Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The power went out, of course, so it was dinner by candlelight

and ghost stories.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Now why did I go and assure people that no trees would fall on the house.

It's tempting fate, and I should know better.

Have I learned nothing from my father?  

The storm ripped out two of the three top spires of the pine tree and threw them down.

But no one was hurt and the roof looks more or less waterproof.

Though José was startled to find pine branches so suddenly outside his window.

Rhode Island is being dealt a glancing blow by this "hurricane wrapped in a nor'easter" as the governor of Pennsylvania called it.  She's enough to flood the coastlines and drive most people inland.  So far, she packs enough wind to rattle the windows and cause the trees to dance, drunk and dangerous.  I don't expect the power to stay on much longer.

But we keep a hurricane pantry in the cellar, with a good supply of food and fresh water.  The rain barrel has forty gallons or so -- another barrel of 25 gallons in the basement.  The freezer is packed with frozen bottles of ice to coast a ways through any power outage.  If it gets cold, the wood stove will supply warmth, the camp stove will heat our coffee, and we have solar lanterns, candles and oil lamps for the light.

As long as no trees tumble down upon us, we should come through fine to the other side.  (And for any anxious friends,  stop worrying! no trees are going to tumble onto us.)  Our thoughts are with those who are really in the direct path of this thing.

Friday, October 26, 2012

I was eating a last few raspberries from the yard.  You can't pick them after Hallowe'en because the fairies will have pee'd on them.  At least that's what the Irish told me.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I was always struck by the fact that the Soviet Union and other Communist countries went to the trouble to send poets and artists to prison.  Generally, poets and artists in the US can only dream of being taken seriously enough to trouble the powers that be.  I chalked it up to European culture or totalitarian paranoia, but I suspect there was more to it than that.  Most communist systems, once they were well established and bureaucratized, relied on a rigorously enforced pretense that everyone was on board with the utopian project of building socialism.   Depending on how fragile they were feeling, the state might at various times attack or ignore forms of private resistance, like kitchen table dissent, Schweikism, or gray marketeering, but in public the consensus was always supposed to be inviolable.

Poets and artists often couldn't resist violating that pretense with their satires and critiques and their play with multiple and alternate meanings.  And that was a mortal threat to the Communist system.  Once people dropped the pretense of consensus about building socialism, and once each person could publicly acknowledge that "Yes, I too have noticed that our system might be viewed a rotting betrayal of every principle that it pretends to espouse," then the system threatened to become unworkable or even collapse.

That's why I find this tale of artistic suppression in Wyoming so fascinating.  Chris Drury had his work dug up and burned, because his critique threatened the public silence that powerful people are trying to enforce about climate change.  The installation, Carbon Sink, was constructed out of coal and the remains of trees killed by bark beetles, and was interpreted by officials as a concretized indictment of the destruction of our climate and our life support systems through a blind addiction to fossil fuels.  

The artist says he hoped to bring about a conversation concerning the costs of fossil fuel use, but it turned out that that conversation was not to be sanctioned by any kind of publicly supported body, not even a university.  Powerful energy companies used their political and economic power to pressure administrators to tear it up and burn it.  Legislators lambasted and threatened the university for its dissent from fossil fuel orthodoxy.  The work was to be erased and forgotten, and so it is gone.

Two Presidential and one Vice-Presidential debates have passed with not a single mention of climate change.  The coverage of global warming in the corporate-owned media has fallen to absurd levels, even as drought and heat waves dessicate vast swaths of the interior of the country.  But despite this silence, gardeners, skiers, birdwatchers, city councillors, hunters, and anyone who takes note of the weather and the seasons, have seen that the climate is changing.  According to recent research, the majority of Americans now view climate change as real and as a real threat to this country.

For now, however, that private realization is not a public acknowledgement -- there can be no official, public conversation about this, and that is why officials in Wyoming react to a work of art in the style of Soviet bureaucrats.  The suppression was ham-fisted -- and it exposed their weakness as well as power.  For now, I will take it as a good sign that an artist wanting to prod a conversation, was able to provoke such a histrionic reaction from the defenders of the status quo in Wyoming.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A moment of silence for this evening's salad tomato - scarlet red and full of biting flavor.  It was the last of the garden tomatoes.  Now comes the long dearth.  I rarely eat a winter tomato - the supermarkets' lying doppelgängers - cheery red globes that mislead so artfully to pink, flavorless pith.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Monica's Borscht

My borscht has always been vegetarian so I just use water and my onion sauté to create the stock.  It keeps it very fresh and healthful and relies on the flavor of the veg.  You may of course use another stock but I'm not sure what would work best.

1 whole onion chopped

about equal amounts (though I prefer a little more beets)
approx 4 cups each of:
chopped potato and 
beets and 

fresh beet greens (whatever you have)
fresh dill to taste
optional fresh flat leaf parsley
sour cream or plain yogurt (greek works best)

Sauté chopped onions in oil in the soup pot until tender.  
Add a little salt.
I add fresh crushed garlic, tsp of cumin, tsp dry dill. Stir.
Add fresh dill and peeled, chopped potatoes. Stir.
Add enough water to cover twice to three times the height of the potatoes depending on whether you like it brothy or not.
Add salt and adjust spicing. 
Allow to reach soft rolling boil.
Add peeled, chopped beets.
Allow to reach soft rolling boil.
Add chopped cabbage.
Soft rolling boil.
Add chopped beet greens . (these are very tender and cook up right away)  (sometimes I have also added grated carrot here too) Add fresh pepper and optional parsley and more fresh dill if desired.

Serve in bowls and add spoonful of either sour cream or plain thick yogurt to each bowl.  
Each can adjust salt and pepper.

A frost was creeping in Friday night, hard enough to murder nasturtiums and nudge the trees to shed their leaves.  So, I transplanted basil, thyme and chives to a pot, stuck in a few cilantro seeds and placed it on the kitchen windowsill for winter herbs. I put a cold frame over the habanero in hopes that it might still ripen a few chiles.

Only the beets and parsnips look happy.  I pulled up two handfuls of the beets for borscht, and dug the last half-row of potatoes.  The few turnips in the ground had turned to an odorous, gelatinous goo.    Carrots had been poorly, and half-heartedly planted in drought and never amounted to much.  Instead, I had let purslane and a couple of stray stalks of lambs quarter spread and mature - two weeds that are good for eating.

Nuthatches, chickadees and titmice had already been working on the sunflowers, but I cut off the tops and stuck them in the bird feeders outside the kitchen so we could watch.  The cat was most entertained.  


Saturday, October 13, 2012


Absconded?  One of my honey bee colonies has vanished.  Possibly it disappeared weeks ago, and the bee traffic I had been seeing was the other hives robbing out the stores.  But today, there were yellow jackets going in.  And when I peered down between the frames I could see clear through to the ground below.  There was no cluster of bees.

Yellow jackets rob out the abandoned comb.
It was my most cantankerous hive, and nearly every sting I received this summer came from there.  I assumed it was the queen's temperament, and was thinking of re-queening if they survived the winter.  But maybe it was just a hive under stress.  

Inside the hive there was no sign of disease or damage.  The bottom board had a hundred or so dead workers, but that counts for nothing in a colony that numbers in the tens of thousands.  The bees seems just to have left or faded away - nothing but the eerie emptiness of colony collapse.

I took what honey remained and gave it to the lighter of my two remaining hives.  I put the rest of the frames - either empty comb or filled with pollen - into the shed for spring.  If no raiders loot it in the meantime, the pollen might help a new colony launch when the nectar starts to flow again . . . 
hot dogs at the campfire

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nico and Jose waste their vacation day playing Minecraft

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rather than spending a day celebrating or denigrating this particular 15th century adventurer, I could wish for a "Colonialism Day" - akin to Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of reflection and atonement.  It should be a day to think on the human genius for exploration, discovery, exploitation and genocide.  

There are many things I value about our civilization and the civilizations we are sprung from -- but for all the glories draped upon their shoulders, each stands knee deep in blood and human suffering.  Pretending otherwise seems a dangerous and damaging delusion.  

This should be a day to reflect from our imperial heights - even as we each push in our own ways to make the world a better place - even as our nation's bombs fall in Asia - even as our policies ensure that the goods that flow towards us are wrung from the labor of the world's poor and vulnerable.

If we build our own standard of living on suffering and the stunting of others' lives, we should at the very least know that fact.  

Even if on that day the stale pleasures of consumerism turn to ashes in our mouths.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The meadow across the road taking on fall colors.
If a colony of bees loses its queen, the workers will create a handful of new queens from the last eggs the former queen has lain.  They feed a few of these royal jelly and expand out their wax cells to accommodate the overlarge females. Once a new queen has emerged (and dealt with the other claimants), she departs alone and takes her nuptial flight.  There are places that drones from many colonies gather (since they do no work for their colonies) and the queen flies to one of these to mate with these foreign males.  She may fly agains someday if the colony prospers and she departs with a swarm to found a new hive, (leaving a new queen behind to supercede her) but she won't mate again.

Sometimes though, a queen will fail without leaving behind any fertilized eggs, and so the workers can raise no new queen.  In this case workers will often begin laying eggs.  But because the worker bees are not fertilized these eggs cannot be nurtured into a new queen.  In fact, its a quirk of bee genetics that unfertilized eggs become the male drones.  So at first glance the behavior seems pointless in the doomed hive.  Once the last generation of worker bees die there will be no more colony.

But there is a evolutionary sense to it I suspect.  This failed colony will mother no new queen -- no new swarms to carry forth the genetic heritage.  But there are two ways to reproduce, of course, you can mother a new colony or you can father one.  What these worker bees are doing in their last gasp effort is cloning themselves into males who might be that father, who might win the lottery and find that queen out there on her nuptial flight and be the father to a hundred thousand busy descendants. 

A drone on the hive's landing board.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

A flock of titmice came to the bird feeder and with them was a red-breasted nuthatch.  The pretty little nuthatch wasn't interested in the seeds, so it preened itself while the others squabbled over feeder dowels and chattered with the chickadees.

A phoebe perched upon a naked maple branch, flicking its tail.  I thought she'd have left, trailing behind the swallows.  But the insects are still flying, and maybe she's had a premonition that winter is not coming.
The first Presidential debate seemed destined to take the wind out of progressives' sails.  The Obama that showed up was the centrist, bureaucratic Obama - the one who often seems content to take Republican policies and re-shape them to do the least harm.  The Obama who seems reluctant to call out the current Republican project for the cynical deception that it is.

I'll vote for Obama, because although I don't think Obama's centrist complacency is up to the task of solving many of our problems, Romney's backers, given the chance, will turn us all into serfs.

UPDATE:  I'm not going to spend much time reading the debate post-mortems, but I think Grist's David Roberts gets it about right.

Monday, October 1, 2012


When you keep bees you begin to pay a different kind of attention to the seasonal parade of flowering plants.  

In October, there is still the stray blossom of brown-eyed-susan or hawkweed, but these days belong to the fading goldenrod and the burgeoning asters.

And suddenly, behind the beehives, the tall shrubby weeds (which I'd planned to pull out) have blossomed into a thicket of frost aster that is buzzing and rustling with foraging bees.

I have left a few frames in the honey supers on the hives (separated from the brood chambers by the inner cover) hoping that the bees will clean the comb and take below whatever nectar and capped honey remains.  I'll look in when we get one of our promised warm days, but I suspect they're still laying more nectar in.

There are a half-dozen species of aster and at least three species of golden rod around the property.  Wasps and bees are busy at every stand.

Photos A. Brown