This is the first of July. Most of us today are aware of the passing of the seasons only by the clothes in our closet and the size of the monthly power bill. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, it has only recently become that way.
“A swarm of bees in May is worth a ton of hay.
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July is not worth a horsefly.”
My father and his mother before him were beekeepers and farmers. How many know anything about hay? How many understand the meaning of this little bit of folk wisdom?
Last night there was a crackerjack thunderstorm here. I sat out on the screen porch and watched Thor throwing his hammer, Mjöllnir, and listened to the resultant thunder – a word derived from the Old English name for Thor. The rain came in sheets at first and then in a steady rain. We opened the bedroom windows, turned up the thermostat, and fell asleep to the white noise of rainfall.
So why make this reference to Norse mythology; because we, all of us regardless of origin, had myths about the causes of and the meaning of nature. Native Americans built astrological clocks in Southwestern caves. Some group of people built Stonehenge, apparently for the same purpose. It was important to know the seasons and their passing for group survival.
For other people myths surrounded the geography. The Batonga people along the Zambezi River attribute changes in the river to Nyaminyami, a giant serpent god, who determines floods and droughts and consequently requires occasional sacrifices to appease it. When work began on a large dam on the river in the 1950s the Batonga were sure that Nyaminyami would be angered. Not long after work began on the dam in 1956 flooding destroyed the partially completed dam and killed several workers. Teams searched in vain for several days for the bodies of the drowned workers. Finally, Batonga elders sacrificed a goat and the bodies were found the following day. The dam was finally finished in 1977.
Mythology aside, there was good reason to try to understand nature.
My father read the Farmer’s Almanac and laughed at himself as he followed its advice. He planted root crops like potatoes in the dark of the moon, and surface crops like tomatoes under a full moon. He explained that he didn’t believe that was necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt anything to follow the advice his parents had given him. He was an excellent gardener and there was no reason to question his plan.
I planted tomatoes under the Strawberry moon, the most recent full moon. It was by accident. We’ll see if that changes my usually rotten luck with gardening. Maybe I needed to be conscious of what I was doing. I’m a bigger believer in composting and Miracle Gro.
As I was sitting on the porch with all of the Donner and Blitzen (did you know that Donner was the German name for Thor?) I thought that the big Turkey Oak that is three feet from the porch may be the tallest thing on the ridge we live on. A lightning strike would probably destroy the house and I would have been in the direct path of the falling tree. Knowing that fact made sitting there in the dark, punctuated by frequent flashes of light, more delicious.
The meaning of the saying about bees refers to the time that the bee colony has to make sufficient honey to make it through the winter. July is usually too late. Still, we recovered as many swarms as possible placing them in a new hive hoping that they would stay. We never robbed a new hive. Sometimes, Dad would take off the super and determine that there wasn’t enough honey to share with us and return it to the hive.
We didn’t move our hives as commercial beekeepers do, and so the nature of the honey was related to the predominant flower that the bees had worked.
One year there was a hurricane in the gulf that came to land across south Texas. The following year the entire river bottom below our place had extensive growth of red clover, apparently brought there from Texas. The honey that fall had a distinct red color and flavor. Other years the locust trees provided the coloring and flavor. Keeping bees, pasturing our dairy cattle, and gardening kept us in touch with the land, the seasons, the summer droughts, the sometime overabundance of rain, and many things beyond our control.
Everything was uncertain, sort of like sitting on the porch under the big red oak, and yet we worked as though we were in charge. I wasn’t really worried about the oak. Thor was the embodiment of strength and the oak’s strength was attributed to him. Thor would pick on one of the pines or, perhaps, the big poplar in back.
“Work as though everything depends on you, and pray as though everything depends on God.” Lutheran saying.
Before the storm we watched a Netflix movie. Lynn picks them out because she is Lynn and because she is better at it than I am.
Last night’s movie “Mr. Morgan’s Last Love” starred Michael Caine, (Mr. Morgan) and a young French actress, Clémence Poésy (Pauline). You may remember Poésy as Fleur Delacour in one of the Harry Potter movies.
In the initial scene Mr. Morgan’s wife has “gone home”. We rapidly find that the couple has been married forever, and Mr. Morgan was totally devoted to his wife, to the exclusion of his children. Morgan is rudderless, only wanting to join his wife. Eventually, he falls on a bus into Pauline who follows him to his door to make sure that he is OK.
A reluctant friendship occurs. Morgan is confused about it. Pauline is not. He is the father she lost in childhood. For Morgan, who only wants to “go home”, she is described by him as “the only part of my life I haven’t yet figured out” and later, “the crack in my reality”.
Ultimately, Morgan’s grown children become involved and the plot evolves in a bitter-sweet way. Certainly it is not the way it would in a Disney movie, but in a more realistic and, yet, very romantic way.
The movie had meaning for me and my mate of nearly fifty years. At what point do you go on with your life in the absence of your other half? Make no mistake, when a couple is together that long they do become two sides of the same coin.
In any subsequent relationship your departed half will always be there. That’s not something one can change, and it’s something that new friends have to accept.
In Morgan’s case he could never deal with anyone without comparing them to his departed wife. No one stood the test except Pauline and that was all wrong.
Hope you get a chance to watch the movie at some point. Like Andy Garcia, I would watch Michael Caine wash windows. They are that good.
I understand Mr. Morgan’s desire to die. At some point everything good in life seems gone. I sat on the edge of the bed of a friend’s 96 y/o mother who said that she couldn’t understand why she was still here. She had been ready to go for a long time. She had prayed to “go home”, and yet here she was. Ultimately, she confessed that she worried about her daughter, how she would get by. I told her that her daughter, our friend, would find a way, and she should not worry about that. Within two weeks the lady had died.
I lied. Our friend couldn’t take care of herself, she was fatally flawed. She has also passed on since then, and at the end, after surviving three different kinds of cancer she developed a form of heart failure that defied treatment. I spoke with her a couple of days before she died and she told me that she was just so tired. She didn’t want to stay around.
I’m not there yet, but I understand the sentiment. At some point you wish the big oak would fall on you.