August Is Yellow

Part One
the august sun shines like a spotlight on the ten year old
joyfully riding her new green bicycle (without the training wheels) 
down the gravel driveway.

like a pro, not even braking,
she leans to the left and whizzes onto the dirt path
packed down through years of truck tires.

through the trees she rides, slowing now, for the pull of the dirt
is harder on bicycle tires (though easier on knees).
the trees bow to her, the queen of the bicycle.

the sun glints through the leaves and the air is
saturated with the sweet scent of ripe peaches
and the hum of satisfied and satiated bees.

she pays no attention to the glorious around her
because she is ten years old and not yet aware
that her childhood Augusts were golden.
peaches at apple hill

Part Two
the grandfather is waiting for her to tire of riding circles 
in the orchard. he figures it will take twice (maybe three times)
and she’ll be ready to listen to the lesson that peaches teach.

he has the ladder ready when 
she drops her bike next to the old green farm truck.
“Want to help me pick some peaches?” he asks.

he steadies the ladder and guides her small hand as they reach,
touching the fuzz gently, gently, every squeeze will bruise these 
peaches easy as you bruise those knees.

gently gently she places the peach in the basket looped over her 
      skinny arm.
he moves her hand to another hanging low on the branch. 
see how green? see how fuzzy? peaches have to ripen on the tree.

their juices have to be warmed by the hot August sun. they take 
their time ripening and can’t be hurried. you can’t pick the tree 
clean, you have to go again and again to the same tree. 
       peaches teach patience.

together they fill the basket, moving the ladder around the tree
taking their time — savoring the tree-ripened juicy chin-sticky 
sweet yellow sweltering August patience-teaching peaches.

patience is not his usual shape, this short round man in the straw 
hat and farm clothes teaching peaches to the skinny girl with bruised
      knees. 
she learned peaches. she learned love. she still stamps her foot at
      patience.

and she still can’t abide sickly grocery store peaches.
grandfather

For the next few weeks I’m taking an online poetry course over at Monna McDiarmid’s place. This first week we were asked to write about childhood, and if we wanted, to use the color yellow. I probably won’t post  all the poems, but this one I liked because it was such a good memory of my grandfather, who built Apple Hill Cottage. And my sister sent me this photo just as I was writing the poem…It’s a work in progress. Comments welcome.

the sorrowful song of the trees

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, 
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12

That’s always been one of my favorite verses — the image of the trees rising up and swaying their branches in joy to the Savior is a powerful one for me. (I always loved Tolkien’s Ents, too.)

But the year of 2016 paints a grim picture of trees cowering in fear from the plague of giant flying periodical cicadas. (Yes, I’m sorry, another post on cicadas. It’s what’s happening here at Apple Hill Cottage.)

This is the oak tree at the side of our house. The oaks seem to be a favorite and sustain the most damage.

The only websites I can find that tell the truth about these creatures are the Penn State and Ohio State agricultural offices. At the bottom of the Penn State article it says, (I’m paraphrasing) Your trees should be fine, that is, unless you have 4-year-old or less fruit trees. Then you’re in big trouble.


The adult cicadas are gone now. I can go out in the morning and actually hear birds singing. But the damage they have done to the trees is disheartening. Our yard is littered with broken little branches.


The female cicadas lay their eggs in small shoots at the edges of trees. This is a close up of the slits they make.

Each female can lay up to 400 eggs in 40 to 50 different sites. By my unofficial count that’s about a gazillion cicada eggs on our 2.9 acres… So we are gathering up prunings of branches, both fallen and cut from trees, and burning them.

Tonight we undid the netting on the two trees we covered. As of now, it doesn’t seem like our efforts made a difference, but the branches are not done dying… We pruned back the trees by about a third. The apples seem to have been hit the worst; the two pear trees the least; the beautiful little cherry may make it, but will never be as symmetrical as it was this spring before the cicada plague began.

Mr. H. C.’s beloved Honey Crisp tree went from 10 feet tall to 6 feet. We’re just grateful that we were slackers this spring and didn’t do the early spring pruning.

Pruning from a Honey Crisp apple tree after the decimation of periodical cicadasThat pile of branches is from one tree. Note the tree in the far background. No, it isn’t October!

Why did we not know that to plant our fruit trees 3 or 4 years ago was, in effect, dooming them from the 17-year-locusts? Why did we waste money, time, effort, and love on these six beautiful little trees? What? Oh, NEXT YEAR is the year to plant fruit trees because then they will have 17 years to grow and be fruitful before the next horde arrives.

IMG_7053

Most people are just delighted that the awful bugs are gone. Everyone has a story about someone they know who was outside doing chores and opened their mouth at the wrong time. It was bonding, living through this plague — there was always something to talk about with strangers in line at the grocery store…

But from everything I’ve read about the life cycle of Magicicada Septendecim, once they hatch in the twigs (after about six weeks) they are the size of grains of rice and they drop to the ground. Really? Cicada maggots the size of rice dropping from trees? I originally thought the dead branches fell with the eggs in them and that’s how the larvae got to the ground. But this quote below is from the OSU Entomology Dept.:

Cicada eggs remain in the twigs for six to ten weeks before hatching. The newly hatched, ant-like nymphs fall to the ground where they burrow six to 18 inches underground to feed.

It definitely implies that the nymphs fall through the air, doesn’t it? There’s something to look forward to in August!

I need a wide-brimmed hat with a veil more than ever…

138. the missing bees

I lied.

In a post a few weeks ago, I waxed poetic about the blooming catalpa tree in the side yard. And I said, “Birds and bees love her”.

This year there were no bees buzzing around the catalpa blossoms.

I know because the hammock is hung on the lowest branch of the giant catalpa tree, and this year, the only hammock hazard was from falling catalpa blossoms. There was no potential problem of a bee sting, because there were no bees.

In a beginning backyard fruit tree orchard, this is not good.

In an effort to see if the bees have really disappeared, we stopped mowing the back yard and let the clover bloom. There actually seems to be more clover in the back yard than grass — perhaps a leftover from when clover was routinely sown between the older apple trees.

And we watched.

Over a period of a week, we saw about ten honey bees in the clover (and five rabbits, ten deer, and a groundhog).

This has become such a worry that Mr. H.C. has actually suggested we buy a hive of bees for next spring.

We’re thinking of buying the hive, the bees, and some supplies, and asking a friend to take care of it the first year, while he is mentoring us. This is quite a step for Mr. H.C. — he actively dislikes bees — though neither of us is allergic to their stings.

It has become a national anxiety about bees. You can read about the issue here and here and here. No one will say exactly what the problem is, but to me, a non-scientific, tree-hugging, crunchy, suspicious-of-all-big-corporations type of person, it is obvious. Pesticides.

Duh. If we spray to get rid of insects, we’re going to get rid of insects, yes?

It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD for short) and since 2004-2005 beekeepers have reported a loss of bees in their hives from 35 to 90%. What is most mysterious is that rather than finding dead bees around the hive, the bees just disappear. And once I started reading about it, there are several dozen reasons/theories/government plots for the disappearance of the bees. (To be fair, there is a wide range of opinion –some people doubt if the bees are really disappearing and some people think the bees are being abducted by aliens….)

But if you want to be concerned about this issue, consider these points (that are all taken from the above articles.)

  • A full third of the American diet is dependent on pollination, and wild and domestic honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of pollination.
  • About 200,000 species of plants rely on insects and a majority of those rely on bees.
  • Commercial beekeepers are often feeding their bees on high fructose corn syrup, a questionable man-made sugar substance at best; a cancer-and-diabetes-and-obesity causing substance at worst.
  • Not surprisingly perhaps, organic beekeepers have not experienced CCD, leading to speculation that overall greener management practices could be the answer even if direct causes are not determined.
  • If honey bees disappeared, the following crops would be affected: tree fruits — think apples, oranges, pears, lemons; tree nuts — think walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds;  garden vegetables — tomatoes, beans, squash, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins; alfalfa and clover — think hay for animal feed;  berries of all sorts — straw, blue, cran, black and razz; coffee; cocoa; cotton; flax;  and you can read a much longer list here. (And also to be fair, I must note that we have a bumper crop of raspberries this summer, so something is pollinating the berries.)

So come next spring, we may look like aliens ourselves. But we won’t be abducting bees; we’ll be helping to pollinate catalpa trees.

And apples and peaches,

and cherries and beans,

and pumpkins and peas…