The Spider’s Sleep In The Arch Above My Door

She eats her yesterday,
the night the bees fled.
Reeling in, unhitching
intricacy.

The freight train rumbles,
the coyote humbles its soft feet
in the melon patch
and pole beans
near her silent spinning
over the door we share.

Like me, she tosses dream-silk
to the nearest fragile limb
asleep in the dim light
to snag an anchorhold
on what she must do,
what cares to be seen to,
or believe in with the coming
of dawn’s jewel-dew.

Relentless under the impromptu
show of one lonely star in cloud-drift,
a screech owl’s rapid strike,
the crackle of street light,
her night work ties up single
tether points, casting
off broken ones, eaten,
prayers stretched from her hold.

Nimbled for the rising
of a take-for-granted sun,
she finishes a catch-all for a day
into which wanderers
might fly.

By Tricia Knoll

spider and web close up.


Knoll_Author_PhotoI wrote my chapbook Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press) some years ago and spent time looking for stories and events that highlighted the interface between wild creatures and humans in urban habitat. I live near a small creek in Portland which is a corridor for coyotes. Each fall a pileated woodpecker comes back to investigate my alder trees. I was captivated by this story of Isolde and the other red tails who have found niches in New York City. Website: triciaknoll.com

Photo of spider web by Noppharat Manakul

Turn the Page (Villanelle)

Turn the page of today into tomorrow.
Green wings and gunmetal match
in unexpected beauty. A way to know

the sweet principle that everything’s the shadow
of something else, black and white beetle to birch
or the hours of today into the minutes of tomorrow.

And if the wing is torn and metal receives a blow
that turns it dark while wing is black in patches
that turn unexpectedly beautiful, ways to know

are multiplied, if only we’ll release the credo
that insists, if we follow the rules, we’ll latch
the page of today to the book of tomorrow.

Convincing connections can be hard to follow.
Orange lichen spreads on a green rock. We watch
but can’t see it grow its beauty, can’t know

the mysterious ways to bend and bow
and twist our habits of seeing so we can catch
the slow turning of today into tomorrow
and open to unexpected beauty as a way to know.

By Grace Marie Grafton

succulent on lichen covered rock


Grace Marie Grafton is the author of six collections of poetry, which can be reviewed on Amazon’s site. Grafton_Whimsey_CoverShe lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a redwood tree outside her kitchen door and a native live oak next to her deck. Nearby are red squirrels, raccoons, salamanders, and (never seen) mountain lions. Other of her nature poems can be found in Canary (online), Peacock Journal (online), Third Wednesday, Poecology and The Common Ground Review. Her book, Whimsy, Reticence and Laud: unruly sonnets, is rooted in her love of nature. She has taught for decades with CA Poets in the Schools, frequently taking her grade school students outdoors for their poetry lessons.

Photo of Lichen and Cañon Dudleya by R Harton

Critters

Grasshoppers

As children we learned
Playing in the parched grasses of July
That grasshoppers
Are not mere insects
That hatch and metamorphose
But enchanted creatures
Leaping suddenly into being
Fully formed
Out of summer’s basement door
To give us little jolts
Of apprehension and delight
At the spine-tingling otherness
On the loose in the whirring world.

child holding grasshopper

Millipede

A parade of one
The shiny black millipede
Marches smartly along the trail
Left right, left right, left right,
Left right, left right, left right . . .
Nobody out of step

Cabbage Butterflies

Unlike their more colorful kin
Cabbage butterflies dress
With an elegant simplicity
That would not be out of place
At gatherings of the haut monde /–/
Paper white wings
With one or two artfully placed black dots
For a tasteful soupçon of contrast.
But cabbage butterflies
Have no particular preference
For soirées and teas
In the flawlessly manicured//jardins
Of the overprivileged
And are perfectly content to shoot the breeze
With the proletarian bugs and bees
That toil away in the flowers and trees
In the humble jumble of our front yard.

Quail

One at a time
With several seconds
Between each
Fifteen quail come scooting
Out of a blackberry thicket
Onto the wide, weedy path
Where they busily forage
For whatever it is
That quails eat.
What I don’t get
Is the one-by-one business.
Why don’t they exit the brambles
As a covey
All at the same time?
Is it some kind of survival strategy?
Is the idea that
If the bird in front of you
Gets attacked by a predator
You stay put
In the relative safety
Of the tangle of thorny stems?
If that is the case
How do they decide
The order in which
They come out into the open?
Wouldn’t everyone
Want to go last?
I know I would.

By Buff Whitman-Bradley

family of california quail


Buff Whitman-Bradley’s poetry has been published in many print and online journals including Atlanta Review, Bryant Literary Review, Concho River Review, Crannog, december, Hawai’i Review, Pinyon, Rockhurst Review, Solstice, Third Wednesday, Watershed Review, and others. He has written several books of poems, including When Compasses Grow Old, To Get Our Bearings in this Wheeling World, and Cancer Cantata. He was the producer of the Courage to Resist Audio Project and co-producer of two documentary films, Outside In and Por Que Venimos. He lives in northern California with his wife Cynthia.

Photo of child with grasshopper by Tonbeyl. Photo of California Quail family by PStedrak.

Lifeguard

They drop from thirst,
swim in futile circles,
then float face down until
their amber bodies
turn mud dark and sink.

But on some days
I show up on time,
and they must wonder
at my silhouette
against the sky
and the sudden swish
of net as it approaches.
Then the ride to
jasmine leaves
and, most strange,
the coffee breath
drying their wings.

They’re so calm on flowers
that I can stroke their backs
as they probe for nectar.
But it’s different in the pool,
where my hand might touch
a panicked fellow swimmer,
six legs, four wings, five eyes,
and I’d feel the familiar blind sting
that’ll leave me treading water alone.

Most live a month with luck,
so each day is worth
a good two years,
and each searching hour
brims with scent and color.
Hard to imagine what they see in me,
but there was one, glistening wet,
that crawled onto my palm
to groom herself,
and stayed a while,
holding open her crystalline wings
for more puffs of breath.

By Paul Zakaras

bee on a man's hand


Paul Zakaras has taught writing courses for a number of colleges and universities, including the University of Maryland (Europe) and Santa Monica City College. His most recent publication is a review of an imaginary book called “The Wall” in The Satirist.

Photo by Andrey Shupilo

Leave No Bee Behind

On July 5th I woke up worried about the bees.

closeup of bee on yellow flowerI was worried about the bees because of the fireworks the night before and then when I went out to the backyard to check on the hive, I worried even more because I didn’t see any bees at the entrance.

I had just read that you know your colony is healthy and strong when you see more bees than you can count entering and exiting. This colony was small to begin with and never do I see more bees than I can count, but I always see at least one or two, and usually a few more than that.

I inched closer and closer to the hive until I was right there at the entrance, standing there in the dirt of my backyard, standing there in my short nightgown and bare feet, standing there and gingerly reaching over and lifting the outside cover of the hive, and then I thought, Dang, this may be the absolutely stupidest thing I have ever done in my entire life. I set the lid back down and slowly backed away.

I decided I would get ready for the Wednesday morning class that I teach and go to class. There would be time for me to suit up and do a hive inspection when I got home. This decision was not easy to make. I was worried about the bees. I wanted to know. But then I thought, If my bees have absconded, do I really want to know that right before I go to teach a class?

I got ready for my class and then when it was time to leave, once more I inched over to the hive. One bee flew out and one flew in, and my soul felt more at ease.

After class I did suit up. I just opened up the hive; I didn’t take any frames out, just peeked in. What I saw was very reassuring. My little colony was inside, humming away as they worked, and they’d already built new comb edging the top of a frame.

I started thinking that I wanted a second colony.

Master beekeepers advise that beginners should start with two colonies. You learn faster and better when you can compare the colonies and their doings.

This time I didn’t call the Santa Barbara Beekeepers Guild to get on the swarm list. It was already so late in the season. Bees tend to swarm in April and May. And I worried a bit about seeming greedy. I could hear the beekeeper on the other line asking didn’t I just get a swarm in that voice we all remember from childhood when some adult or other asked didn’t we already have a piece of cake, didn’t we already have a turn on the carousel, wasn’t it time to let someone else have a chance.

But I wanted another colony, and a swarm was as good as a way to get one as I could think of. I kept thinking and thinking about how I wanted another colony.

On Thursday I went to the honey store on Thompson. I’d read online that their lemon honey was delicious, and I wanted to look at their beekeeping gear.

The honey store was delightful. They had books and gear and two walls of various types of honey. They had beautiful little tumblers, made in France, with beautiful little bees etched in the glass. They had lovely white dishtowels with yellow flowers and little dark bees.

I was buying lemon honey when I got a text from Christy, a friend who also teaches dance classes at the studio where I teach. There was a swarm at the adult center where she works, and everyone was all in a tizzy. Some people were worried about stings and liability; others worried that some idiot would have the bees exterminated. They’d called a few beekeepers, but not one had time to come out and retrieve the swarm.

I said I wanted the bees unless they were inside a wall or on a treetop—I know my limits—and I would be there in minutes.

Christy came out to greet me. She led me to the front of the building, where a large triangle of the grounds was marked out by yellow crime scene tape. The parks and rec people had put up the tape, she said. The yellow tape stretched from a tree to the traffic signal pole and blocked part of the sidewalk.

There was the swarm, hanging in a furry buzzing cluster from the low branches of a shrub. If you weren’t looking for them, you might not even see them.

I went closer, which made Christy nervous, but I was armed with new knowledge: swarming bees are very very docile. They have no hive, no honey, no brood to protect.

This colony looked much bigger than the one I had at home.

My heart hummed with love of these new bees.

We agreed I would return in the evening, after all the scouts had returned, and collect the swarm.

I went home and got the new hive ready for my new bees.

At ten minutes to seven, I was suited up and had put together the smoker, fuel, a lighter, gloves, hat, and veil. I got a pair of garden clippers and the cardboard box I’d transported my first swarm in.

That time I had been so nervous. This time I wasn’t nervous at all. What I was was happy. Oh God was I happy. I wanted a second colony and two days later, I was on my way to pick up a swarm.

My daughter Erin went with me. The adult center is on Ventura Avenue. In front of the adult center is an intersection with a bus stop. I pulled into the intersection, got out of the car and put on my hat, veil, and gloves. The bus driver was watching. I gave him a little wave and he waved back.

Erin stayed in the car.

beekeeper author working with beesI dipped under the crime scene tape—which by the way is a fun thing to do on its own—and stepped through the brush to the shrub with the swarm. There they were: all those bees, a furry buzzing ball of bees. I set the box on the ground, took off the lid, and then gently clipped the branch and lifted it. The bees were surprisingly heavy. I placed the branch in the box. The bees had a lot to say about that. The queen was probably in the cluster on the next branch, so I clipped that one, too, and placed it in the box. This time I was ready for the weight.

The bees had even more to say. Bees flew up and flew around me. Bees buzzed. But they were quieter than my first colony had been when I transferred them. These bees didn’t seem aggressive at all—they weren’t darting at me or landing on me and wiggling.

As I was gathering the bees, I heard—now and again, as if from a great distance—the voices of a few passers-by commenting on the bees. I was conscious of people watching and yet I’ve never felt less self-conscious in my life. And strangely, even though I was doing something I’d never done before, I knew exactly what I was doing. I’d watched so many YouTube videos on swarm removals and had read so much writing from so many beekeepers. One video was of a nine-year-old boy wearing his bright white bee suit and capturing his first swarm with his mother, who is a beekeeper.

What I knew was how lucky I was that the swarm was clustered on a low shrub, rather than inside a wall or inside a chimney or at the very top of a tree.

What I knew was that a swarm tends to be docile and what I also knew was that I could, if I behaved in a stupid enough or clumsy enough manner, still rile up these docile bees with my stupidity and clumsiness.

What I knew was to move slowly, was to be gentle, was to be careful not to squash any bees by stupidly stepping on them with my boots and to be careful not to squish any bees by some clumsy grabbing of the branch.

What I knew was to be patient, was to closely observe and to pay attention. I could tell from how the bees were acting that everything was okay and everything would be okay. There would be no surprises here. Unless I did something clumsy and stupid.

beekeeper author scooping up beesI stood in the shrubbery and scooped handful after handful of bees into the box. I used the bee brush with the long soft yellow bristles to nudge the bees off my hands and I shut the lid.

Mindful of the last transporting of bees—when I had failed to notice the opening on the side of the box and had ridden home in the car with a colony of bees that could have, had they been of a mind to do such a thing, all flown out of the box—I had taped the opening before leaving home. But now as I gathered the bees from this swarm I realized that I needed to pull the tape off so any stragglers could enter.

When bees swarm, they cluster to rest on a branch or some other temporary spot, while scouts go off to find prospective homes. The scouts return and dance for the other bees. A scout that found an excellent home dances vigorously and for a long time, up to 15 minutes, but a scout that isn’t so enthusiastic about a prospective home does a shorter, more lackluster dance. The vigorous dancers recruit new scouts to go inspect the location, and when the colony reaches a decision, the swarm flies off together to their new home.

By taking the furry buzzing cluster of bees and putting them into the box, I’d interrupted that process. Now scouts would be returning to the shrub to rejoin the swarm, but there was no swarm hanging on the branch. The swarm was now in the box. If I left now, those scout bees would die. So I took off the tape and waited.

What was supposed to happen: most of the bees would stay inside the box. They would be happiest staying near the queen. But a few bees would station themselves outside the opening, lift their abdomens in the air, and fan their wings. They would be releasing the Nasonov pheromone to orient the stragglers and induce them to join the rest of the swarm inside the box.

What was supposed to happen did happen.

A bee entered the box, then another, and then another. I dipped under the crime scene tape and went back to the car to put all of my gear inside. I took off my hat, veil, and gloves, and went to talk with Erin, who’d opened the car door.

“There are still three flying around,” she said.

“They’ll go in. We just need to wait.”

We waited.

Erin sat in the passenger side of the car with the door open and I stood next to her and we watched the last bees and we waited.

We waited for about half an hour until every last bee was inside. Then I taped the opening, put the box in the back of the car, covered it with a sheet, and shut the hatch.

We took down the yellow crime scene tape and stuffed in in the backseat because you never know when you might need yellow crime scene tape.

And then we were homeward bound.


Leslie Hall graduated from the College of Creative Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara, and has a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing from Sonoma State University. Her collection of short fiction, Bad Girl, was published by Capra Press, and her stories have been published in The Bellingham Review, Spectrum, Quarry West, The Sonoma Mandala, The Village Idiot, and other literary journals. She lives with her family in Ventura, where she works as a freelance writer and editor, teaches classes that combine dance and somatic awareness, and is a backyard beekeeper.

Top photo of bee by Roseburn