Month: April 2014

The Box of Bugs

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I awoke excited about the day. The bees were in this morning and I was to pick them up soon: my first package of bees! I bought them from a local supplier and they had spent the night traveling the four hours from their previous home to the pick-up location. Already they were “my girls”. The pick-up was uneventful, the way they should be, but I had to introduce my girls to their new home, a hive that I had built by hand and placed in the large backyard of my home. The fifteen minute ride home, bees in the backseat, was filled with even more excitement both from the backseat and the front.

Readying my tools for the introduction, I brought out the food that I had mixed up the night before (sugar water in short). Setting the bees down next to the hive, I removed four or five frames from the hive and set them aside. I then pulled the small feeding can from the package and grabbed the queen cage putting it in my pocket to keep the queen inside warm and replacing the can with a small cover to keep most of the bees in the package. A few bees flew out and the package was hurriedly coming to life. I thumped the package lightly down to shake the bees to the bottom of the package and then turned the package over the hive dumping thousands of bees into (hopefully) their new home. I hung the queen cage on a frame a bit off to the side, set the few frames taken out back in, set the feeder and the top on and then pulled up a chair and poured some coffee. My work was done for the time being.

The entire event was filled with child-like excitement, hope, and worry, not lasting for more than ten minutes or so. I felt the responsibility of thousands of lives begin to weigh down on me. I watched as bees flurried about coming in and out of the hive. I heard the excitement around and in the hive itself. I watched as something that I had built from a living thing came to life in a whole different way. I could not help wondering if the new hive was busily making the place its new home much in the same way a family might make a new house theirs. I couldn’t help wondering if they would be safe, be warm, secure in their new surroundings. I had readied the hive and our ½ acre of yard for the bees to the best of my ability. I had looked forward to this day for the months that I had waited for the package to come. I was nervously ecstatic, I was unbearably happy; I was fifty years old!

I was fifty years old with the glee of a small child. I have owned a small business, have a career and held a job my whole life and yet these bees were one of the most exciting events that I could remember. I must admit that the reason for getting bees in the first place was that I had found an old honey extractor from the 1920’s for a reasonable price and simply thought it to be an interesting piece of equipment. But what is a honey extractor without bees to make honey? The following months of avid reading about bees and beekeeping hurriedly changed my attitude: I was taking on the responsibility of a society of animals.

The first day of being a beekeeper and I already owed the bugs a nod of gratitude! The day that I dumped the package into the hive I realized that the bees were much more than honey or even pollination of the garden, but they were the realization of a greater thing, a greater idea, a symbol of an ideal life. The bees reminded me that I was responsible for myself and in being responsible for myself, I was responsible for them. There are not many better lessons to learn, and what better way to learn such lessons than from a box of bugs!

Soliloquy on Shortcuts

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I’m not sure about this, but it would be my guess that human beings have been looking for easier ways to do things since the dawning of human intelligence. I can almost imagine the ideas trickling into the head of Homo habilis’ as they foraged and hunted.However, I’m not sure that our early ancestors looked for shortcuts per say to their daily required chores and tasks. There is a difference between making life easier and taking shortcuts, that is. Again, I’m not sure about this, this is an informal blog after all, but it seems that making life easier transformed into taking shortcuts some time in the recent past.

The differences between making life easier and taking shortcuts at first glance seems little. But consider it for a while. First, taking a shortcut to make your life easier implies the loss of something integral to who you are, what you can be, your integrity, perhaps your honesty. Secondly, a shortcut is negative and does not help and actually hinders in the long run. Lastly, taking shortcuts by no means makes your life easier. Making your life easier, on the other hand, by taking a shortcut does not necessarily imply the loss of anything, but actually can add to knowledge, add to who you are, what you can be, is not negative, and finally does not hinder you in the long run.

Often we take shortcuts because we think they will lead us more quickly to ease and comfort. Consider what acting on the belief that ease and comfort are innately good has gotten us today: industrial food, global economies, degrees for jobs, divorce, employment rather than careers, luxury but empty moralities, and the latest and greatest (fill in the blank). On the other hand growing your own food, buying locally, going to school to really learn something, sticking out hard times with someone you love, starting up a business based upon something you love to do, not supporting businesses that you know to be immoral, and bucking fads are all very difficult to do but they are well worth the effort; these are not shortcuts but complications. Sometimes comfort is your enemy and easy is not best; it is important to know the difference.

Shortcuts are either realizations or illusions. Taking a shortcut in order to make your life easier is creating something imaginary, something that really does not exist; making your life easier by taking a short cut is noticing reality and using it to your advantage. The first asks nothing of you and gives you nothing in return. The latter asks that you notice your surroundings and understand them. The first is motivated by ease and comfort for their own sakes, the latter is motivated by intelligence, curiosity and efficiency. The first tries to cheat reality while the latter tries to understand it.

There is an old moral adage that states that once we have knowledge of our wrong-doing then we also have the duty to change how we act. Taking a shortcut to make your life easier is somewhat different than this old adage. It, in essence, states: once we have knowledge, disregard what we know and act in any way we see fit. But I do not believe that is possible without lying to ourselves.

Unfortunately, lying to ourselves is precisely what most of us are doing as a society. We all do it and we all take shortcuts to make our lives easier. This is short-term gain at the cost of long-term happiness. I believe we know this too, and yet we continue hoping that somehow this short-cut that we have created will lead us back to the original path, the path that we ought to have never left. It will not I am afraid lead us anywhere until we being to realize that making our lives easier is really not what we want at all but rather we want to make our lives more meaningful; and there is no shortcut to that.

Buddhist Bees

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I worry about bees these days. I know that I don’t need to, but I do. I enjoy watching them move about the Nanking Cherry bush; I enjoy listening to them and trying to pick the Italians from the Carniolans. The day that I am doing this is sunny and the clouds are lingering. The bees are busy doing bee things and I am busy brewing beer and…worrying about tomorrow. That’s how we humans are: we worry about things that we have no control over. The bees cannot worry about tomorrow and I wonder if they would even if they could.

 

You see I am told that the next day will bring snow, a cold snap that is normal for this time of year in Colorado. I also know that temperatures below app. Fifty degrees become problematic for bees. They cannot move, forage, and must huddle together in their hive keeping their brood and each other warm. The difference, I realize, is that I am busy worrying about the future and the bees are busy doing what needs to be done at this very moment. There is a religious irony here somewhere. The Buddhist religion’s basic claim is that there is no other reality than the present. The bees act like Buddhists while we think about Buddhism.

 

While I’m watching the bees I hear my wort (unfermented beer) begin to boil over: a watched pot will never boil, but one that is forgotten, well that’s another story. I am not minding my own business while the bees mind theirs. I am worried about the bee’s future while the bees are busy with their present business. Somehow none of it makes sense, but that is Buddhism, and the bees being the Buddhists that they are, are not aware. I am aware and run back to the pot.

 

There are other ironies involves but the whole business gets complicated. I complicate my life by worrying about the future; the bees simplify theirs by doing what needs to be done in the present. I’ve seen a whole hive dead from starvation which is not a pretty sight, “butts in the air” as beekeepers say, the abdomens of the bees sticking out from the honeycombs as the bees searched for food in the bottoms of the combs. My heart drops and I get a twist in my gut. However, I’m pretty sure that even at death’s door, the dead bees lived in the present.

 

That’s how all of nature is and I begin to wonder if it is the idea, the concept of the future that separates we humans from nature more than anything else? Nature has no future, in fact the future doesn’t exist, but we create the future and then (what else?) worry about it. There is a philosophical argument here: we are free but the bees are not: driven by genetics the bees act accordingly. But I’m not sure that the payoff is worth it. We are not as free as we believe ourselves to be. Do we choose to worry about the future, or are we preprogrammed to do so? What would you do if you could?

 

The bees have no such thoughts and they are beautiful because of it. I get my wort under control and wander back to the cherry bush. I look at my empty garden, and the fruit bushes getting ready to bloom, the birdhouse I built still empty, and notice the robins in the juniper bush in the back corner; I see the bucket of water left out for the fox and my eyes glance at the new garlic plants, and I remember that I need to water the seedlings in the workshop. All the while, the bees move methodically from flower to flower, gathering pollen, being a bee.

Garden Variety Philosophy       

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I’m relatively new to gardening, and like most people the idea of gardening conjures up numerous images. First of course is the image of an overflowing abundance of plants popping with vegetables, fruits and flowers. Secondly, tools come to mind: the shovel, the rake, the hoe, the tiller. And perhaps the shape and color of the garden: should it be square, circular, and what about the soil? What is humus? Gardeners such as myself probably spend hours contemplating odd things such as these and the seeds…the seeds. The spacing of the seeds seems to be all-important according to some books, and in others it is the soil that the seeds are planted in; raised beds, rows, grouping: the list goes on. Both the questions and the answers seem endless, but all I want to do is to plant a garden.

One of the activities of gardening that I simply do not like is the pulling up of seedlings that are un-needed, or deemed lesser. Somehow it seems that I am killing an innocent, but gardening is like that. Gardening seems like an innocent endeavor, but the details prove it to be otherwise. To be a gardener, one must be ruthless in a sense. But this ruthlessness seems out of place in an activity that seems so peaceful. To be a gardener one must be both a mother and a warlord.

I look at the garden in the winter, covered in leaves, mulch and manure with its light brown, dusky color and imagine its future. Then I remember the aphids and the beetles that I fought valiantly with the year before, losing battles while hoping to win the war. I like to think of the garden as a way of giving, of helping the world, and the earth itself; planting and eating my own food. But, I also demand of the soil to produce and tear at the earth with the tools of the trade leaving it brown and uncovered, only to cover it again with remnants of what I previously took from it.

Then Spring comes and a renewed belief that what I do is good. Watching the seeds germinate under the plant light, the warming mat keeping the tomatoes and peppers warm on cool nights. The plans are laid and the seeds bought, I feel the heavy load of work to come which is the love and loathing of gardening. Such a simple task gardening and one that is directly related to being human. The garden represents change and consistency, husbandry and freedom.

And so the garden is a dichotomy of terms and ideas. But there is an underlying foundation to all gardens and this has much to do with why we garden. People garden for different reasons, but somehow those different reasons are more similar than not: curiosity, the desire for independence, love of nature. One is not a gardener for long if one is not curious about the plants, the earth that they are planted in, and the correlations between all life including the garden itself. Most of us speak of our independence, but until you can feed yourself, your independence is an illusion. Also, while gardening seems to be a process that brings order to an otherwise un-orderly natural environment, gardening puts us in touch with that very nature: we get our hands dirty and learn what our precious plants need in order to give us what we desire.

There is so much in a garden, philosophically, physically, and psychologically. A garden can be conceptual, representing a form of beauty or utility; maybe both. Gardening is most definitely a physical thing that demands physical work. And a garden demands of the garden a certain presence of mind and a drive to perhaps complicate your life. A garden can also be poetic with running rhymes strewn throughout with symbols of pleasure.

I think that in the end what truly defines a gardener is the reason that we each do it. A garden symbolizes what we want from life and our willingness to work to get it. But in the end, to garden is to realize that we are part of the nature that unfortunately we have spent much time and energy alienated ourselves from. The reason, I believe, that we garden is that it gives us a sense of belonging to a world that is far greater than ourselves. Just like our civilizations and societies, a garden gives us the illusion of control. But, just like the plants in the garden, we grow, live and we die. The garden reminds us that that is life, and that we are simply part of that thing that we so often take for granted, all started from a seed and some soil.