Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Quiet Walk

          In my last post, I mentioned that K and I visited the George C. Yount Pioneer cemetery in Yountville, California and found some dedicated bees. We also found some lovely and interesting markers.

A dove for Rachel J.

No wine country cemetery would be complete without a wine cherub,
grapes and glass in hand. That's a vineyard behind him, of course.

Are the hands clasped in reunion, or unclasping as Annie Laurie slips away home?

The pointing hand tells us that Mahala Grigsby went to heaven. I wonder if any cemetery
boasts a hand proclaiming that one of its residents went to the Other Place.

There was a lot of typographic exuberance on the headstones in this cemetery.
More typographic exuberance. I think the stone carver liked type as much as I do.

My heart aches for Susan. I can't imagine any story for her that doesn't bear a heavy weight of woe.

The Jewish tradition of visitors leaving a pebble on the grave is sweetly interpreted here,
on the curb of a family plot.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beekeeping from Beyond the Grave

          When we visited the Napa Valley last week, we had the great good luck to see something I've never seen before—two wild bee colonies. The first one we saw was in a hollow tree, near Jack London's grave on a wild hillside on his ranch.

Those little golden blobs in the trees cavity are bees.

Detail of the Jack London colony. Isn't the comb beautiful?
           Now, I know about the custom of notifying bees in the event of a death in the beekeeper's family (in some places, the hives are also draped in black), but I was not aware that bees followed their keepers to the grave. This, however, appears to have been the case with the second wild colony we saw, in the Yountville Cemetery.

Giacomo DeBenedetti (1871-1948) and Emelia DeBenedetti (1876-1958)
          This is easily the most impressive mausoleum in the cemetery. And—it hummed.

          I've spent my fair share of time in cemeteries, and generally the residents are silent as—well, as the tomb*. I followed the humming around to the back of the tomb, where it got louder.

          Then I noticed bees flying out of the small grilles on the back of the mausoleum. Closer examination showed honeycomb—and lots of bees—just inside both grilles.

          I can only conclude that the DeBenedettis were exceptional beekeepers, well-loved by their hives, who followed them to the grave.

*Yes, I know it's a terrible pun. I blame my father for passing the Terrible Pun Gene on to me and my sister. Mom is, as usual, blameless.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Left Luggage

          We spent five days in Napa Valley last week. It was a lovely vacation. The only part that wasn't lovely was the inevitable Getting There and Getting Back.

          I can't claim that the flights out or back were horrible in any way—delayed or canceled—nor that the TSA agents were any more surly than usual (in fact, the agents in Sacramento were almost civil—but that's because they live in California where every day is a perfect day, and even hard-bitten TSA agents are not entirely immune to the charms of perpetually lovely weather), nor that the airports we traveled through were unpleasant (we were not connecting through Chicago, and every flight that doesn't go through O'Hare is a successful flight, in my book). We had good flying weather, newer planes, and capable crews.

          And yet, in the atmosphere at every airport, mixed with the ubiquitous tang of jet fuel, is the pale inescapable miasma of despair. Someone, somewhere in the airport is missing a flight (inevitably, many someones). Someone whose last antisocial action was a little drunken cow-tipping one summer evening back in 1954 is tagged for the Extra-Invasive Potential-Terrorist Full-Body Patdown and Rendition to an Offsite Facility Service now offered at all airports as a customer-relations program by TSA. Someone's luggage is lost. Someone else's luggage is shunted off to an unfrequented loading dock in the lesser-traveled quadrants of Alpha Centauri, never to be heard from again. Doom hangs bleakly over airports in a way that it would never think of doing over train stations, smothering any happiness and cheer that may have managed to clear Security.

          So imagine my surprise when I discovered that someone at the Sacramento airport—in the baggage claim area, no less—has a sense of whimsy and the budget to commission art that shares it:

If you've ever lost a bag at an airport, you might consider a journey to Sacramento,
which seems to have some sort of gravitational pull on orphaned luggage.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Synecdoche, or Possibly Not

          K and I celebrated a quarter-century of marriedness yesterday. To mark the milestone, we spent a long weekend in Napa, eating good food and drinking good wine (because to mark 25 years, much wine must be consumed).

          Unlike most people who go to Napa, our first outing wasn't to a tasting room. No sir. We have spent our years together walking on beaches from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts; from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. So we headed straight (well, with a small detour to Jack London's ranch) to the coast, and took the first beach road we saw.

          The beach we found was a good kite-flying beach. Which is what you say when the wind is so stiff you could lean on it. It also possessed cute little bunny-hill waves, perfect for surfer dads to teach their soon-to-be surfer kids the rudiments, and several wet-suited dads were indeed out in the breakers with kids and boards. It wasn't a good beach for shells, glass, or birds and animals, though, which are my principal beach interests.

          Nevertheless, it was a beach and we were there, so we walked down its bare sand, just at the edge of the waves' farthest reach. There was no possibility of finding shells--as I said, the beach was practically scoured clean, with only a dark, smooth, oval stone here and there along the sand to show that the ocean was giving up anything. Still, I kept my eyes down, out of habit as much as anything. We had walked awhile when, in a moment of what I can only call synecdoche because I am entirely incapable of remembering the  word "serendipity" any time I'm trying to describe a serendipitous moment*, I saw an almost-perfect sand dollar at my feet—the largest one I've ever found in our years of beach-combing.

          I took it as a happy omen for the next twenty-five years.

*"K," I'll say, "what's that word, begins with an "s," means "happy acc-"

"Serendipity," he will reply immediately, because in our family he is the keeper of that word.  Just as I am the forgetter of that word.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Skep and the Super

An old-time skep

          I mentioned that my dad has decided to keep bees, and that his beekeeping adventure necessitated our driving all the way to Denver to purchase gear. I can't complain about the trip too much, for at the beekeeping shop I saw something in real life that I have only ever seen before in illustrations. There it is above, an old-fashioned wicker and mud beehive, called a skep. Next to it is a smoker, to keep the bees calm when the beekeeper is working them.

          Although they still live in illustrations as the quintessential beehive, skeps are illegal in most states. There is no way to open a skep to examine the health of the hive, and honey-harvesting from a skep is so fiddly that often it's easier to kill the colony in order to harvest the honey. Neither of these practices are what you'd call good husbandry.

Modern beekeepers use stackable boxes with open tops and bottoms.

          So modern beekeepers use boxes like the ones shown above (painting pretty flowers on them is optional) that can be easily opened to add or remove frames of honeycomb, to check on hive health, and just generally potter away an afternoon among the bees without harming them.

         It was nice to see an a skep in the flesh, but I'm very glad beekeepers have developed better housing for their bees. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Violet Blues

©Nancy E. Banks

          Since we are trying to improve our lawn (an endless, thankless, grinding task here because of the worst clay soil ever in the history of the world), we have gotten rid of the violets in the lawn. Normally violets and grass live together happily, but here, the violets appear to like horrible soil, so they outcompete the grass in the spring, and then fade away in summer, allowing Casey (the only dog I know who has cloven hooves) to batter the yard to bare dirt in her endless efforts to catch squirrels.

          So, alas, no violets for us in the spring. Fortunately, our neighbors have violets in their lawn, and I can enjoy them when I'm out walking the dogs. I do miss ours, though.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Poultry Diary

          Our local grocery store is pretty good about sourcing food from local farmers when they can, and I have developed a great affection for Campo Lindo Farms, who provide the fryers and eggs that I prefer to buy.

          Why do I have such a crush on Campo Lindo Farms? Because there is a little literary treat in every egg crate.

         See that strip of paper in the photo above? It contains a vignette about life at Campo Lindo Farms. It's like a tiny farm diary, and I'm hooked on reading them.

          This one says, "Hi from Campo Lindo Farms. As the ladies get older and go through their laying cycle, the size of their eggs can really vary. Because printing cartons is such a big expense for us, our Grade A Large cartons contain Large, Extra Large and even Jumbo eggs (if we can make them fit!). Most of our eggs are also actually Grade AA, but we claim just Grade A so we can use slightly stained shells. Thank you for choosing local eggs that are better than we claim!! Jay, Carol, Brandon & Isabel"

          So this little missive from Campo Lindo has just brought back fond memories of my own days gathering eggs from our chickens, told me that I'm getting bang for my egg buck (Extra Large and even Jumbo Grade AA eggs for the price of Grade A Large—what a deal!), and reminded me that a real family is responsible for getting this carton of eggs to me. I like pretty advertising a lot, and this unassuming little slip of paper is not pretty, but it is so effective that I will search the grocery store over to find the Campo Lindo eggs, grumbling if they're out and I'm forced to buy from the other free-range egg-purveyor whose chickens, at least according to the package copy, spend their days glorifying God*, but who do not write charming mini-essays about it.

          It's hard to imagine how you could possibly get better big-concept mileage out of what appears to be a tiny advertising budget than Campo Lindo Farms has done with these far-from-ordinary little narratives tucked in with the eggs. I do like supporting a family farm, but I like it even better when I can support a smart family farm. Also, the Other Egg Purveyors do not thank me, every single time, for buying their eggs. Campo Lindo Farms appreciates my business and they tell me so, so I'm returning the favor and thanking them here for making every crate of eggs I buy from them both a culinary and a literary treat.

*K and I use to keep chickens, and frankly I find it difficult to imagine a chicken glorifying anything. Cannibalizing her fellow chickens, yes. But chickens do not exist to the greater glory of anything, except possibly Coq au Vin.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Our Regularly Scheduled Program Will Return When the Blankety-Blank House is Clean.

          I'm in the middle of spring cleaning. At this point, I don't remember when I started, but it seems very long ago. I also can't yet see the end, although I tell myself that there will be one. Sometime. In the meantime, there is far too much vacuuming.

          The only thoughts in my head are these:

               •My feet hurt.
               •My back hurts.
               •What day is today?
               •Why is there so much vacuuming in this world of woe?  

          You don't want to hear me whinge about spring cleaning. I am incapable of being entertaining on the matter right now, so I am going to show you a pretty picture instead, taken several years ago in Bruges, of picturesque buildings admiring their reflections in a canal. If you've been paying attention to my fascination with forestry practices, you will also notice pollarding in the photo. Pat yourself on the back, for pollarding is keen, and makes a lovely image when reflected in a canal in Bruges.

©Nancy E. Banks