white the snow is!

Things look brighter than ever this morning, and that’s partly due to the new eyes and partly because the sun is full on shining for the second day in a row. That’s only the fifth time so far this year we’ve had any sunshine, which poses challenges for anyone living off the grid on solar power. I was sick over my birthday and all my festivities got cancelled; but Dawn dropped off cake with candles and designer cupcakes along with a magnificent puzzle, Cynthia dropped off homemade ice-cream cake, and Kristian brought lunch and genuine pound cake. Deb had me up for dinner later that week and gave me Godiva truffles, and Suzi left bacon and sausage gift-wrapped in my freezer. So it was a great birthday after all.

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My own private birthday party.

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Van Gogh’s flower trio on loan from Karen, to make my enforced quarantine bearable.

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While friends across the country marched in cities large and small, I provided pussyhats to some of the women from our valley who went to Denver. This photo from my goddaughter Melody in DC.

Girlfriends wore the pussyhats I knitted to the Women’s March in Denver, and the spectacular turnout in support of “women’s rights are human rights” in large and small cities across the globe kept tears of joy and hope streaming for two full days. Last night I used some of the Christmas money Uncle Charles sent to order a new Liberty puzzle, On the Ngare Ndare River, one I’ve been unable to get out of my head since last puzzle season. Then I got reacquainted with my literary crush of last January, David Foster Wallace, reading a gift from John, the philosophical treatise All Things Shining, which devotes Chapter Two to discussion of Wallace’s genius.

I’ve taken in small bites reports of the disaster in DC that is our new president, presciently predicted twenty years ago in Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest. But the fear, anger, and helplessness swirling through me and many who love this planet and revere all life on it took root in my subconscious. I’m told it’s tedious to tell people your dreams, so I’ve served last night’s up another place. When I awoke this morning to the warm bodies of dogs, and the black cat nuzzling my armpit, it took awhile to get enough air, but each gulp was a little epiphany.

This is real. This bed, this house, this glass of water; these animals, those mountains out the window, this breathing feeling body, this breath. And this breath. These neighbors, this snow-covered yard, this wonderful life. Despite the nightmare, and because of it, I climbed out of bed this morning with more energy and joy than I have had in a long time.

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Stellar is nine years old today. My new eyes allow me to see the white hairs showing up in the fur around his big brown eyes. He is such a remarkable animal; each year that he lives is a tremendous gift. Nine is getting up there for such a big dog, well over half his life expectancy. We haven’t gotten out much this month, with all the snow, the cold (minus five yesterday morning, but also the head cold I had for two weeks), the eye surgeries. I promised him a big walk today, so after coffee (mine) and breakfast (theirs) I strapped on snowshoes and took the dogs on a long ramble to the canyon.

Cottontail and jackrabbit tracks criss-crossed elk and deer prints through the sagebrush. The red fox left a tell-tale trail across the snow. Juniper limbs bent to the ground under heavy snow. The dogs bounded and punched through while I crunched along the top of the crust. At the canyon a redtail hawk soared from the top of a piñon snag. A few songbirds called through the crisp air. When I reached the bench I sat in splendid silence for a long while, feet resting in the built-in footstool of upright snowshoes.

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A brilliant day full of gratitude and hope for all the gifts of this year so far.

Indoor-Outdoor Winter

On a window patrol, Topaz goes nose to nose with an even larger animal. What is wrong with that buck's antlers?

On a recent window patrol, Topaz goes nose to nose with an even larger animal. What is wrong with those antlers?

In a way, I’m glad the kittens have noticed the birds. They’ve spent their days the past week lurking in various windows, tensed, tails twitching in time with whatever music is on, watching juncos peck around the ground near the house for crumbs leftover from fall: dried rosehips, tiny purple-black foresteria berries, catkins scattered by the nuthatches and finches feeding in the birch tree, lavender; who knows what they’re finding in this deep and steady snow. I took down the bird feeders last summer, when I realized that I would eventually let these cats outside.

I vowed years ago not to have an outdoor cat again. Then Little Doctor Vincent showed up bleeding under a juniper three days after I buried Dia the psycho calico, and a couple of years later Little White Mikey arrived the night after we gave Little Bear his aerial burial. Both were happy to come inside but they knew their birthright, so I compromised by putting bells on them. Mikey vanished after only nine months, and was more like a ghost than a real cat anyway. Vincent lost a five-dollar collar about once a month, so after a year I gave up on that. He didn’t really hunt birds much so I was lucky. After Vinnie died I renewed my vow, tending only to my sweet old orange cat Brat Farrar, who had always been content to live inside, and refusing several offers of lovely indoor-outdoor cats.

Then the little hoes showed up. They both really want to get outside, and though I intended to let them loose after they were neutered in October, for various reasons that hasn’t happened yet. We experimented last summer and fall with a few short forays. Ojo would stick around and even come when I called, but Topaz made steady oblivious progress each time toward the perimeter fence, and the prospect of losing her into the woods unnerved me. So then we tried some leash walks, which went better than you might expect. Though Ojo objected strenuously at first, Topaz got the hang of it pretty quickly and could be led.

Keeping them in whenever anyone else went in or out the door became challenging. The mud room served as an airlock chamber for the front door, but the back door required agility and speed to prevent escape. Then I went away for a month, and when I returned they were out of the habit of trying (imagine here a whole paragraph of speculation as to why). A week later the snow came, and since then they’ve shown no inclination to leave the house. I try to brush each of them at least once a day, and vacuum a few times a week; still, the hair spills out from under furniture, piles into drifts on the stairs, tickles my lips when there’s no kitten near. They’re very skillful at rampaging through the house, from one end to the other and back, around the couch over the piano up the stairs off the wall and back, without knocking much down; occasionally the brass bowl crashes off the piano or an orchid tips over on the stone wall, but for the frequency and velocity of their chases incidents are acceptably rare. Still, they need more space to run.

They've begun climbing to places they shouldn't be, like the top of the refrigerator which has no top; all its guts are up there, open to the air ~ and cat hair, and mischief.

They’ve begun climbing to places they shouldn’t be, like the top of the refrigerator which has no top; all its guts are up there, open to the air ~ and cat hair, and mischief.

So as the snow melts this spring, and before the garden foliage gets so thick I can’t see them, I will let them out. Therefore, I’m not feeding the birds this winter, and though I miss the sound and sight of their flocks at the feeder tree, I’m glad I have one fewer path to shovel in this big snow winter. With no bird feeders-cum-bait station, they seem to be finding plenty of natural food that perhaps they’ve ignored during previous years when they were provided with a bottomless supply of sunflower and thistle seeds.

A foot of fresh snow and counting on top of the foot that barely melted. My dimly visible path to the back gate and compost that I shoveled twice yesterday is ready for another effort. We'd all rather just stay inside.

A foot of fresh snow and counting on top of the foot that barely melted. My dimly visible path to the back gate and compost that I shoveled twice yesterday is ready for another effort. We’d all rather just stay inside.

The snow continues to fall, the cats run from one window to another focused on birds and occasional bunnies. I don’t wish them to catch the birds when they finally taste their freedom, but noticing them is the first step in learning to hunt, and I do want them to hunt mice and chipmunks, and frighten squirrels and bunnies out of the yard come summer. I’m hoping now they know there’s prey around the house they’ll stick close when I release them, and not go running off into the forest. We’ll all compromise: I’ll try bells again and the kittens will take only what their hampered abilities allow them, hopefully not birds; I will break my resolution and have outdoor cats again, but not lure the birds to an easy death with feeders.

Meanwhile, we've discovered the true purpose of the copper sink.

Meanwhile, we’ve discovered the true purpose of the copper sink.

As for Raven, the first sign of true improvement came four days after the poisoning when she lay at my feet waiting for Last Bite.

As for Raven, the first sign of true improvement came four days after the poisoning when she lay at my feet waiting for Last Bite.

The next morning I began to have confidence that she'd be fine when she rolled  on her back for the first time since almost dying. Within a week she was back to her old tricks, eating anything her mouth came across. She remains under strict supervision.

The next morning I began to have confidence that she’d be fine when she rolled on her back for the first time since almost dying. Within a week she was back to her old tricks, eating anything her mouth came across. She remains under strict supervision.

What IS wrong with this buck's antlers? We've observed him in the neighborhood this winter and wondered. He finally came close enough for me to get a good look. A piece of twine tangled into the base of his one remaining antler, which has never shed its velvet, hangs over his right eye. His other antler has been cut off clean. Masses of fur and flesh looking rotten and raw cluster around his pedicels. As he looked through our window at the cat, then at me, I felt he told me his story: he got caught in someone's garden netting or hammock or something, and in extricating himself sliced off one growing antler and tangled the bases of both so hopelessly it stunted the growth of the other and resulted in these fungus-like wounds. Or maybe there is fungus growing around the traumatized tissue. I hope that when it's time to shed he drops the whole mess and can start fresh next season.

And what IS wrong with this buck’s antlers? We’ve observed him in the neighborhood this winter and wondered. He finally came close enough for me to get a good look. A piece of twine tangled into the base of his one remaining antler, which never shed its velvet, hangs over his right eye. His other antler has been sliced off clean. Masses of fur and flesh looking rotten and raw cluster around his pedicels. As he looked through our window at the cat, then at me, I felt his story: he got caught in someone’s garden netting or hammock or something, and in extricating himself sliced off one growing antler and tangled the bases of both so hopelessly it stunted the growth of the other and resulted in these fungus-like wounds. Or maybe there is fungus growing around the traumatized tissue. I hope that when it’s time to shed he drops the whole mess and can start fresh next season.

Snowed In and Loving It

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Sunrise this lengthening-day morning brought a beautiful view full of new snow. Last night as it still fell, Tom our UPS man called to say he’d left a package at the top of the driveway. I tried to push the Honda through but only made it about fifteen feet before backing up to my dry parking spot and waiting til morning. Once the sun was up and the air had warmed a bit, I bundled my snot-nosed coughing self up warmly and strapped on snowshoes to go get the package. I knew what it was, and it was essential.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

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Why doesn’t the grocery store sell kitten chow in the big bags? I can get it so much cheaper in a 14-pound bag from Amazon, and usually it’s delivered right to the door. If Tom had only come a few hours sooner he could have made it down the driveway! As it happened, I didn’t want him to even try. Christmas week and he was already hours late. Driving must have been harrowing for him all day. The cat food Deborah had donated to tide us over must be far more tasty than the kitten chow; the kittens ate two cups in one day between them, twice as much as usual, and were mewling for more. I had to get them back on track, and I didn’t want any more puking.

So I headed up the driveway. The snow was just deep enough to make it slow with boots alone and tedious with snowshoes, so I kicked those off just beyond the first gate. Just past the skunk culvert where the fence begins I considered turning back, just waiting awhile, in case Cynthia decided to make tracks with her Subaru or Fred came to plow. But I continued: it was so beautiful out, the kittens needed their proper food, and I knew this would be the dogs’ only chance today for a walk; also, I don’t like to presume when or if my kindest of neighbors will come with his tractor and plow.

Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

                                                    Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

Fred and Mary's cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

Fred and Mary’s cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

I love being snowed in. There’s a peace that doesn’t come any other time. Silent snow, secret snow. True solitude. I am cocooned in the warmth of my house with all the potential of the day ahead. My creative juices can flow, wander from one project to another, without external distraction. No one will come. Keeping essential paths shoveled takes time and energy, but gets me outside occasionally to appreciate the beauty of the place I have chosen to live. Shovel slowly, stop often, breathe deeply and look around. I become more grounded in this place when I can’t get out.

Away from here for a month I was a mess. I didn’t recognize myself, in constant fight, flight, or freeze. I realized sometime before I headed home that this journey was a crucial bardo: I had either to recommit whole-heartedly to the challenging rural life I have chosen, or I had to come up with a big change of plan. I haven’t decided which yet, but in the two weeks I’ve been home, the fear and anxiety have receded, leaving a calm gratitude in their place.

In that moment this morning when I considered turning back, I realized there was no hurry. Enjoy. This is the life I chose, these the burdens and the pleasures. The physical exertions that make living here hard seem nothing now compared to the mental anguish I suffer in or near a city. The hike up the driveway and back took almost an hour, pausing now and then to enjoy the view, sunlight slanting through white clouds southeast, a dark shelf of weather in the western sky, Grand Mesa sparkling to the north, unbroken white fields; juniper boughs heavy with puffs of snow, slipping off in shimmering showers, sometimes saddling Stellar with white as he runs beneath the trees. Nine-year-old Raven bouncing through the snow like a puppy, racing, scooting, kicking up powder. I carried the 14-pound bag of kitten chow in a tote over my shoulder, switching shoulders and pole hand often. Just as I reached the door and dropped the snowshoes, the tote bag, the pole, I heard the tell-tale putt-putt of Fred’s tractor in the distance.

I’ll pretend I’m still snowed in. I’ll sit by the woodstove and tend the small fire and read, write, sip hot tea. I’ll wallow in the gratitude I feel for the comfort and security of a community that supports me, through neighborly aide (of so many sorts) and convivial ritual, with friendship and love, in this spectacular place we have all chosen.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn't catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I'd have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn’t catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I’d have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Many of our winter rituals could happen anywhere, I suppose. Only here under wide-open skies could the season’s turning be marked with a fire like this one. We all stood looking up and marveled during those magical moments when sparks were shooting up through down-coming snowflakes. Up, down, hot, cold, light, dark. Altogether, life.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the snow-filled stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

 

A Surrogate Ski

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When I woke this morning to an inch of fresh snow and a clear sky with bright sun, I thought of my friend who got thrown by her horse last week. She is couch-bound for a long time, and in a lot of pain with some fractures and other injuries. I can’t say for sure, but I imagine her body wasn’t the only part of her aching when she looked outside this morning. We ski together sometimes, and I think when she looked out at the snow-covered junipers in the sun, her heart ached to be out there sliding through the woods on her skis.

I feel a cold coming on, and it was bitter this morning, below 20 degrees. I could have done what I did the past few snowy grey days: made coffee and sat warmly in the living room, working on the computer or reading a book. But I thought of my friend wishing she could ski and being unable, and I hauled my lazy, grateful ass out of bed, dressed, went out into the glorious morning, and snapped on my skis. With the balmy weather the past month melting what little snow we’ve had this winter, we haven’t skied in six weeks.

There is nothing graceful about me skiing through sagebrush and juniper on eight inches of crusty snow. But the dogs were thrilled and beautiful, flying away and back to me kicking up powder as I stuttered along the Typewriter Trail to the rim of the canyon and back. Snow blew from the trees in sparkles through brilliant air. She would have loved it.

I wish she could have skied today. Even immobilized, she is an inspiration. Because she would have and I wouldn’t, because I could and she couldn’t, I skied this morning. This one’s for you, neighbor.

 

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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.