Bees and Bears

Bear attack
Bear attack

Recently my bee yard has been attacked twice by a bear; I’m assuming the same bear but I didn’t actually see said bear.   I had five strong hives before it happened along.  Now I have three weak ones.

This is the season of thankfulness.  As I muscle through the work of getting the leaves to the curb, winterizing the car, dusting off the Christmas music, I’d like to take a moment to give thanks.

I’m thankful for a healthy family, meaningful employment, a roof over my head, a close circle of friends.  These are not small things.  This was the best garden I’ve had in years and my pantry is full of dried beans (several varieties), canned and dried tomatoes, lots of peppers.  In fact I dried all my paprika peppers to crush and grind.  I did the same with most of my jalapenos since I still have plenty of hot sauce from last year.  I accidentally grew gourds, which are drying on the garden fence now.  My elephant garlic hybridized with something (shallots? onions?) to create a mildly garlic flavored bulb with no cloves.  I dried those and ground them into a really tasty garlic powder.  I made a decent amount of cheese this year which is aging in my wine fridge.  Remember those watermelon plants I bought at the auction and planted all over the front yard?  I had dozens of mini melons…easy to eat two at a time.  As an experiment, I grew sesame seeds.  And of course I have lots of loofahs again.  If anyone wants loofah or okra seeds, come to me.  And from the auction loot:  I made a bunch of peach butter, apple sauce, frozen sweet peppers.  This was a good year.

It’s a little harder to be thankful that the bear didn’t totally destroy my hives, but I am thankful for that.  Bears do what they do…Winnie the Poo was so cute stealing honey.  I’m also thankful that I haven’t bumped into this bear, although I’d love to get a peak at him.  I’m thankful that Roots Revival is going strong and that our choir is becoming more awesome with each performance.  I’m thankful for a full calendar in December to keep me flush through January and February.  And lastly, I’ve been in the presence of several young musicians in the past month who have inspired me with their love and enthusiasm for the art that is most dear to my heart (related blog forthcoming).  I’m utterly and completely thankful for music.


Fear and nature

Velvet Queen Sunflowers
Non-menacing Velvet Queen Sunflowers

Childhood memory:  One day while playing on the farm, I pulled up a thick plastic mat that my grandpa had put over a muddy area so that the tractor wouldn’t get stuck in the mud.  To my delight, I found a nest of baby snakes!  I filled my pockets with them and ran home to show Mom.  The spanking that resulted left a memorable impression.

I had an exciting day today.  I was walking around in my garden, minding my own business, when I put my hand down into a patch of bush beans to see how the beans under the foliage were coming along.  Instinctively, I jumped back and squealed when I saw a coiled up snake right by where my hand had been.  I immediately ran to the house to get my phone to take a picture.  Then I got a rake and pulled the snake out to the path so I could see it’s markings and get better pictures.  It was only after I had done this that I did a google search to verify that I was playing with a copperhead and read that you shouldn’t poke at them with sticks because they can strike at long distances.

Then I did another silly thing.  I posted a picture on facebook.  Within seconds, several people commented with horror and fascination.  After two hours I had a long string of comments under my post: oohs and ahhhs, eeeks and yikes, advice, warnings, informative website links, and best of all, humor.  I admit, the snake posed handsomely and looked right at the camera, so this was a stellar picture.  Look it up if you like, but I’m not posting it here.  Instead you get my lovely Velvet Queen Sunflowers.

I began thinking about what I fear the most.  Even a picture of a spider terrifies me, so I felt a twinge of guilt about posting the scary snake picture and how I might have ruined someone’s day.  A big spider in close proximity will make me jumpy for hours.  Bad dreams ensue. Logic plays no part in fear.  I should’ve feared the snake but I didn’t.  I shouldn’t fear the spider but I do.  It’s easy to justify our fears and there is no end to the things to fear.

This post doesn’t have a moral, or even a point really.  I just get so excited when I have a wildlife sighting that I want to share it.  Encounters with creatures beyond our control make us feel alive!

The Fruits of My Labor

Huey with blackberries and jam
Huey with blackberries and jam

For the past couple of weeks I’ve played my gigs through wincing pain.  The pads of the fingers on my right hand are covered with puncture wounds and splinters of tiny thorns; they’re also stained the color of Barney the dinosaur.  I’m a bit embarrassed at the unsightly chigger bites covering my wrists, the backs of my hands, my ankles.  And to be perfectly truthful, I’ve been sneaking onto someone else’s property in the evenings about two hours before the sun goes down.  It’s slightly cooler then, which matters a lot since I’m wearing heavy gauge long pants, a long sleeved shirt, boots, and a hat.  It’s not what you think.  Wait, maybe it is.  Blackberries.

I take for granted the ubiquitous wild fruit that grows on cut-over land in my region.  But last summer was cool and wet, and there were no blackberries to be had.  The fruit itself is too seedy and tart for me.  But when made into syrup, jam, sherbet, and vinegar it’s one of my very favorite flavors.  Midwinter I ran out of blackberry syrup (which is my topping of choice for yogurt) and I’ve had a mighty craving ever since.

Two years ago, blackberries grew everywhere on our farm.  Since then the trees have gotten taller and shaded them out.  But a fifteen-minute walk through the woods gets me to a large parcel of recently lumbered land with acres and acres of brambles, seedling loblollies and poplars, and yes…blackberries.  Any experienced blackberry forager knows that to get to the sweetest, plumpest berries, you have to fight through the fierce new growth vines that surround the old, berry-laden vines that hide in the back, usually near the edge of the woods.  I called my dad after my first time out this year, complaining bitterly about my bleeding hands.  Full of practical wisdom, he said, (insert WV accent) “you know what you need is a heavy leather glove on your left hand and a rope to tie your bucket around your neck at waist length.”  Genius!  After implementing his advice I could pick a gallon per hour.

There’s a thrill to finding abundant food that I didn’t cultivate myself.  I’m sure this is what foragers of wild mushrooms must feel.  I work so hard on my garden beds, planting most of what I grow from seeds that I’ve saved myself.  I wait.  I weed.  I weed some more.  But in July I suit up in protective gear and head to lands of red clay thorny torture.  I return with buckets of pure blackish-purple heaven.