Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Mysteries of the Backyard
The back yard is full of mysteries—things that happen every day, with no human interference, that I will never understand. But, come summer, I spend hours watching. There are the small mysteries: the “power spot” of a cat who will sit in one specific square foot of yard for two weeks, day and night, and then moves on. When to plant carrots so that they germinate but are not munched by mini-slugs. Where did that one poppy come from? And then there are the larger mysteries.
One of the chickens is broody this year. She is sitting on the nest for 20 hours a day, fluffing up in a very threatening way whenever I come by to check for eggs. There is no rooster in the neighborhood; there is no way these eggs are ever going to hatch. But there she is, sitting on the nest. I could say that she is hiding from Gracie, who torments everyone is a thwarted desire to be Boss Chicken, but it is deeper than that. When I pick her up, tuck her under my arm like a football as I gather the eggs, and explain the reality of the situation to her, there is a wildness in her beady red eye that tells me that I will never understand Chicken Instinct. We co-exist here, each feeding the other, but I will never really understand.
Yesterday, the hive swarmed. I was outside, trimming around the herb garden, when I heard a deep loud humming and felt the air move. I looked up at the hive just in time to see bees pouring out of the official entrance and the gap in the bottom wire. Thousands and thousands of bees surrounded me. Points of light moving against the blue sky, they searched for a landing place in the hazelnut tree. Once they found a good branch, they huddled around it in an ever tightening humming ball while scout bees went out to find a new home. Mark and I were transfixed. The hive, missing half of its residents, continued on its daily task of building comb and fetching pollen.
Three hours later, they left. They flew over and around me once more, dripping pollen like golden freckles on my bare arms. I grabbed my shoes and followed, slipping between the apartment buildings, across the frat parking lot, by a girl talking on a cell phone who freaked out at the sight, through the Catholic church complex, into the park and down the street for several blocks, where I lost them in a back yard. The swarm was five to ten feet in the air, about the same across, shaped like a flock of geese flying south for the winter, with a definite plan. It knew exactly where it was headed. Caught in the mass migration, I followed, like a mother sending her kid off to college, hoping she has a safe home.
Bee swarms. Chicken Instinct. Power Spots for cats. I do not begin to understand the mysteries of even this small space.