My first orchid. It followed me home. Let’s see how long I can keep it alive.
Also, this song came on the radio the other day. It just makes me smile (And the video? Whoa. Let’s just say it was a simpler time…)
Oh gosh, today has Monday written all over it.
It started cold and predictably grey after a week or more of dark and dreary days. Where’s that brilliant October slant of light that’s made to cheer us even as November stealthily stalks us?
But I see a glimmer this afternoon, sunlight on the hills, picking out the few, stubborn remaining red leaves as if to spotlight the fading luminaries of the autumn floor show. Time to take final bows, put the folding porch chairs and the garden hose away, sweep the porch, remember where we (gleefully) stowed that snow shovel last spring.
You know how I feel about this.
But I have some antidotes in mind. Some new projects, another stab at NaBloPoMo (really? really. hmmm).
And when all else fails, in the face of bad news on the radio, sad news from far-off family and friends, dark afternoons, and the usual palette of worries and anxieties, I offer you my sister’s new baby: Brutus. Three months old and you just can’t be too sad when he’s in the room.
We don’t know what we’re doing.
We try. We read books, scan websites, talk to beekeepers, use our intuition. We follow all the instructions and still this beekeeping thing remains a beautiful mystery.
Remember in the summer when we introduced Elspeth II? We checked and checked for weeks and there were no eggs. Other beekeeping pals told us to be patient; it can take weeks. At last, at last! We peeked in that hive and saw eggs and capped brood, and wiped our netted brows with relief. There was still time for the colony to build itself up and store enough honey to survive the winter.
On a routine check later, we worried again: no eggs.
A later check: no eggs, no capped brood, lots of honey.
Was the queen dead? Sick? Gone?
As weeks passed, we grew reluctant to open the hive, imagining the dismal state of things that we’d find: the eggless chambers, the dwindling population, the bodies.
Finally, this past weekend we decided it was time to check, just to be sure.
We lifted the cover and there were a few bees, but the hive was awfully quiet. We looked at the top level (the “super” where we had hoped the bees would collect honey for us to gather at some point) and it was empty of comb.
But as we dug deeper into the hive, a level or two down, what did we find? Bees, glorious bees, packing the frame with pollen, nectar, and honey, and…glory bee… baby bees!
We didn’t spot the queen. We don’t even know who laid the eggs, Elspeth II or maybe a new queen they raised on their own? We didn’t ask questions. We closed up the hive and walked back to the house quietly smiling.
We don’t know what we’re doing. Thank goodness the bees do.
As I was saying, then, it was August, and the river meandered with its August pace.
I boarded a train that traveled tracks in orbits. Which is to say I went some distance and gravity pulled me right back to where I started, only in October, and there are golden leaves all over my desk.
I was reading this morning–
[in our Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which, by the way is "compact" only in that the print is so tiny that you need a magnifying glass to read it; also, which we own because back in the late 70s or early 80s, the Book of the Month Club had this amazing offer where, if you signed up for a few months, you could get a free gift, and one choice was the Compact OED, and being the bookish nerd teen that I was, I had to have it. I don't remember any of the books I bought from the Book of the Month Club, but I've lugged the OED to every dorm room, apartment, and house I've in lived since then; also, back to the notion of "compact," let's just say that I carried it downstairs this morning and it's heavier than a baby, both cats combined, and most other things I've carried around this house; it would not be be one of the objects I toss in my backpack for a weekend writing retreat, but keep in mind that this was back when they printed things on paper, so "compact" is a relative term; also, the process of reading it with a magnifying glass while wearing contact lenses and reading glasses is quite a miracle of optics; I did not need reading glasses when I first owned this dictionary]
–the definition of the word “fallow” (which covers two full columns of tiny-print text) and was for some reason pleased to remember that it is a noun, a verb, and an adjective.
It is the name of the idle, unplanted field itself, and the action of plowing and harrowing the field, and the state of the seemingly barren field, and the pale color of that overturned soil after it’s been in the sun for a day.
It is also the act of becoming pale, of fading, and withering.
It is also a pale, yellowish-brown color. The coat of the Fallow deer. The shade of the fallow leaves.
It is also the color of the unwritten page. Or the state of being inward. Or the quiet mind itself.
It is the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when the year is examined, when you look inside yourself to see how you’ve strayed and failed, and how you can be better. The still moment where you whisper over the seeds for the coming year before you plant them in that clean, welcoming soil.
Sometime in 2013 (the exact date escapes me because, like so many other firsts, I didn’t realize it would be a significant first), I met Ruth.
Well, when I say “met,” I mean something more like “became aware of via a friend via a friend in the online world.” We started to chat online, visiting and commenting each other’s blogs, getting to know each other as much as you can get to know someone who lives on the other side of the ocean.
Which is to say very well, and hardly at all.
What I knew at first is that she’s a terrific artist. What I came to learn later is that she’s also a terrific writer. And a sweet, caring, funny, smart, and thoughtful friend.
It’s also a plus that she loves cheese. And the outdoors. And animals. And Scotland.
At some point (another unrecorded date), we started talking about doing a project together. What sort of project we didn’t know, but it seemed like it would be fun to collaborate.
More recently (and now we have a date: July 2014!), inspired by other long-distance, online collaborations (see, for example 3191 Miles Apart and Let Us Go Then You and I), we decided to launch a project that we’ve called And then she replied.
It’s a conversation. An open-ended, meandering conversation where she’ll post something and then I’ll respond somehow, and then she’ll reply to that, and so on.
Ruth started with a mountain. We’ll reply in turn, as it suits (usually within two weeks of the previous post).
As I said, Ruth has a way with pen and ink, and paintbrushes, and words; and she experiments with all sort of other art forms, from weaving to ceramics.
As for me, my natural instinct is to reply in words, but I’ve been known to dabble in the dark arts of origami, photography, and sourdough.
Like any real conversation, we have no idea where this will lead or how long it will last, but won’t it be fun to see?
If you’d like to follow the conversation, visit us over at And then she replied. To start at the beginning of the conversation, scroll down to the bottom to see Ruth’s mountain, and then scroll up to see the replies building upon and circling each other. You can join in the conversation, too, by commenting on any of our replies.
Ruth’s last reply was a wink. A way of seeing. I’m ruminating on my reply…
We had an open weekend, so we went down to Boston to be with family. My sister lives there. Dad and his wife were visiting from Florida. We buzzed down to do what we do in the city: walk our feet off, look at city things, and eat like there’s no tomorrow.
It was a fast-and-furious trip, bookended by work and camp on Friday and a concert on Sunday night. And somehow I managed a one-hour nap in the midst. How?
Some highlights of our 48 hours:
:: This gorgeous chicken dish that L made for our first evening together. You could do worse than soak a bowl of rice in the citrusy aromatic sauce from this dish.
:: Oh, and she also made this beautiful, wonderful, summerful roasted chickpea salad. Make it! You must make it!
:: We spent much of Saturday at the Museum of Fine Arts. I found a goat.
:: We saw a beautiful, undulating sculpture made entirely of styrofoam cups.
:: I got lost for a little while in endlessness.
:: I stood a long while in front of this face, and wondered at the strangeness that he was staring at me from all those years ago, and imagined what he would think of me watching him.
:: We went back to L’s house and had a siesta. What started out as reading became a nap. Wonder of wonders!
:: Oh, and then a wonderful dinner at Journeyman. Nine delicate, flavorful, gorgeously presented tiny courses (plus a cheese course, of course) and a couple bonus ones here and there. People may scoff at this sort of eating as pretentious or elitist or even just silly, but there’s something very civil about sharing a slow meal made up of a multitude of flavors and textures, accompanied by a satisfying bottle of wine. There’s no rush. There’s lots of laughter, conversation, and amusement (what is that? how do you eat it?), and moments of surprise and even glee when you take a perfect mouthful. Let me just say, if you ever go there and they offer you a dish of Chicken of the Woods mushrooms, tiny roasted potatoes, and a sauce made of pureed buttered toast, ask for two servings.
:: As if we deserved more deliciousness, Sunday morning found us in Chinatown, at our favorite Dim Sum spot. Everything we had was delicious (particularly the steamed scallion dumplings and the red bean buns), but we waited the whole dang time for the sauteed Chinese broccoli cart to start circulating around the room. It never did. What gives? Chau Chow, you owe us broccoli.
:: Later that night, back in Vermont, we went to see Iris Dement sing in a small concert hall. It’s been many years since her heyday in the early 90s, but her unique high, quavery voice was as strong as ever. She sang us two new songs that she’d written set to poems by Anna Akhmatova.
:: Back home by 10 pm, tired, but filled to the brim with family, food, wine, art, music, and poetry. Thank you L, thank you Boston, thank you weekend!
Hive check on Sunday: no eggs, no larvae, all the capped brood (i.e., gestating baby bees) had hatched out.
It’s been three weeks, more or less, since we’ve seen an egg.
The colony is in free fall. The existing bees can only live so long. They’ll work with bee dedication to collect pollen and nectar and make honey, but without a laying queen the colony is doomed.
M called our local bee mentor; he said, “Find a queen as soon as you can.” But he said all the queens he had were spoken for. Then he called back. He’d found an unaccounted for queen, bred, marked with a green dot, and ready to go.
Down we sped to his house, the sky blackening behind us. By the time we had the queen (in her wooden cage, along with half a dozen attendants) in our hands, the rain was coming down as if the sky’s taps had been opened all the way.
Home through the storm, listening to music on the car stereo (do bees hear music? I know they sense the vibrations, but what do they make of it?).
It was too stormy that night to consider opening the hive, so Elspeth II and her entourage spent the night in our kitchen. They had a block of candy on one end of the cage to snack on. We put a small drop of water on the screen covering the cage for them to sip.
Yesterday we opened the hive and placed the closed cage on top of the frames, to see what the bees would do. If they flocked to cage (drawn by the queen’s pheromones) and were docile, then they would likely accept her. If they had managed to raise their own queen, lurking somewhere in the hive and not laying (unbred, unable?), then they would attack and kill the new queen.
The bees seemed accepting. They weren’t clinging to the cage or trying to sting her. We uncorked the candy end of the cage, made a little hole in the candy, then pressed the cage between two thickly-combed frames.
We closed the hive.
And we shall see what we shall see in three days’ time.
I don’t know who had the initial idea, H or M:
Let’s hold a Harrathon, and play all 8 Harry Potter movies back to back over the course of a weekend.
So we did.
H invited her HP-loving friends, M and I moved the furniture, H and I went grocery shopping, we mixed up a batch of butterbeer for the freezer, and then we waited for everyone to arrive.
It was grand.
Some friends arrived in time to kick off the first movie at 12.30 on Saturday afternoon, while others, running late or confused about the start time were met with a stern note on the front door: “Too Late, Fools.”
Only it wasn’t too late; it was just beginning.
We went into some sort of strange state of suspension. The movies played, the teens traded seats, took breaks for food and drink. At one point, everyone had a stretch and went outside for a ride on the porch swing. The Harry Potter theme music played on. DVD to DVD, it kept coming.
At later than my usual bedtime, I went to bed. All night long I heard the booming of the sub woofer, as the movies turned to darkness and war between the Hogwarts students and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I woke every couple of hours to hear the thundering soundtrack, the conversation and laughter.
By the time I came downstairs the next morning, the last movie was in its final 30 minutes. Two of the group were semi upright, but perhaps not with eyes fully open.
I sat by the kitchen counter and watched the end, where the little children who had become teenagers vanquished Voldemort, then morphed into adults, ushering their own children onto platform 9 3/4. I admit I got teary.
There was a time when H was so little (a kid raised in the age of the internet and the remote control) that, if we were playing a game or reading a book and she needed a break, she’d ask us to “pause” whatever we were doing for a minute.
Wouldn’t that be a nifty trick? To pause and then restart, or maybe to pause and then rewind to the beginning and watch all the moments over again, even the hard ones?
I wiped my eyes and got to making pancakes. Soon M joined me and we were making bacon and eggs and serving up orange juice to the tired and hungry Harrathoners.
And then I wrote this down. We can come back to it later.
You know how things are going along just fine and you think, “Hey, I’ve got a handle on this life”?
Inevitably, that’s about twelve hours before you’re reminded that life is a black box, where things appear smooth and calm and comprehensible from the outside, but, oh, what is inside that box, brewing and stewing?
The oven broke. The Internet connection stopped working. The car’s brakes started making a funny sound.
Two Sundays ago, we did our regular beehive check and noticed that the second box of frames was quite heavy. Honey! We were delighted. The bees were quite busy and we saw lots of capped brood cells (baby bees on the way), lots of cells filled with pollen and nectar, and lots of comb filled with honey. But we didn’t see that many larvae, and we didn’t see a single egg.
And we noticed several peanut shaped “queen cells” on the frames, filled with very large larvae. Those queen cells are where the bees are attempting to raise a new queen, either because the current queen is ill or otherwise not doing her job, or because she has died or flown the coop, er, hive.
On the outside, all looked well. Bees were happily flying in and out of the hive. On the inside, the colony was in emergency mode.
We chose not to panic, trusting that the bees knew what they were doing, put the lid back on and checked again last week. Still no eggs, but the queen cells were now empty. We felt a bit more panicky.
A quick call to our local bee mentor, Troy, confirmed that there was a problem, but not to panic; it’s happened to him, and seems to be happening to many hives this year because the nectar is so abundant and the hives are being quickly filled with honey. The queen sees this as the hive becoming crowded, so she takes off with her groupies in search of a new home, leaving the rest of the colony to raise a new queen.
Those empty queen cells mean that that our clever little bees are doing what they need to do. It’s likely that one or more queens have been born, and now it’s up to the queens and colony to sort out who will be THE queen and to make sure she mates with area drones from another hive.
Meanwhile, Hudson the cat stopped eating. This is a bad sign. Hudson will eat anything: all the available cat food, waffles left to cool on the counter, whatever you’ve left on your unguarded dinner plate, the dog’s food.
He was a bit quieter than usual, but otherwise seemed himself. After two days of this, we took him to the vet. She said he looked “depressed.” She wanted to do blood tests. So we did, and learned that, inside that black box of a cat, we were looking at severe kidney disease.
He’s home again, and we have a new routine that involves prescription drugs, prescription foods, and subcutaneous fluids. On the outside, he seems happy and is eating everything in sight. In time, we’ll do blood tests again and see if the inside agrees with the outside.
I baked blueberry muffins today…the car’s brakes are fine…the internet connection is on again.*
On Sunday, we’ll take the top off the hive, and inspect each frame, crossing our gloved fingers that we’ll see some eggs.
Nothing is as it seems. Life without mystery is a bore. Even so, I’m placing an order for an August free of mystery and anxiety, straightforward and comprehensible, as smooth as the glassy surface of the early morning river. Never mind what’s swimming below.
*Well, except for the three hours it was out, which happened just minutes after I typed that sentence. Ha, ha, ha, very funny universe.
Summer began on the last day of school in June. Released before noon, all wearing light colors, and dragging locker-filled backpacks behind them, the kids had freedom on their faces.
Summer began again on the solstice, when the sun hung, balanced lightly at the tip of the day, leaning into the sparse night.
Summer began again when the first fireflies sparked up the dark.
Summer began again when sweet visitors from afar landed on our doorstep, gave us an excuse to travel the state looking for the best beer, gave us an excuse to shoot arrows, to stay up late playing card games, to light a campfire, turn the stereo up, and watch the fireflies disguise themselves as meteors.
Summer began again when we drove the long thruway to visit lovely family, watched the sky open up to puffy clouds, listened to favorite songs, ate bad-for-you road food, were together.
Summer began again when we stood by the road, faces tilted to the sky, watching fireworks burst over the crowd.
Summer began again when I took a bowl of yogurt out to the yard, picked blueberries from the bushes, and dropped them right into the bowl, then sat on the porch swing and ate the morning while the birds sang to each other.
Summer began again when I put on my river-walking sandals for the first time since last year and felt my feet relax.
At some point, I know summer will begin to end. But right now, I’ll just let it keep starting over and over, every morning, every minute, opening like a flower to a bee.
Magpie comes a-calling, drops a marble from the sky,
Tin roof sounds alarming, wake up child,
Let this be a warning, says the magpie to the morning,
Don’t let this fading summer pass you by,
Don’t let this fading summer pass you by.