Friday, July 31, 2009

Under a Ripe Honey Moon

We're almost into August now and well over the halfway point in our western calendar. Here in Vancouver we had a slow start to our growing season, but then with our unusual string of sunny days we've got a bit ahead of ourselves. Some things, like the ash berries on my friend's tree are ripening ahead of schedule. The raspberries are almost finished now and the blackberries are becoming dark and juicy. Ripening is a big theme this month in traditional moon names. The Apache, Mohawk and Passamaquoddy call July the Ripe or Ripening Moon, the Algonquin call it the Ripe Squash Moon, and the Cherokee call it The Ripe Corn Moon. The Cherokee, Abernaki, and Algonquin acknowledge the ripening hay. Ducks are moulting (Cree),the deer are dropping their horns (Kiowa), and thunder and lightning storms ignite forest fires that create the Smoky Moon of the Maidu. The Ponca and Dakota tribes call July the Middle Summer Moon.

As we head into August, summer already feels past its prime. I notice that my task of gathering seeds is going to begin earlier than usual this year, so I'd better get my kit organized. We've been suffering a heat wave that is making most people uncomfortable and somewhat debilitated. When I put on my bee suit and check the bees, the sweat runs don my cheeks like tears and I feel like my feet will melt right into my boots. The honeybees in my back yard have been having little after-dinner snooze parties at the opening of the hive. Drones seem to gather at the left side of the opening and workers in the middle and the right side. Some are guard bees, making sure the hunger-crazed wasps don't enter the hive to rob it. Others I am guessing are worker bees who just need to let their antennae droop for awhile as they escape the heat of the hive.

The bees are still bringing in silver grey pollen I noticed a couple of weeks back. Could this be from the Linden trees now blooming further down the hill from us at Quebec and 21st? There is also neon yellow pollen from the sunflowers in our yard. The hive is also slowly filling up with ripening honey. According to the fantastic beekeeper/blogger Richard Underhill, the bees blow bubbles into the honey to cure it. What fun! I have not been smoking the bees in this hot, dry weather, so what would appear to be gorging behaviour is actually curing behaviour. Please check out Richard Underhill's blog, it's a fantastic glimpse into beekeeping in Arkansas. I wonder how the beekeepers down there cope with working all day in the heat?

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Working on the bee garden has been a boon to me. Since it has been hot and dry I must water it thoroughly twice a week, hauling the hose out, patiently waiting to move it from one sunflower to the next. It's a great way to have a physical relationship with a garden. Today I saw a lady bug larva on a sunflower petal, but of course by the time I retrieved my camera it had disappeared. I saw a few leaf-cutter bees today too, in the sunflowers and perennial sweet peas. Most times watering the garden nurtures my soul, but today I was very upset by what I discovered. Someone pulled out all the calendula grown from seed and put it on the compost pile. I'm pretty sure I know who did it, at least I have a prime suspect. He is angry, rancorous, possessive, and he wanted to send me a message. I don't really know him, but he lives in the neighbourhood and he doesn't think I should be able to have permission to grow this garden because I don't live as close to the garden as he and his friends do. The flowers had been pulled out by the roots and were still fresh, so this cowardly act was done this morning before I came to the garden. (There is a story behind this story which involves well-meaning gardeners, a misunderstanding, and a death in the community.)

Obviously this person is suffering from some personal trauma. He frightens me, but at the same time, what I know is he (or she) needs healing, redemption, or a good kick in the a--. The bee garden is meant to be a healing garden, and perhaps it is functioning as such, but not in the way I imagined it would. A memorial garden for a deceased neighbour was completely destroyed as well, so what worries me is that this destructive bent will continue until the perp gets a reaction from me. He wants me to get angry at him because he feels empowered by conflict. Peace leaves him feeling impotent. Yes, these are the people in our neighbourhoods.

This experience just reminds me again how transient gardening is. Like a mandala that is painstakingly prepared and then swept up every season, it's here today and gone tomorrow. By gardening in a public space, I have become emotionally involved with a community that is dying to garden. Everyone wants their bit of soil to lay down roots, to connect to the life-force of the planet itself. I feel the desperation, not just from one person, but from apartment buildings full of people: men, women, and children. Some days it's too much for me to handle. Sigh.

' In the meantime, here are some photos of what's blooming now and the garden.

Behold, Sunzilla!

A leafcutter bee with an abdomen covered in bright yellow pollen.

Russian Sage, or Perovskia. We saw this planted in roadside gardens in the Okanagan, where it does well in the dry climate.

EYA apprentice beekeepers inspect the hive with instructor Brian Campbell.

Mint wins the prize for being the plant most busy with busy today.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Prairie Roses

Last week we drove to Saskatchewan to celebrate my parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary. As the eldest, I had to give The Speech. All mom told me was that she didn't want it to be too long. Well, here it is folks, from the heart.

There's something in a marriage that wants to grow, blossom, and bear fruit, and that's exactly what my parents' marriage has done. There are many stories I could tell about our family over the years, but most of you have probably heard them already. A few times. Not to say stories aren't worth repeating over and over and over again as they knit into the skin and bones of our lives, but tonight I am going to talk about something a bit different. I'm going to talk about the values that my parents taught us through the examples of their lives.

Loyalty, Dedication, and Hard Work

As Alice Walker writes, "The nature of This Flower is to bloom," but as we know, growing a garden on what Palliser called The Great Desert of the Prairie is not easy. Today I hear a lot of talk in the media about how hard marriage is, how much time, energy, and thought goes into a marriage, not to mention the emotional risk and personal sacrifice. Yes it may be "hard work" requiring loyalty, trust, and dedication, but what my parents showed us is that marriage is also natural. It's natural for two people to grow together in love and mutual respect for one another. Life is prickly, but the cactus blooms.

Friendship and Generosity

Our son Ullie opened a fortune cookie the other day that said "Friends are more important than money." He rolled his eyes and said, "Well, I already knew that." Here in the place where we grew up the line was blurred between family and friends. Once we had left home my mom's phone calls to my sister and I were kept updated on who had married, given birth, or died, not just as a matter of gossip, but because the community was our extended family. In the Weidenhammer family business, customers were also friends. Our grandfather Walter was a legendary businessman. They said he said he could sell anything. My father was a different kind of businessman. I think he'd have rather given everything away.

Ecology and Curiosity about the Natural World

People ask me what I did all day growing up in the middle of "nowhere." I lived in nature. I collected and identified rocks, wildflowers, and pond life. My sister and I did some cloud gazing, star gazing, and watched flocks of cranes, ducks, and geese pass over our heads in the spring and the fall. If we were really lucky dad would tell us to hop in the car and we'd go hunt for arrow heads, explore abandoned houses or go on some other kind of adventure. My parents taught us to be life-long learners and defendants of the natural prairie. They mourned the loss of each patch of tall grass as if it was a piece of their own hearts. There's something in a wild rose that wants to bloom.

Hope, Tolerance and Spirituality

We have had our share of family tragedies--my grandfather's stroke brought great sadness into our lives, and it was very hard when mom lost her sister Muriel. Having to close down the general store was another loss mom and dad had to cope with together. We lost a house, my sister's beloved rabbit, and a few dogs, but we still had a family and a strong belief that things would get better. Even after a long hard winter, there's something in a crocus that wants to bloom.

When I teach children about bees, I tell them that some people believe in an invisible world, a world beyond this earth where the spirits and ancestors live. In some traditions bees are thought to be the messengers to the spirit world. We grew up in a place where people were mostly Protestant or Catholic. I went to a Catholic school for ten years and I will never forget that in grade two I was not allowed to play a nun in the class play because I was Protestant. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Some day I'll play a nun, maybe even a flying one. Now I live in Vancouver--a city with an incredibly diverse variety of spiritual traditions. You name it, we have it.

When my mom came to Cactus Lake to teach in the one room school house, the local priest was upset that she was Protestant, and to make it worse, she wasn't even Lutheran. The priest happened to be a friend of my grandfather's and word got back to him to leave Joan alone because she was Bernie's girlfriend. We move towards tolerance of difference because we grow in wisdom and understanding as we age. We see how the invisible world just means different things to different souls, but that there's something in every soul that wants to bloom, grow, and bear fruit. Here's to fifty years of growing together. Thanks again mom and dad for everything you've taught us--how to blossom, bear fruit, and set seed for the future.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Summer Solstice Tea Party

Welcome to our yellow-themed tea party celebrating summer solstice, father's day, and National Aboriginal Day. Am I missing anything?

Such a pale yellow, it's just beyond a creamy white.

I decorated the bee herding fence with the old rhyme:

Marriage, birth, or burying,
News across the Seas,
All your sad or merrying
You must tell the bees.

Lois wore her yellow buttons and the sun shone to power up Garden Gnomad.

Shades of The Wicker Man...but ours is happy wicker, really!

This man is demonstrating our jaunty name tag system.

The honeywort is busy with Bombus.

Those guys have good pipes.

Eat your heart out Hello Kitty, our snacks are cuter.

See what I mean?

Wicker Man, meet Chamomile Man.

The cutie with the golden booty, I mean booties.

Bees love a five-o'clock shadow.

This baby's on fire!

Humans studying bees.

A bee studying humans...and giving us a raspberry!