Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Spider in My Mailbox

There is a housing shortage in the Ozarks and millions of potential home-owners have fanned out across the hills, looking for suitable places to build. These potential home-owners are not of the people variety, they are of the wasp variety. It seems everywhere I go these days, I seem to be bumping into every kind of wasp or they are bumping into me. As they do not yet have nests and brood to protect, they do not appear to be aggressive but sometimes a wasp buzzing two inches from the end of your nose can be unsettling. There always seem to be two or three inside my cabin, and a small army of the homeless seem to continually swarm around the eves of the roof outside. Everytime I get into my truck I seem to have company of the winged variety (I am convinced there are a couple that just use me to bum rides to town and back) and I always double check the steering wheel to make sure I don't put my hand directly down upon one. It is clear that the search for housing has begun in earnest and apparently, almost any shelter will do.

I am reminded of last year when a similar situation arose. One warm and gentle Spring morning I opened my mailbox only to find it infested with ants, a LOT of ants. In fact, it appeared that my mailbox had been taken over by an entire colony of the small black insects! Normally I would not be taken aback by the sight of ants but seeing them amassed in such huge numbers in such an unexpected place startled me. Being somewhat new to country life and not exactly knowing how to deal with this first-in-my-lifetime situation, I simply closed the door and walked away feeling somewhat relieved to have a sheet of metal between myself and the thousands of unexpected tenants in my mailbox. Convinced this sort of thing must not be unusual out here, I consulted my across the creek neighbor, Jacob. He is an indespensible resource of local country lore, wisdom, and practical tips. Rarely a week goes by that my new country life does not require asking his advice. With his knowledge of the trees and plants in the area, I was sure he could direct me to some strange herb that would send the litlle squatters packing. I was a bit dismayed to be advised to use a poison, "they sell it at Wal-Mart", for just that purpose. That did not set well with my organic, back-to-the-land, Mother Earth News sensibilities so I did nothing and everyday the ant colony grew larger. I noticed however, that every time I opened the mailbox, the ants would scatter. Perhaps leaving the door open would create an environment not at all to their liking. I did just that and the next day there was not an ant in sight, success! Full of self-satisfation and triumph, I closed the door, problem solved. Until the next day. Again the ants had returned in what seemed to be an ever growing colony! Now I was downright perplexed. Again I left the door open and again, the following day they were gone. "Whew" but I knew I couldn't continue to play hide-and-seek with a bunch of insects that seemed to have the upper hand, and I couldn't leave the mailbox door open all the time with the Spring rains we'd been having. I didn't know what to do, so I did nothing. The following day I went to check the mail and half expected to see the entire mailbox engulfed in a black mass of teaming ants. What I found instead was, well, just my mail and I soon discovered why the mailbox was surprisingly ant-free. As I reached inside, I noticed a flicker of movement in one corner of the box. Looking closer, I saw what appeared to be the silk cocoon of a caterpillar but then realized it belonged to a small spider that had woven a compact, little web as its home. The sight of my hand startled it and it crouched in fear. Having been raised to fear spiders, I still usually give them a wide berth but the little spider in her web house was the most beautiful thing I had seen in a while. With a sigh of relief I realized that time and nature had solved the ant problem for me. As a major predator of the insect world, the spider would survive quite nicely by picking off the steady supply of "scout" ants the colony would send back each day to the mailbox to see if the coast was clear. Each day I would pick up my mail, I would acknowledge the spider with an appreciative nod and words of encouragement. Visiting the mailbox became a fun part of my daily ritual and I was always eager to check to make sure the spider was still there, which of course, she always was. I mean why would she bow out on such a cushy deal? This little spider had it made. It had the use of a weather tight condo with meals delivered daily. What a set up! For the rest of the Summer and into the Fall my little eight-legged sentry kept my mailbox free of pests.

Given time, nature was allowed to bring the situation into balance. The same is true with the wasps this Spring. I know that in a few days or weeks, most will have found places in which to carry out their main function in life, rearing a new generation. Everything in nature has its place as I am continually finding mine in this beautiful valley I have taken as my home.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Quickening

It is late winter, here at the Gentle Karma Farm. Mother Nature reminded us of that by her gift of five inches of snow in three hours a couple of days ago. A couple of days from now the temperature is supposed to be in the sixties. So the battle is well underway. Winter and Spring are now dueling for dominance in spite of the obvious outcome. The peepers, tiny frogs that call out at first chance once the temperatures reach into the sixties, have been out twice so far; and twice they've been driven back under cover by the returning cold. It is inevitable that within a couple of days, I will again be hearing their celebratory calls from the slough on the other side of the ridge from my cabin. According to the local wisdom, once the frogs "peep" for the third time, Spring is officially here regardless of what the calendar indicates. In my forays into the woods, surveying cabin sites, I have noticed the early signs of a Spring yet to be. This has been the golden time, the time when the cold has made it possible to enjoy the woods without sharing it with the bugs and spiders. During my walks I have noticed the buds on the trees yearning to burst forth with life force and into full bloom. As temperature permits, the first insects, flies and moths, have begun to stir. On south facing slopes where the fescue is protected from the north wind, tinges of green are evident.
As the snow rapidly melts in the field outside my window, I think about all the plans I want to realize on the farm this year. Building infrastructure is at the top of the list, especially where growing and preserving food is concerned. Moseley's old silo will be the site of my greenhouse and root cellar. I have already begun dragging logs up the hill with the mighty Red Ranger. These logs will hold back the black soil from my lower fields I plan to bring up here to create the terraced growing beds that will be my garden. Once the beds are in place, I will need to fence them to keep out the rabbits, opossums, raccoons, and deer. Planting castor beans around the outer perimeter will repel gophers and moles who will not enjoy eating the poisonous roots. Marigolds and lemon grass around the inner perimeter will deter many insects and other varmints. And then I can plant the garden!
Beehives are part of the plan for this year. Sites for the hives need to be prepared. The whole top field, where I want to place the the bee lot, needs to be brush hogged, tilled and planted with sweet clover, wild flowers, and pussy willow.
I want to finish the cabin, interior and exterior, and add the bathroom, walk-in closet, and atrium. Building and installing the permanent rain water collection system in lieu of drilling a well is also a must. As I sit here contemplating what I now realize is a huge undertaking, I wish maybe that the snow would melt a little slower. Perhaps the peepers could take a vacation and maybe the insects will decide to sleep in. Wow, this is going to take another cup of tea!