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Wednesday, 09 March 2011 21:08

Spring dawns, a time when optimism and reality co-exist

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We spend winter anticipating spring. But, when warmer weather arrives, we often rob ourselves of enjoyment in the rush to complete tasks. We think of what needs to be done but hasn’t been. We see what’s undone instead of contemplating how much has been accomplished.

Most of us, particularly those who farm or homestead or who simply love to garden and be outside, have long lists of things we want to do. We compiled these tasks in our heads, or perhaps even on paper, during the winter. We watched the snowfall outside and yearned inside for warmer weather to arrive, begging mentally for the cold to pass so that we could work in the sunshine again.

Spring is the season of doing. Tilling. Seed starting. Transplanting. Mulching. Dividing and moving perennials. Building pens to safely contain newborn lambs and kids, preparing brood boxes for the chicks that will soon arrive by mail, culling old hens and young roosters. Planting new flowerbeds, reviving older ones. Building beds in the garden. Buying and planting seed potatoes and onion sets.

Now that spring is really here and I’m checking off one-by-one these listed tasks, I’m warning myself: don’t waste this. Don’t waste the beauty, or pass unseeing through this brief, precious span of life. Slow down and enjoy what spring brings — beginnings, of course, such as the arrival of Nickolai, the lamb, and Dandelion, the new kid. More babies are on the way, more joy to come.

But spring brings sorrow, too. And I tell myself to allow for grief. Because time should be given to mourning the losses, which come as inevitably as new life arrives. Death is simply part and parcel of the great rebirth that takes place in spring; an amazing cycling that is truly cosmic and wondrous.

So I grieve for three kids who died. They were born prematurely. The kids’ mother, bereft and not understanding her loss, cried aloud for them day after day in the barnyard. Feel that, I urge myself. Spring is about joy, but it’s about sorrow, too.

Difficult choices loom with each kid born. Which should be kept, which not. An important part of good husbandry, I must continually remind myself, is to keep only the number of animals that the land can support. Overcrowding brings disease and general ill health. In trying to keep every animal we fall in love with, we can be very cruel in the name of this love. There are limits. I continue to learn my limits, and the limits of land that I work.

Spring, too, is time for examining the honeybee hives. This is when beekeepers learn the fate of their charges, when the tops come off the bee boxes and assessments of the overall health of beeyards take place. As a beekeeper you hope, each time a colony is examined, for evidence of a strong queen. This means eggs being laid and new bees born. Sometimes, however, a colony has died. Sometimes, all your colonies of honeybees have died. Then one must decide — start over, or give up?

I know a beekeeper who lost 30 or 40 colonies of bees some years ago, when mites first made their way into this region. He lost his entire beeyard, which had been built not only by him, but also by his father, and perhaps even his father’s father. Years and years of work, gone. Heartbroken, the man swore off beekeeping.

That, however, apparently wasn’t his decision to make. Sometime later, on a late spring day, a swarm of bees took up residence in an abandoned hive on his property. He was hooked in again, and today tends as many bee colonies as ever. This time around, though, the beekeeper is older and wiser to the ways of the world. He understands life and death go hand-in-hand. This beekeeper isn’t cynical, because a cynical man would never keep bees — it’s too dicey a proposition, and the odds are simply too great for cynics. Only optimists can survive beekeeping.

This beekeeper, however, knows that one fine spring day he could raise the hive lids and find all his honeybees have died again. He’s evolved into an optimistic realist, you see, like all good farmers and gardeners do if they farm and garden long enough. And if they slow down, feel deeply what happens and really consider what they see.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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