Tuesday, February 19, 2008

2007 - caught up

Anybody who was watching this site knows that there was a long gap between posts from the end of May to the beginning of 2008. It's not that there was nothing to write about. Quite the opposite. There was too much.

So here I am, catching up. Just for the record.

Jordan. Two weeks after my last post in May, I found myself in Jordan. Our School of Journalism and Electronic Media at the University of Tennessee has a training grant to help improve journalism education in Jordan, and I went to that Mideast country for a week to work with faculty and students at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan. They were seeking to put together a student newspaper, and I showed them a bit about the software and hardware to do that and talked with them some about the practices of journalism here in America.

Irbid is the second largest city in Jordan and at the northern tip of the country. One evening, one of the professors with whom we were working drove us to the most northern part of the country, and we stood on a mountain top where we could see a vast amount of land to the north and west. On our left was Israel. In the center was the Sea of Galilee. On the right was the Golan Heights. The place where we were standing was the site of the miracle of Jesus casting out the demons, which is referred to in all three Synoptic gospels. It was quite a feeling -- and one I never thought I would have.

I was in Amman on my last full day in Jordan, so I hired a car and driver and went south three hours to Petra. The place is stunning (see photo above). Shortly before the time of Christ, the residents of this area began carving facades of buildings into the soft stone of the mountains, making this stop on one of the world's busiest trading routes truly memorable for travelers. Today, the world traders are gone, but the tourists have returned, and what they see is an astounding collection of architectural-size art that is difficult to describe. I stayed several hours and took many pictures. You can check out the album at Picasaweb.

The garden and the blackberries. When I got back to the U.S., the garden that we had spent so much time on was coming up and needed a lot of tending. And the blackberries were overwhelming.

I love blackberries, and I don't mind picking them. For more than a couple of weeks, I got up just about every day and was out at first light. That would give me about two hours of picking time before it got too hot. We had blackberries in abundance this year. It seemed like they grew everywhere they could grow and then found new places to grow. It also seemed a shame to let them go unpicked. I had done nothing to cultivate them. They were simply a gift -- one I could not turn down. So I picked and picked. Sally joined me on several occasions. We even picked some late in the afternoon.

The previous summer, Sally learned to make blackberry jelly, and she perfected her technique this past summer. We found some small decorative canning jars and had a lot of fun giving the stuff away. We finally gave away the last of those jars just a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the garden grew. Everything we planted came up (except the potatoes, which we planted too late), and despite the drought, some things did very well. We had lots of cherry tomatoes, lots of small pumpkins, some beans and some corn. And the sunflowers were prolific, which the bees loved. In fact, the bees loved just about everything and would become a little irritated when our gardening got in the way of their foraging.

But there was also the drought. It turned out to be one of the driest summers on record, and eventually things in the garden went downhill. Our corn seemed to be the thing most affected by the drought, which was very disappointing. Sally's dad could grow row after row of yellow corn, and we had visions of the same thing.

Still, the garden was a wonderful experience. I have been thinking about it all fall and winter, and I am ready to try some more things this spring.

By the way, the blue flowers in the slideshow are commonly called Blue Sailors. They are spread throughout the pasture, open in the morning and close in the afternoon and evening. They make a glorious sight. They are chicory, and in theory, their roots could be harvested. In reality, try to pull one up and you'll be in bed for a week with back strain. Consequently, we decided not to harvest, just enjoy.

The bees. The bees acclimated themselves and had a good summer. We had one massive kill. Apparently, some of the bees flew into some insecticide and brought it back to the hive, resulting in several thousand deaths. By the time that happened, however, both hives had grown fairly strong and could take the loss.

Beekeepers will always tell you that if you get stung, chances are it's your fault. I can certainly attest to that. I decided to inspect the hives one morning and thought that I didn't need to use the smoker to calm them down. I had not gained much expertise in handling the frames, and I let a couple of them drop ungently back into the hives. The bees rose up in anger and let me know their feelings. In fact, a few of them got under my veil, and I had to take it off and try to out-walk them, which didn't work. I got stung on the face several times, and my face swelled up. I looked like I spent extended time in the dentist's chair for a couple of days. I learned a good lesson -- one that every beekeeper knows: Don't take the bees for granted.

The two hives developed very different personalities by the end of the summer. One was gentle and laid back. The other was somewhat ill-tempered and aggressive. In the fall, if I would approach the hives, I could hear the noise level of the aggressive hive go up, and some of the bees would venture out to see what was going on. The other hive would remain remarkably calm in my presence. Very interesting.

We took the advice of my friend and bee buddy Jim Brown and didn't try to harvest any honey this year. Instead, we started feeding the hives early in the fall and didn't quit all winter long. I was determined that whatever else happened to them, they weren't going to starve over the winter. They didn't. Now, on warm days I see them in abundance flying around outside the hives. On the next warm day, I am going to open the hives and see what kind of stores they have left. From now through April is a critical time for them to have plenty of food so they can start the honey season in good shape.

I am also planning of a third hive. This year I am going to buy a nuc from Coley O'Dell, a premier beekeeper in Blount County. I'll probably have that by the first of May. A nuc is a small hive that is ready to roll as soon as it is installed. We'll see if it produces.

Writing group. I fell in with a very nefarious group this year -- a bunch of writers who were all working on their first novel. The group was organized and led by Cyn Mobley, who had written about forty-five novels and knows how to tell others how to do it. For some reason, she decided to tell us.

As a result, I put down nearly 100,000 words during October and November and came up with a mystery novel titled KILL THE QUARTERBACK.

I'm going to tell you more about how that happened and what the consequences have been later. It's pretty exciting stuff.

So, that was my year. Lots of other things happened, and those may come up with subsequently posts. Suffice it to say now that 2007 saw me accomplish some things I always wanted to do: keep bees, plant a garden, write a novel. Not too bad.


1 comment:

Jim Miller said...

I would love to travel to the Middle East and see many of the places Christ and other biblical characters lived and worked.

Harding has a campus in Greece, and the students and faculty regularly take trips to many of the sites where Paul worked and preached. Sara and I hope to teach there for a semester or summer in the next few years.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of "Kill the Quarterback"!