52 Photos ~ Fire


Bee smoke

To approach the beehive, beekeepers light a smoker.

A bee smoker is a little lidded can with a built-in bellows. You start with a piece of crumpled newspaper, light it, and drop it to the bottom of the smoker, then use the bellows to puff puff puff until you get some good licking flames, and then you add the fuel (dried pine needles, dried grass, wood shavings, fuel pellets, what have you), keep puffing and, in minutes (in theory), you get a strong plume of cool-to-the-touch smoke.

In fact, this process takes some practice. It’s easy to get a flame, and then it’s easy to kill the flame. You can get hot smoke and sparks fairly easily, too. But getting the cool, thick, lasting smoke is the trick and we’re finally getting the knack of it. Almost.

When you’ve got consistent smoke, you don the bee suits and head to the hive. Puff the hive entrance where the guard bees are keeping watch, let the smoke seep in. You and the bees are quieting. There’s smoke in the air and it’s the sunny part of the day.

Let the smoke swirl. Lift the lid of the hive. Spread the smoke around the lid, down into the frames. Thousands of bees, busy but calm, focused on their jobs.

And we just can’t look away.

Every time we visit the hive I want more time. There are so many details to absorb, beyond merely tending to the needs of the hive (refilling sugar syrup feeders, removing extraneous comb, checking for eggs and larvae).

Every time we visit the hive we come back with more questions. For instance, do bees sleep? Yes, we read, they do. In fact, you might come across a bee napping in a flower. Imagine that.

We’ve yet to see the queen. Did I tell you we named her Elspeth? She’s marked with a green dot so we have a prayer of seeing her, but so far she’s been hidden, doing her work, surrounded by her attendants.

We check the hive only every three to five days so as not to disturb them too much. And we need to wait for the weather to cooperate; it’s no good to open the hive on a blustery, rainy day.

On hive-check days, I go to bed with the smell of smoke in my hair. The same as on a camping day, or after an evening by the fire pit, roasting marshmallows, watching for meteors, and musing about the dreams of bees.

This is my first photo in the new series of 52, running from May 2014 to May 2015. If you’re interested in joining (it’s never too late!), check out the 52 Photos Project blog.

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.

52 Weeks ~ Family (49/52) and Fire (51/52)

RSiegel_Week49 - Cohen Menorah

RSiegel_Week51 - Wind and wick

I wanted to write
about the great grandmother
who bought the menorah
(in Poland perhaps?)
whose face I never knew
about the grandmother
who loved us with a wide heart
and kept the menorah hidden
among other silvery things
in the china cabinet
so we never saw it there
about the mother
who, when cleaning out
her parents’ home,
claimed the menorah,
to keep it in the family
about the daughter
who feels the reverberations
of generations in the
solidness of it,
though has no memory of it
about the grand daughter
who places the candles in it
and says the blessing
while she lights it
lights the candle
lights the fire
and will remember

Maybe I should hand her the keys?

Rebecca: What should I write today?

Hyla: Write an ode to the fire.
R: That’s a good idea. What defines an “ode”?
H: I can show you one I wrote about Oyster.
R: Please do.

. . .

R: Oh, I like this! Can we post this today instead of something I write?
H: Sure!

Oyster in Repose

Ode To A Cat

The gentle
sits regally,
surveys his jungle-kingdom
and draws the curtain of
his private war chamber.
Sitting on the velvet cushion,
surrounded by his family, loyal courtiers,
the mighty cat sends out orders
to move this regiment here,
to send a gift to this nation.
Going through his daily routine,
he feels weary.
And one evening,
he meows to his faithful page, Hudson;
“I am hungry,”
the powerful rumble
of his voice fills the room.
His page offers;
“Anything, King Oyster.
I will go to the market
and buy it for you.”
The royal cat
shakes his head,
and his long white whiskers shine.
He wants to go to the market himself.
And so,
as the king wished,
they go to the market,
on foot,
the wind rips at their faces,
tearing up the feathery snow and dusting it
over their faces.
At the market,
the people stare and whisper:
“The king!”
And Oyster laughs;
leaping up to play with the kittens,
giving hard-earned rewards to their parents
and kin.
They pass large wealthy buildings,
bursting with delicious food,
and Hudson suggests them all.
The king shakes his head and walks on.
At the end of the path,
they come to a bleak hovel,
in which a wife cooks what she has.
The king orders the page to buy good milk,
cheese and meat, and to
bring them to him. Meanwhile,
he slips into the small house.
The wife does not recognize him,
and offers him some soup.
The king thanks her and laps it up slowly.
Hudson knocks at the door,
and Oyster opens it.
The kind cat and her family
revel in the delicious gifts
and thank the king
again and
The king and page buy a cheese
and go home.
He enters his palace again
and curls up by the crackling fire
my father stokes.

–Hyla Maddalena

November afternoon fire

Fiat Lux

The sun stood still.
And then he swayed back to us, if only slightly.
Tomorrow he’ll linger longer.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Contrast from grey

Where yesterday was ice

This time of year, we make our own light to stave in the hull of darkness.

Inside snowflake


We celebrate every holiday, light everything on fire, cook with oil.

Third night

Heat and light

The other night, I accidentally lit the lamb chops on fire. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Our bedroom is unheated. We have four layers of blankets on the bed. But the windows in that room face due east, and every extra drop of sunlight lands on me first.

With gratitude to Prometheus


The weather report today calls for record high temperatures in this part of the world, but I’m not feeling it here. This time of year, even if the afternoon is mild, the sun is stingy with its warmth and it just doesn’t find its way into this old farmhouse.

I feel chilled. Deep down. The sky is grey and I’ve got the shivers.

Rather than curse the cold, I built a fire.

Those of you with wood stoves and fireplaces know that wood fires are a lot of work: stacking and restacking (and restacking) the wood into neat walls; lugging the days’ worth of logs in to the house; carefully coddling the baby fire as you start it; constantly “feeding” the ravenous fire-pet that snacks all day in exchange for the warmth it provides; cleaning up bits of wood all over the floor, and ashes blown out when the stove door opens; humidifying the house to counteract the dry, wood heat; digging paths through the snow to the woodpile.

And yet, for all of that, we wouldn’t be without it.

A fire in the wood stove is more than a heat generator. It’s a demanding and yet giving friend. It gives the room a life and a focal point. It lets you stare at its flickering flames and think thoughts that travel far back into human history: home, safety, warmth, food, community. When you’re absolutely frozen, you can walk right up to it and stand in front of the radiating heat, rotating slowly like a bronzing marshmallow. And when you’re comfortably warm, you can take a seat across the room, out of its direct reach, and still enjoy its glow.

The other day, a friend and I built a fire for a sick friend who was chilled. Building the fire was an easy chore for us, but something our friend couldn’t do for herself that day. And when we left our friend, the fire stayed, sitting calmly beside her, doing its best to warm her and keep her company even as the afternoon grew dim.

Until that day, I’d never thought of a fire as a gift. It turns out it’s one of the gifts I’m most glad to have received, and given.

Wintry mix

I’m home alone today, with no work to do, my piles of papers filed, the tax packet ready to send off, my office more or less cleaned, and nothing I must do.

The weather outside is a bit nasty, with what they like to call “wintry mix” falling. The term wintry mix might sound to some resident of the tropics like the name of an annual flower seed mixture, but it’s decidedly not that. The technical definition is: “yuck from the sky.”

But also throw into the mix:

One wood stove purring along gently, throwing its glow and heat in my specific direction. One cat stretched out in front of said stove, hogging the entire dog bed. Another cat installed practically underneath the stove. One mug of freshly brewed tea. One stack of books to be browsed. One fully-charged computer. One darling husband who took Mr. Needy Dog away for the day. One daughter happily busy at school. One barn full of goats, safe and cozy and independent until at least mid-afternoon. One fully-stocked refrigerator.

And hours. And hours. And hours.