No more running

Fall ritual

Vermont summers are fierce and semi-tropical. Not in temperature or humidity, but in explosive plant growth. The growing season is short. Everything that grows here is intent on getting as big as it can as quickly as it can. The fields and forests burst with green. Grape vines climb the maple trees. Morning glories slither their way into the wisteria branches. Honeysuckle and raspberry bushes grow thick and impenetrable. Corn grows eight feet high.

It’s beautiful, but in a somewhat claustrophobic way.

We’ve always laughed at the scene near the end of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Castle in the Sky, where the villain, Muska, pursues the heroine, Sheeta, and her magic crystal into the throne room of the eponymous castle. The castle is a ruin, inhabited only by a robot and centuries of plant growth. Muska, on entering the room, chasing Sheeta, desperately needing to get his hands on that crystal, pauses, looks around the the room in disgust and says something like, “Ugh. These PLANTS!”

I’ve heard M think that same thought on many a July day as he looks across the yard and see the vines strangling the apple trees and the lawn he just mowed visibly growing.

It’s enough to make you wish for a flame thrower.

~~~~~

You have to admire the peace of a day like today. We’re at the top of the roller coaster’s hill, at the far end of a pendulum’s swing. Everything is clean, shorn, stacked, coiled, compact, tucked in for the winter. If anything’s growing, it’s growing inward, downward.

This morning I pulled the grass from around the bases of the blueberry bushes and spread fresh pine mulch around them. I sat in the dry grass and pushed the mulch around while the dog sniffed around for leftover blueberries (wishful thinking, oh silly dog). I had this song in my head the whole time. I felt short and small, like a plant rooted to the land, ready to be steady, firm, and quiet.

Tucked in for the winter

How about November?

End of October

“How about November?” asks poet Mary Ruefle (in her lecture “On Secrets”) when, every April, she’s asked to contribute to a poetry reading in recognition of National Poetry Month.

April’s been crowned the month of poetry, but what does April need with poems? April is her own poem, all hopeful, beckoning and unfurling.

Curl

Poetry in April feels almost superfluous, a bit embarrassing, a gilded excess.

Poetry, Mary Ruefle says in that same lecture, is “clearly rooted in obscurity, in secretiveness, in incantation, in spells that must at once invoke and protect, tell the secret and keep it.”

What she and we know is the wonderful trick about a poem (and a November): while its secrets and spells seem hidden at first, they are unlockable, releasable.

Sit with a thick poem. Sit with a dark November day.

Say the poem out loud. Say the day out loud.

Notice its rhythms. Its shades of ochre. The times the sun rises and sets. The length of its lines. The bright green fur of moss along the ridge of a rain soaked log. The crunch of tires on gravel. The one bird on the one branch. The half rhymes in the alternating lines.

Isn’t there as much poetry in November’s dying hay field as in April’s burbling brooks?

Height

Thomas Hardy knew it as well as anyone. Life is hard, literature is bleak, and there’s a poem in that.

“A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath for its floor.”

We know it in our bones. And here we are, listening for what poems November will tell us. And the ones we’ll tell it.

Exploding

Antidote

Fog

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.

First taste of the river

Too fast

Those ears

Handsome

Crazy

October pup

Three

Let the mystery bees be

White smoke

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.

Quiet hive.

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.

Surprise

Honey light

Stone by stone, reply by reply

Evidence

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.

Field pinks

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.

Field golds

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).

Field whites

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…

Boston diary

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.

Goat

:: We saw a beautiful, undulating sculpture made entirely of styrofoam cups.

Styro

:: I got lost for a little while in endlessness.

On repeat

:: We said hello to old favorites, like Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” and “Mrs. Charles E. Inches.”

Mrs. Inch

:: 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.

Gaze

:: 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.

Journeyman

:: 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.

Chau Chow City

:: 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!

Cross your fingers or feelers, as applicable

Queen cage

Her Highness

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.

52 Photos ~ Busy street

Busy street

Girls of summer

Last week: school.
This week: summer vacation.

Last week: homework.
This week: parties and movies.

Last week: rise before 6.
This week: sleep until the cats insist I rise.

Last week: assigned reading.
This week: thick by-chance novels.

Last week: schedules.
This week: what day is it?

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Not that some of us don’t still have to work (ahem), but the pace of the day has suddenly slowed. The dog and cats are napping in the sun. The goats are, too.

The previously green blueberries are starting to show a shadow of blue.

The air, momentarily, is still.

Only the bees are busy. And even they are sleeping in late.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
These photos and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.