All weekend the wind blew steadily and I found myself reciting a poem by ee cummings that we used to perform in college when I was in a group called Wordmasters, which did Readers Theater. We began the poem in a rush with the line, “a wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away,” then stopped suddenly with the line, “and the trees stand,” all twenty of us, dressed in bell-bottom corduroy pants and black turtle-neck sweaters, standing like trees on the bare stage. When I re-read the poem to myself, I still hear the inflections and the chorus of young voices from my fellow Wordmasters, the way we stretched out some words, “oh wind wind wind” and spoke other lines all in one breath, “oh crazy daddy of death dance cruelly for us and start the last leaf whirling in the final breath of air.”
The fall color in Missouri this year was much better than any of us expected, after the long drought. With no rain to speak of and temperatures above ninety degrees for much of the summer, I expected the leaves would just shrivel up and fall off one night with no fanfare, but instead we have had brilliant reds and yellows and oranges for weeks on end, along with many warm and sunny days. It has been the prettiest and warmest fall I can remember, following the earliest spring, the hottest and driest summer. I can’t help but wonder what winter will bring. I do hope we get some snow, although maybe not quite as much as we got a couple years ago, when the University was forced to cancel classes for the first time in history.
One of the things I love most about the Midwest is the clear distinction between seasons and the opportunity to witness the changes from one season to the next. Although I don’t spend as much time in nature as I would like, I try to get outside some each day and I try to pay attention to the subtle and not-so-subtle changes going on around me. This weekend marked one of those drastic turns toward winter. Saturday was sunny and seventy-five degrees. Sunday brought rain and steadily falling temperatures. By Monday it was down in the twenties, the sky was clear, and the trees were bare, just as cummings had described in his poem.
Believing that Saturday might be one of the last warm days for a while, we took the opportunity to go feed the bees one more time before winter sets in. One of the things I love best about beekeeping is having to think in a very personal way about such things as weather and climate and food supplies and the way we are all connected. This year has been hard on the bees. The spring flowers bloomed earlier than usual, so the main honey flow was over before the new queens were delivered. Then came the long dry summer, with no rain and thus no nectar to speak of.
This year we started three new hives, which we placed at a friend’s farm, next to a big field of clover. For a while they were, how shall I say, “in clover,” building new white comb, bringing in nectar, and filling the hexagonal cells with glistening liquid. The new queens were laying well, baby bees were emerging daily, the field bees were flying and bringing in pollen and nectar. Then came the drought, and all the clover dried up, and the bees languished. One of the hives must have decided it was the queen’s fault they were suffering, so they killed her and raised their own. By summer’s end, the hive was weak and desultory, and we knew they were not going to make it without some help from us. We ordered a new queen, although it was late in the season for that, and began feeding the hive sugar water to help build them up. The other hives were doing somewhat better, but we also fed them with sugar syrup to boost their honey stores, and we decided not to harvest any honey this year in order to give all the hives a better chance of making it through the winter. This is the first time in twelve years that we have not had a honey harvest. Although we should have plenty of honey left from past harvests to get through the winter, it seems strange and sad to have skipped this annual ritual.