Words, Words, Words

A post on this blog usually includes a picture every few sentences, perhaps because I feel I can tell a story better with graphic, rather than verbal imagery.  But it seems that my camera has up and left me, taking a much deserved vacation (along with Retta, of course).

 If I had my camera you would probably see a photo narrative about the most recent fire that threatened the area for three days.  Eventually, the Arkansas Department of Forestry extinguished the blaze, in the same efficient manner that they always do, but not before the fire caused some concern for myself and a good neighbor of ours. Thanks, ADF.

If I had my camera you would probably see what it looks like when a front suspension A-arm assembly on a utility vehicle snaps in two, and what it takes to remove the part in order to transport it to the local welding shop.  Perhaps you would also see the blue streak that emanated from my lips when I discovered that disassembling the suspension required a specialty tool that my tool chest lacked.  A sixty mile round trip into town solved that problem, which allowed me to extract the recalcitrant part.  Another sixty mile round trip back into town, and the broken part was now in the hands of a competent welder.  Tomorrow, another sixty mile round trip into town to pick up the part from the welding shop, and I can then put the utility vehicle back together.

If I had my camera you would probably see pictures of what a heat pump looks like when it malfunctions, causing the equipment to freeze up into a solid block of ice.  And what the basement utility room floor looks like when said block of ice melts!

If I had my camera you would probably see pictures of the lawn surrounding the house, which now looks more like a jungle than a lawn, due to the fact that a spindle assembly on my trusty lawn mower chose to commit hare kari the other day.  This will entail another sixty mile round trip into town.

But best of all, if I had my camera you probably would have seen pictures of the beautiful way in which early spring is expressing itself here in the heart of the Ozarks.  It is truly a joy to behold, but you will just have to take my word for it, as my camera has gone on vacation.

I guess it’s finally time for Retta and I to become a two camera family, so I had better start doing some serious research to find just the right camera to buy.  Easy to use, pocket sized, quick focusing, 6 mega pixel (or greater) resolution, and superior macro capabilities are called for - any suggestions out there?

A Sure Sign of Spring in the Ozarks

Clearing in early spring

This photo was taken today, March 23, just a couple of days into the spring season.  Within this picture, can you see a sure sign that spring has arrived?  If you peer very close to the left side of the clearing, you may be able to discern a redbud tree and a service berry in their early spring bloom.

Redbuds are beginning to bloom

This is a closer view of the blooming redbud tree.  One of the first trees in our area to come into bloom, the redbud is indeed a harbinger of spring in the Ozarks.  But this is not the sure omen of spring that I am alluding to here.

Look closely again at the first photograph.  Does anything else catch your eye that might possibly serve as an omen of spring in the Ozarks?  Can you see the smoke hugging the ground in the woods on the right-hand side of the picture?

The woods are on fire again

Here is a closer view of the smoke, and the fire within the wooded area that is creating the smoke.  Once again, as those familiar with this blog may already know, we are faced with a neighbor’s intentional burn that has run amok,  burning uncontrolled on our property.

It has gotten to the point that one could safely mark their calendar in anticipation of the fires that mysteriously appear this same time each spring.

In years past, our first reaction to this situation would be to call the local volunteer fire department.  And I am sure (as they have proven repeatedly in the past) that they would have responded in the same efficient manner as they have in the past.

This time, we are taking a wait-and-see approach to this fire.  When we have reported previous fires, the local volunteer fire department responds initially, and then proceeds to call for the assistance of the Arkansas Forestry Department.   The Forestry Department will send bulldozers and fire fighting personnel to our property to contain the fire.  Which entails heavy equipment driving through our pastures and fields, bulldozers cutting new fire breaks, and the probable cutting of our barbed wire fencing to enable access to adjacent burning areas.  All in all, the lasting and destructive effects of the suppression efforts are generally more onerous than if we were to just let the fire run it’s course.

Still some distance from the house

This photo shows the proximity of the fire to our home.  At the moment, the fire is approximately 1/2 mile from any of our structures.  We will continue to monitor the fire’s movement, and call for assistance if necessary, but it is probable that this is a fire that we will allow to burn itself out.  

And thus, spring arrives for us out here in the Ozarks.

The Case of the Missing Bees

A honeybee gathering nector

This post assumes the reader has a basic understanding of the role bees play in the reproductive process of plant life on Earth.  For those who do not possess this knowledge, I suggest it is time to have “that talk” with your parents.  Those readers who do have an understanding of the functioning of bees in the biology of plants may be aware of just how important bees are to our agricultural industry.

Honeybee transfering pollen

The two photographs shown above (courtesy of Retta) clearly show how pollens attach themselves to the body of the bee as the bee makes it’s rounds gathering nectar for the hive.  The pollens thus are transferred from plant to plant by the foraging bees, cross-pollinating the flowers and allowing the reproductive cycle of the plant to proceed.  Soon, the farmer will be able to harvest the fruits of this biological process, and we eventually are presented with the wonderful produce we have come to expect at our local grocery store.

In the wild, bees make their home in the hollows of trees, as fans of Winnie the Pooh will surely recall.  As farms grew from small subsistence plots to large industrial agricultural operations however, a problem arose.  The large farms required large fields, which necessitated the clearing of vast tracts of land.   This ultimately led to agricultural regions which were essentially devoid of trees suitable for bees to establish their hives.

Rental hives

To solve this problem farmers have turned to the services of commercial beekeepers.  The photograph above shows an orchard that is in bloom.  You can see that the grower has placed 2 dozen hives in the vicinity of the fruit trees.  Hive clusters such as this are rented from commercial beekeepers at the appropriate time of the year and scattered throughout the orchard, thus ensuring that the vital process of pollination will occur.

This year, a strange thing has been occurring, the significance of which has yet to be determined.  When commercial beekeepers across the country began opening their hives in order to grade them in preparation for the upcoming season, many discovered that the hives were empty!  No bees at all!  The hives had honeycombs and the honeycombs contained honey, but the bees had disappeared.  And I mean COMPLETELY disappeared.  Not even any bee carcases remained in or around the hives.  No one really understands what has happened yet, nor the extent of the problem.  Commercial beekeepers have been reporting the same type of disappearance across 20 states now, and the problem appears to be ongoing.

This would not be the first time that a massive die-off off honeybees has occurred.  The last major die-off that occurred was a result of parasitic mites that infested the bee hives.  In past events, however, the bees left behind evidence of the culprit which led to their demise.  Bee carcases could be found in and around the hive, and it was relatively simple for biologists to determine the cause of the reduction in the bee population.  Because of the lack of forensic evidence, entomologists have been unable to pinpoint what has transpired with this ongoing event.

Because there are no bodies left behind, there has been speculation about what types of problems could create this scenario.  One line of investigation revolves around the theory that some type of pesticide is having an effect on the neurological functioning of the bees, debilitating the amazingly complex navigational functions that the bee uses to located the hive.  Under this line of reasoning, the bees simply leave the hive on their usual rounds, but find themselves unable to navigate back to the hive.  But this would explain the plight of the worker bees, and does not adequately explain the absence of queens and drones from the hives.

There is much research underway to try and determine the cause and extent of this problem, which appears to be ongoing, serious, and wide spread.  One stumbling block to diagnosing the problem stems from the lack of data regarding the scope of the die-off.  Most commercial beekeepers are aware of the situation, and have reported their losses to appropriate agencies for investigation.  Commercial beekeepers comprise a small minority of the beekeeping universe, however.  The vast majority of beekeepers are individual hobbyists who might not be tapped in to the agencies and resources that are attempting to solve this mystery.  To be helpful, anyone who maintains one or more bee hives is encouraged to log on to the following web site to complete a survey at the following link:  National Bee Loss Survey