Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Eden Day 7: The Great Hay Danger and What Lies Beyond

On Tuesday Christopher shows me The Ropes: hivebox production. He’s got slats and slats of wood in various tubs all cut to length for the frames and the hive tops. He’s got a jigsaw tied upside-down on a sawhorse. “Dominican style,” he says, grinning.

Some time later I go out whistling to the hives with a Sharpie in hand. I’m numbering the hives for organization’s sake, and I get to #2 and Ka-ching! I’m stung on my right bicep. As I write this now it itches like mad, mad, mad.

The rest of the day I spend shoveling and shoving mango into my mouth ad nauseam. We’re waiting all day for the hay truck to arrive with its load of two hundred bales for unloading in the stables. It’s almost 9 o’ clock when we hear the horn at the gate. The sun is setting. “Well, this is going to be fun in the dark,” says Christopher. I gulp down my mug of coffee.

We get to the stables with the truck, and now it’s time to stack all two hundred bales. Christopher likes them 2x3x6. Two Dominican boys no older than fourteen hop out of the truck and lend us a hand. When we go to retrieve the bales from the truck we’ve got to watch our heads because the guy in the truck just throws the bales up, up and out with no regard for where they land. It’s like the sky is falling, if the sky were made of hay. Still, we keep on. The night consumes the sunset. We keep on. At one moment, dodging falling bales, many of which break mid-flight, scattering straw that flutters to the earth in helical flight, I look up past the Hay Danger.

In the night sky, in a bowl of transparent obsidian illumined by its contents: congregations of silver, moonrime and calcium, circles, rockets and nebulae, clouds of floating rock and ice, hovering there, suspended, like dust in a sunbeam, I see, in a word (or two): the Milky Way.

Eden Day 6: Vision of the 21 Horses

On Monday I continue my morningtime tradition of shoveling dirt and moving it from one area to another. Next Susanna and I check on a few hives and agree that we need to get an organized system in place and number the hives so that we can take notes on how they’re coming along, how the brood is advancing, how the honey is honeying, etc. Next, since Yani and Venicio haven’t shown up for work, it’s on Christopher and me to go down to the mango tree pasture to cut grass for the horses and get them fed. Despite the hard, hard work I’ve encountered here I very much enjoy the everyday adventure of it, having to roll with the random, completing odd jobs as they pop up, realizing in full that chaos is order.


Before dinner Christopher takes me to a little bar/general store a little ways up the mountain, and pretty soon one beer turns to two, two to Too Many, and I find myself in the owner’s house cooing over her newborn she cradles in her lap, wondering how did I get here?

We come home in high spirits and head out to the stables. Christopher’s got his guitar in his hand. He plays some, and I watch the moon. It’s three days from full, and the sky is clear, and the pastures are bathed in a pale, unearthly blue. The mountains, sublimated to shadow, hover in the distance.  I sit down and play “Via Chicago” by Wilco.

I’m coming home
I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Via Chicago

I look up and Christopher’s staring out into the field. From behind he looks like a sleepwalker. “Look out there, man,” he says under his breath. I get up and join him at the stable door. Some fifty feet away, all twenty-one horses stand shoulder to shoulder in a perfectly straight line, trancelike, watching us. “Everything here, man, it’s magic. And I don’t mean just here, I mean everywhere, in the world. In the moment, it’s always different than I imagined it would be. That’s magic.”

Eden Days 4, 5: On Astral Projecting

To my fans (read: fan) ((read: Mom)) I apologize for the delay~

On days 4 and 5, aka this past weekend, I’ll give a quick recap: I’m off the hook for work on weekends ~party on, Garth!~ so I spent both days at the beach.

In order to get to the beach, Susanna calls Biscuit, the mototaxi driver. He transports me down the mountain on the back of his tinky motorcycle. As we ride downhill, Biscuit turns off the motor to save gas. We bumble down the rocky path and zoooom into town. This, I would say, is terrifying fun, for in town we not so much drive down the street as through it, and any which way we can, swerving around motorcycles supporting entire families, men carrying refrigerators on their backs, dump trucks dumping, the works. At one point we go on the wrong side of the road and an enormous semi ~honking madly~ barrels toward us, and I say my prayers, and then, just in the Biscuit of time, we duck out of the way into (relative) safety.

Smiling through the terror

At the beach on Saturday I meet Charlie, a bald 84 yr. old from the DC area with a missing front tooth and a liver spot on his right shinbone the shape of Tennessee. Within the first minute of meeting him he tells me about his 44 yr. old Czechoslovakian lover who died of liver cancer two years ago. “I didn’t even know she drank,” he says, holding his head in his hand. “All those times she got up in the night, every single night, turns out she was drinking? I just thought she was using the pisser.” After a few tokens of advice vis a vis prostitutes as well as a few anecdotes about his favorites (totally unsolicited), I tell him I’m going to go take a walk and that it was a pleasure to meet him. “Bye Vince!” he says as I walk off. Bye indeed, Charlie.


The rest of the day is relatively uneventful. When I get back to the ranch my skin is cooked and my head is shiny and red. At dinner Christopher tells me that he’s an accomplished astral projector, having one time transported his Second Self to the moon on the hunch that the United States faked the moon landing. “Why would they put the flag on the wrong side of the moon?” he asks. “Something’s up, man.” He didn’t make it to the moon, but he got close. He believes it was real, that it wasn’t a dream, because he says he saw the Earth get bigger and then get smaller as he floated up, up, up through the stratosphere. “That’s the way it works man, that’s what astronauts see as they’re rocketing up into space, but before that, I never thought about it that way. So it’s got to be true.”

He says that as long as you meditate every day like he does, supine in bed, and just after waking, that astral projection, or the ability to leave your physical body behind and travel on the wing of the mind anywhere you’d like, is relatively simple. “It’s just practice, man. Practice looking in the mirror, for like a long time, and imagine that you are the you in the mirror looking at the you right here, and soon enough, zoom, your perception flips. It’s like that.”


Sunday: beach. A different one this time. There’s sand, and there’s water. It’s lovely. Little else to report.

Sand, water... You get the jist 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Eden Day 3: Of Bananas and Mandalas

Christopher leads me out to the stables; we stop at the gate.

“Hear that?” he asks. Above us, a large, leafy tree provides shade. I stop and listen. “That’s mistletoe up there. It’s a vine, wraps around the branches. The bees love it.”

And lo, a prolific humming can be heard. The bees remain hidden, skimming through the leaves. It gave me some comfort to hear it, a sound bestowed upon the art of pollination, a life force translated to keen vibrations, stirring the flowers, signaling the millionfold profusion of all good, green things.

And then I stepped in horse shit. Good morning Eden Ranch!


We spend the morning collecting discarded hay bale twine from the floor of the stable. This being fairly monotonous work, Christopher and I gab to pass the time. He tells me about banana circles; there’s several around the ranch. “It’s permaculture, you ever hearda permaculture? Nowadays it’s a total buzzword,” he says.

A banana circle consists of an adult banana tree, a teenage banana tree and a baby banana tree planted in a circle of about five feet in diameter. In the middle, a hole is dug and filled with compost, charcoal and manure. Elephant ear, a lilting plant whose leaves resemble -you guessed it- an elephant ear, is planted in a circle between the compost and the banana trees. Yucca, a kissing cousin of the sweet potato, is planted on the outside of the banana trees. The organic construction resembles a mandala, is called a “guild.” The guild’s good news for God’s Green Earth. The yucca pulls nitrogen out of the ground, the banana tree provides fruit and goes into the compost pile after it’s matured, and the elephant ear does whatever elephant ear does- I don’t remember. On top of it all, the circle is self-sustaining.


Now it’s time to check on the ladies. 

We scamper over to the bee yard, and, much to my delight, Christopher decides to forego his veil as well. For a moment I feel like the rad older brother who’s a good/bad influence on his sibling; I decided to keep that to myself. But we didn’t go at it for long, because not ten minutes into the operation Christopher receives a nasty sting from a particularly grumpy box of bees, and that puts the kibosh on beekeeping for the rest of the day.


In the remaining hours before lunch Christopher, Yani, Venicio and I wheelbarrow dirt from a massive pile and dump it in the bee yard in order to level out the bumpy ground. Yani and Venicio are a Haitian father/son team who work on the ranch full time along with Christopher and Susanna. I’m told Venicio is considerably older than Yani, but the two look nearly identical. It’s less an insult to Yani than a compliment to Venicio.

Midway through the exercise, the noontime sun railing down upon our backs, Christopher tells me why the bee yard is so misshapen with crevices and fissures.

“We buried Eden here,” he says, pointing to the ground beneath our feet.

I look down. “What?”

“Eden was a horse, a big, beautiful black one. About seven and a half feet tall, just staggering. She died some time before I got here. That’s why the ranch is named Eden, not because, you know, that Garden of Eden BS or whatever.”

My first thought is “We Buried Eden” would make an excellent title for a LifeTime Original movie about global warming. My second thought is that there's some poetry to burying the ranch's namesake in the bee yard, a place where death is commonplace, even encouraged. A bee’s lifetime is about a month and some change, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Hundreds die every day. They do it without ceremony; when their time has come, they literally fall out of the sky. Christopher’s seen it himself.

"We Buried Eden" coming to a "there's nothing else on" near you!

But their death is something to celebrate, not mourn. Their sacrifice makes room for another generation of pollinators, and another after that, and another, and another. For a creature as artful and industrious as the honeybee, death is transformative, allowing for things to grow and take shape, to ripen and blossom in the empty space left behind. It balances out the scale, fostering a continuum. All of this leads me to believe that honeybees are indispensable, that the pollinators -bless them- are stewards of perpetuity, caretakers of a garden everlasting; a garden -one might say- of Eden. Perhaps celebration and mourning don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I wish -considering this Lofty Reflection- there existed at that time a steaming pile of horse shit for me to immediately step in, but alas, horses aren’t allowed in the bee yard, only underneath it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Eden Day 2: Love and Other Mangos

I awoke headlong out of the Void. Tangled in sheets, submerged in a glassy heat, working up a fine drench. Day 2 atop Eden, a breakfast of coffee and mangosteen marmalade on toast. Cheery Simone for company. 

And then it was time to meet the ladies. Hello, ladies.

After firing up the smoker and donning our bridal veils (not really) Christopher and I set out for the bee yard. Typically when tending bees a relatively hands-off approach is best. You’re generally advised to only check in on them once every eight days. So our plan is to stagger our hive visits and open up a few hives and leave the rest for the intervening days, so that by the time we’d gone through a week all of the hives would be checked and it’d be time to start over with the first few hives again.

Each hive consists of one or two or three boxes stacked, each box containing eight frames of a thin sheet of wax for the bees to build their comb upon.

With the first few hives our modus operandi was Beekeeping Lite. Diet Beekeeping. The Crystal Pepsi of beekeeping. We’d open up the top of the box, smoke the ladies, and look in to see how many frames were under construction with comb, brood (babies in capped cells), pollen, honey, but not take out any frames so as not to disturb them. Beekeepers use smokers because it convinces the bees that a fire is approaching their hive. The ladies dive into their honey stores and start to drink drink drink it up in preparation for a flight to find a new home safe from the fire. So instead of attacking whatever large humanoid is disturbing their home they’re rendered relatively docile, engaged in slurping that sweet sweet sweet up.

Since fire never actually comes they never get as far as swarming, but many beekeepers prefer not to use a smoker because it stresses the hunnies out. We decided to proceed with the smoker since we didn’t have much protective gear.

We moved from hive to hive, opening up the top, removing any gunk we could see, and occasionally giving an eye to a frame or two to see how the babies were coming along. The glare of the sun reflected off my bridal veil and made it hard for me to see, so, with a few misgivings, I decided to take it off and see how my eyeballs would fare unprotected.

And all was well. I was beekeeping without any protective gear, and felt pretty la-di-da about the whole thing.


Susanna glides over to the yard midway thru inspections, sez, “How are my ladies doing today?”

“Fine, thank you,” sez Christopher with a bow.

“No I meant the bees,” she sez.

“They’re doing great, and look at Nick, cock-of-the-walk over here without any gear on, huh?”

And cock-of-the-walk I was. My back wasn’t big enough for all the pats I was giving it. Horn, toot yourself, said I. After Susanna said her adieus, meandered off to her horses, I sashayed from box to box in high spirits, smoker smoking in hand, giving a frame or two a once-over, etc. That is until we came to the Big Daddy Box. The Hive of All Hives. This puppy stacks three boxes high and thrums with life 24/7 like a bronze bell that don’t stop ringing. Unfazed, I walked right up, popped the lid off… and got stung on my thumb immediately, YOW, and scooted out of there with my tail set firmly between my legs.

“I’m just bummed you killed one of my leading ladies,” sed Christopher.


Later on, as Christopher and I assembled hive frames for a bait box (a hive box baited with lemongrass oil we placed on the roof of my cottage to entice passing swarms), a moment of High Drama occurred. Smoke began to roil over from the neighbors’ property and into the bee yard. Christopher, cursing, went to get his camera. “Goddamn 7th time this month I’ve told em to quit it,” he sed. Turns out the neighbors are pyromanically-inclined and often burn their trash, summoning a toxic cloud of smoke that comes over from their yard and floats among the hives, poisoning the ladies. “I’m gonna sue em, I swear,” sed Christopher, hopping onto the cement wall dividing the property and snapping a few pictures for proof should he feel the need to pursue the matter in court. He came back smiling. “The girls thought I was taking pictures of them, asked me to put em on FaceBook,” he sed, shaking his head.

We took a break. Over a cool glass of quality H-2-O Christopher gave me The Skinny on weather happenings hereabouts: Significant Drought. It hasn’t rained once in the past three months. “My babies are getting cooked,” sed Christopher, gesturing in the general direction of every single flora on the ranch.

So for the next hour or so we watered his babies: ginger, sweet acacia, sunflowers, often watering potted plants next to earthly-planted ones so that the extra seepage from the potted fellows would sink into the ground. “Gotta conserve, man,” he sed.

Eden Ranch is Off the Grid. Meaning all electricity comes from a set of four solar panels planted on the roof of my cottage and a backup generator that runs from 6-8 o’ clock sharp each day. In similar fashion, the water used to water the plants on the farm, wash the dishes, laundry, etc. comes exclusively from two subterranean cisterns the size of your mother’s SUV. And there’s not a whole lot left. As a result, every time I take a shower I turn off the water when I’m sudsing, and only flush the toilet when it’s absolutely necessary (read: poop).

And then, almost like a revelation, a storm cloud took up seat in the Southern Sky, a dark little engine that blotted out the sun and cast handsome, slanted shadows over the land. We held our breath and prayed for rain, but none came. To console ourselves, we picked mangos from the mango tree, tore off the skin and bit into the decadent fruit. Now, with some of the flesh still stuck between canine and incisor, I’m convinced that mangoes are what Jake Gyllenhaal was referring to in his 2010 blockbuster ‘Love and Other Drugs’ as the ‘Other Drugs.’

The rest of the day unrolled peacefully. Simone and I observed Mercury rising in the south. We had pasta for dinner. I read some. Turned out the light. Dove headfirst back into the Void. Slept.