Are You A Believing Man?

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For years I’ve had a secret desire to make hay. My first and most enduring experience of farming has always been hay. When I was growing up the boys in my family would congregate in the summer at one or the other of my two aunts’ houses where we would pick up, stack, unstack, and deliver hundreds and hundreds of bales of hay. It was hot, dirty, exhausting work. The type of work that only the competitive spirit of very young men can make interesting – and sometimes not even then.

99% of the time the hay was alfalfa. It was irrigated and we usually had 3 cuttings a summer, each cutting produced between 3500 and 4000 square bales. It was a lot of hay. What stuck with me over the years was the smell. There’s just nothing like the smell of hay at any stage in its lifecycle. Fresh mown. Hot and earthy in the stack. Even old hay in a barn still carries the scent of the sun.

As of today I finally have hay produced from my own land. It’s just grass (as if there is such a thing as “just grass”) and I’m about to give the majority of it to a neighbor. But this morning I called in to work and  went and gathered it out of the field and for now I can walk out and smell summers from long ago.

The guy who cut and baled it for us runs a mule rescue. Interesting fellow. We were talking about mules and how he came to be a mule rescuer when he asked me offhandedly if I was a believing man.

“Somewhat,” I replied.

So enigmatic. Of course he didn’t notice, just commenced to tell me that he thought his ability to handle mules was a gift from God. Maybe it is. I don’t know. But I do know that being a believing man or not is more complex than we are willing to acknowledge.

He couldn’t know that I was a believing child. That I was a questioning youth and an unbelieving young adult. He couldn’t know that I yearned to believe as I grew older and then that I was disillusioned in maturity, that I was now a tolerant unbeliever who still believes just not in the same way or the same god.

He couldn’t know that inside me (inside all of us if we are honest with ourselves) there is a constant recalibrating of the dissonance of the past and that the answer to any question dealing with belief or emotion can never be “yes” or “no”. Even when it’s yes or no.

The Oklahoma and Texas panhandles in the late 70s and early 80s were not an easy place to be a gay youth. There is still a dark undercurrent to the sunny smell of fresh mown hay for me. And even though now it’s more like something you see under glass in a museum, I remember. I remember being uncomfortable and not knowing why or how to fix it. I remember good times and fun times but always as if through a glass darkly. I remember knowing without knowing how that I would have to leave that place and those people if I wanted to survive. That I would always want to come back but I would have to return home somewhere else.

Now, when I smell and touch my own hay I can say that I do believe. I have a large belief in the smallest of things. The miracle of grass. The satisfaction of work. The loudness of silence. The strength of peace. The gift of friendship. The solace of forgiveness. The wonder of love.

The magic of life.

I guess grass isn’t just grass after all.

The Bees Are Alive

Despite my best efforts the bees keep on going. I finally went back in and removed the debris, cleaned up the hive floor and put them back together. The three bars that had fallen had fallen again so I just took them out. I figure if bees can make a home in a dead tree they can deal with the extra space. If not, well, live and learn.

I feel I owe you an explanation about my long absence.

Not long after the bee-pocalypse I found myself in the emergency room on a Thursday. Turned out I had a kidney stone lodged in my ureter. (Really, who comes up with these names for body parts? It’s like they think if they sound gross enough we’ll never bother to learn about our bodies.)

Anyway, the stone had actually been moving for a few weeks before and I guess turned or lodged someway that made what I thought was just pulled muscles into something akin to labor pains – or so I’m told. If labor is anything like what I experienced I am glad to not have the gift of giving life. Just sayin’.

I was loaded up with pain meds and sent home with the admonition that my stone was large enough that it had a less than 30% chance of passing and I would probably need surgery… which couldn’t be done until the following Wednesday. I’m glad it happened that way now because I passed it the day before my pre-op appointment.

So, long story short, I was down and out for a couple of weeks and then we just got busy.

The hens are starting to lay.

I had to add another box to both bee hives.

I broke out the box blade and uncovered the mythical driveway. It really does exist.

And we just finished covering up the crappy concrete beside the house with a pea gravel patio thingy.

More than you wanted to know.

My Shame

I am a bee brutalizer.

Not on purpose. I went into one of the hives today to see if it needed another box. Right now each hive has three boxes. I removed the top box with little fanfare. In a Warre hive the bees will sometimes connect comb to the top-bars of the box below. I knew from the last inspection that this was probable so I ran a piece of wire between the two boxes before I pulled them apart. It worked but was exceeedingly difficult to get started.

The first box was completely full of comb, mostly honey and what looked like a little brood right at the bottom. I set it aside.

Thinking about the difficulty of starting the wire on the first box I used my hive tool to lift the corners of the second box. When I did, the box moved freely.

“Oh good,” I thought to myself, “I can just lift this one.”

I was so wrong!

I lifted the box and three of the top-bars of the bottom box came with it. I set the box back down and picked up my wire. It was so difficult to start and move. I tugged and sawed and tugged – as gently as I could of course, I’m not a barbarian – and finally the wire began to move.

I have to admit that I was sweating as the I slid the wire out of the back of the box.

Had I known what I would see when I lifted the second box away I would’ve been crying as well. Three bars worth of comb lay collapsed on the bottom board. The three top-bars that the comb once hung on lay underneath, just the ends visible. I honestly don’t know if the comb broke off when I set the box back down or if – and this is what I suspect and fear happened – the bars were cocked up and I cut the comb off with the wire.

Aaaggghhh! It hurts even to type that.

I had no idea what to do. I managed to get the bars back onto the box where they belong and I left the comb on the floor. I’m hoping that the bees will somehow fix my mistake.

And eventually forgive me.

Roundabout

We’re in another internet dead zone so you are stuck with just my words.

When we first moved out here we were besieged by yellow jackets. I mean seriously besieged. We bought one of those pheremone bait traps and emptied it like 3 times. They were just obnoxious. One evening while we were sitting on the deck Don asked – because for some unknown reason he thinks I know stuff like this – “What purpose do yellow jackets serve?”

What purpose?

I told him I didn’t know because I didn’t. I know now that yellow jackets are carrion eaters and often clean up bee carcases, etc. They also eat some caterpillars and beetle larvae.

But still, is that a “purpose”? Can a yellow jacket have a purpose?

Still a year later I am thinking about this question. And at the end of that year I think it is too dangerous to ask if the yellow jacket serves any purpose. We can look at it’s activites and effects on the world around it and say that they are beneficial to us but that is not the same thing as purpose. And more importantly it is too human centric and emotional.

Purpose has connotations of meaning and intention. To say that the yellow jacket intended to evolve in the way it did violates the way evolution works. And to say that the yellow jacket was created to fill a need supposes a human world view as the benchmark of existence.

There is no “purpose” as we define it in the natural world. There is only opportunity and constant balancing. The yellow jacket disposes of dead flesh not because there was a need for it but because there was an opportunity to flourish.

Like the great I Am, the yellow jacket just is. It fills one of a billion niches in our small biosphere only because it can fill that niche.

I’m okay with that. I dread the day I decide that something shouldn’t exist because I can’t discern it’s purpose.

Of course all of this rumination could be just the after effects of selling my old Ford tractor today. It went to a good home with another old man chasing nostalgia.

Knowledge

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Maybe you remember this plant from a previous post. You know, the one that came with the dire warning of poop inducing properties? Well…

As it turns out, sometimes knowledge gained over the fence is not quite trustworthy. This is actually an Indian Plum plant. Its the only plant in its genus in the world. (I don’t really know what that means but it sounds like it should be fascinating so I’m including it.)

The berries turn a deep deep shade of blue when they are ripe. I tasted a few – which, truth be told, may not be quite ripe – and the best description I can come up with is sweet cucumber to sweet watermelon rind.

Supposedly they work really well in mixed fruit jams.

That’s it.

Really.

 

Lazy Sunday Walkabout

Just some photos and thoughts while I basically kill time until Game of Thrones. Hahaha.

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It amazes me how much chickens love grass. I mean LOVE grass. I’m still working on where to put a door to the outside for them so for now we bring the grass to them.

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Don shares a magical bond with the birds, including the rooster John Henry. The change from yellow fuzzball to almost grown was unnervingly fast. At least they’ve stopped totally freaking out when we come around. Some days the brooder seemed mostly like an asylum.

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These are beaked hazelnuts. I was beginning to think I had misidentified the trees until I discovered these today. They’re just really good at hiding.

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A hazelnut tree is less of a tree and more of a shrub. I wonder how many of these get dug up because they look like scrub brush?

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It seems much cooler and greyer this year than last. It’s almost the end of May and I still wear a jacket in the mornings. It’s been running 45 to 48 degrees when I leave for work. This is still unnatural to a Texas boy.

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This is Salal. It’s a wild shrub up here that is a distant relative to the blueberry. It seems to be doing really well this year. We moved in too late last year to take advantage of it. I’m looking forward to trying it.

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Unfortunately as with so many wild foods, the Salal is in the fence line. I will have to eventually cut it back toward the road. I’m sure it has survived worse.

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This is one of the six blueberry bushes we planted. We might get enough berries for a couple of pies this year!

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Our piddly little garden. We added a couple of tomatoes and peppers to the potatoes. The red potatoes (on the right) already have blooms!? What the hay? I’m trying to will them to grow more before they start that crap.

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Just some wildflowers behind the barn. The big leafed plant with the blue flowers is comfrey. It was really beautiful a few weeks ago.

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More yellow.

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And yet more yellow.

I am constantly amazed at the changing life around here.

Jokes On Me

Finally mowed a path to the back fence yesterday. While back there we met another neighbor. Nice guy. Also found this interesting bush.

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When I asked the guy if he knew what it was – all the while moving the leaves around and feeling the berries – he said he wasn’t sure but he thought it was “such and such”, I can’t remember. He said I wouldn’t touch it, I think it’s a natural laxative.

Story of my frikkin’ life.