Thursday, April 9, 2009

On mason bees and other distractions.

A conversation with a friend the other day brought to mind Fiddler Jones of Edgar Lee Masters "Spoon River Anthology". The poem in part follows; I relish its ode to distraction.

Fiddler Jones

THE earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill--only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle--
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

Nature keeps throwing distractions in my path which I am loathe to ignore and which continually interfere with well-intended plans. Over the last year I've been writing and rewriting a handout on rules for mason bees. Sometimes there are seven rules, sometimes ten, sometimes eight. I am content to abandon it as finished whenever I don't need it for a few months. I trot out one version for a class, revise it for a lecture, reconsider it in a display. The thing is, at different times of the season my interests wander to other bees and other gardens and other wild things altogether. With these wanderings my opinions also change and develop. It is hard after all to describe a landscape in one visit. One day is drab and grey and the daffodils pop with cheery sunshine, the next day the sunshine highlights the swelling buds of a cherry tree, another day and I'm brought up short by the accusatory chatter of a chickadee or drawn in by the enticing scent of Daphne odora. I guess I forgive myself for noticing all this abundance.

Writing rules for nature is a misnomer anyway. It is not so much an effort at writing rules as an attempt to discern them - to see rules already in place. My first "rule" for mason bee success - the bold print, unflinching, never-changing one - is also one of the more interesting ones to test. What is "Rule One"? It is that mason bees (any bees really) require fresh clean housing every year. Fail to annually replenish their nesting tunnels and along come a progression of parasites and interlopers. The thing is, after working successfully with multiple thousands of mason bees, it is the interlopers and oddities which intrigue me almost as much. Right now I am trying to successfully raise some tiny tiny parasitic wasps which I removed as larvae from some mason bee cocoons. Once I get them to adult, (if I get them to adult), I will then collect them and attempt to mount them. They will join the carpet beetles and the moths and all the others who comprise my “pests” collection. And I will continue to probe out new rules and accept new distractions and be grateful for them.


photo, male mason bee, 4/09

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