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Category Archives: Nature

Telling the Bees

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lake huron

Lake Huron Oil on masonite. 8 x 10 “

It was an old custom to knock on the hive and then turn it around three times and tell the inhabitants of great events in the family, of births, marriages, deaths, and leave-takings…Bees Virginia judged to be eerily intelligent insects, and if sharing the news of the family would keep them from deserting the hive, then so be it.”

Well, I have told the bees that we will be moving soon. I let the water run out in the bird baths, am slow to fill the Oriole feeder and no longer put out oranges.

Not knowing what the new owners will respect, it seemed prudent to lessen our animal dependence.

Still, we did have an uninvited family of weasels under our back porch; last week with my morning coffee just poured one came in from the back porch through the dining room and disappeared. No, I did not leave any doors open, my feeling is that like the bats in our house, if they can find their way in, then they can find their way out. But, my sister was visiting and still abed on an air mattress on the floor. Christopher said to me don’t tell your sister. I didn’t.

The next night a mink walked through the back garden. Yes, we will miss all of our animal encounters. But, with the big wind turbine being built across the road, the foundations of our century home shook and they are just putting in an access road.

So, it is a good time to move on. New adventures await.

A Few Wild Apples

The few wild apples left hanging in the tree have wizened with age and look quite comical now capped with conical hats of snow.

Our lives unfold. Time collapses. Today I see a sliver of silver on the horizon that is Lake Huron, a world of ice, the silence a ‘deep profound’. It is time to fold our tent and move on; this place has grown beyond us.

January 27, 1996. Weather blows from cold to damp and mild to bitter. The ice is in and out, daily a different picture. One day ice to the horizon, a good blow the next day no ice visible.

January 10, 1998. Rounding the corner of the drive shed the smell of apples fills me. The wonderment is there are no apple trees. Was the shed built over an old orchard? The trees ghosts rising on the still night air?

A wild apple tree now grows where once there was only the perfume.

February 3, 1996. Very, very cold, the tap froze in the studio. The great horned owl was hooting tonight, I could see him perched on the barn from the studio window.

February 28, 1999. The world turns balmy and windy. The male redwings are back in the hundreds, the ash tree alive with their singing voices. Spring is heralded.

Time will change us if given any incentive at all. Some things we continually have to relearn. The taps froze again this year. Yesterday with the warm spell upon us it was a mad dash once the whooshing sound penetrated my awareness. A fountain of water cascading onto the light fixtures which turned it into a waterfall.

March 3, 1998. The swans are back.

Our first year here we realized we were on a bird migration route. Many hours were spent watching them tear through the leaf litter turning up bugs. This was a great event. We no longer felt guilty about not cleaning up in spring and fall. Our way was clear, the birds would go hungry if we did clean up.

We decided that with planning and hard work, we could give them habitat that would keep them around a little longer. Other things quickly followed.

March 30, 1998. The ditch is full of spring peepers. Their singing tonight pure enchantment with the bark of a bull frog as counterpoint. Lying under the walnut tree, the leaves rustle and rustle all over, not jumpy but an all at once kind of sound. Flashlight reveals nothing. I think they are earth worms dragging leaves underground, so other worldly, watching the stars move overhead to the music of frogs and rustling leaves.

The pattern of bird migration remains consistent but everything else is flux and chaos here. Tired of the view of beans and corn, in 1994 we started to annex some of the twenty five acres to plant trees and bushes.

Our first day out was to plant a hedge of wild roses. There were a hundred small twigs with a few hairy roots attached. The book said (and I am a great believer in books) ‘stick the spade in the earth at an angle. Stick the stick in, close the gash with a good foot stomp’. My helper asked; ‘Wasn’t I going to give them a drink?’ The book left out that important bit of information.

April 6, 2001. Tree swallows back.

April 25, 2001. First barn swallows today and wren and cedar waxwings, thrasher, flicker. I saw another unidentified bird, oh well.

May 20, 1995.The first peach blossoms opened. In two years the herbs have swamped each other. I should have realized that being essentially wild plants under cultivation they would be full of rank growth with energy to match. The book never said why they needed separate beds.

I did expect such fervor from the mint, planted around the wild plums, but it languishes from some black spot and is now totally absorbed by the grass which flew itself in as seed and quickly out grew everything else. The loveliness of that spot will be all the suckers rising everywhere from the wild plum. Who knew that trees could sucker to such abandon? They look unaffected from the aphid attack last year, every twig covered and an army of ants climbing the trees to dispatch them.

May 13, 1997. Saw my first male hummingbird yesterday, zooming into the back porch attracted by the pink ribbon. Hovered so close we got a good look at one another. Only when he arches his neck is his red throat visible. That surprises me. The wrens are back, put up two new houses for them. Has been a cold windy wet month. Planted the peach tree cuttings too soon I fear but the willows and elderberries should take.

May 21, 1997. That miserable task of getting all the grass out of the mulch with two layers of plastic underneath was memorable, (how the roots can grow between the layers to pop up or down to air and soil is a real bewilderment). Six cedar waxwings alighted to feast on the high bush cranberries left over from winter.

Our reason for moving here appeared straight forward, the desire to have larger working space for our growing art practices. Initially the drive shed was to be our working art studios, but once we got the estimates for insulation, hydro and plumbing the poultry barn (which had all of those things) didn’t smell quite so bad after all.

With ownership we felt a certain responsibility to the land and the inhabitants of that bit of dirt. Although, personally speaking, who actually believes they can own part of the earth?

June 16, 1997. Black irises, peonies, daylilies in bloom. After last night’s rain the peonies are once again decorating the grass. They are so overblown, the Dolly Partons of the flower world. Also in bloom angelica, high bush cranberries, red elderberries, all lovely scented. The blood peach blossoms very delicate, it takes a warm still day to release their perfume.

July 26, 1996. Seeing many baby toads this year. A hatch of praying mantises discovered in the (still) unplanted herb pot.

The cornelian cherry a bad choice, the birds do not eat them. The mice however gather the pits; they have found my rubber boots a good storage place.

We have learned to pay attention here. Events unfold some never to be repeated.

August 8, 1998. Pulled weeds today. The cornflowers and black-eyed susans are after four years colonizing by the creek. The trees beginning to break the surface of the weed height. Gooseberries ripe. Highlight a sighting of a yellow billed cuckoo.

It was a real thrill when the plantings became visible over the weeds, which we decided to call a meadow of wild flowers. The thistle and ragweed of the first year were displaced by asters, golden rod, clover, milkweed and wild strawberries.

September 10, 1995. In the garden there were hundreds of monarchs clustered in the trees, an ethereal experience being surrounded by dozens of hovering butterflies. Three days of torrential rain follows. The potatoes are scabby, the tomatoes small and split.

September 8, 1996. A flock of about two hundred swallows move through the field, so close to the golden rod their wing tips beat the weeds, then they dart ahead catching the insects they disturbed. They went the length of the field, then turn in mass take to the air and start another row. They did this four times before flying behind the cow barn. They are not our swallows though. They left two weeks ago, just after the big black and yellow garden spiders appear.

October 6, 1997. All of my beautiful green squash turned into bright orange pumpkins. What a surprise, about forty of them. Time to read my book about crosses and start fresh.

November 7, 1995. Planted Narcissus poeticus, two hundred around the orchard and seeded with meadow mix this time, not bird seed. Who knew bird seed was sterilized?007_e006_e005_eBones

December 22, 1999. Felt late last night that I am a miner. I dig and delve, the physical activity uncovers, reveals the art. Much like the excavations of the stones and boulders buried behind the cow barn. I stumble upon a few rocks, collect them up only to unearth a bonanza of riches beneath.

Much like our life here. Time collapses. Often we lose track of the days, we are so absorbed in the world that is around us, here present in the moment but on a plane of existence that feels outside of time.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to hammer in the for sale sign at the end of the driveway.

Everything has a voice

I was visiting a friend who was teaching in a relatively isolated northern community in British Columbia.  They had piped water but no electricity and the nearest gas station was an hour’s drive away.

One of Coby’s students came to her cabin for breakfast every morning. We were all sitting at the table, Coby and I still catching up when her young friend said, “Shhh, I need to hear my cereal”.

One of the things I have always believed is that everything has a voice, yes even inanimate objects.

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Although I have lost sight of the lake from here the sound still carries. It roars, bangs, crashes and howls depending on the season. It is a noise that lodges at the base of your skull, a sound that permeates skin and burrows into bone. At first exhilarating but after a few days the experience wears away your sense of self, no longer knowing where the sound ends and I begin.

How did Turner survive his contact with the sea, being bound to a mast through a dark night of storm and high seas? Maybe he was deaf.

Turner’s paintings are remarkable, his ability to render light unparalleled, a feat of observation with understanding often overlooked in today’s world.

J.M. Turner b.1775 d.1851

British Painter

How can a lake howl? In winter with ice built up to six feet on the shore line the interaction with water creates caves and tunnels, that eerie noise somehow emits from there.


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A friend and I were discussing perspective, when one’s life is changing, on how we lose sight of what is important.

I was born under the sign of the fishes, but wonder if I will become a turtle and try to carry all of my history on my back. I have lived here for more than half my adult life, twenty four years has seen many changes in the property. I wonder if I should dig up all the small plantings that nature has made possible these past few years to take with us when we move.

I have dug and divided at least a half dozen times to help others start their gardens, will I miss all my memory plants if I don’t take them with me?

The mint that came from India via a co-worker of my father, the day lilies from Mrs. Kelly and her wild roses. The hostas from my sister, the wild plum and the currents, gooseberries and elderberries the birds keep replanting in the most unlikely places. The white poplar that I started as cuttings from wind fall from our local water station, the Dolgo crab apples that make the best ever jelly. The red peony’s from Dixy years ago and then her white lilac from last year, still waiting for it to bloom. Then there is all the irises from the church garden sale, those old fashioned ones that smell like grape koolade.The list is endless it seems.

Mary helped me plant the narcissus recurvis, a cloud of white today, then there is the paper whites from Avril, the double daffodils that were here, an amazing perfume, the wild hyacinths all Mrs. Hendricks’s plantings from forty years ago at a guess. The Crane’s bill geranium is a favorite; this one blooms from June to a hard frost. Oh there is so much to consider.

My work, I think will be easy to leave behind; it was never about the product, always about the journey, so very disposable.



This helps me remember that winter will change into spring, summer, fall. That life is a recurring but ever changing tableau.

light play on the cupboard door

light play on the cupboard door

October 20th, 2012.

I have been trying for the last two years to learn how to capture things in motion. Simple things that have always fascinated me, a cloud of insects spiraling into an articulate ever-changing drawing turned golden or white or grey depending on light levels, the moving shadow dance of light through trees. My attempts have all been very unsuccessful I am sorry to say.

I would never consider even trying to capture tonight’s evening show. Four hummingbirds back lite by the sun, their wings making multiple halos of light as they chase each other in a ballet, the musical arrangement the scrbeeking of insects with a drone in an overtone  that might be the grasshoppers communing, a steady beat against the squeaks and hum of those darting, dancing birds. They spiral up, give chase, tails a splayed fan of white edged in darkness, then they re-configure to peacefully dart in unison to the sugar-water  feeder, reminding me of synchronized swimmers. I spent my youth at the local pool and went to all the swim matches having friends and family as participants. The only thing as good as that was watching the participants competing in the Butterfly. That was always such an excitingly beautiful race.

But so far my film making efforts have ended in failure.

As I write there are now six hummers racing each other between the feeder and the trumpet vine, all with burnished wings amidst a haze of illuminated clouds of insects doing a spiral dance that is both poetry and music.

In another two minutes this vision will fade with the sun. Well, I timed it at a minute, these things; blink and you miss it. Oh, the dance is still on, but the wings are no longer halos of light but the insect dance is golden and rising on the warm air currents.

The sun is now gone, the hummers are as well, the insects back to being insects no longer the illuminated spiraling form of dancing magic. How I wish I had the skill to capture this.


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Kindness is good but listening is better, but how can I listen if my brain is so full of noise I can’t hear the rest of the world? Tonight here was the first day of spring, despite what the calendar says. With a thick cloud cover and no stars visible tonight was for the first time this year the time the earth is moving. The earthworms are hungry after a long cold winter, I can hear them dragging leaves underground for dinner. A scratchy, scruntchy kind of sound, very pleasurable on the ear, and a big lightening of the heart as well.

I have an orchid that still blooms after living here for five years.

It had so overgrown its pot this past winter I bought soil, not the right kind, it is in bark but all I could find was as fine as dust.

It seems the orchid didn’t mind the change in soil, it bloomed yet again.  But it did mind a great deal that I had tried to bury all those hangy out roots.  I tried to bury them into their new bigger pot but the outcome was, if they were very unhappy those roots died, if they were moderately happy they lifted themselves from the dirt, and if they were really happy they hung their roots over the pot.

It takes a lot of attention to understand a plant, how much more for a person?


Seagulls and Ariel Ballet

mixed media on paper

Tundra Swans

I’ve always envied birds their ability to fly. Defying gravity is something achieved only in a dream state or in the liquid world of water.

I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach at thirteen, the year it was published. As books go it was a big influence. And I loved it. I reread it recently, the intervening years haven’t changed my opinion or lessened my appreciation.  It remains a window into another way to experience the world. One full of light and joy.

To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is, you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived…

The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once occurs across space and time…

Forget about faith! You don’t need faith to fly, you needed to understand flying this is just the same. Now try again…

Page eighty Jonathan Livingston Seagull author Richard Bach


…overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.

Page eighty seven

So another diversion. The book that made me see the world differently was The Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan. It was the first and only time I read a history that tried to solve the problem of women and children in the landscape of our evolution. It was a thrilling moment to see the world view rocked in this way in this particular manner. As thrilling as my then new understanding of a proton. That it is both a particle and a wave, an object and pure energy both depending on the window you looked out of.

So Elaine Morgan gave me a new way to see the world, through my eyes and not the eyes of history. It is all in the details figuring out how life works, goes on, is lived, the details.

Do you take sugar in your tea, or do you drink coffee. Do you put on your socks first or last? Eat oranges or prefer apples.

Clocks measure time to create history.

Our hearts keep time with infinity.