May 2015


Tonight I walked around a corner and my eye caught the moon.  It pinned me to the spot, and for a moment I was startled and shocked.  The phase of it caught me off guard and shamed me.  Usually I keep a close eye on the moon and what it’s up to.  Yet it was nearly full and I didn’t remember how it got there.  Time had caught me and dragged me along for a week or two.  I had slipped out of the habit of moon watching and it feels like maybe spring has not been dragged along too.  The local beekeepers have noticed this; the paused spring.  They say, “ ...the spring plants are only starting to appear now hawthorn and sycamore as well as the horse chestnut are just starting so the spring flow will begin in earnest.”  Beekeepers talk in ‘flows’; nectar flow. The dandelion flow has stopped a couple of weeks ago and the bees do get noticeably sad, and a little grumpy.

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Today we took the little people for a walk in the woods.  While hunting for ogres I kept an eye out for the summer, and spotted the beginnings of foxgloves and willow herb.  They were only starting, but at least they knew the summer is around the corner

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A sense of the moon and plant watching are good habits if I can maintain them.  Another good habit I am trying to perfect is bread making.  Lately my experiments have settled on a recipe for the best bread I can make.  The key ingredient seems to be time.  If we need a loaf of bread we need to start at least twelve hours before we need it.  Before breakfast I add the yeast, water, butter, and half the flour.  Then much later in the day (usually ten hours later), I add the rest of the flour and the salt.  It is kneaded, allowed to rise for an hour, knocked back, then allowed to rise for another hour and a half.

 

A good habit that I am trying to begin is slug picking.  It takes a bit of self will, and I haven’t perfected it yet.  The idea is to put a head torch on and venture out into the garden in the late evening before bedtime.  When I have dragged myself towards doing this I collect about half a cup of slugs (assuming this is the accepted unit of volume of slugs).  I don’t want to put them in the bin as that would be too kind a fate, and I suspect they would escape and carry on eating.  Instead, I place them in an empty curry sauce container with a clip on lid.  Their fate is cruel.  I place the container in front of the coffee machine so that I do not forget their doom.  After breakfast I make the first espresso of the day and remember to take the curry pot out to the hungry chickens before heading off to work.  When I began this habit the lovely Sharon was shocked, “Leaving slugs in the kitchen is hardly hygienic?” I pointed out that if they were able to escape the curry sauce container then hygiene would be the least of our worries.  Logic and the unlikely prospect of supermollusc strength slugs moved her to acceptance.

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some more slug food to be planted

While out slug hunting my eye caught a dancing hair in the soil.  It looked other worldly and out of place.  I was mesmerised by its dance and wondered if that was the intention; to captivate and enchant some poor bird or small mammal.  I suspected it was a parasite.  I think I might have been wrong about the dancing, but my parasitic instincts were correct.

It is a horseshair worm; a parasite that people used to believe might be a horse’s hair coming to life.  Of course I kept this new found parasitic worm knowledge to myself and did not tell the lovely Sharon for fear that she might lay down the law on my new habit of keeping my slugs in the kitchen.

Tonight the cottage smelled of roasting chicken, prompting me to think about wheels again. I have been hunting for wheels for some time now. The chickens have a large run fenced in under the old beech tree, but this is not how we started. We started with a small coop given to us by the previous occupants of the cottage. It has served us well. We would drag it across the front garden every week or so to stop them destroying the grass. Their manure caused the grass to grow thick and darken. A careful and systematic movement of the coop would leave the whole lawn looking like a swatch of colours from sweet pea to vine green. The constant dragging took its toll on the coop, and occasionally my back. And this is where the wheels come in…

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The coop may be falling apart, but we still need it. We need it for the young chicks growing up, and we need it to keep them away from the main flock if the chicks turn out to be cockerels. The smaller run of the coop also helps them grow larger and less lean. The chicks are growing up fast and I need to prepare. It also seems that one of our hens has gone broody and we assume she is sitting on eggs. How many eggs? Are they fertile? We don’t know. All we do know is that there is truth in the saying; not to count our chickens until they have hatched. We need wheels on the coop, and a bit of repairing.

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For months now the idea of wheels has floated in the back of my mind. I have kept an eye out at market stalls and charity shops. I even thought that if I found a really cheap child’s bike I would salvage it for the wheels, but nothing was cheap enough. The fall back was the lowest priced trolley wheels off ebay. Today I was in the garden and the wheels started to turn in my mind again. I decided that time was marching on and I would have to buy them. Then I spotted the barbecue. It has wheels, and it hasn’t been moved in four years. These poor wheels have had such a purposeless existence and they have been under my nose all along.

A box of decking screws seemed to reinforce the coop and stopped its wobbling. The roof was re-felted, and…..it has wheels.

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The details were sketchy.  In spite of  reading  and re-reading emails and attachments, I could not find the details; the time and the place.  It seemed that they were assumed to be known to everyone but me; the new member of this secretive group.  I gave up and sent an email explaining that I was at a loss, then I waited.

On the morning of the meeting I received a reply that included directions. This named road, then that named road, before turning down another country lane before finding a track beside a neatly cut hedge.  When I read these I was skeptical that such a hedge could be distinguishable after half an hour’s driving along country lanes. Then I turned a corner and spotted an unusually neat hedge with a lane that took me to the meeting hut beside an old stone castle.  I half expected to find someone wearing a red carnation who would hand me a briefcase with the clue to the next part of my adventure.

As soon as I arrived I was welcomed warmly.  Slowly, more and more people arrived and mugs of tea and biscuits were distributed.  When they stood in small groups the conversation always started with the bees; “How are your bees?”  From there the conversations went off along different paths, but one thing was constant; the bees. At one point I veered away from the details of apiculture and opened up a little. In a conversation with one gentleman I revealed that in the winter I forgot all about the bees until, in Spring, I felt the bee fever and they began to occupy my dreams.  The man’s face seemed confused and a little shocked.  I suspected I had shared too much emotion and he must think me a dreamer and a dolt.  Then he stopped me and declared fervently, “No, No, I never forget them in Winter.  I can’t stop thinking  and dreaming about them all year.” The conversational paths would often come back to one serious point; winter losses.  When someone shared news of a lost colony the others would hang their heads in experienced sympathy. A story circulated about someone who knew someone who lost seven colonies. Faces winced along with a sharp intake of breath through teeth, as if they had been revealed the gruesome details of an industrial accident.

When we were all certain that anybody that needed a cup of tea or a biscuit was provided for, we all settled into our seats for a presentation about the rare flora and fauna of the Causeway Coast.  It was about then that I realised that these people weren’t obsessed with bees.  These people were obsessed with life and the world around them and I felt welcome in such company.

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It’s the beginning of Summer on the old Irish calendar.  It’s said that we should be lighting bonfires, driving our cattle between the fires and jumping over the flames.  The most I could possibly manage would be jumping over a Bunsen Burner. I seemed too busy today to manage this, and it would have probably failed the risk assessment anyway.  It is also said that the fire in the house should be put out and then relit with the embers from the Beltane bonfires.  I assume this echos back to when we believed that the fire was a kind of life of it’s own and it never went out all year.  There is something in that, something deep and ancient.  Are we not separated by animals by fire, Prometheus, and a digestive system adapted for cooked food.  Our brains are power hungry and demand food sacrificed to the chemical alteration by heat.  I will admit that it is so much more relaxing to have the fire lit in the living room; to hear it crackle slowly and to smell the woodsmoke as the wood stove door is opened to feed it.  Yet, it has lost it’s mystical life.  When I see the yellow I see incandescent soot and I ponder the heat of the fumes before I decide if it needs another log.