From Megan…

You want the scales of a pinecone to be soft and delicate as a flower’s blossoms; at least, I always do, and despite the brittle wood pieces which make up this strobile scratching against my palm, I wonder what would be if it were soft. Yet the edges of a pinecone are rough and seemingly invincible with its softness bubbling to the surface through the crusted sap coating the resin flakes. They flower as buds do growing up a vine.

This pinecone is larger than the length of my forearm, the reverse of the one my five year old neighbor whom I’d known his whole life gave me before he moved away. On the day before his move, he looked up to me with his blue doe eyes because regardless of the fact I stood on my knees, I was still a head or two taller than him, and he is respectful enough to look those he speaks to in the eyes. He smiled up at me, the classic gap between front two teeth showing as his chubby and red cheeks lifted up.

“This is for you, Miss Megan.”

In his palm, he lifted a pinecone the length of my pinky, the span of his grip. The reason for their move is a sad one, though he seemed to be coping with the death of his father in the best way any young child could possibly process. Besides a shorter temper and speech therapy, he kept the sweet lisp, adventurous smile, and grubby fingers I’ve known for his whole life.

I took the pinecone and closed it into my fist. It was fairly malleable, so I was gentle with it. A bit of sap still lined the edges. Josh ran away from me, back to where, towards the edge of manicured lawn into forest, there stood a tree which split in two fairly close to the base. Burnt needles covered the roots of the tree and he pushed them all aside, trying to find more gifts.

Josh still found nature to be enigmatic and valuable. Living with one hundred acres of conservation land for a backyard can do that to some. Branches often fell across the paths and holes in the ground after thaws tended to be deep, yet Josh was still able to find this small pinecone and deem it significant enough to bestow upon me. I like to think he and that pinecone have similarities. I found nature to be enigmatic and valuable, enough to keep that pinecone on my dresser for a year.

The memories we attach to bits of nature have always interested me. Now, the moment I see a pinecone, all I can think about is the last time I babysat Josh –– the feeling of the sap’s stickiness inching about the skin of my palm, Josh’s twinkling and slightly gap-toothed laugh, his father.

All my small pinecone has done is still on my dresser and bathe in any sunlight that may stream past window panes on particularly sunny day. I guess this is more interesting than anything it may have done, but I can’t help but wonder the path which brought such a small thing to be; the same goes for the large pinecone of the classroom. Perhaps, with these memories twisted into ideas of objects, that empathy is formed, that connection. Each time we see the object, the empathy grows. The pinecone laughs with Josh’s laugh, bringing a melancholy happiness into my grasp. It is more tangible than it could have been otherwise.

I saw my first snow when we lived out west; I believe we had been in the redwoods. I can not remember any of this.

The snow fell in the dry snow kind of way: large flakes, softly and slowly, and with a powdery look. I was wrapped in a marshmallow pink snowsuit, complete with a hood wrapped around my red cheeks. My father must have picked up a pinecone at some point during our trek, and if it came from the redwoods, it had to be large. Perhaps it was as large as the one which sat on my desk in the classroom.

Although I can not remember my first snow, I know for a fact that it happened, and I know where. The rest follows with the visual of a pinecone such as one which could be found from a redwood. It all comes seeping from memory, though not all sweet. Different objects from nature, isolated, help to create a stronger narrative in one’s consciousness, contributing to a connection felt towards the land itself. Pinecones now, to me, are snowfalls, Josh’s laugh, and the memory of Tim.

-Megan Smith

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Pine Cone

When I was in elementary school, my class did some sort of project that inspired my mom to hot glue multicolored puff-balls to the tips of some huge pine cones she had collected long before my brother and I were born. Years ago, back when her hair was still long and her face wasn’t so weathered, she went to California and saw the redwoods; the massive pine cones were the relics of the trip. This art endeavor of hers actually went decently—as she is a scientist with little interest in the humanities or art, I was expecting a semi-fiasco—and from then on, these strange “Christmas trees” with their multicolored, fuzzy “lights” were carefully stored every season, and then placed in the downstairs bathroom each winter for the rest of my Clarkston years. 

It was only last Christmas, or perhaps the one before it, that she gave up the habit and put something more aesthetically pleasing in their usual places. I thought the cones were silly and rather ugly, and so didn’t comment on their absence; it’s only now, with a breathable space of 800 miles between us that I wonder why she made the change. My mother is especially fond of routine, but I am not; just one more thing that makes me foreign to her.

Tori Regan

Returning to the Bahamas, Part 1

Have the mosquitos emerged from the cool crevices of brush and rock to scour the beach for hemoglobin pulsing cells? Has the sun disappeared over the wrinkled blue plain like a melting dollop of peach sherbet? Has the aerial canvas pulsed through different hues and set down at last in dark indigo? Or does lightning stretch behind cloudy mist like flaming veins? Has the wind blown the mosquitos deep into the brush and pounded the permeable canvas of a distant traveler’s tent?

During the last night on the white sand beach of Rat Cay I made a promise that I would pause and recall the archipelago each evening from my dorm room. I believed that by recalling the soft lime beaches, lush mangroves, milky way swirl, and even the sand fleas that I would find refuge from the monotony of school. I thought that I might regain perspective forcing myself to remember that no matter the intensity of a situation here on campus such an undisturbed detached world existed still. I would be able to confine my energies to one sheltered community. A group of my peers, NOLS guides, and a smattering of dark sand fleas bore witness to my pledge.

In the few ( I must admit) times that I have actually remembered and engaged in this exercise I have found all of these hopes to come relatively true. By watching the sun melt behind white pines from the crumbling window panes of my dorm, I am able to transport myself to the shallows of birthday beach in front of the very same sun. The setting or rising of the sun is a unifying experience as everyone within close time zone can witness the same spectacle regardless of the mountains or seas that separate the two. Anyways, if I’m keen enough to even remember my pledge these days, I mostly just recall one memory I wish to relive again. Except for camping in the Namib Desert, this moment was probably the closest I have come to witnessing the intersection of earth with the rest of the universe.

To be continued… (Part 1 of 2)

-David Shepley

You Get What You Give…

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a walk, just for myself. The mornings are busy. Making breakfast keeps me in the house. But this morning, this Saturday morning, the house is empty. It’s mine. I’m reminded of the days in highschool when I would come home for lunch or mid afternoon and my parents would be gone. Both of them gone, on an errand or doing surgery on man down the road. I loved being home alone. Not for the opportunity to abuse the freedoms of home alone. Rather, there was something about the way the house stood, the hardwood floors cold and the walls bright with light from the front garden. I would sit in my kitchen at the table, never with the lights on. When school was intense, I would do my homework. In those rare instances where I could take a breath and slow down my spinning head, heavy with responsibilities and problems that can really only be problems when you’re eighteen, I would sit with some scrambled eggs. My dog would sit at my feet. His breathing would grow heavy, and soon enough he’d be snoring. I remember these details as I grab my coat and head out the door, vowing to find myself lost. 

Back in the fall when I had more time to myself, I found a path about a half mile from my house on my morning walks. I make my way towards the elementary school. Last season, there was an infestation of a certain pest in our community’s trees and the oaks took the hardest hit. If it wasn’t for this infestation, I wouldn’t have found the faint dirt path lined with white stones. On the outskirts of the school’s property sits a giant oak which seems to produce a disproportionate amount of acorns. They scatter around its base like fairy dust. But the violent infestation halted the production of the oak’s little seeds and this morning, there is a clearing. It was obvious, at least to me, but only because I was looking. People don’t look enough, they don’t open their eyes. I don’t blame them because looking is a skill and not everyone has skills. So instead of taking my normal route up and around the bend, I find myself stepping through the clearing and following the faint dirt path past the sick oak into the unexplored.

The air is dry and I know the children are playing in the distance. Recess time. I can hear their shrieks at my back but my mind is wandering in front of my feet and in an instant I am still. I look down at a work of art. I feel naive. I know there are animals here sharing these woods with myself and children’s laughter and the unwell oak’s acorns. But I feel silly standing here gawking at the artwork of a beaver. Silly for my instantaneous ignorance of who these woods cradle. Silly for making a scene about an evolutionary trait that is as mindlessness and automatic as is filling our lungs with air. Silly for being so stupid. I don’t look away. I crouch down and reach out my fingers, gripping the wooden slab with my palm. It’s heavy. I leave it on the ground. I don’t take my eyes off the masterpiece because now it has changed. I realize it is in the shape of a hourglass. I circle the wood. Slowly, slowly, I circle the wood and I watch it change as I pass 90 degrees, 180, 270 and 360. The beaver managed to turn his darwinism into an exact, precise, representation of his work. Time.  

I am eighteen. I do not have a house of my own with a family to feed. I do live near an elementary school but I do not hear the shrieks as children playing because it wasn’t too long ago that I was that child out for recess. I am not the mother I hint I am earlier in this piece. I am a teenager and I am 24 days away from graduating high school. But that woman in the woods is me. That’s me in another world, perhaps another dimension if you believe in cosmos and crazy black holes and the spacetime continuum. And her finding, her detailed, faultless discovery made possible by an ambiguous, perhaps nonexistent, beaver, is in one way or another, representative of my finding now. Because the woman in the woods found a perfect irony. Nature’s instincts used time (and effort and big teeth too) to create, well, time. An hourglass. And while it might not make a lot of sense to say I, a result of nature, am the embodiment of time, it makes perfect sense to claim I am the embodiment of the result of time. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Exeter it’s that nature forces you to have a relationship with time. Some hate their relationships (pulling all nighters for their 333’s) and others love theirs (extra time to spend kissing that special someone), but no matter what, we can’t run from time. Just like the beaver has no control over his teeth and his nagging, pulling instinct to chew that wood to pieces, we humans cannot control our constant weaving of soul and time. That’s nature, and that’s us. So take a walk through the woods by your house. Maybe you’ll find a heart-shaped honeycomb and realize the bees don’t do it for the sweet liquid candy, but rather for the love of the queen.

-Noa Siegel

Time in Yosemite

For our most recent blog post, Mr. BreMiller has asked us to write about a formative experience we have had in nature. Much of my meditation elaborated upon my relationship with fear, nature, and my growth as an individual, so I thought it would be fitting to present an edited portion of my piece on this blog.

This particular section surrounds a solo trip I made this summer to Yosemite and what it meant to me.

Bonnie Gisel, an expert on John Muir and a curator of the LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite, said, “here was the absolute manifestation of the divine, where they could celebrate God in nature.”

Indeed, once I hiked beyond the crowds and settled into the hushed surroundings, I understood what they meant.

Meditation:

In Moby Dick, Whenever Ishmael finds himself growing “grim about the mouth,” he “accounts it high time to get to the sea.” For me, I came to find, I just needed to go somewhere on my own: a short walk, a day hike, a weekend excursion, anything. One of those times – when I was close to “methodically knocking people’s hats off,” as Ishmael remarks – was this July. I was working in a Palo Alto lab with my friend, and, for six weeks, we lived on our own – cooking meals, tidying up the house, sleeping in bunk beds. I followed a remarkable routine, and two weeks in, I felt constricted. Every day, I woke up at the same time, ate the same meals, did the same work, even did the same workout, and I was going stir-crazy. So, on Friday, packed with a sleeping bag and a whole lot of beef jerky, I set out for Yosemite Valley. It took three trains, a shuttle bus, even an overnight stay in a town where, according to a taxi driver, locals regularly forced tourists to give up their clothes and walk around naked, but by early Saturday morning, I was setting up my tent in the backpackers’ camp under the colossal, granite walls of Yosemite.

I set up a tri-pod to capture photos on Half Dome as the sun rose.

That day, I roamed all over, passing through the mist of Upper Yosemite Fall and reaching the peak of El Capitan, the holy grail of big wall climbing. But the real test was coming: that night, I wanted to reach the summit of Half Dome, a literal half dome of granite that protrudes extravagantly into the California sky. It’s Yosemite’s masterpiece, and it was my plan to stand upon it as the sun rose, shedding its flushed light on the smooth rock walls.

At 12 a.m., my alarm sounded. It was pitch black and I had only slept three hours. I made my way down the dark, empty road to the start of the trailhead, and soon found myself clambering up slick, granite steps. I could hear the continuous roar of water, but all I saw was my headlamp’s beam disappearing into the darkness of night. As I schlepped along in this jet-black silence, I was petrified of turning a corner and illuminating a bear with my headlamp. Every 10 seconds or so, I let out these pitiful, high-pitched yips, as if that would keep them away.

As I arrived at a clearing, I saw four men, lying on the ground with their packs as props. “Sorry for the weird sounds—my version of a bear bell.” Crap, I thought, I must look like a freaking idiot. Luckily, the darkness veiled my flushed cheeks. “Not a problem! I’m Ted,” one of them said, shaking my hand. He was tall, strong, with a crew cut. “This is Ben, James, and Mark.” I soon learned that with a car full of supplies, they had come to Yosemite Valley from their Army base in San Diego, and, for the next hour, I hiked with the soldiers. We talked about why they joined the military, what they enjoyed, what they didn’t. We talked about my internship. We talked about our goals, aspirations, inspirations. When they decided to rest, I trudged on. Alone again, enveloped by night, I realized our brief conversation had been so honest and so open. I didn’t even know what they looked like, and yet I knew so much about their lives. It was as if the darkness had loosened our reticence and precipitated our friendship.

There were other hikers aiming for the summit at sunrise. Greg, another solo-hiker from Utah; two Europeans exploring America for the first time; a family, together before the youngest went off to college; and three co-workers from Genentech. Something about my being alone, about our shared goal, opened us up to each other. I expected a companionless journey in the dark, and yet, while I was mostly alone, I formed more genuine connections in these few, dark hours than I had in the past month.

DCIM105GOPRO

Greg base-jumping from the summit of Half Dome.

At 4:00 a.m., I reached the Half Dome peak and sat on the edge of the arête, overlooking Yosemite Valley. I quickly realized, because of the sweat on my inner layer, that I was shivering, and so I ripped off my shirt, wrapped my freezing skin with an emergency thermal blanket, and quickly pulled my outer shell back on. I found a rock to shield my body from the whipping wind, and I lay down, staring up at the impeccably clear sky. The moon was dim, but the stars shimmered with all their might, and every minute or so, one of them would streak across the sky in a flare. With time, a ruddy alpenglow rose from the horizon, spreading its rays upon the verdant valley below and the soaring, granite walls on either side of it. The valley seemed an immense canyon, funneling the gentle light through it, so that almost everything was graced with the sun’s radiant magnificence and alluring warmth. One by one, my fellow hikers trickled onto the summit, shouting “Hey, Rex!” as they passed. Greg even lent me a jacket when he saw that I was still shaking.

As the sun climbed higher, Greg prepared to BASE jump – illegally – in a blue squirrel suit. The family arranged a Christmas photo. The soldiers huddled, sipping coffee. A man set up a trail of candles to propose to his girlfriend. And there I was, sitting quietly, surrounded by new companions, watching the valley awaken. Greg pushed off, plummeting out of sight. The man proposed and the girlfriend said yes. We all let out a cheer.

This was a very different solitude from the kinds I had felt earlier in life. I experienced a freeing seclusion and, at the same time, a common humanity with these strangers. I was in a foreign place, with foreign people, and practically freezing to death, and yet I was so comfortable. I was so comfortable being uncomfortable. There was no place I would have rather been. Not in a plane darting across the sky, nor in the cozy folds of my bed at home. I had allowed myself to discover another beauty of life.

-Rex Tercek

DCIM106GOPRO

Another tripod image.

Apple Annie’s (From Grace)

Apple Annie (Grace's post)

As I turn into the driveway of Apple Annie’s, I hear the crunch of the gravel underneath the tires of my car, usually a sound associated with a venture off the beaten path, but in this case the path is one that I’ve walked up and down every fall for as long as I can remember. Apple Annie’s is a small family-owned orchard that is well-known in the Exeter community. Because it sits only a mile away from my house, I spent many gold-tinted fall afternoons running through the orchard with my family and dog, when I was more interested in eating every apple I picked off a tree than actually putting any in the bag. I remember being being so short that my dad would hold me on his shoulders to help me be able to reach the apples. More recently, specifically the year the new owners bought a donut machine, I remember my brother and I grabbing our bikes every day after school for a quick bike ride that would end with a half-dozen fresh donuts. I remember that we somehow convinced ourselves that the mile bike ride there and back would burn off about three donuts worth of calories.

The early morning air is sweet with barely blossoming buds, as Mr. and Mrs. Loosigian introduce themselves to us and Mrs. Loosigian begins to give us a tour of the place, after kindly ordering Mr. Loosigian to go take muffins out of the oven. The mention of muffins certainly catches my attention, but this is quickly forgotten as I realize the degree to which I am entirely ignorant of the inner workings of an apple orchard, especially one in which I spent so many hours of my childhood. With expertise Mrs. Loosigian searches out and finds the green pugs (apparently not actual small green dogs) that are nestled in and eating through the flowering buds on the trees. She displays one in her palm as she explains to us her predicament concerning the use of pesticide. I was under the impression that lightly-sprayed apples would be better than no apples, but as she outlines the pros and cons of each choice, I realize the profound impact small choices like this can make on our local environment. Mrs. Loosigian’s explanation embodies one theme emerging from this term: the importance of careful and painstaking consideration of one’s role in natural processes acting around us.

As we walk down the sloping hill of the orchard towards the back line of the woods, Mrs. Loosigian brings up the recent year in which they lost the entire crop. I remember this year as well, however mostly due to the nearly inhumane lack of fresh apple treats and beverages that I had to endure that fall. This too seems to be an example of a larger issue that has been echoed on a few different field trips, most prominently in our recent visit to Brad and Amy Robinson’s bee farm. Both Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Loosigian referenced the irregularity in the patterns of the seasons as a serious issue affecting their farms. Of course it could always be chalked up to just a few unusual seasons, but with the increase of natural disasters and years in which the seasons are becoming exceptions to the norm, the ways in which global warming is affecting the environment are becoming more and more painfully clear.

After the interesting albeit somewhat depressing tour of the orchard, the trip culminates in a visit to the nineteenth-century farmhouse. I get lost a little as Mrs. Loosigian winds her way deftly through the tiny old staircase to the upper guestrooms, across the house, and back down a modern staircase. This red house looks fairly small on the outside, but the row of guest bedrooms on the top floor seems to be endless. The house perfectly combines the charm of an old farmhouse with the coziness of modern amenities. With the slightly mind-boggling tour of the house finished, we make our way to a loft area over the main storeroom of the orchard, in which muffins and poetry by the previous owner, Charlie Pratt, are waiting. As our voices uniquely bring to life Charlie’s poetry, I realize the irony of getting to know this place, a fundamental piece of my childhood and neighborhood, three weeks before I leave and knowing that I won’t be here in the fall to once again ride my bike with my brother for more cider donuts.

-Grace Stinson

 

Apple Annie’s (from Hiro)

 “Sometimes I get lost in the journey and lose sight of the dream, the prisms cloud over and I cannot manage the stresses of the unknown.” —Laurie and Wayne Loosigian’s meditation

The Apple Annie farm sits by the pebbled road, the small rooster pen placed adjacent of the house, and two yurts hide along the corner of the property. We cloud around the yurt as Emma, the youngest daughter of the Loosigians, explains to us how she and her husband lived in the yurt for a year before they got the baby.  The larger of the two yurts was around 20 ft in diameter, wooden support beams, and a hardwood floor.

The yurt’s appeal to me is not because of its insulation (which, wrapped in bubble wrap, is not too efficient) but in its simplicity. The yurt held only the essentials— a bed, a heating stove, a drawer, and a night stand. When summer comes along, Emma and her husband prop up the top of the yurt to let the heat travel out, and have a vent from the ground that brings in cool air. 

Seeing simplicity reminds me of an assembly speaker,Vijay Govedarajan, we had a couple weeks ago. He said “The largest advantage of the U.S. is that it is rich. It’s greatest weakness is that it is rich.”When we think of wealth, we sometimes forget about the bare necessities, the most important parts about that we actually need. It’s arguable that a yurt provides more than bare necessities, but compared to the life we currently live where most of us have eclectic types of toiletries, more shirts than we need, and endless need for unnecessary decorations, a yurt is refreshing to look at. 

Some days, when I walk out into a place I’ve never have been before, I look but don’t see. When I first came to Apple Annies, I looked at the red farmhouse, the garden in the distance and the rows of apple orchards that surround the house. What took a while for me to see were the small pink flowers budding from the apple orchards, the small tic that lay on top of the blade of a grass, or the swift dive of a bird in the background. We go around place in nature and sometimes try to look for the key parts that stand out, and miss the other small trinkets that nature provides us on its stage. Some of these moments are far and few, but when I see them, I can’t help but smile. 

-Hiro Kuwana

Ruminations on Melville

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet;…then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?

Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea?

That same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.

In just the first six pages of the epic novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville makes man’s instinctive inclination for exploration of that which is vast and natural seem to be an undeniable truth. His message in these pages is so clear that, when first reading it, I couldn’t help but question a claim that seemed so universal. I have scrawled in the margin of my copy phrases like “really?” and “how can you be so sure?” next to the above quotations. The novel continues on at a steady pace which excites a reader alongside Ishmael—we see “the honor and glory of whaling” along with its most gruesome detail. Reading along with this captivating tale, it can be easy to forget any speculation one once had of man’s natural call toward wild waters. Life for Ishmael and the crew is far removed from that of the “landsmen.” At sea these men face the most raw versions of themselves and the novel presents some of the most profound queries into the nature of humanity.

Yet I am reminded again of my initial doubt in the universality of Ishmael’s claim when I read excerpts of Thoreau’s Walden. Can really every person feel nature’s intense allure?

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

This reminds me of the topic of one of our first class discussions and of my first blog post. We talked about the necessity of having both knowledge and love to cultivate an environmental education. We talked about the moment in which love for the land is first instilled, and the lasting effects of such a spark. But I remember someone in the class questioning if, in fact, everyone does have a moment like this. I certainly have. I imagine this is true of the others in the classroom, and of most of the company I keep. Perhaps that is why I often assume everyone has an almost spiritual connection with land that makes us worry and care so much. But this classroom question is not one to be ignored. It is he same question I have of Ishmael’s assumption.

In a broader application this idea seems to be coming up everywhere I look. The idea I speak of is connection to a place. I was first introduced this idea at the Mountain School. The mission statement reflects directly what is perhaps the most central goal of the program: “to [cultivate a] community of scholars who learn to know a place and take care of it.” Throughout out semester, we talked about how the phrase “sense of place,” could begin to describe how we were growing to feel. There was a deep connection not only to the people at TMS but also to the land and the place, since we were working so hard to take care of it ourselves. The idea of a “sense of place” was so central to my internal dialogue at the Mountain School, that it took me until recently to realize just how universal the idea is. When you think about it, all begins to make perfect sense—it seems only human to yearn for a place to call your own, to cultivate a sense of belonging, an attachment to somewhere.

I recently read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. In the novel she writes hauntingly on the power that a place can hold in our memory, even when much of the rest is gone. Woolf’s words describing the nuanced simplicity of Ramsays’ summer home remind me of my very own places. This is careful cultivation of a sense of place continues to ground me in times of change, as it does for members of the Ramsay family and their dear friends. My deepest sense of place, my closest connection to land comes from working with it.There is, as Thoreau described it, a certain “tonic” to wildness. It comes from harvesting broccoli from its soil and felling its trees for fuel. And it comes from watching new life sprout from the very same soil. If in fact everyone yearns for the same sense of place, an emotional attachment, perhaps this is just what we need to begin treating land with tenderness it deserves.

-Lucy Knox

Anna’s Observation 5/9/16

Observation 5/9/16

 

Time: 12 PM.

Weather: 55 degrees F, mostly sunny, breezy.

Location: Green trail observation spot.

 

 

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay

Robert Frost

 

This Frost poem nicely describes the state of the forest today. The sun is finally out after a week of rain – it is warming the top of my head and legs and feels soft and cozy. The leaves are so close to popping out. They’re at the stage Frost describes as “gold, ” where the half-burst buds make the canopy look almost yellow/orange. But nothing gold can stay, so after the next few days of sunshine and warmth I’m sure the mature leaves will finish unfolding and the forest will turn a lush green.

Other signs of spring—the bugs are back in full force. There is a swarm of little black flies near my elbow. One just landed on my arm, and against the contrasting white of my shirt they look almost like fruit flies. They too must have been drawn out by the combination of all the rain and then the sunshine. The river beside me seems livelier today was well. I just heard a loud “plop” which David says must have been a fish, although neither of us saw it. Right near where my Crazy Creek is set up there is something in the water releasing big air bubbles. Whatever is making the bubbles is hiding beneath a layer of leaf litter and mud, so I can’t see it. There are also two water striders jumping along the surface. I want to catch one but I think they’re too far from the bank and I might end up falling in. 

-Anna Barnes

Birds and Bees (but mostly bees)

We went to the Robinsons farm today, and Ms. Robinson influenced me to write all these interesting facts you’re about to read about bees. (I’ll get to the bird part later)

Overarching theme: The bees are not individuals but one individual. The colony is an organism, and each bee is a cell in the system.

The queen bee can decide which kind of offspring she wants to have- a drone or a worker bee. A drone is a male bee, and their main function in the system is to reproduce with queen bees (not their mother though, because incest would not lead to a healthy, sustainable colony) The worker bees are female, and they do the busy work. They go out and pollenate, they tend to the hive, they take care of the offspring, and so on.

The breeding season starts after winter solstice and ends around autumn equinox. During this, the queen bee will go on mating flights, where she flies out of the hive to mate. The drones will be out in swarms when this happens, and about twenty will mate with the queen. Twenty is a healthy number for her to mate with- less would put her at danger of not having a diverse/ sustainable hive.

The queen lays her eggs in the hexagonal holes in the comb in the hive. The holes come in various sizes; they are bigger for the eggs, and smaller for holding pollen and nectar.

The structure of the honeycomb has always blown my mind. I had always been in awe simply because of the perfect hexagons that they make, but I learned today that they vary in sizes for different purposes (as I had just said) and that they are tilted upwards slightly so that the eggs or nectar would fall out. How amazing is that?

What’s interesting is that at the end of the breeding season, around autumn equinox, the worker bees kick out the drones in preparation for the winter. Since breeding season is over, there is no need to keep the drones around during the winter. They would just take up space and eat the honey that the workers need to keep warm and survive the winter.

So one day the workers will all line up outside of the hive, and literally drag the drones out of the hive (I can just picture the female bees pulling the desperate drones out of the hive…what a funny image) Basically drone access to the hive will be denied, and they will end up dying.

In terms of reproducing, the colony as an entire organism still applies. If they have a healthy colony, approximately a third of the workers and the queen will swarm and leave the nest. They find a tree or a bush or something as a temporary home where they all bundle together (looks like a basketball, according to Ms. Robinson) and huddle there while some scouts are sent out to search for a suitable place for a new hive. This is how the organism reproduces.

What about the old hive? They don’t have a queen anymore!

Actually, new queens will be raised. The larvae produced by the old queen can be specially treated (in all honestly, I don’t remember with what. Some sort of nutrient-rich gel that the bees make) But whatever they feed the larvae, it makes their ovaries fully functional, unlike all of the other worker bees.

Isn’t that so cool?! I think that was my favorite field trip so far this term.

Just a quick note about birds- when I first got to the farm, I thought I heard a hoo-hoo from an owl, but I doubted it so j just carried on. Later, as Ms. Robinson was talking with us in the backyard, I saw a huge bird soar through the woods about two hundred meters away. I interrupted the group (I’m so distracted by birds nowadays it’s not even funny) and exclaimed that I saw an owl. Ms. Robinson, less than enthused, said I probably saw a hawk.

I know I’m not the best birder…but that wasn’t a hawk I thought. (Wow this is sounding very nerdy…just bare with me for a paragraph more)

Nonetheless, Mr. Bre confirmed my ID when we heard it hooting again. It kept hooting and hooting and it sounded so pretty! I wish I had seen the owl up close.

I also saw a red-bellied woodpecker right on the chicken coop- it had a beautiful red head- and so many other birds. I contemplated asking Ms. Robinson if i could come back sometime and bird there in the morning. I refrained from asking.

That’s it for now! Good day. Something I thought was funny was that the farm was right near my best friend’s house, and I had never really noticed it before. I felt like I was in a place I had been before because of that. It’s really a beautiful little farm.

-Michaela Streep