Recharging Blackberries

It is blackberry season in Tennessee.

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A neighboring field has gone uncultivated for a decade which makes it a great place for blackberries…and pollinators.

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Blackberry bushes full of blossoms, even after a hard rain. We let the blackberries grow in our fencerows where they are easy to pick when they ripen in July.

honeybee on blackberry blossom

This photo is cropped and enlarged; I took this shot with a Pentax DSLR, a camera I sadly no longer have. I miss being able to photograph the honeybees with this much detail.

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This is a honeybee on a pale pink Multiflora Rose blossom. The locals hate Multiflora Rose and it is considered an exotic invasive. It likes to grow with blackberries where it can go undetected as the blossoms are so similar. I personally don’t mind Mulitflora and I allow a few pockets of it to grow around the farm; it smells heavenly when it blooms.

Geography And Other Loving Relationships

An acquaintance of mine, a friend of a friend, once said to me:  “You need to get your life philosophy straight.”

Well, it’s hard to argue with that advice.  Actually I quite agree.  A life philosophy, however, needs a little time to germinate…you know, while you are in the process of actually living it.

I do not have a comprehensive life philosophy (yet) but I do have a couple of, shall we say, tenets, that are fully-fleshed.  One of them is:

Humans are meant to be in relationship with their geography by moving across it.

And by that I mean on foot, and preferably every day.  Think about it; we are built to move across a landscape, one foot in front of the other, a pace that allows us to absorb sight and sound and touch but also give our minds a chance to relax and process and, dare I say, dream.  (I get crazy-wonderful ideas when I’m out walking.)  Walking is the perfect pace for our brains to capture data and assimilate it.

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I am lucky to be accompanied every day by two beagles who would rather give up eating than be denied a long walk through the fields.  The dogs give themselves over to the experience and, being hounds, literally follow their noses.  Last month one of the beagles was hospitalized for an entire day for minor surgery and she was too groggy that night to go for more than a little wobbly stumble in the back yard.  But she was raring to go the next day and announced her triumphant return to the fields by baying at the top of her lungs.  It was great and I knew exactly how she felt.

I am lucky to have as-yet undeveloped land in which to traverse and after 14 years of trudging daily through the hay fields I have learned the terrain well.  I have learned the gentle rise and fall of the fields, which fencerows harbor deer and wild turkey, which old fence lines have the eye-popping dogwoods and are not to be missed and which fence lines have fall persimmons that must be avoided by beagles.  In the spring I know my boots and jeans will be damp from the dewy first-growth hay, that the beagles will come home soaked and most likely full of ticks.  In the summer we know to watch for hornet’s nests in the swells of the grass hay.  In winter we can plow through the fields unhindered, tickled by the shadows of the bare bones of trees revealed by long shafts of winter sunlight.

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I take all of this in and it gives me my bearings.  I know where I am in the hemisphere based on the slant of the sun in the sky, the look of vegetation, the peeping of spring frogs and the chuckle of wild turkeys.  And I must not forget the night skies.  Here the skies are dark and reveal a carousel of constellations, some of which I know but most of which I don’t.  The fireflies in summer are breathtakingly spectacular as they bridge the starry skies with the trees and I have learned to watch for them in the grass when I am walking at night so as not to step on them.  At night, as the crickets chirp away, I often think of the horses out in the fields covered in an inky blanket of stars just like their ancestors and mine, and the thought comforts me to the point of sleep.

I have learned this place by moving through it, experiencing it in every season.  The daily walks have never become dull; rather, I feel as though I can never be sated by the experience, like I can’t be outside long enough, that there is just too much ever-changing scenery to digest.  I never find walks to be tiring (but thankfully, the beagles do) and instead I return home rejuvenated and also relaxed and very reluctant to do anything that will alter that mood.  I feel deprived when life’s demands keep me out of the fields.

What have I gained from the relationship with this geography?  I think it is a sense of peace brought on by familiarity, the sense of connection one gets from being a caretaker, and certainly I find comfort in the daily routine.  There is a gentle rhythm to stable life and that is what I find most fulfilling.

Yes, I love this place.

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The Doors

This month’s DIY lays the foundation for all future tinkering…

I may have mentioned that we bought a drafty new farmhouse about 15 years ago.  It was built by the owner, a man who was, sadly, a bit challenged at the skill of installing interior doors.  Even before we moved the furniture in we had permanently removed several doors as they were awkwardly placed and some were downright dangerous as they opened into traffic areas.  A few doors were never replaced and their openings turned into casements, whereas a couple of others were replaced with bi-fold doors.

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So what can you do with a pile of extra doors? This.

Materials (total cost approximately $30)

2  ten foot 2″ x 4″ boards for the sawhorse legs

1   six foot 2″ x 6″ board for the table base that sits atop the sawhorse legs

2   sets of metal sawhorse brackets (4 brackets total)

1   50 count package of 6 x 3/4 flat phillips wood screws

1   interior door (the one I used is 36″ wide and 80″ long) with all hardware removed

 

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Each of the eight table legs are 27″ long and are cut from the 2″ x 4″s. They are then inserted into the metal sawhorse brackets and screwed into place.

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The support boards were cut from one 2″ x 6″ pine board. Since my door is 36″ wide, I cut two 34″ support boards. They too can be screwed into place.  The door lays across these.

 

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The door lays on top of the sawhorses. Mine is not anchored into place although I often think it would be a good idea to do so.  To the right side of the table you can see a white cable underneath it that snakes toward the wall outlet; this is a cable control gizmo I bought later to keep the power cords neat.  It cost about $15.

 

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I drilled a 2″ hole at one end of the table and inserted a grommet; the lamp and laptop cords are threaded through the grommet and cabled together to the wall outlet.  No detail escapes kitty attention.

Swarm Story

~ A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.  A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon. ~

My honeybees, rebels that they are, always swarm in late April.   What exactly is a swarm in April worth?  Pardon the lack of rhyme, but let’s just say “entertainment.”

The bees spilling out of the hive entrance and taking to the air. This is one time that I find honeybee behavior a little scary. I respected their space and took photos from a distance. Thankfully, this swarming-in-air behavior only lasts about 10 or 15 minutes.

The bees spilling out of the hive entrance and taking to the air. This is one time that I find honeybee behavior a little scary. I respected their space and took photos from a distance. Thankfully, this swarming-in-air behavior only lasts about 10 or 15 minutes.

I travel once a year and always on the last weekend in April.  I am always ridiculously busy getting ready to leave so the honeybees’ sense of both timing and humor is not appreciated.  Personally, I don’t mind a swarm – it is a natural phenomenon – but I’d like to be around to witness it.

This year the swarm left me feeling conflicted.  One the one hand, I was thrilled by the fact that this colony survived a brutally cold winter and was big enough to swarm by April.  But a part of me wanted to capture them and install them in my empty top-bar hive; a part of me really wasn’t ready to let them go to live as wild honeybees.

The swarm took their time about finding a home, too.

First stop:  an old tree snag on the edge of the woods.  If I hadn't seen them settle here I may have missed them entirely.  But obviously this was only a temporary spot...

First stop: an old tree snag on the edge of the woods. If I hadn’t seen them settle here I may have missed them entirely. But obviously this was only a temporary spot…

 

Moving right along:  a couple of days later the bees relocated to a blue spruce and nestled under the branches.

Moving right along: a couple of days later the bees relocated to a blue spruce and nestled under the branches.

The same swarm but I shot this photo with a flash.

The same swarm but I shot this photo with a flash.

Not a great photo - it was snapped with a dumbphone - but the bees relocated to a clematis vine near the house.  My husband expressed some concern about this location.

Not a great photo – it was snapped with a dumbphone – but the bees relocated to a clematis vine near the house. My husband expressed some concern about this location.

When the bees had settled in the blue spruce tree I thought I had a good chance to catch them, even though I was out of town for a few days.   Two days later my husband called me and mentioned that the swarm was on the move and was in the yard behind the house; now I thought my luck had run out.  The bees thankfully calmed and nestled in a clematis vine.  At this point I decided it would be easy to capture this band of roving bees by snipping the vine and placing the cluster in my empty top-bar hive.

I hurried home a little early fully prepared to move the cluster, but this colony of course had other plans and had left the clematis vine.  I still haven’t located them but I think they are living somewhere in the tangled little woods on the edge of our farm.  I hope so.  As much as I desire for my honeybees to live successfully in the wild I am also aware that a swarm is a frightening thing to most people.  It is my fear that others would fear a swarm and spray them with chemicals and kill them.

And what of this roving around every few days?  Is that normal behavior?  Do the bees really travel about for several days until they find a suitable location?  It was a fascinating thing to watch but I must admit it made me want to capture them for their own protection.

My hunch is that the bees finally found the old decaying maple tree that has been lying in the woods for over a decade.  Gosh, I hope so.

Here is a great post about swarms on Winged.

Morning Meditation

Saturday morning was great.  The overnight temp was around 50 degrees so all of the barn doors were left open without worry that the horses would get chilled.  They greeted me — heads over their stall doors, eyes bright, ears forward — as I walked in.  And this is how I became a morning person.

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Hero stretches in the early morning sunlight.

In her fantastic book In Service To The Horse, Susan Nusser writes about Samantha, a groom to a set of elite sporthorses, who says of the horses and the early start to her days “Mornings are when they love you best.”  In my experience this is absolutely true and I suppose Samantha’s words have become my mantra.

I have long mused that mucking is my meditation and I really mean it.  There is a quality to a horse barn in the early morning that imparts a feeling far more spiritual than that of any cathedral I have entered.  There is a stillness to the barn that paralyzes busyness.  Frenzy and rushing have no place in the barn.  As the sunlight peeks in over the window sills the horses calmly begin to eat their breakfast hay and the mucking meditation begins.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “mucking” is the act of cleaning manure and urine-soaked bedding out of a horse’s stall.  A stall must be mucked out at least once a day, and if  a horse is unfortunate enough to be injured and is required to live in his stall for a period of recuperation, the stall will need to be picked and mucked out more often.   There is an old adage about little girls who refuse to clean their bedrooms but who will ride their bikes through heavy rain to get to the barn and muck stalls.  When you are lucky enough to work with horses even the act of cleaning their stalls for them is an enjoyable task.

My horse Hero has been with me for three years.  In those three years I have missed only eight mornings with him because I was traveling.  When I am away I miss him and our routines intensely.

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“Pay attention to me!”

The early Saturday morning sunlight brightened the barn and the warm spring air made it comfortable to work in shirt sleeves.  As Hero ate his breakfast hay I scooped manure and wet bedding out of the stall and into the manure skiff.  His stall door was wide open and he was completely comfortable with me walking around him, sorting through the stall shavings as he sorted through his hay.  I don’t worry that he will kick me.  (In our early days together, before we knew each other, I was careful to always touch his hindquarters and talk to him as I worked around him so he wouldn’t be frightened and kick, and in time I earned his trust.)  When I finished with the stall, I left the door wide open as I went to get him fresh water.  He looked over his shoulder at me, acknowledging my whereabouts, but he made no move to leave.  Thus, Hero has earned the privilege of an open stall door.  And I have earned an intense feeling of connection with this horse.  I crave our time together.

Once the horses finish eating, they are groomed and turned out in the field for grazing and exercise.  At this point the day begins to lose some of its charm because they are off on their own being horses and the magic of the morning has faded.  I linger in the barn, cleaning out water buckets, sweeping the aisle, emptying the manure skiff into the ever-expanding manure pile at the edge of the farm.  I store the horses’ halters and leads and grooming kits, tidy up, and make my notes about their daily care.  Other commitments begin to enter my thoughts and as the sun rises higher I reluctantly leave the barn, already missing the quiet moments with my boy, silently wishing him “have a good day, buddy” and already looking forward to the meditation that awaits me, God willing, tomorrow morning.

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Sometimes, a girl just needs her pony.

Ye Olde Farmhouse Networke

I chose this month’s DIY project because it has netted the most re-pins on Pinterest (25 people can’t be wrong).

Gone are the days when you only had to keep track of your cell phone charger.  That little drawer next to the stove that used to be perfect for stashing a couple of chargers was overwhelmed long ago when you added iPods, e-readers, and tablets to your arsenal.  I’m guessing your house is no different than mine in that the kitchen is now also charging central.  My little kitchen was quickly overwhelmed when we added a wireless router to the mix.  Thus, FarmNet was born.

I bought a bathroom cabinet that had glass doors and mounted it over the phone jack (I could not get the jack off the wall (!!!) and so I cut a hole in the back of the cabinet and mounted it over the jack; this became the perfect home for my ancient analog phone).  The wireless router with its attractive green cable sits next to the phone.  I drilled a grommet hole in the bottom of the cabinet and snaked a power outlet cord through it to the electrical socket and secured the outlet strip with hook and loop tape .  I added a half dozen cup hooks to the bottom side of the shelf and hung the various chargers.

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Since this photo was taken we’ve added at least another 6 cup hooks and chargers. When will this madness stop?

I think the project probably cost around $85 – $95 for the materials (cabinet, outlet strip, grommet cover, cup hooks, and short black phone cord).  It took about an hour to get everything installed.

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Ta-Da!! During the winter holidays I hang a little red berry wreath from the cabinet knob. Festive.

 

The Pear Trees Are Humming

Honeybees have changed the way I look at many things but nothing more so than ornamental pear trees.

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A half dozen pear trees, planted by the previous owner, line part of the lane.

This week the pear blossoms opened and with them came not only the honeybees but all sorts of winged pollinators.  When you stand beneath these trees on a warm sunny day you are immersed in the humming of thousands and thousands of tiny wings.  I try not to miss it.  All at once each tree becomes sort of a pollen metropolis.

While I find the fragrance of the pear blossoms cloying the bees apparently do not.  They flit about busily from blossom to blossom and often you can see the full pollen sacks on the hind legs.  They never seem to mind a camera being thrust into their midst; honestly, I don’t think they even notice as they are so focused on the task.

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This is a better photo of the pear blossom than the bee, but she is on the upper right side of the cluster, her dark body silhouetted against the white flowers.

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This bee is sporting full pollen sacks (and is completely ignoring my finger).The bees seem ravenous for the flower pollen.  Up until now they have been working the dark red pollen on the maple trees, but things are really starting to open up for them. When they have the time they will work the dandelion blossoms and other spring blossoms until the next big pollen run with the blackberry blossoms.

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I snapped one in flight. This has already become one of my favorite bee photos.

There is an interesting project that highlights writing about bees.  Called Winged: New Writing On Bees, it is a literary anthology. As far as I know this may be the first collection of such bee-themed writing (I hope I’m wrong about that) but the stories and photos they offer are incredibly beautiful.  I hope you’ll check it out.

From The Philosophy Bistro To The Shanty

Well, hello there.

I am so glad to have you here and I’m dying to tell you my inspiration for this blog.

There are many, many great blogs out there but I have one favorite out of all of them:  Robert’s Philosophy Bistro.  Like Robert himself, his blog is funny, witty, and charming.  Robert is also one of the best writers I know.  In fact, I am lucky to know him personally and can attest to what a gentleman he is, and what a perfect reflection of the man his blog is.  It is therefore my goal to create a blog space that reflects me and my life, too.

So of course I’m going to pay Robert that ultimate compliment and liberally steal from his blog format.  The Philosophy Bistro is more than just Robert’s stellar writing.  He also includes recipes and drawings and doodles and scribbled notes and (that blogger luxury) guest writers.  The Philosophy Bistro is the most wonderful of virtual spaces, where Robert invites us to stop by to visit and read and listen and think and learn and be entertained and also be challenged.  Read his recent piece on Becoming A Character and tell me you don’t love it.

I endeavor to write like Robert.  I’m still working on it.  But I can mimic his virtual space, one that so captures his personality; mine is Pappy’s Shanty.  Where Robert’s entrees are philosophies, I dabble in a different kind of words.  I’m really more of a tinkerer with words.  I kind of report on things and then ask for comments.  Robert and I are alike in one area, though:  we both want to start a conversation.

So please accept my official welcome to Pappy’s Shanty.  I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you’ll come back.  Many times.

~Kirsten