Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Very Bad Wizard

I think you are a very bad man," said Dorothy.
"Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit." -- The Wizard of Oz

Our pastor cited this quote on Sunday -- I wish I could tell you that I could connect the dots between this and the Gospel lesson the way that he did, but four days later I'm not quite able to manage that.

What I can tell you is that I certainly know what it's like to be a very bad wizard.

There's the thing with our pond fish. This spring, after the pond thawed, there appeared to be no fish left at all -- just some winter-killed minnows floating on the water. There were no sign of the bluegills we'd put in the pond the year before. So in a burst of aquacultural enthusiasm I added a little bag of feeder goldfish for some color. As spring progressed into summer, everything seemed hunky-dory. But suddenly it seemed as if there were more fish in the poind that what we'd planted -- goldfish and bluegills. There wasn't time for them to reproduce. So apparently some fish had survived the winter, and were now competing for resources with the newcomers. I usually don't root for the great blue herons that regularly visit our back yard, but now I was practically flagging them down for an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.

And then there's the thing with the honeybees. Our bees are still alive; they've been on our flowers and vegetable plants and wild plants all summer and fall. It's been fun to see them in the morning, working the annual bed, the herbs and wildflowers; "Hi, girls," I'd say. But because of the unskilled-noob way we installed the packages, we can't open the hives without hopelessly disrupting the colonies, and now it's too late in the season to mess with them; they're no longer able to create the wax to repair their homes. So now they're stuck in their original hive body and the roof area where they decided to establish themselves (honeybees actually don't like the frames that beekeepers use in hives, and if left to their own druthers prefer to hang their own elongaged ellipses of comb from any handy upper support). If they had taken to their frames, we would be able to add a top feeder to their hive body and supplement their own stores of honey this winter; but as it is they're pretty much on their own. Every other day I've been feeding them with jar feeders, with increasingly thick formulations of simple syrup, some of which they'll eat and some of which they'll store; but when it gets too cold to continue that, they're going to be on their own. I recently related our dilemma to some crusty old downstate beekeeper who came into the antique mall one day, and I saw the look in his eye when he said, "You might have a problem keepin' them bees alive."

Now, keep in mind that people who raise semi-wild animals for a living learn to roll with the punches of nature and circumstance and human error. The bee guy who came into our store -- a  guy who's been doing this for decades -- confided to me that last winter he'd lost almost half his hives; some to the colony collapse disorder that's devastated American beekeepers in recent years, but some just to chance. He told me that despite disappointments like this, there's no place he'd rather be on a given day than out working with his hives.

I want to get to a place like this, instead of where I am now, secondguessing my attempts to play God, or at least wizard, with sentient beings. I mean, I don't take my garden personally; when crops fail, as they sometimes do, I'm able to step back, analyze what went wrong and move on. This summer the weather necessitated a late planting of almost everything, which meant that my experimental teepee of yard-long beans didn't amount to  -- well, to a hill of beans. I think I picked a half dozen. I didn't go into a depression. I didn't berate myself for wasting the lives of helpless beans that don't really belong in Zone 5. I shrugged and thought, "Next year I'm growing those up a trellis alongside the sunny side of the garage."

At some point this fall I hope to pass by the pond, salute our fish and say, "I'm glad I saved you from life in a pet-shop tub and fish-farm pool. I'm glad I was able to give you all six months of freedom in the wild; and I'm glad you gave us the pleasure of watching you live your lives. I hope I see you again come spring thaw; but if I don't, thank you."  And on the way back to the house I'd like to be able to stop at our two beehives and say, "Thanks, girls, for pollinating our vegetables and flowers this year. Thanks for teaching us a lot. I may see you again around April or I may not; but you've made our yard and our neighborhood a better place. And whether we're out with our hive tools doing some renovations on your house next spring, or making room for a whole new colony -- know that what you did here this year was important; important to us and important to a lot of the other living things around us."

That would, I think, make me a better wizard than the one I am now.

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