I’m grateful for the first mountain bluebird this year, in the driveway – then another – a pair! I’m grateful for crocuses that won’t quit. I’m grateful that even while the human world went so topsy turvy over the past year, ineluctable spring just keeps coming: nothing will stop her, as though nothing else matters.
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.
Andrena, 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But the good news is, so far, as the radio DJ said a couple of weeks ago, Looks like we’ll have fruit this year, folks. Our valley’s abundant fruit crops, cherries peaches pears apples nectarines, apparently survive, a boon to all the fruit farmers, thus far. Who knows what the next day will bring? We’ll know more later!
The flowering trees are almost done, and may or may not produce fruit. Blossoms on both apples look dingy today after three inches of snow last night and a low of 28. Whatever survived that could drop tomorrow if it reaches the predicted low of 21. All spring it has been like this. The trees started weeks earlier than usual, so we all knew it was an iffy season. I’ve been making the most of their beauty, hanging out with each tree as it began to bloom, following it through its fullness ~ full of blossoms, full of bees ~ and into its flower-fading leafing out.
Meanwhile in the woods this month, wallflowers and paintbrush, cactus and mustards, Astragalus and Townsendia, Phasaria and more all seemed to bloom earlier than usual.
These people I live among, we celebrate tulips, bee trees, planting seeds, and redtail hawks, the rites of spring. We celebrate the wild life, the fruits and fields and feasts of our valleys, the stars in the sky. We honor the land and cherish our relationships with it. What else can we do?
We write our Representatives, march with millions, endeavor to make change. It’s an uphill battle, that’s for sure, against greed and corruption, against entropy. It’s a sense not just of personal mortality, but of planetary mortality, the sweetness to this spring.
It’s been a brutal month for a sensitive person. It’s so hard to keep up with the dreadful actions coming from the government, the crimes against nature and humanity. The pronouncements, executive orders, earth-killing life-stealing human-rights-smashing bills and deregulations, the assault on American public lands that belong to us the people and not to multi-national corporations bent on extraction. Not just once or twice a week, but a pile of them every single day, day after day. Mutterings of war, deep worries for the future. It’s sickening, is what it is, more and more often literally.
I worry far less now for my own life than I do for the lives of all the other living things I share this place with: first of course the bees, honeys and bumbles, diggers and long-horned and sweat; also the trees and flowers and shrubs, the deer and bears, and the mountain lions here; and lions far away, all the magnificent wild felines of the world: snow leopard, clouded leopard, the jaguar sentenced to be fenced out of expanding her range northward as she needs to with climate change… Any single thought leads in a dozen different desperate directions.
Every living creature on the planet is at risk with this Kleptocracy, in the hands of a madman dedicated to further eroding the planet herself and the lives of all beings. It’s encouraging today to see thousands of people on the streets, and listen to legislators and activists around the country. Fighting the sense of overwhelm, I write letters, make calls, support friends; cherishing the life and beauty around me, I prune trees, plant seeds, pull weeds, and let my love for Nature grow along with my heartache. What else can I do?
It’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Meanwhile, seismic changes seem to be shifting inside me. We’ll know more later.
Yes, things have been happening in the garden, and in the woods. Full on spring has sprung at last after a weird winter, way too warm and dry followed by a frustrating cold and wet spell. Growing things started too soon, stopped, held back, weren’t sure what to do next. But now things seem on track for summer.
But the real story of the past few weeks is still the kittens. For the first week I visited twice a day with wet food for Heidi, and just to watch. They grow so fast! Since their proud grandparents returned home I’ve been going every other day to sit with Mary and coo and cuddle with the kittens. Before long, mama felt more comfortable with us handling them, and seemed to enjoy taking a short break from their pawing and suckling. Still, if one of them starts squeaking too loudly she comes running back from her food or her bath to take charge again.
Sitting with that little cat family, just watching them and hearing her purr purr purr, feels like I’m in an Oxytocin Factory. The love fills the air and washes over me. Once I decide it’s time to go home, I just can’t tear myself away. Eventually I leave, but I carry them with me, the feel of their velvet fur and their warm little wiggly bodies, and her consuming devotion to them, and her non-stop purr.
In the two and a half weeks since they were born they have changed so much. At first just a swimming swarm like they were in her womb, they have begun to differentiate into individuals with personalities. Starting at about nine days old their eyes began to open, and it took about four days til the last one peeked out. Then they started to wobble around on unsteady legs. Now some of them can almost stand up straight, and they’re swatting and smooching and playing with each other. Just yesterday the first of them started to react and turn their heads to look around, as if they’re really starting to see the rest of us for the first time. In a few fast weeks more, they’ll all be going off to new homes. I continue to insist that none of them, two in particular, will be coming to mine.
I ran into a friend at the grocery store yesterday who told me that the beehives across the canyon have had mites for years. “They’re too close to you,” she said. It was cold comfort, a theory validated that suggested once and for all it wasn’t my fault. It’s been bleak watching flowers open one by one with no honeybees to pollinate them. Until two days ago I’d only seen an occasional bee; finally, a handful in the apricot tree. Then yesterday more, and bumblebees, and tiny wild bees. As they return I feel more and more alive.
I guess I despaired of finding the same joy in photography as I did last year with my bees. And in a strange way, my pleasure is tainted knowing they’re not my bees… still, they’re bees, they’re sturdy hardy bees that are surviving, and that brings with it a more astringent joy than the wallowing I was doing the past three summers, that first inebriated love that lasts a few years before something goes awry and love becomes a choice to share in suffering.