Wednesday, May 29, 2013

License Plates

          I don't know if this is true of all rural areas, or if it's an idiosyncracy common only to the vernacular architecture of the west, but here is a construction truism that I learned in my earliest youth:

          License plates are a suitable material for siding.

          There are a lot of sheds and shacks in Wyoming and Montana that are still standing thanks mostly to the license plates that clad their exteriors. When I was small I thought this was the coolest way to make a house ever. I wanted a license plate house. My parents, as they are required to do under the terms of their Giant Interminable Contract O' Parenting, stifled any joy I might ever have taken in our house by choosing deadly boring lap wood siding. I think it may have stunted my creative growth.

          K has never allowed me to side anything—even the chicken coop—with license plates, so I just recently got rid of our collection of expired plates because I couldn't think of anything else to do with them. (And also because it was time for the Purging of Things We Haven't Used in Years and Wouldn't Miss if They Were Gone.)

          And then I found this sign on a store in Denver and realized too late that I could do something with those old plates (see what I mean about stunting my creative growth?) and that I did miss them now that they were gone:

I love that they used motorcycle plates, too. It adds to the
jolly chaotic look. Also please to note the iconic bronc rider
from my home state that started my fascination with license plates.

          I did a quick calculation after looking at this sign and I figured that, if I'd kept our old plates, we would only have to move a couple more times and I would have enough letters for a short story.

          Which I would of course write on the sides of an old shed.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

There's One in Every Crowd

          We made an early Memorial Day pilgrimage to Fort Collins this week to visit the graves of Mom's relatives. I've always loved the cemetery up there. It's old, and treed, and they still let you plant flowers on the graves (my family's flower of choice? The peony), and they haven't caved in to the reprehensible custom of requiring that all the headstones be laid flat to make mowing easier.

          When we visit the cemetery, I like to also take a stroll around to survey the funerary art. The marker pictured below caught my eye and made me laugh:

I wonder if their family is shocked, or if they're used to the smart-alecking by now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Life Imitates Art Which Then Takes an Unexpected Tangent

          One of the great things about being on the other end of the leash from a Very Good Dog (pictured above) is the freedom it gives you to pay attention to things other than said dog. He's not going to get himself into any trouble, wrap himself around a fence post, or get tangled in his lead (it's one of his ninja skills: he can untangle himself without any assistance at all from the species with opposable thumbs).

          On our walk the other morning, Pooka was tracking ghost rabbits and I was gazing off into the middle distance, enjoying the way the pastures are greening up near my parents' place and wondering how much actual use I'd get out of a camera lucida were I to acquire one when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the largest puffball mushroom I've ever seen in my entire life.

          Well, you don't just pass by the largest puffball mushroom you've ever seen in your entire life without walking over to examine and possibly poke at it a little*.

          So I spoke a word to the Very Good Dog and he obligingly climbed through the fence with me and then we walked over to investigate this bizarrely large and out-of-place puffball.

I neglected to put my pocket knife beside it for scale, but this guy is around 8" in diameter.

          When I got close enough to see it in detail, the first thing I noticed was the lovely cracked pattern. Because my dad is a potter rather than a mycologist, my first thought was not wait a minute—puffballs usually have smooth skin, but rather, goodness, that looks like a crawling Shino-style glaze.

One of Dad's plates. The glaze has cracked and crawled in firing.

          My next thought was what is a glazed vessel—because it was clear now that I wasn't dealing with a member of the plant kingdom at all—doing out in the middle of a horse pasture? My father is not above taking the idea to salt some random pasturage with shino-glazed ware, simply for his personal amusement. I had long ago learned to accept his artistic caprices as having an underlying, if sometimes vanishingly subtle, reason, and certainly pottery in a pasture is not the strangest thing I've ever seen him do, but I kept hanging up on the vessel itself. The shape wasn't quite right. The glaze color, although interesting, was not something he'd normally use. The workmanship wasn't up to his usual standard.

          I picked it up so I could look at the signature on the bottom, and realized, once again, that my internal world does a very tidy job of embroidering and enhancing actual life. The vessel I thought was part of some complex, inscrutable ceramic art installation was far too light to be made of clay. It rattled as though it contained seeds. It was, in fact, a gourd.

          I spoke another word to the Very Good Dog, and we continued on our way, Pooka trailing ghost rabbits, and I reflecting that a pottery installation in a pasture would actually be pretty cool.

          I'm sure I could talk Dad into it.

*At least I don't. You may may have seen such prodigies of ginormous mushrooms as to be jaded enough that the sight of yet another just makes you sigh and wish life would cease oppressing you with overgrown fungus, I don't know. But I had to go have a closer look.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Church in the Wildwood

This photo comes from the website Colossal

          Back before the whole world was a megachurch, my hometown was about evenly divided between those whose god lived a civilized kind of life in a churchy sort of building and those whose god lived rough in the mountains. 
          At the time, my god lived in a church, and I felt superior to those whose god lived outdoors—mostly because I was taught that suffering refines and makes you more holy, and I am here to testify that there's no greater suffering, church-wise, than a three-hour meeting seated on hard pews listening to a droning assortment of religious boringosity.*

          But when I became an adult, I put away childish things and found my deity, such as it is, outdoors. I certainly never thought I would see the god of churches and the god of nature so perfectly united in this lovely chapel, built by an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright.

          The Thorncrown Chapel (for that is its lovely name) is located in the Ozarks, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In a classic case of man putting asunder what god hath joined together, a power company apparently has plans to build a 48-mile high voltage transmission line through the woods next to the chapel, destroying the view.

          You can read more about the Thorncrown Chapel on Colossal here (including a link to Arkansas Public Service Commission comments page where you can offer your opinion on building this transmission line), and on the Thorncrown Chapel website here

*If what I was taught about suffering were actually true, by the way, I would have been raptured to a greater glory by the age of 10.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fact: It's Not Crazy if Someone Else Thought of it Too

          Some of you may remember back a year or so ago, when I admitted right out in public  that I had kept a naked chicken in my house until her feathers grew back in.

          At the time, I contemplated knitting her a vest to keep her warm (it was the dead of winter. She had goosebumps. I'm not crazy. Just sayin'.), and K convinced me that a towel was sufficient to her needs.*

          Imagine, then, my joy in learning that I'm not the craziest chicken-harborer on the planet.

This image comes from Kent Online (

          It seems that schoolkids in Ashford, UK are knitting sweaters for "retired" egg-producing hens. (Click here for the story.) During their working lives, these hens are kept in small cages in close proximity to their fellow hens, who, being penned and bored and lacking chicken-themed reading material or video games to while away the long hours of egg production, peck bald spots into their neighboring hens.** When their egg production drops below a certain level, they are made into pet food or, alternatively, rescued by people with more chicken-related issues than even I.

          And what do you do with a bunch of partly naked rescue chickens? You get a bunch of empathetic teenagers to make a class project out of knitting them sweaters.

          It makes perfect sense to me.

*Well, what he actually did was say, "Are you serious?" in such an incredulous, Good-Lord-I-may-have-to-commit-my-wife-to-a-mental-institution tone of voice that I was shamed into creeping downstairs when his back was turned and tucking one of our old ratty dog towels around her. And then quickly ripping out the ribbing I'd cast on for the chicken vest before he noticed it.

**This, actually, is part of the reason I had a naked chicken in my basement in the first place. Even free-rangers are not above pecking one another baldish.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Whole Lotta Love

Blest be the pie that binds: Great-grandma, Mom, me, Granddad.
          In my family, pie = love. As you can see from the photo, there's a whole lotta pie—er, love—been going on in my family for a whole lotta years, and I'm fortunate indeed to have a mother who has always been so generous with her pie and her love.

          Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bees' Knees!

          My favorite part of the beekeeping business (besides having K do the actual manipulation in the hives) is watching the bees come back to the hive loaded down with pollen.

          Yes, mine is a simple life, and yes, the possibility exists that I don't get out enough.

          Nevertheless, it pleases me immensely to contemplate the hive when it's busy, so at the risk of showing you far more photos of bees than you ever wanted to see, here are a couple:

Bees at the entrance of the hive. They appear to be discussing the weather. Not sure whether
the upside-down one is showing off or whether the sugar water Dad and K are feeding
has started to ferment.

My favorite part. See the bright orange bulges on their back legs? That's pollen,
boys and girls! Success!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Hiving

          I delayed this post a day so I could post pictures of our latest family bonding project—the installing of bees in Dad's and K's hives. First up, the donning of the bee gear:
K and Dad preparing to hive the bees.

          Bees will fly up and down, examining the exterior of their hive prior to foraging, so that they know which hive to come home to. Retired license plates make useful address plaques.
Hives waiting for their bees, which are in the white boxes on the ground.

          Considering that it was a bit cold and windy, the bees were pretty good-tempered. Especially after they were misted with sugar-water.

          A frame full of bees ready to transfer to the hive. The capped cells are either brood or honey.

Adding the frame to the super. The extra empty frames on either side of the bee-encrusted ones are for the bees to expand onto.

          Dad and K added some bee cake and sugar water to keep the bees fed until there's a good pollen flow, and then closed up the hive. Hopefully there will be some honey to share at the end of the season.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Random Keen Signage

Shapes! Diagonals! Gorgeous saturated colors! Yummy Art Deco style!
Napa, California
©Nancy E. Banks

You used to see signs like this all over the west. I miss 'em.
Calistoga, California
©Nancy E. Banks