It’s been a little while since my last letter, and I hope you’re well and warm in NYC. Daily life here has been interesting, and since the arrival of my new bee suits, my most beloved hobby has finally joined me on the island. The retreatant is finishing up her silent meditation here, a shorter duration than expected. Life, and the Jacaranda, is in full bloom.
Being surrounded by so much Buddhism is interesting, as most of my neighbors practice it, there’s a Stupa just above the homestead, and of course the homestead itself has lots of Buddhist things in and around it. I’m not a religious person, in fact I’ve rejected religion for a long time in lieu of my own spirituality and philosophy. One of the things that I’ve appreciated about Buddhism, however; is that it seems to be more of a philosophy than a religion, even if people apply dogma to it. While describing my own spirituality/philosophy to someone at the Stupa, when I made my visit, they looked at me inquisitively and said that the Buddha said similar things about life and beliefs. It was a curious moment and I enjoyed it quite a lot. Just imagining the fat face of Buddha, squinting and smiling with his head tilted ever so slightly, as he nods in approval, makes me happy.
The retreatant that came wanted total isolation, if possible, so rather than tiptoeing around the garden as to not disturb her, I’ve taken a break from the garden all together. When she leaves it will have been 10 days without a foot or hand in the soil, two days to go. I’ve kept as busy as I wanted to be otherwise, and dull moments have failed to arise. I’ll be curious to see how the garden bed that I planted the day before she arrived is doing. Days of clouds spittling all over have dulled the sword of the blazing sun, so I’m fairly confident that its residents will be standing tall and well nourished. On a side note, while my hands haven’t been in the garden they have been in the Thimbleberry patch! Check these beauties out!
I’ve invited the people who so kindly hosted me in town, while the Jeep was being serviced, to come up for a retreat. At the end of the month the cottage and a bottle of wine will be waiting for their arrival. When I needed a place to stay, while trapped down the mountain, they welcomed me with open arms, so I return that here. They’ll just be here for a weekend, the husband-to-be’s birthday.
On Friday my beekeeping equipment arrived, thanks to GloryBee and FedEx for their swift delivery to Hawaii! The day after the items arrived I went to my neighbors and checked on the hive that we removed from the roof. It’s still struggling, but it’s surviving. There was some rotten brood, that must have died in the removal, fruit fly larvae, and small hive beetle larvae, so I removed all of that and rearranged the frames to help them fill it out and up with wax. The queen was working like mad, putting eggs in every single cell that she could fit her fat abdomen into, even unfinished cells. Brood are essentially baby bees (egg, larvae, pupa), and there were plenty on the frames. I think the hive will make it, and in about 3 months I’ll have to add some boxes. The roof, however, is still full of bees! I think there are 3 hives up there now, after the removal, which means they were split rather than removed in the attempt. The removal specialist was paid by the hour, and winced at the short duration of the removal, so I was kind of surprised that he didn’t take more time cleaning things out. Though, I can respect someone not being greedy. I think his nature and intent were good. Guess who the new bee removal guy is? Spoiler alert: it’s me!
After checking out that hive I went to another neighbor’s house and looked at the hive in his roof. It is very well established, but they’ve basically trapped themselves in a very convenient place. I should only have to dangle off of the 30-40ft roof a little bit, much to my joy. There are three other neighbors on this part of the mountain with beehives in their houses, so I’ve got some work cut out for me this summer! Having been trained by commercial beekeepers, I’ve only used Langstroth hives in the past. Those are the white square bee boxes that you might see in a random field pretty much anywhere in the world. They are the standard hive for beekeeping, especially on the commercial level. That said, I think there are better designs and the Top-Bar hive is one of them. When a person harvests honey from a Top-Bar they just take the entire piece of wax with the honey in it, rather than spinning frames in a centrifuge, collecting honey, and giving the wax back to the bees like we do with the Langstroth hive. Both have their flaws and advantages. I’d like to have Top-Bar hives here, since no one will be a commercial honey producer and everyone could use healthy bees and the wax for various things. Rather than using my neighbors flooring, I think the “Honey Cow” design is what I’ll try out first. It’s a plastic body, recycled from old (clean/ed) plastic 55gal barrels. My resources are limited and I’m out of project funds, so this could be the least expensive route to take as well.
There is something special about opening up a box that is full of insects that could easily kill a person and having them be calm and cool, for the most part. That feeling continues and increases when a person takes their first bite of wax, honey, nectar, pollen, royal jelly, propolis, or if they are weird like me and try out a bee larvae (they don’t taste good, FYI.) I’m happy that it’s a hobby that is increasing in popularity, because the hobbyists will be the ones to “save the bees” not the commercial apiarists.
Over the last week or so I’ve been spreading my seedlings around the mountain, gifting them to neighbors and their gardens. It’s a lot of fun surprising people with things like that, especially since they appreciate them. The gifts come back too, in various ways. In a few months there will be black, or yellow, tomatoes and red carrots growing places, and giant pumpkins, watermelons, various squash and beans, some things this mountain has never seen, I’m sure! It’s all part of the great food growing experiment, and the fun of nurturing nature.
Speaking of nurturing nature, I met with the horses again. As I was driving down the mountain with my new fancy bee suits, I saw the horses browsing under a Brazilian Pepper tree so I stopped and talked with them a bit. They weren’t too enthusiastic about my presence, until I whipped out some ripe bananas. It was only then that their lips started smacking, ears perked up, and all of a sudden I was the welcomed into crowd! Cautiously, because when a horse is an asshole it hurts, I fed each of them. This group that is always together is part of a larger group, four of the twelve or so that I’ve seen. They are old horses, and I realize that my fantasy of taming a feral horse and riding it around on the mountain is just that. But, I’ll still sweet talk, pet, and hang out with my fellow horses any chance I get. My Chinese zodiac animal is the Horse, and I’m a Sagittarius, so they feel close by virtue of association if nothing else. I’ll always remember, twenty years ago, when my friend got into an argument with her horse, and the horse stuck his tongue out at her and shook his head. It was that moment when I realized how deep and intelligent they could be.
Goats and chickens have been on my mind constantly, so they may be making an appearance here soon, along with an extra pair of hands. While I am enjoying my time alone, far more than expected and almost too much to be willing to sacrifice, it would be pretty awesome to have more help, and a friend has expressed interest in joining me in the mountain madness. If that happens the goats and chickens are much more likely to happen as well. It’s funny how things here fall into place, the same people that want bees wouldn’t mind me grazing goats on their land. Everyone here has trouble with the imported invasive plants taking over. There are acres and acres of food sources here that are literally covered in Glycine (Neonotonia wightii), people are overwhelmed and desperate to get rid of it. The cattle that grazed on it and kept it in check have been removed from this section of land as the recent tree growth made it harder for the ranchers to herd them. As is often the case in the world, especially where money is or has been the primary concern, we’re now dealing with the unintended consequences. If I didn’t love raw goat milk so much, or the cuteness that is a goat kid, I wouldn’t even consider it because I’m not sure how long I’ll be here. There is always a market for goats, though!
A few days ago I went for a long walk, actually was practicing some animal tracking on the ground birds and horses, and while out I came across one of the most recent lava flows. I decided that it would be fun to see what kind of view I could get from on top of the rocks, whoa! It wasn’t the view I was expecting, looking down to make sure I didn’t accidentally kill myself or fall into a hole. Lava flows are kind of scary to walk on. There would be domes of what looked like solid rock, but sounded more like a drum, and every now and then there would be a crack that exposed what little matter separated me from uncertain depths and certain disaster. The lichen on the rocks were beautiful, all different kinds. While I appreciated seeing the creation of native dirt and soil up close, being on the unstable, hole-filled, grinding mass of rocks was certainly unsettling. I made a quick loop and continued on my walk.
The feedback that I’ve gotten from this blog has been very uplifting. People love the work you did on the website, as do I, it’s beautiful. Presentation matters! I’m not doing much outreach, because I think that people find it if it’s worthy of being found. Speaking of feedback, with as much as I use “Amazon Smile” for reviews and shopping, I had not given feedback for the plethora of items that I purchased through the site. In some of my recent down time I changed that and gave feedback for a number of items. I figured that it was the right thing to do, since I have enjoyed the luxury of other peoples experiences before making purchases. In that same spirit, when the county workers appeared to do some improvements to the road that leads to the trail that leads to Killer Hill, I stopped and gave them appreciation for being there and making it possible for us to get around. It’s their job, but I find that knowing I’m appreciated helps me to do a better job and makes my day more enjoyable. I left them with smiles on their faces, maybe it helped to better their day as well. When one works outside all day, oppressed by sweat and the smoldering sun above, every bit of positive motivation helps.
That’s about it from the homestead, until next time.