Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finding Country in the City

For all you haters who think NYC is a dirty, crowded, concrete jungle, meet northern Manhattan. During a long walk through Ft. Tryon, along the Hudson to the northern tip of the island, we discovered this magical oasis called Inwood Hill Park. Every single photograph depicts Manhattan proper.

Here, we have a common Hobbit Hole, certainly home to some sort of wild creature. I contemplated a more intimate exploration before remembering that certain creatures (like groundhogs) can be surprisingly menacing when they suddenly emerge from hiding, as if they were watching you all along.

In this photograph, Frank expresses amused annoyance at his prominence in my photo montage. Note the giant rocks and lush greenery.

Lions and tigers and bears, OH MY! Some parts of this trail were downright creepy! I half-expected to be pelted with apples by the sinister-looking trees themselves!

Abandoned fire hydrant, covered in rusted graffiti, alludes to times of yore when drug dealers and hobos ruled this pristine area. If I were an 80's crack dealer, I'd find Inwood Hill Park quite agreeable in terms of stealth and tranquility.

A felled giant in the woods makes Frank's rugby physique look quite dainty! Can you spot The Frank??

Possibly the most exciting find of the afternoon: a fire pit complete with seating area and scenery comparable to that of the rocky Catskills. A rock shaped exactly like a rabbit refused to be photographed clearly, suggesting supernatural powers and/or rock electromagnetism. Stay tuned for summer party invite.

Ah, finally a reminder that we are, in fact, in the greatest city in the world:

The lack of strangers in these photographs is no coincidence: we spent hours exploring the hilly terrain without encountering a single human bean. Or being. All you Brooklyn folks: take the A Train to 190th and wander in a northeasterly fashion. I mean it!

We made it to the tail end of the Inwood Farmers' Market, just in time to get some local wildflower honey, (light, slightly tart,) buckwheat honey, (dark, slightly bitter,) plus a bunch of apples. While I collapsed into a well-deserved nap at home, Baker Frank whipped up a delightful apple crisp using the freshest of ingredients. I ate half before realizing I should photograph it... Below are Frank's (vague) directions. I highly recommend picking up some buckwheat honey from your local farmer's market and making this decadent treat for someone you love:

Frank's Fantastic Buckwheat Honey Apple Crisp

Skin and core a bunch of apples. Use about 8 different types of apples of varying size.
Soften apples with heat and butter until they are warm. Use a whole stick of butter.
Mush them with potato masher.
Add spices to taste, like cinnamon and allspice.
Add buckwheat honey to taste.
Throw contents into something that you would cook a crisp with.

Crisp part:
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cups oats
Slowly add up to a cup of flour, until there is cohesion. "Crumbly and no longer wet."
Sprinkle over mushed apples to cover them completely.

Bake at 350 until until "crisp" forms. (Approx. 30-35 min.)

Let cool and enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

From Bee Camo to an Orange Jumpsuit

The awesome Michael Jackson picture in my post from Friday has caught the attention of the No Fun Police, who happen to be located in France. Google Translate helped me decipher a code (also known as "French") that exposed me as the thief I am!

Although I've removed the photo in question from the blog, I'm scared. Every voice in the hall sounds like that of a shrewd detective named Pierre. Now that I'm a marked woman, I might as well confess. I can't live in fear anymore! Okay, here it goes...

Dear Pierre,

I didn't mean to steal your picture of still-black Michael Jackson, looking genuinely content in an awesome tan cardigan, to post on the day of his tragic death. I just wanted to remember him at his best, and remind others that may have been put off by the whole alleged pedophile thing of the joy that his music brought to so many people. In that particular photo, Michael's smile reminds even his most ardent nemesis of the insecure little boy tough-loved to stardom by Joe Jackson, father/manager, who, as a punishment, made the entire Jackson 5 move bricks from one side of the yard to the other, (according to the movie.)

Please forgive me. Every single photograph on this blog, with the exception of happy Michael, was taken with my own trusty Cannon Rebel. Lo siento! Fuzzybuzzness is a serious publication that cannot, no, scratch that, will not be tarnished by allegations of wrongdoing.


P.S. I have purchased Internet Copyright for Dummies, the gold standard in this country, to prevent any future misunderstandings from occurring. I plan to commence reading immediately after I finish Tattletale: An Autobiography, which, if I'm not mistaken, was written by you, no?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pollinators Unite in Hydrangea Indulgence

The rain may have taken a toll on our collective morale here in Northeast, but a weekend walk through the wilds of northwestern Manhattan convinced me that Ma Nature didn't mind the wet weather too much. It is incredible how the landscape of Fort Tryon has changed. The skies have (hopefully) cleared, revealing lush landscapes and burgeoning new blossoms. The pollinators, like us humans, seem elated at summer's belated glory in the park's unbelievably lovely Heather Garden. Below, two adorable bumblebees indulge in the sweet nectar of what seems to be wild hydrangea.

Honeybees, too, get in on the action. Note the pollen pants:

More pants! These girls are working hard!

The bumblebee (called "humblebee" in England... how quaint!) works alongside the honeybee in pollinating endeavors; this weekend, the hydrangeas seemed particularly appealing to both types of buzzers.

The complex relationships that exist in nature are innumerable. The bumblebee, however, happens to star in one of the most famous Darwinian examples of unlikely correlations: more bumblebees=more cats(!) The equation goes like this:

Bumblebees have long tongues. (Imagine a straw, rather than a human tongue.) Plus, they are fat. Their heft enables them to wiggle into the prudish red clover, while their long tongues extract the blossom's nectar.

The amount of red clover in an area depends on the number of bumblebees. Honeybees cannot pollinate red clover, as their bodies are not conducive to its shape, and their tongues are too short.

A favorite dish of the field mouse happens to be bumblebee comb, so the more bumblebee comb, the more field mice.

Feral cats love a good field mouse dinner, so where there are field mice, there are also cats.

To explicate summarily: Red clover depends on bumblebee pollination to survive, so where there is red clover, there are bumblebees; where there is bumblebee comb there are field mice, and where there are field mice, there are cats. Whoa!

I'm relieved to see that our city bees haven't starved to death because of the massive amounts of rain. Of course, my concern gives them little credit; they've been doing their thing for much longer than I've been doing mine. Still, the buzzing hydrangea shrubs ensure me, novice beekeeper and mere human, that Ma Nature knows what she's doing.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Favorite Michael Jackson Songs, and Why

Michael Jackson died today. I'm sad. Everything I write appears sappy and trite. So instead, I'll list my favorite MJ songs, in no particular order:

-Smooth Criminal (So macabre! I mean, he's talking about bloodstains on the carpet! Appeals to my inner Nancy Drew.)
-Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' (Every time it comes on, I'm like, "Now that you mention it, Michael, I DO wanna be startin somethin!" I subsequently start something.)
-Thriller (The movie still frightens me. The dance moves still mesmerize me. Young Michael still charms me, and I'm still jealous of Michael's date, even though she gets attacked by dancing zombies.)
-Give Into Me (I love the melody in the verses. I also associate the entire Dangerous album with events that seemed monumental at the time, like my first kiss. This song defies logic, and actually makes me nostalgic for that horribly awkward period of life.)
-Will You Be There (This song has made me cry on various occasions, including today. Just beautiful. Unfortunately, I believe it is the Free Willy theme song.)
-Man In The Mirror (Anyone who went to Hyde (Hell You Didn't Expect) School before 1999 most likely was touched in some way by this song. We looked in the mirror. We asked ourselves to change our ways.)
-Black Or White (Another big adolescence-related song. Plus, McCauly Culkin "raps" in the music video! And that human morphing technology was so cool at the time!)
-Bad (Another fantastic video. Dancing along to it in my parents' bedroom made me feel like I was Bad with a capital B. And I think I genuinely was!)

Think I'll watch The Jacksons movie tonight. Goodbye, Michael. We love you!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Queen Must Die

I love the name of this book: at once dramatic, prescriptive, and poignant!

Spring and summer have formed a hybrid season, occurring now, that exhibits the worst qualities of each. Spring's freshness has withered in summer's humidity. Summer sunshine has been overshadowed by spring's warm rains and white skies. Thus, the following passage, describing early spring, is untimely. But I love it so much that I've peppered photos of early spring throughout, to lure the reader into reminiscing, if momentarily:

New colonies are usually started in the spring. It is important that [honeybees] build up quickly for the first honeyflow, that rich vernal harvest of early nectar, a time when nature herself is drunk with love and ecstasy, a time of alternate warm rains and cloudless skies, of flowering dogwood, locust, iris, shad, and earth.

The honeybee, released from winter bondage, revels in the renewed flowering of the earth, humming her own ode to joy.

And yet, over this exaltation, this climactic fulfillment of nature, hovers an explicable sadness that seems to have no place amidst such excitement of new life, as if it alone knows how soon all will vanish.
Any honey-lover knows that not all honey is created equal. Most honey found in supermarkets has been filtered so thoroughly that it barely resembles the original substance in looks or taste. Raw honey and honeycomb, my personal favorites, are pretty much untreated and provide a the honey-eater a richer, more satisfying gustatory experience.

Spring honey, usually harvested in May or June, is lighter due to the color of the nectar and pollen of early spring flowers. Summer honey, usually harvested in late August or September, is typically darker.

Summer introduces a whole new family of native wildflowers. If it ever stops raining for more than a day, the honeybees will meet this year's late-summer blooms, which start emerging in July. I can't wait to see what outrageous colors Ma Nature splashes across the city!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beekeepers' Ball

It goes without saying that I'm obsessed with the culture of the bee. It is utterly enlightening to observe, from a privileged perspective, a microcosmic social system seemingly as complex as our own. Although I enjoy anthropomorphizing the little buzzers, I believe that the pleasure I derive from their presence in my life exemplifies an essential difference between humans and bees. Bees are all work, no play. Humans, on the other hand, are capable of both. Interestingly, humans dressed as bees are incapable of work (unless that work involves drinking mead and waggle dancing,) and achieve greater pleasure than humans not dressed as bees.

Beekeeper and Queen Bee Waggle Dancing (and indulging in a delicious honey-glazed donut)
(Note bees stuck to veil... a brilliant detail. The Queen looked stunning. I want that dress.)

Me, waggle dancing

We didn't let those dreary skies get us down!

Two worker bees, chatting about how they love costume parties

Awash in a sea of yellow, united by a love of honeybees

The Beekeepers' Ball kicked off the first day of Pollinator Week, organized by Just Food. Beekeepers, bee lovers, urban gardeners and costume enthusiasts gathered at the South Street Water Taxi Beach last night to raise awareness about the importance of honeybees. Beekeeping is illegal in NYC for stupid reasons. (Read: stupid people.) Pretty much every major city in the US has legalized beekeeping because residents understand the important role pollination plays in our environment. Somehow, New York is still living in the dark ages, fining beekeepers for contributing to the health and diversity of our ecosystem. As I mentioned in an earlier post, honeybees are gentle, like fuzzy puppies who fly. If you haven't already, please sign the petition to legalize beekeeping in the city!

People often ask me how/why I got into beekeeping. My best answer has been this: a whim collided with an opportunity. Last night, as I posed for photos in full-on bee camo in front of delighted tourists at South Street Seaport, I was reminded how strange, fortuitous, and sweet these last few months have been.

I lost my job as an English Teacher at a public, bilingual high school in the Bronx in March, due to "budget cuts." According to my evil principal, my 9th graders could do without English Language Arts, (think Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, etc.) because they had ESL (think I am, you are, etc.). Although this logic continues to baffle me, I was forced to accept my situation and make the most of it. Beekeeping has introduced me to an entirely different way of life: slower, with less stress and more joy. I've returned to the things that I love: writing, nature, learning, activism... I've met incredible people. I'm happier than I've been in a long time.

In his awesome, beautifully written, informative book The Queen Must Die, writer and beekeeper William Longgood ruminates, "How many of us would be other than we are if not for chance, because some small cog slipped in here when it could as easily have gone in there?" One of my cogs, (a very expensive cog,) fell into grad school, another cog subsequently slipped into teaching, which ultimately led to a surprise cog being forcefully jammed into unemployment. Somewhere along the way I changed my entire idea of what my life might look like. I cannot congratulate myself for this newfound perspective, as Longgood so eloquently reminds me: "Any credit or blame that we take for what befalls us must be shared with the capricious god of chance."

The god of chance is certainly capricious, but his mighty winds are blowing good things in my direction for the time being. If only he could stop the rain...

Feeling like Bee Jackson
Happy Pollinator Week!!!

There's a great article about the Ball (and photo of the costume winners) in the Dining blog of the New York Times! Read!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Sisterhood of the Waggling Hammer-Pants

Astute observers who live in the Northeast will have undoubtedly noticed that June, that famously splendid month filled with beautiful blossoms, BBQs, and bikinis, has been a real Betty Bummer this year. As I consume my own version of "bee tea" and wax melancholy about the rain, I cannot help but worry about my flying friends.

When it rains, honeybees seek cover, just like us. Some of them stay home on "lookout duty" (see above,) while others are hard at work cleaning comb, nursing brood, and tending to the queen. The young'uns (0-10 days old) usually perform these duties. The teenagers(10-20 days old) have more complicated chores like storing nectar brought by foragers, building comb, and making sure that the brood chamber stays properly heated and ventilated. The adult honeybee (20-30 days old and aka "The Fearless Forager,") is most likely to display behavior akin to that of the adult human, dipping under leaf coverings and bar awnings, respectively, to take a "time out" until the rain passes.

At times, it rains for so long that honeybees, like humans, spend more time in their temporary shelters than they had originally anticipated. This proves costly for the honeybees, as each moment spent waiting out the storm means less honey for the colony, and come winter, they could starve. Similarly, each moment an adult human spends waiting out the storm means less money for the landlord, and come winter, they could starve. (Analogies, like plants, require sunlight to grow. Perhaps the reader would prefer a more explicit yet formal induction? Human: Money::Bee: Honey)

The Fearless Foragers wait patiently for gravity to ease up on the raindrops, then scramble to collect as much nectar as possible before the next downpour. Fearless Foragers constantly gather information about flower patches, rain or shine. Dodging fat raindrops, they'll return to their hives with samples of nectar for their friends to try. If the nectar tantalizes their tiny taste buds, they'll pay attention to said Fearless Forager, who will most certainly be performing an intricate dance at that very moment.

Honeybees can fly up to 3 miles to find a sublime patch of honeysuckle or the like, so succulent nectar sources require in-depth directions. The Fearless Forager will perform a "waggle dance," (known in some circles as a "figure-8 dance,) on the dance floor located immediately inside the hive entrance, in front of an eager audience.

For those of you who are kinesthetic learners, follow these steps:
1. wiggle while advancing slowly ahead
2. turn to the left, full circle
3. repeat step 1
4. turn to the right, full circle
5. repeat steps 1-4

The dance conveys a boatload of info:
-the more vigorously a honeybee waggles, the better quality the nectar source. (Whatever naturally blooms at any given time of the year is simultaneously the honeybee's number one choice.)
-one full waggle (steps 1-4) is equal to a certain number of feet, and a bee usually waggles between 1 and 100 times! We humans use units of measurements like yards and miles and funlongs... honeybees use waggles.
-the honeybee angles her body during the dance to precisely triangulate the nectar source using the sun's position at the given moment. Imagine a gigantic protractor drawing straight lines from the sun to the flowers-in-question to the bee's tiny dancing shoes. Now that's some kind of delightful math that I never learned in school!

Honeybees are most concerned with sharing. A honeybee will provide her friends with samples of found riches, assess the quality of the riches and opine her conclusions, then provide detailed directions to the source of the riches. Charmingly, all this is expressed in a sassy little dance!

The honeybee's survival depends on other honeybees. She cannot exist alone; without her sisters, she becomes wholly obsolete. Btw, I'm not just tossing around these feminine personal pronouns to mix up the status quo, I'm saying that the honeybee colony is 85% female, and all the males do are laze around, bang the queen, and die. They can't even sting. They live off the labor of their busy sisters and fulfill their singular purpose efficiently. Just sayin. Let the ladies lovingly labor at leisure, and lovely things will likely happen.

The rain's ghost infests the air completely. If I were a cow, I'd be lying down with my girls. If I were a bee, I'd be a senior citizen. But I'd be a brave forager. And even I, brave, senior honeybee that I'd be, would stay inside tonight.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"'Tis a Maple Tree!" posits B-Bot

My truly radical friend Brianne sent me an incredibly informative response to my question in the previous post. Her description of how trees grow was so easy to understand, and enabled me to create this awesome 4th-grade-ish project. I mean, freshman year we had to pull the old Natty Ice-Nyquil bait-and-switch at 8am to prevent B-dude from attending Bio. Her bejeweled beret (photo coming soon) couldn't block her brainy contagion, and I was infected with with curiosity, plus a need to express myself visually and a desire to summarize, label. Double-click on the photo to see clearly. (This was news to me.)

In B-jeweled's own words:

"I got to lie down inside a ginormous redwood a couple of summers ago up in northern California. The hollow inside was probably at least 10 feet in diameter and you could lie inside and look all the way up and out to the sky through the center of it (it was probably around 200-250ft tall). It was fully alive and well!"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

In Bee World, The Most Enthusiastic Dancer Wins

I just signed up to become an official NYC Bee Watcher. Bee Watchers observe bee activity in the city, and submit data to The Great Pollinator Project. Without pollinators, our lives would be a lot less green. Since green's great, it is in our own best interest to protect our precious pollinators. The data that Bee Watchers gather will determine which areas of the city have good pollinator service (lush, nectar-filled flowers,) and help us understand more about bee distribution in the Big Apple. (Sounds a bit like Gawker Stalker for bees.) Pretty exciting stuff, anyone want to join me at the orientation on Monday, 6-8?
I've been pondering kept bees vs. wild bees. I want my bees tough for the winter, so I've popped on some extra supers and left them alone. Too much human attention can be harmful. Bees are considered "wild" if they're doing their own thing in nature; note that kept bees can become wild bees, and, one might argue, vice versa. Honeybees aren't native to North America; they were brought over by Europeans for the honey. Although there are many types of bees, (20,000 in the world, 4,000 in North America, 400 in NY State and 200 in the city,) all honeybees originally come from somewhere between Southern Europe and Southern Africa. Thus, the only difference between one of Beula's Italian workers and a "wild" "American" honeybee is circumstance.

When the colony's quarters become too cramped, the hive splits and temporarily inhabits something random. The swarm essentially sublets the new place until scout bees set out and find a better home. They divide up and check out the potential new pads and do a waggle dance upon returning to relay information to the swarm. The more excited a scout bee is about her find, the more enthusiastically she will waggle, and the most enthusiasm she musters, the more buzz she will create!

Then, the scout bees essentially vote for the best choice by flying to it and waggle dancing on it. 15 seems to be the magic number; as soon as 15 scout bees dig a location, the rest of the swarm follows and moves into its new home.

An ideal home for wild bees is a tree cavity high above the ground, with a southward-facing opening and lots of room for honey storage and the pitter patter of little bee feet.

If I were a wild honeybee scout, I'd dance my little ass off if I came across this tree. It's just perfect!
One thing I'd really like to improve is my identification skills. To be able to name things. I spent way too much time on the internet searching for the answer to what kind of tree is that? I don't remember the leaves, they were so high and green, the trunk was bulbous and enormous, it looked totally empty but stalwart and strong; I still can't figure out how so much life can spring from something hollow. Ideas?
The tree cavity makes me blush. Especially with the towering tree shooting all the way up there.

Looking up into the tree feels like you're at the midway point between the tips of roots and branches.
Does anyone recognize this tree?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bee, humpin.

Such was the subject of the email I received from my friend Alex this afternoon. She attached this photo and explained it was as close as she could get to the "little dude." (Note that the honeybees that we humans usually come in contact with are overwhelmingly female, as the drone rarely leaves the hive except to relieve himself or to impregnate a queen and die.)
Upon first glance of the photo, I knew this was no honeybee. Its fuzzy cuteness and chubby roundness screamed "bumblebee!" even before I zoomed in on the little perv with my high-tech zooming device.
Two minutes later, I received another email entitled "Still going," with yet another photograph of the lil buzzer, posing the rhetorical question, "Do you think he knows it's not even Hump day?" I chuckled heartily and closed my browser, thinking "Cased Closed."

Boy oh boy was I wrong. Alex, a soon-to-be candidate for a doctorate in philosophy, has an unquenchable curiosity, and she soon hammered my Facebook wall with the public challenge, "just sent you some bee porn. Seriously, if you can figure out why a bee would spend like 20 minutes gently humping a leaf, I'd love to know."

Alex obviously knew that in order to solve this mind-boggler, she'd have to ask an expert. My studies on the Cuckoo Bumblebee enriched my knowledge bank with numerous bumblebee fun facts, enabling me to respond confidently to Alex's query in the following manner:

Dear Alex,

I'm so glad you sent me your email, "Bee, humpin." You pose an interesting question! (Must be the Philosopher in you! Lmao.) The bumblebee's "gently humping" motion that you describe is most likely a male "scent marking" an object with his pheromones in order to attract a young queen. Unlike male honeybees, male bumblebees leave the hive shortly after birth, never to return. The sole purpose of the male bumblebee, (also known as the Mumblebee, a personal nickname) is to lure a young queen to his bachelor pad and dance the horizontal polka with her. A bit of a manwhore, the Mumblebee's stinger isn't barbed like the honeybee's, enabling him to hump his way into the heart of many a queen.

The honeybee male, however, is fated to be a one-woman man. He loses his hindquarters altogether when the queen snaps off his stinger, still inside of her, and flies away, instantly killing the him.

Different species of Mumblebees "hump" for different periods of time, from a few minutes to up to 3 hours. Your Mumblebee must be a 20-minute man.

As for the question re. Hump day, only the big man upstairs knows the answer to that one, and He's not exactly known for His loose lips, if you know what I mean! (Who heard from Him last, anyway? That Mormon dude?)

Anyway, hope this clears up the Mystery of the Bee, Humpin. (SO Nancy Drew!)

Keep philosophizing, duderonomy!

The Urban Garden

The aesthetic of the urban garden either enchants or repels, and nothing in between. The enchanted see life sprouting from nothingness. The repelled only see nothingness.
One cannot allow country coveting to conflict with one's inspired attempt to grow where nothing else grows.
Green vines slowly consume rusted remains and shroud walls that divide the land.
A weed shouldn't be capitally punished for having so much energy. Our weeds are glorious fighters that must be perpetually subdued to allow for more docile existences.
In this changing city, the urban garden's ancient cycle is sacred.
Chemicals have done enough damage to the Gowanus Canal for the rest of Brooklyn to get out of jail free of pesticides.
In an urban garden, coexistence triumphs. A metropolis has never been so serene. Or so alive.
When planting seeds, the urban gardener hopes that humanity's cruel indifference to itself hasn't impacted her ability to cultivate growth.
But Ma Nature is a witchy woman with weird and wonderful whims, and she almost always gets her way. Plus, she's got friends in high places.
Because at the end of the day, its all about friendship, right?

All photos were taken at the volunteer-fueled organic gardens that have begun producing fresh local produce for Roberta's in Bushwick. The shockingly lively leafy greens were picked lovingly and put on the table only moments later. Delicious.