the quiet world

Well, it’s quiet here — apart from roosters down by the lake — but not still. When you take the time to see what’s going on, it’s astonishing. We were just having coffee on the deck off our second-storey bedroom and we saw the mason bee we’d noticed yesterday. There’s a tiny hole in the siding and yesterday the bee was going in and out of it. Today it was just hovering around the entrance. When it left, and I looked closer, I saw that the hole has been filled in with mud. I got out the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders to try to figure out what was going on. I learned that the female mason bee constructs small nest cells of clay which she provisions with pollen and nectar before laying a single egg. And then I read this, which is as much of a found poem as anything: “Some species include plant fragments in their nest construction. Others build inside empty snail-shells, and still others line each nest with snips of flower petals.”

mason bee nestThere are also a lot of mud-daubers around right now, looking for ideal locations for their nests. Here’s one building just outside the bathroom window:

mud dauberIn the notes on mud-daubers, I discover more interesting drama that happens without us even noticing:”Using its mandibles, female shapes small masses of moist mud into balls and makes joined tubular cells. Into each cell female stuffs 1 paralyzed spider, immobilized by venom, then lays 1 egg on spider and closes cell with mud.”

And speaking of drama (though in quite a minor key), I saw a snake yesterday rush up to an area below a little Japanese maple, its mouth stuffed full. It appeared agitated and after shoving its face into the moss, it lifted its head, mouth now empty, and began the process of trying to get its jaw back into position. (Garter snakes can unhinge their jaws while eating large prey.) Because I was there, it moved away a little and rested its head on a small stone, opening and closing its mouth, like a cat yawning. (I could see inside its mouth and it was red!) I poked around in the moss and saw that the thing it had been carrying was a huge slug. I thought I would help by tossing the slug to where the snake had by now eased its jaw back into place. But instead of taking the slug,  it returned to the moss and began to plunge its head down, looking for its dinner. Here’s the snake this morning, in the same area. I never knew they cached food.

snakeBecause we are anticipating our first grandchild in July, I said to John, “Won’t it be wonderful to show small children these things?” To which he rolled his eyes and made texting motions with his fingers. (We don’t own a cell phone which is why I have a huge reference library of field guides to use instead of looking up mason bee behaviour on a smart phone.) But honestly I can’t imagine a child not wanting to watch a snake dislocate its jaw and yawn like a cat or fail to be delighted at this tree frog taking the sun on a May morning:

tree frog

green pie

To keep up with the kale — which is last year’s planting and it’s wanting to bolt but this year’s seedlings aren’t quite big enough to begin cutting — I’ve been making green pie. Two big ones today, one to eat over the next few days and another for the freezer. Tomorrow I’ll make a couple more. When our plane landed in Vancouver last Tuesday, after 12 days in New Mexico and five in Edmonton, I thought how beautiful and lush everything was. Grass, trees, even sea itself as we drove home up the coast highway. And when we got to our place, it was the kale I saw first of all. I thought of the lines from the Odyssey, when Odysseus visits Phaiakia (and I think they are even better in the Fagles translation than the Fitzgerald which is the one I usually consult, mostly because it was the one my wonderful Classics professor Peter Smith taught to us in 1974):

And there by the last rows are beds of greens, 

bordered and plotted, greens of every kind, 

glistening fresh, year in, year out.”. (Book Seven, 129-31)

So kale and dandelion greens and blood-red sorrel, picked while still glistening with morning damp.

P1100056And they steamed down to this:


I mixed them with chives, mint, and last year’s (frozen) dill, eggs, some delicious fresh feta, and arranged the greens over the filo, bringing out the Greek olive oil which had languished in a dark cupboard and looked like it should spend a little time outside first, reclining on the rosemary:


And now the green pie is cooling on the worktable while we enjoy a glass of wine outside, in sunlight, with a few mezes — beet and toasted walnut spread on little rice crackers, some peas, a hummus made with roasted carrots and chickpeas.

P1100068After one of the wonderful extended catalogues for which the Odyssey is justly famous, listing those rows of greesn, figs, apples, and every other kind of fruit, the vines which would yield wine, all watered from a clear fountain, Homer ends the passage by saying, “These were the gifts of Heaven.” Who can argue?