Anticeptic vs. Clean

This morning I finally got around to cutting some oregano to hang for drying. With the arrow-wood leaves reddening along the fence rows by the old pasture, it's past time to get ready for the cold months ahead, when fresh herbs will be a pleasant memory buried under a foot of snow.

The oregano grows in a small raised herb bed. It all looked very neat and prim a few short weeks ago, but at this point in the summer, the bed's nearly overrun with borage and dill that self-seeded in past years.

The bees don't bother much with the dill blossoms—that's wasp terrain, too light and feathery to for the "heavy-weight" pollinators. But honeybees and bumblebees adore the borage flowers, tumbling by the score into what's now a wild thicket of prickly leaves and blue star-shaped flowers, cheerful as those a child might draw. I grow borage exclusively for the good mood it puts both me and the bees in—and for its long blooming period, which keeps the bees busy even as the last of the goldenrod jumps ship.

Reaching with care into the chaos of dill umbrals, falling stars and intensely buzzing bees, I carefully cut a couple of dozen long springs of oregano to bind with twine and hang in the dry, warm attic until the leaves are dessicated enough to crumble into jars. It's one of the most pleasant late-summer garden tasks I know—the scent of oregano on my paws, the bee-loud soundtrack, and lustful thoughts of the well-spiced tomato sauces to come.

I lay the sprigs on a white tea towel and inspect them closely to get them as clean as possible. Of course, I find a biologically rich world embedded in those leaves and branches—a world of tiny snails and spiders, remnants of cocoon, miniscule black eggs shiny as caviar, leaves that have mysteriously wilted, leaves that have been not-so-mysteriously gnawed upon, and a myriad of other "imperfections" that tell one hell of a tale—the Lively Garden, a Place of Action.

As best I can, I shake off the major league bugs, then gently brush away the minor league critters. Next, I pluck as many of the blackened leaves as my attention span will allow, till mostly clean, green leaves remain. Even so, I'm left with a smattering of unfashionably discolored leaves and a few ethereal vestiges of insect travel and leisure.

In other words, though the drying process will hide some of the oregano's blemishes and the cooking process erase any conceivable risk that might be had in ingesting a trace of vintage spiderweb, my dried oregano won't be purged of the place from whence it came, like the mass-produced "food products" that get power-washed, anti-bioticized, and irradiated into oblivion before being marketed to our tables.

To me, these earthly, flawed sprigs of herbaceous delight are clean in the fullest, most vibrant sense, reflecting the multifaceted meanings you'll find when you look up "clean" in the dictionary—free from violations, spiritually or ceremonially pure, unencumbered, unadulterated.

I'll take all that over anticeptic any day of the week. And so will my bees.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Through the Summer

Four months have passed since my last post on this blog. What happened was I left the city and went upstate to spend some time among the bees and flowers, fully intending to blog about it all. But what I found (or was reminded of) is that being outside trumped sitting in front of my laptop.

And so have flown the days from spring ephemerals to goldenrod, asparagus to apples, tadpole-squirmy vernal pools to goldfinches aligned expectantly on wires. Now the weather shows signs of wearying, and clouds keep me inside more often—as does the desk-y work that pays the bills and makes possible my extended rural incarnations.

Thanks for your patience during my unexplained silence. Here are some photos from the past few weeks, my summertime offline. (Oh, and the honey bees hereabouts are doing fine! We did have a couple of swarms and managed to catch one, so we're now running three healthy and happy top-bar hives.)

More soon!