Wednesday, 30 September 2009


Sunday morning a coyote ran across the back yard, along the fence/woods line. It was large and grey and rangy, not a pretty animal, but striking. I don't think I've ever seen one before, but one of the things I love about the country house is hearing the coyotes howl and yip just after sunset. It's such a wild sound.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Venice Biennale I

The Venice Biennale is so huge that it’s difficult to figure out where to start writing about it. This explains why nothing has appeared on this site for the past two weeks or so. That, the apple crop, and various Rotary activities involving grants for international service projects. Anyway, I figured that the best way is just to start with something and see what happens.

So, we always go to the Venice Biennale, but we try never to go to the opening. One year we were there during the opening by mistake and we never got to eat at our favorite restaurants or see any of our favorite sites because we kept running into people we knew. At the same time, not being in the “in” group, we didn’t go to any of the events, so I felt both deprived of my favorite places and left out at the same time. Plus, it was the hottest June anyone could remember. So I always try to go at least a week after it opens, especially since the prices go down in Venice after July 1.

If you don’t go to the opening, you see the exhibition that everyone else sees. For example, the entire Dutch Pavilion was closed because there were malfunctions for the Fiona Tan videos. Half the Greek Pavilion was closed, again for technical reasons, so we only saw Lucas Samaras’s wall pieces. It was peaceful, there was space in the cafes and restaurants, we didn’t have to line up for anything. Interestingly, the two places I'm mentioning here were not in the official Biennale sites, but were national pavilions in offsite locations, part of the fascination with the Biennale, where finding national exhibitions involves discovering some of the nooks and crannies of historical Venice.

At the Icelandic Pavilion, one of my favorites because it’s on the ground floor of a building with a dock on the Grand Canal, we could see the progress Ragnar Kjartansson was making in his daily paintings. His exhibition is to paint each day a picture of a the same model, who I think is also a friend of his. By the time we got there, he had finished about 30 paintings.

I didn’t think he was making much progress in improving his painting style or technique, but it was very pleasant to walk into a working studio, with Frank Sinatra’s Only the Lonely playing on the record player and dozens of empty beer bottles and cigarette butts littering various surfaces. Nothing fancy and no hype, just an artist and his model, working and not talking much to each other or anybody. Plus you could go out on the dock and enjoy the Grand Canal.
At the opening you would have learned what the project was, but there would have been only a couple of paintings. By the time we were there, the model was growing a beard and we could see that Kjartansson was painting him in a variety of poses. I’d love to see it now, after they’ve been together for more than three months, still at it.
When people ask us how the 2009 Biennale was, Tom says it was boring. I can’t give it that quick an adjective, but a lot was totally puzzling to me and I don’t think anything intrigued and engaged me the way Sophie Calle did in the 2007 French pavilion. But I can’t get the Mexican pavilion out of my mind: “What else could we talk about?” The artist is Teresa Margolles. We had a hell of a time finding the palace where it was and I was about to give up, except that we had been so impressed in 2007 with their display in another palace.

Finally we found it.
We went to the piano nobile of the palazzo Rota-Ivancich. There was almost nothing there. But she displayed large cloths that the label said were soaked in the blood of people killed in the Mexico drug wars.

A young man was washing the floors, something he does at least once a day, with water mixed with the blood of the dead.

A wall made from mud mixed with the blood of the dead greeted us as we were leaving.
And at the entrance we saw an image of the United States Pavilion hung with the blood soaked cloths of her exhibition. There was a German couple there, asking the attendants why she should have wanted the United States Pavilion to have such an upsetting display. The attendant, who was Italian, seemed confused, so I said “Because they get the guns from us and we buy the drugs.” And we left.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Tomato Worm and honeybees

I took a picture of the gorgeous caterpillar that had eaten half of one of our tomato plants. Then I picked off the leaf and took it to the woods about 50 yards away and left him/her on a branch. I haven’t seen any more, or any other damage so far. Here it is:

For four years we’ve been feeding hummingbirds and orioles. This week suddenly our feeders are inundated with honeybees. The openings in the oriole feeder were large enough that the bees could get inside, get trapped and die, not before drinking all the nectar. Now we’re replaced the feeders so they can’t get in anymore. They just swarm around one or two holes. For the most part, the hummingbirds seem to be able to share with the bees. I figure if you’re small, you can squeeze in without making them angry. The bees seem to tilt the feeder so the nectar goes to one hole, then they drink it. They finish it in one day. We figure they’re wild and have a hive nearby, but there’s not much chance we’ll find it in the woods. They should be good for the apple blossoms next spring.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Farm report – fauna

Last week was the first week of apple picking and we picked, processed and delivered just over a ton of Gala apples, most of a relatively small crop. We used our washer/sorter for the first time and it saved a lot of time and hassle. But we still do all the picking and I do most of the weighing and bagging by myself, in the kitchen. We also gave about 120 pounds of apples to a food pantry. This week we took about 160 more pounds to another pantry. Fortunately, there are plenty of people happy to have not-perfect apples and we’re delighted to be able to put them to good use.

We also had a range of animal experiences last week:

Mammal. First, Tom was having trouble getting the pickup to start. He finally opened the hood and found a large nest inside, and the animal had chewed through three wires. On Tuesday we had seen the beginning of a nest in the garage, so we finally went and bought two traps, a live trap and an oversize snap mousetrap on Wednesday. Thursday morning the live trap was sprung and empty and there was a dead packrat in the killer trap. We reset both traps and I’ve caught two adorable mice in the live trap – released them in a distant field. The packrat seems to have been working alone.

Amphibian. I like to have a little baby pool for Rosie to use when she’s hot from chasing Frisbees or balls. We discovered four baby frogs living in the pool. They go away when it rains and come back when it’s hot. Also the Beisecker Farms tree frog finally made his/her return to the back door, where the inside lights attract bugs for him.

Bird. The eggs hatched and the babies have grown. The mourning doves fledged and the baby goldfinches are almost ready to go. Last week they had little fuzzy heads; this week they look like goldfinches. I’ve seen two Baltimore Orioles, one male on the deck on Sunday and the other a dead female who got caught in the last grape nets.
Baby mourning dove

Pair of mourning doves. They disappeared, along with their nest, a few days later.

You can see how big the babies are, pushing mama dove out.

Goldfinches, just fuzz balls.

A few days later; we’ve counted at least four babies.

Insect. Suddenly the hummingbird feeders are swarming with bees. The Oriole feeder has bigger holes and the bees would go inside and end up in the main container, where they couldn’t escape and just piled up. We had to wait till dark to get them out. One of the hummingbird feeders had one plastic flower knocked off by an oriole last spring and they were getting into that one too. So we’ve taken those feeders down and only have feeders with hummingbird-sized holes. The bees are still there, but not in swarms. It was interesting to watch the hummingbirds try to get to the feeders around the bees, and to see bees chasing hummingbirds away from their feeders.

Yesterday I saw this beautiful huge caterpillar on a tomato plant. Tom says it’s a tomato worm and will destroy the plants. I’m afraid it probably is, but if there’s only one, maybe we can leave it. I don’t have a picture yet.

Finally, I’ve had a request for a picture of Thunder, the other dog. Here he is:

Blue eyes.