In praise of chaos, naturally: Marla Spivak and Kevin Cox

When you see a house with a wide bright green lawn, maybe a white picket fence, and some kind of roundish tree plopped down in the middle, you are seeing an elegant expression of managerial control.  Little upkeep, chemically enhanced, low maintenance.

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I listened to a good podcast yesterday from The Barefoot Beekeeper, The decline of Birds and Bees, which was sort of depressing as these things are, but also intriguing because it’s clear we can each do quite a lot, and quite simply: don’t use pesticides and let a little chaos into your garden life.

The Barefooot Beekeeper and the speaker, Kevin Cox come to us from the UK where the once ubiquitous english hedgerows are disappearing, favoring easier to manage and maintain fences. Those hedgerows have thrived for hundreds of years, are deeply complex habitats and very effective at creating dense boundaries.  They are a simple thing, you might take them for granted, just like we might take marginal weed-and-and-wild infested areas for granted…until they’re gone. And then slowly we realize the role they play in complex, healthy environments. Hedgerows are in fact habitats for birds and pollinators of all kinds, beyond their immediate usefulness to the landowner.

“…the thing he finds most destructive to birds and pollinators across the board is our penchant for tidy.

Recently I’ve noticed more parks in the Seattle area allowing marginal spaces to grow unabated, with a nod towards diversity and complexity in the local flora and fauna. In my own half-acre, we allow the perimeters to grow dense and complex (much to our neighbors’ potential disapproval) because those marginal areas are busy corridors, nesting areas and feeding grounds.  It’s truly astonishing how this tiny eco-system has changed in the years we’ve lived here, based in large part on the dense complexity of those areas. The more complex those areas are, the better things work overall, I’ve noticed.

Kevin Cox said at the end of the talk that the thing he finds most destructive to birds and pollinators across the board is our penchant for “tidy.”  Tidy lawns and gardens, tidy roads and walkways, tidy, well-managed and care-efficient spaces all around.  Except nothing natural does well in what we call tidy.

Wednesday evening I attended a talk at Town Hall with Marla Spivak and Bob from Common Acre and there it was again: our penchant for tidy, for well-managed, for control was at the center of things going very wrong. Those hedgerows and uncut areas in parks all have a diversity of flowering plants and grasses that have a key role in the whole great chain of being.  Her main point suggestions for two things we can do today to help turn things around: grow a wide variety of common flowers, and don’t use pesticides.

“..two things we can do today to help turn things around: grow a wide variety of common flowers, and don’t use pesticides.”

Coming in for a landing on a blue bell

Coming in for a landing on a blue bell

I’m wondering if we can learn to see beauty in a less-tidy world?

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A blog by any other name….

Today’s post covers a lot of ground. First, I’m renaming my blog because, well, the other day as I was heading into the house to make our bountiful garden dinner, I turned the doorknob and thought: uh-oh, my hands are a sticky mess.

it was an excellent day of art and bees and garden and color…

And I had to smile.  I’d done a hive inspection, which brought me into contact with propolis.  The girls are starting to seal things up in the hive with their bee-caulk.  It’s a gooey substance in warm weather and virtual bee cement in cold, filling in the tiny gaps and cracks in the hive to keep things nice and cozy. Propolis is also an amazing substance, check it out here. But it’s messy, to be sure.

And then there was the studio, the hours spent throwing down paint on a series of pieces I’m working on.  In other words, it was an excellent day of art and bees and garden and color, and I realized: this is my very lucky life.

There’s a local organization I’ve just learned about, Common Acre, that seems to understand the complex links between nature, bees, creativity and art ala Wendell Berry and others.  Those bees, that garden, the whole complex eco-system of our tiny urban farm feed my creative spirit in ways I can’t describe, but enjoy and appreciate every day.

So, here’s to the beautiful, creative mess that is nature!

 

 

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The New new-bee

Every inspection of the hive at this point is something of a revelation.  I sort of have an idea what to expect, sort of don’t.  The big news this week about the hive that started way back four weeks ago is this: it’s all new.

That is, when I introduced the package of bees into the hive, the bees were from one place and the queen is from another–they weren’t related, didn’t know each other.  Happily, they all seemed to really dig the chemistry and ambitious building ensued quickly.

A worker bee lives about six weeks, the last part of that time spent outside the hive where we see her foraging. If you do the bee math, the majority of the bees in that initial group are now gone, and the hive is officially the Queen Bee’s DNA–her realm.  And the difference was palpable: the workers were more uniform in color, the drones were much bigger and visible, and Queenie herself seemed much more comfortable out walking amongst her bevy of bees. Last but not least, their personality is different from the package bees: they are feisty.  Plenty of feisty to go around.

Here’s a snap of a baby bee chewing her way out of the comb and into the world. You go girls!!

Baby bee chewing her way into the world

Baby bee chewing her way into the world

 

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The fine art of building a home…from a bee’s perspective

A top bar hive is a sort of ark or small coffin shaped structure with bars across the top and nothing inside…for a little while.  A very little while.  Because once you pour a hive of bees inside, watch out: they will begin in astonishing earnest to build a beautiful home in the dark for their every need.

They build comb off those top bars, and fingers crossed, the comb is straight and well spaced.  Such is the case with our hive that began building their home seven days ago.  In those seven days they have built out beautiful, perfect comb on five bars, and amazing feat of ambition and team-work.  There is clearly a home-team and an away team, those who build, those who forage and feed the builders. But all of them have one thing in mind: in the famous words of a certain CEO, “Get big fast.”

The bees love their new home, plenty to forage, warm and pretty protected.  Their top bar ark seems to be working well for them…so for now, I feel lucky to witness the industry and fortunate to participate so directly with a natural phenom.

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OMG: bees. (my fab studio life continues)

I gave my studio a name about three years ago: Rancho Bee Haven.  We were consciously growing bee friendly gardens and of course, our early attempts at veggie cultivation, so: the name. But behind that, I longed to be a beekeeper.  The very idea intimidated the hell out of me, but with the goings on in the bee world, decline and collapse and what not, I started seriously considering taking the plunge. Then a couple of friends started beekeeping…

The plunge is not without considerable confusion, opinion, math (!), and basically learning how a completely different species wants to live vs. being forced to live.  I now refer to the beekeeping community as the 10,000 gurus chanting; there’s much to be gained, but there’s also a lot of noise.

Well, that was then, and this is now. On Saturday, April 19, one day before Earth Day, I got my first box of bees. The plan was to install them later in the day with my partner and six friends and neighbors in attendance. There was, in essence, a great deal of good energy to launch these girls on their way. Plus, they got to listen to Vivaldi and nip sugar syrup all day, so they were in a pleasant mood.

We now have a working, living, buzzing, breathing, flying hive in the garden. And those girls are unbelievably hard workers.  They’ve already started three bars of comb in five days–they have, it appears, grand ambitions. And are they interesting?  Yes.  OMG yes.

I have always been a wee bit (ok, all you who know me: shut up.) mono-maniacal and at long last have found the thing in the world that actually meets my mono-maniacism and raises it several notches: honeybees.  We get along really well.  Below are some pictures, thanks to Sally Shintaffer, photographer extraordinaire.

Milestones reached: Hive installed, Queen released, comb in progress, foraging map in progress and obvious good finds (judging by the pollen being brought back to the hive).

Back to the other fab studio life…I did a sketchbook workshop last week, the first in a while, and it was divine.  There was good, strong, creative energy enough to share, and curiosity in abundance. We made the requisite beautiful mess and then some. It was a wonderful, wonderful way to enter this new phase of my lucky life.

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My fab studio life: two studios

Right now, I’m obsessed.  I haven’t been in the studio for days and I miss it, a lot, but right now, my energy is in the other studio: the garden.

Delicata Squash--super early in the garden!

Delicata Squash–super early in the garden!

A long, long time ago, when I was in grad school studying literature (which I brilliantly deduced was far more marketable than art, my first field of study), I lived in a small house with my partner on the east side of Capitol Hill here in Seattle.  These were the days before unregulated greed and the landlord, more than money, wanted renters who would love the place…especially the massive garden he’d put in.  Complete with greenhouse, if you can believe. I said, Yes, yes, yes.

Toms and Basil in the desk nursery

Toms and Basil in the desk nursery

So, while studying for doctoral exams and the like, I found myself more and more in the garden, learning how to grow vegetables, all kinda veggies. So beautiful it all seemed that soon I was painting small studies: peas, tomatoes, squash–flowers and leaves and fruit.  I was swoonishly in love with the amazing process by which a seed is planted and this miracle happens.  I was completely captivated.  Far more than studying, alas. And I felt healthier in the garden. I smoked back then, a LOT. And it didn’t escape my attention that I never had the urge to smoke while in the garden, but smoked like a chimney while studying.

Snappy little snow peas

Snappy little snow peas

Anyway, I wish I had those watercolor studies now, as I recall they were pretty good. I did them as a way to express the experience of the garden that just made my heart thump with happy–and as I recall, that happy showed through.

Well, so here I am again, different garden, same level of ecstasy, maybe more since I’ve taken this garden from winter plan to spring realization, full throttle, no grad studies to distract me. I’m not yet doing watercolors, though I did last season and probably will this season. But for now, I’m a just a flat out goon for what’s happening in the garden, the other studio.  This can’t be bad, right?

lettuce n leeks and a few red kales

lettuce n leeks and a few red kales

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My fab studio life: an unexpected assist

I like Facebook these days. Their brilliant algorithms are increasingly complex, their advertisers more and more subtle in their campaigns. The upshot (and upside) is that Facebook feels more and more like that awkward thing at a party: you’re talking to a friend and this person you don’t know and comes up and sort of inserts themselves into your conversation, mouthing words that are vaguely relevant to what you WERE talking about before you were interrupted, and then before you know it, both you and your friend are drifting off in another direction. Like that.

So, why do I like it. Because it’s helped me kick it to the curb for large chunks of time. This is good. The actual amount of focused, concentrated time in my days is increasing.

I’ll be doing a couple of workshops in the next few months which also helps to focus my time in the studio. All good, all good.

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my fab studio life: busy bee!

So, really, bees are astonishingly busy.  Short lives, just six weeks, packed with construction, cleaning, tending, disinfecting, processing, yadda yadda.  Life in the hive. They only actually do the thing we see, flowers and foraging, in the last few days of their lives.

I could go on.  But I’ll stop. For now.  Bees will figure prominently in my future, however, and so you can expect evolving levels of obsessiveness in this first year of beelandia. It’s already started…beekeeping workshops, hive setup in the garden, getting things ready for the girls come April, lots and lots to do.  Bees, garden…it’s all coming together and I’m psyched.

i think there's a bee in here somewhere

i think there’s a bee in here somewhere

Alas, I stepped in my studio today and felt like a tourist. But I stayed a couple hours and only once was pulled back to hive tweaking and fiddling…damn embarrassing to see just how truly distractable one is. But I stayed, worked in my sketchbook, toyed around, and bottom line: determined to get back in the groove.  Gotta.  Cuz when it’s rainy and gray like this, only one thing gets my mind back in a healthy place and that’s making art.

And in fact, at the end of the day today, I feel a lot better about the world.  It really doesn’t take a lot.  Basically you just gotta show up.

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My fab studio life: well…um, sorta.

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this is your reptilian brain online.

I unplugged my modem today.  It was hard.  I actually felt a shiver of anxiety.  I mean, it’s one thing to have your internet service go down because the signal dies, the tower falls, the servers stop serving, whatever. It’s quite another thing to pull the plug out of the wall–not to reboot, but to forcibly go offline.

I can’t trust myself, you see. That’s what I’ve learned the last week and a half.  And my distraction level has gone way way up.  Course, it was freezing cold in the studio last week, so that was good.  I mean, bad, cuz then I just camped out on the couch…surfing.  And god knows why.  I’m convinced it’s unconscious at this point, that some part of my brain thinks something interesting and/or exciting is waiting just around the next click.  It’s not.  Honest.

Anyway, I’m so not the only one struggling with this. Here’s an article on a digital detox in the nytimes last week, and a quote that spoke to me, as it were:

“it is so much easier to spend the day” doing administrative busywork “than it is to leap off the cliff into the terrifying unknown of ‘artistic inspiration.’ ”  Taylor Ho Bynum, quoted in T. Wayne: 7 day digital diet

You may not consider being online as administrative busywork, but believe me, I can justify an online five minute three hour “break” faster and better than just about anyone I know.

So, onward. The modem lights are back to blinking and doing what they do and I’m back online at the end of a good day in the studio.  I felt concentrated, focused.  Not saying the work was brilliant, just that I was very present today.  Present with a side-car of anxiety, but hey.  I ain’t complaining.

Hours in studio: some.

hours online: someone’s at the door, i have to go now.

 

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My fabulous studio life: tune in

There was a point last week when I was so into what I was working on, that it took a lot to put it down for the day. Awesome. Good week.  Sure, Monday and Friday were rubbish–seems to be a pattern: slow to get in gear at the beginning of the week, sort of creatively pooped by the end of the week.  In the middle, though? pure gold. Can’t complain at all.

It's a three ring circus

It’s a three ring circus

I’m working on what I’ll cleverly call Project X which involves both visual and written components. It requires focus, a kind of focus that is really super duper impacted by being online.  On the other hand, when I first get to work, there’s this free-fall that is frankly uncomfortable. Ah, for the inane safety and focus of facebook– so easy, so consuming!  But I managed to get beyond it and all in all, last week was a good’n. So yay.

Here’s a quote I’ve been considering:

What I learned during my solo experience was that my thinking–my creativity and imagination–reached a new velocity as soon as I unplugged.  When you tune in to the moment, you begin to recognize the world around you and the true potential of your own mind.  –Scott Belsky

For the week, 20.5 good studio hours, not bad.

 

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