Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Miraculous bee shape

I don't know if you would rank it up there with sightings of the Virgin Mary in a tortilla or a waffle, but you must admit it's remarkable. CSB noticed this morning that the bees in our observation hive have clustered in the shape of a Coptic Cross. (Mother, please take note.) My grandfather, Arnold, would be delighted. Wherever he traveled, in Upper Egypt or the Sudan, he visited Coptic churches and collected Coptic crosses.

It may be worth noting that the Queen in this indoor hive is called Benedicta, for the new pope, and is the only one of our named queens NOT named for an ex-girlfriend of CSB.

Since my mother claims she cannot figure out how to post a comment (I have my doubts, given her technological savvy, but that's another matter) I will post her her emailed comments:
Your grandfather’s name is ARNOULD, and not Arnold. Please note. Other than this tiny spelling mistake and misconception of geography (my father traveled on a regular basis to Ethiopia every two months, not much in the Sudan, no business there) nice blog. However, if I may continue with my “comment,” your bee cross resembles more a cross of Jerusalem (which has even sized arms) while Ethiopian crosses, have the formula of a roman cross, long vertical and short horizontals arms.

I don't know the first thing about the interpretation of dreams

Things you would rather not dream about:
Palestinian refugee camps
Your ex-husband horseback riding
Garbage strikes
Lost luggage

On the other hand, Eggs are apparently a good thing to dream about. For instance:

We paid for the eggs and then we paid someone to take the eggs. And we paid someone else who never even saw the eggs. We had to cross a border early in the morning, when it was still pitch black. Everything had to be paid in cash, in US dollars. The farmer was adamant about US dollars.

There is nothing about the egg business in 10,000 Dream Interpretations.
There are seven egg dream possibilities and not one of them is the egg business.
If you dream of finding a nest of eggs, that means wealth, or happiness to married people.
Eating eats signifies disturbance on the home front.
Freshly broken eggs indicate that fortune is about to shower upon you.
It is not worthwhile to say what rotten eggs signify.
A crate of eggs signifies that you will engage in profitable speculations – maybe this is the egg business after all.
To dream of being spattered with eggs means that you will sport riches of dubious origin.
Bird’s eggs signify legacies from distant relations.

According to the Dream Encyclopedia, eggs are the universal symbol of wholeness, fertility, new birth or rebirth.
This is good.

Monday, August 25, 2008

More alternate reality

We were busy harvesting gazillions of tomatoes, plus it was the feast of Rose of Lima, the first American born saint who was so determined to be chaste that she ruined her complexion with pepper and lye, so I had much to think about and thus I had almost forgotten (almost but not entirely) about the bruited visit of Valerie the ex-girlfriend.
And she didn’t come alone. Her adult daughter, tall and skinny with a pre-Raphaelite head of hair, was with her. She’s just back from two years in the Congo( Formerly Zaire, and Congo before that, and the Belgian Congo before that, and before that I don’t know what but I am sure they were a lot happier before King Leopold came on the scene. The great Belgian embarrassment.) where she lived in a leper colony. Yes, I did realize there are still lepers in this world, but somehow I had not translated that into realizing that there still existed leper colonies. (I of course think of Father Damien in Hawaii. Who doesn’t?)

And since I don’t have a jealous bone in my body (or I won’t once I get all my limbs replaced) I didn’t mind one bit when Valerie, the scion of potheads, stood on her tiptoes and gave CSB an impressively noisy kiss on the lips.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Alternate Reality

Bee stinger times 500.
The bees were testy today and I was stung on my right earlobe and my left wrist. CSB was stung in far more places because as usual he did most of the work, opening the hive, checking the frames for brood and determining that this particular queen was not really doing a very good job and if the bees didn’t make some supercedure cells soon he would have to re-queen the hive. Although it may be a little late in the season for re-queening.
On various occasions when one of us has been upset, the bees have been testy - as they were today – as if our anxiety was picked up by them, like little flecks of pollen, and so a part of me wants to say that they knew something we didn’t know, not yet, and so were prophetically testy. I do realize that is farfetched. (But a whole sight less farfetched than many of the hagiographies I devour.)
I was applying a baking soda poultice to my extremely itchy earlobe, and getting white globs of the stuff all over my shoulder because of course it doesn’t exactly stick to the lobe, which was getting redder and itchier by the second, when the phone rang.
CSB hates answering the phone and will stand next to a ringing phone calmly not answering it and this drives me crazy at times, but given that he is so good and sweet in so many ways it has been hard to get too upset about his phone-aversion; though it does explain my perverse pleasure in the bizarre situation at Pleasant Pond last month when I was enjoined from answering the phone - the land line which only works on odd Tuesdays & is the last phone in the northeast without Caller ID - lest CSB’s ex-wife call and discover my presence at the Pond, which was yet something else that would cause her to crank up the decibels and very possibly drive 9 hours to Maine and personally eviscerate me me. (They’ve only been divorced for 10 years and she threw him out in the first place.) And there is no constabulary in Caratunk. But I digress.
So it was only because of the baking soda all over my ear and all the many other places it had dripped and globbed onto, that CSB answered the phone. Thus I got to witness his face vividly portray a satisfyingly wide range of emotions from puzzlement to surprise to pleasure to discomfiture to anxiety to sly concern. His end of the conversation was, initially, so monosyllabic and reactive as to not bear repeating in this venue. However, the questions he asked towards the end: Where are you now? & Is your father still alive? & How long did you live at the commune? did pique my interest.
All thought of my red & itchy earlobe disappeared in direct correlation to the rise of my intense curiosity.
-Who was that?
-Someone I used to know. She was at F—[boarding school in Connecticut] with me, then got thrown out. For smoking pot. She got thrown out of Stockbridge for the same thing. Her father lived in the city and was a big pothead.
-Not many of us had pothead parents in those days, said I.
I was thinking of our businessman fathers in their hats and our elegant mothers in hats and gloves. Not that hats preclude pot smoking, come to think of it.
So I asked, Does she have a name?
-Valerie Genet. [He pronounced it Jennette; only later did I learn that it was spelled like the author of Le Balcon, one of the best reasons to study French in high school or anytime] I didn’t ask if she ever got married, or changed it.
-And where is this Valerie now?
-Back in New York. I’d always wondered what happened to her. She was the only girlfriend I totally lost touch with.
The look of complete puzzlement returned to CSB’s face, & seemed to be affixed there.
Not only that, but she was the only ex-girlfriend, that I knew of, that I had never heard of. Back in the early days, in the first flushes of falling in love and total disclosure, when we told each other all the sordid details of our romantic pasts (mine, alas, minus the marriage, took about 3 and a half minutes) I became quickly conversant with the names and personalities of CSB’s former girlfriends. We even visited with one, and her husband and sons, in New Mexico. And had lunch with another, and her daughter, when they were visiting in NY. When we started keeping bees, we named the queens after the ex-girlfriends (most definitely not the ex-wife), until the apiary grew to greater numbers even than CSB’s past could accommodate.
But Valerie’s name had never come up. Until now.
To make a long story short(ish), the aforementioned Valerie, in what sounds like her fourteenth incarnation, is now selling vacation real estate in Florida and the Virgin Islands, and having learned through the F - alum magazine (Apparently even the expelled get these magazines; I had always wondered about that.) that CSB was divorced and living here in H-on H-, she got hold of him and who knows, maybe he wants a condo on St. Croix. (Highly unlikely.)
He said she’s going to stop by this Saturday, on her way to a client upstate. CSB wants to know if we are doing anything this Saturday. Well, as it happens….No matter, it will be a short visit. I wonder if she’s interested in beekeeping.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Apicultural patronage

Saint Bernard is the patron of bees, beekeepers, wax melters, wax refiners and candlemakers because he was called Doctor Mellifluus (the Honey sweet/ Honey tongued Doctor) on account of his brilliant and persuasive oratory (he drummed up the Second Crusade more or less single-handedly). Depending on your point of view, this may seem like a stretch.
Otherwise, his only recounted contact with the insect world occurred sometime after 1121 when the church at Foigny was infested with flies. (Anyone who has experienced Black flies in Maine or Greenheads on Cape Cod can sympathize, deeply.) Bernard came in, announced that the flies were excommunicated, and they all died.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nothing is verifiable

Here is what I love, cannot help loving, and am inexorably drawn to, about hagiography: As Alban Butler writes, re Saint Sebald, “His biography is of uncertain date, full of anachronisms and inconsistencies.”

What you need to know about Saint Sebald is the Miracle of the Icicles. One snowy night in Bavaria, somewhere in the Dark Ages, also known as the Little Ice Age (see above reference to uncertainty) Sebald stopped for shelter in a poor peasant’s cottage, but found it to be as cold inside as out because the poor man’s fire was almost dead. And there was no more firewood. So resourceful Sebald brought in a bundle of long icicles he found hanging from the eaves. He threw the icicles onto the embers and voila! They turned miraculously into firewood. Warmth ensued.

There are other miracles. My favorite is the one whereby the holy Sebald chastised a mocker (little did he know with whom he mocked) by causing the earth to open up beneath him and swallow him whole. This doesn't strike me as miracle one would associate with holiness.

As for Saint Mochta, a sixth century contemporary of Saint Patrick, he miraculously calmed the stormy seas and learned to write from an angel. But Mochta had a skeptical side. When he expressed to Patrick his doubts about the longevity claimed for certain antediluvian patriarchs, Patrick sentenced Mochta to live for 300 years. So there.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Saint Mamas, across the centuries

Because my mother and daughter are going to Cyprus in the fall, and because I cannot imagine anything they would rather do on that journey than visit the shrines of Cypriot saints and also bring back for me tasteful tchotchkes of hagiographical interest, I was more than delighted to discover Saint Mamas, whose feast day (Roman calendar only) was yesterday. Admittedly, his connection to Cyprus is not entirely verifiable, but that has never stopped me before.
According to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Mamas was a third century shepherd in Cappadocia who suffered martyrdom under Aurelian, best known - at least to me - as the Roman emperor who conquered Palmyra, took the great Queen Zenobia prisoner and paraded her through the streets of Rome.
Mamas was a friend to the animals, living off milk and honey in the countryside (The nutritional importance of HONEY in the Lives of the Saints deserves greater attention.), so much so that when his tormentors exposed him to wild beasts (a favored method of executing Christians), the beasts in questions merely lay at his feet as if Mamas were their shepherd. The lion that was supposed to cruelly tear him from limb to limb comforted Mamas instead, and licked his wounds; hence Mamas is frequently portrayed riding a friendly lion.

What has any of this to do with Cyprus? Thus far, nothing. But wait.
Following his death, the family placed the body of the martyred Mamas in a coffin and buried him at sea. That coffin was taken by the tide from Anatolia to the Gulf of Morphou in Cyprus (due south 80 miles).

On the other hand, Mamas was a twelfth century cave-dwelling hermit near Guzelyurt (formerly Morphou), Cyprus. When the Byzantine ruler demanded taxes from all the residents, Mamas declined to pay, citing his cave-dwelling as the reason. For this, Mamas was arrested. As the 2 soldiers were transporting him to the city for punishment, they met a lion about to devour a lamb. Mamas saved the lamb from the lion, and then rode into the city on the lion’s back. This feat so impressed the Byzantine authorities that Mamas was exempted from taxes for the rest of his life.
And henceforth, he is the Patron Saint of Tax Evaders. (You see, there really is a patron for everyone.)
Whichever version of his life you prefer, the icon of Saint Mamas astride a lion works.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Serial (The Quickies), Part 9

9. When Professor Lawrence Quinby’s third collection of poetry won the prestigious (and lucrative) Biennial Brancart Poetry Prize his department hosted a party to celebrate the honor. Lillian McCue, the department secretary, stitched a needlepoint pillow of the book’s cover, a Francis Bacon-esque triptych by a local artist friend of Larry’s. He hoped, and his wife Gretel also hoped, that their oldest son would see his way to come home for the event. Larry Jr. had left their bucolic Midwestern town and gone to California right after graduating from high school. He had convinced his parents he needed a gap year and so had not even applied to college. Truth is, he had no intention of ever going to college. Neither Larry nor Gretel could imagine desiring any life other than their own, the life of the mind, the life of books, a life filled with poetry, family, and weekly literary dinner parties. Their oldest son, whose ambition had always been to be a film stunt man, was a mystery to them. One day he would be the cause for their names appearing in newspapers all over the country. Larry Jr. could not make the party. His younger bothers were there, toasting their father’s success, along with their respective girlfriends, Melanie and Jen.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More things to do on Cuttyhunk

  • Go clamming at Nashawena. Try to figure out what the slimy transparent caterpillar like things are, floating in the water, by the millions. Paul disturbed a couple of horseshoe crabs in flagrente, so he thinks, and dislodged a stream of these mysterious transparent gelatinous floaters leaving us to determine that they are horseshoe crab egg sacs. I take many pictures of them floating in the water and it is impossible to see anything at all. So I scoop up a few of put them on my colored pencil tin for background.
  • Discuss, ad nauseum, jellyfish. How squeamish are we about jellyfish? It depends. Amuse ourselves coming up with ever more grotesque similes for the jellyfish (zits; bubonic plague buboes).
  • Visit the Historical Society and admire the mannequin dressed up as Bartholomew Gosnold, and also the quahog mosaic of the American flag. (Jasper Johns, donde estas?)
  • Get your hair cut on the MV dock with Doreen, the hairdresser from New Bedford who comes over on the ferry every 2 weeks, armed with her scissors, plastic cape, blow-dryer, hair clips and gels.

Things to do on Cuttyhunk Island

  • Consider all the things one is not going, will not be doing, could not be doing, and then think of nothing at all
  • Collect rocks. The collecting and painting of beach rocks is high art here
  • Read about Bartholomew Gosnold’s 1602 voyage across the Atlantic and discovery of Cuttyhunk. When he sailed into Cuttyhunk Gosnold thought he was in Northern Virginia. He was looking for sassafras (they thought it could cure syphilis – wrong). He had a crew of 31 and 20 settlers. They spent 2 weeks on Cuttyhunk and then decided it wasn’t for them. They were met there by courteous and good-looking Indians, described as ‘witty’.
  • Jump off the ferry dock and wonder whether we will be bitten by jellyfish. There will be jellyfish, about that there are no ifs. The swimming is still marvelous.
  • Swim at Church Beach and keep an eye out for jellyfish. They look like this:
  • Read. I brought with me: The Man in the Sharkskin Suit by L. Lagnado.; David Plante’s Francouer Trilogy; Munif’s Cities of Salt (a bit of a doorstop). Heidi has at least 2 biographies of Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Have breakfast at the Fishing Club - where all breakfasts include cheese, home fries, sausage and clams - and watch a helicopter land on the big H (for helicopter) and learn the entire sordid life story of the fellow being offloaded along with 3 cases of liquor and an anonymous old crone wearing several kerchiefs.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Bloody Nature

The thing about dogs with (mostly) white fur is how vividly blood shows up.

In absolute accordance with her instincts, her breeding and her inclination, Daisy has brought me birds, moles, squirrels and rabbits and I have been consistently ungrateful.
Then she and Bruno did their best to bring in venison and I was not calm, not collected, and not phlegmatic about the ways of nature. (I was distressed, hysterical.)

We were sitting in the garden discussing matters of great importance (bees, blueberries, Beat literature) when I heard barking and the sound of a deer in distress. It is a sound not unlike a baby crying but deeper in tone, more feral, and you only need to hear it once to know it forever.

Reine took Leda away, inside, hopefully out of earshot.

I rushed to the scene, as it were, and found both dogs in mortal battle with a fawn. Not a new fawn, more like a teenager. The fawn was on the ground, bitten and bleeding, and Daisy was fastened onto her haunch. I screamed and screamed at the dogs to back off, let go, with no effect at all except to summon my neighbor. (Another story.) Finally I was able to grab hold of Daisy and get her away, knowing that once I got Daisy away Bruno would back off, being the beta dog he is and the milder of the two. But Bruno did not immediately back off and it wasn’t until my neighbor took hold of Daisy for me that I was able to get Bruno leashed as well. Meanwhile, the injured fawn slunk into the tall grass to lick her wounds. And die? I don’t know.
Incidents like this reinforce just how out of whack this habitat has become; and how insane it is to have herds of deer roaming these river towns so close to the city, where the deer’s only predators are my dogs and cars, and where I can’t put an injured creature out of its misery. Not that I would know what to do with a gun, but that’s the idea.

As Reine later pointed out, my panic & fear were not unmixed with guilt, for I am far more likely to wish the deer elsewhere, dead & gone, than I am to fight for their tick-bearing, garden-decimating lives.

Leda (2 years old, with a vast vocabulary for the animal kingdom) was the sanguine one. “Daisy scared a fawn, Daisy scared a fawn. The fawn was scared. Daisy was scared.” She repeats this again and again, constructing a version of events she can understand, making sense out of the noises.

CSB pointed out, correctly, that I was crazy to interject myself between the dogs and their prey, because they could very well have turned on me. Thankfully, they did not. But I wasn’t thinking. Like them, I was operating on instinct. Though it’s not entirely clear to me what that instinct was.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

27 Down

Queen's subject?
Well, if you insist. I never thought of a drone in subjective terms. Given that their sole purpose in life is to inseminate the queen, and all they ever do is fly around awaiting a queen in need of insemination, I consider drones as extra-subject, or hors-de-subject.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More pictures from the Pendant Hive

Click on for larger picture, and it's worth it.
Our friend Colin Cooke took these pictures of the bees in their treehouse. He specializes in photographing food in all its delicious and myriad permutations. You have never seen such a beautiful ginger root.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

She's the Patron of the Bolivian Navy

One of the weirder aspects of the Catholic religion is the devotion to a specific statue of the BVM ( The Blessed Virgin Mary; acronym also used to describe a specific color: BVM BLUE). Weird, because it is the statue that is honored, feted and treasured, not as a representation but as itself.

You have the Black Madonna in Poland.

In Nicaragua a replica of the statue of the Virgin in Fatima makes the rounds from house to house, and parties are held in her/its honor. Fancy parties - something between a ladies bridge luncheon and a Quinceañera. I could not make this up.

In Bolivia, on the shores of the glorious Titicaca (highest navigable body of water in the world; vertigo-inducingly so), you will find Our Lady of Copacabana (not the beach in Rio, not by a long shot), more properly called Virgen de Candelaria. Today is her feast day.

Sometime in the late 1570’s an Incan artist named Francisco Tito Yupanqui – grandson of the Inca leader Tupac Yupanqui – carved a statue of the Virgin Mary (thus she is also called Dark Lady of the Lake) out of plaster and maguey fiber, and covered her in gold leaf and dressed her as an Incan princess. She wears a dark wig.
Nowadays she is encased in glass and never leaves the lovely white Moorish style cathedral because to remove her would cause Lake Titicaca to flood.
Not only is this statue the patron of Bolivia, she is also the patron of the Bolivian navy, and it is a well known fact that Bolivian sailors need a patron saint since they are always lamenting the loss of their coastline.
And I know this how? We visited Bolivia last year to see CSB's nephew in the Peace Corps there. In Copacabana CSB experienced terrible altitude sickness, worse than mine because he has those extra 14 inches to deal with. And naturally I visited the Virgen and lit some candles. Directly outside the cathedral you can buy all the fireworks you want.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Serial (The Quickies), Part 8

8. The very week Tilda Wriston met Howard Zinc was the week she had decided to finally try Because her own efforts in that department were hopeless (I am a horny middle-aged widow ready to love again. Candlelight hides a multitude of wrinkles. As for my stellar personality: think Lily Tomlin meets Susan Sontag. Except I’m not dead.) Tilda’s best friend Pauline wrote her profile. Pauline also took about fifty digital pictures before they could agree on one to put on the website. Then Tilda met Howard at a fiftieth birthday party for her college roommate, whose husband played golf with Howard. He told her that since his wife’s death and since reentering the dating scene, friends had matched him up with many divorcées. But he had finally come to the conclusion that he would never be happy with a divorcée, and that he could only connect with a widow, as only a widow would understand not only the sense of loss, but also the creepy sense of relief when the year of suffering was over. Tilda agreed heartily. They both drank champagne, but neither drank too much. Tilda did not mention her early, brief marriage - the one she herself often forgot about - and her Mexican divorce from Larry Quinby. She did not mention that just the other week – she had come late to the pleasures of nosiness-indulging through Google – she had Googled her long-ago ex-husband and learned that he had published six well–received books of poetry and was a tenured professor at a Midwestern college. She was unable to learn from Google whether he was married or not, whether or not there were children.

Do you have a mad dog?

According to legend, once Sithney (or Sezni) made his way to Brittany, God asked him to become the patron of girls looking for husbands. This task struck Sithney as over-daunting and he begged to be allowed to be patron of mad dogs instead. God said that was fine and to this day mad dogs drink from Sithney’s well, and are cured.
If you consult Baring-Gould’s Lives of the British Saints, or Butler’s Lives of the Saints, which I have, you will find no reference to this legend, but you will read how Sithney castigated and cursed a woman and her child because she was washing linen in the town fountain, which doesn’t especially saintly to me. The Bretons also claim that Sithney’s relics (bones, assorted body parts) were responsible for so many miracles that the Irish sent a fleet to steal them and carry them away. And did I mention that he lived to be 127 years old?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Apis mirabilis

An extraordinary new hive has taken up residence here. Yesterday CSB took me down to the field and there, suspended by wax from a branch of the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) was a very active, thriving beehive. It has clearly been there for most of the summer because they have built significant amounts of classic heart-shaped comb. I have never before seen an open-air, so to speak, hive and naturally we wondered how they would fare this winter. Not to worry, CSB said he will simply remove the branch sometime this fall and give them a wooden beehive home.

Friday, August 1, 2008

From the North Woods

X word buzz

I've decided to take note of the incidence of BEE related clues in the Times crossword puzzles. This decision came to me this morning with - if not the significance of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus - still, a very satisfying light bulb flash in the brain.
Today's 41 down: DEALING WITH HONEY MAKERS: Apian
(It is somewhat disturbing to note that this blog's spellcheck does not recognize the word Apian. But then, it doesn't recognzie the possessive form of blog either.)

A few day or weeks ago, if I recall correctly, there was this clue: COMB MAKERS: Bees.