Ed Colby: ‘Beautiful’ days?
June 11, 2002
Events overtook this week’s column. Saturday night I drove up to the New Castle cemetery. The Coal Seam fire was mostly out of view, but the eastern sky pulsated shades of crimson and rose.
Before the fire, I wrote:
OK, it is pretty around here when the sun shines, but it kills me when people say, “What a beautiful day!” That’s like Noah saying “What a lovely shower!” while he loads the ark.
In case you just dropped in from Mars, this is a drought. Unless we get rain, Colorado agriculture, which is totally dependent on irrigation, will be devastated. Let’s not even discuss wildfires.
The latest cheerful news is that this was, on top of being another below-average snow year, a record-dry May.
Last week I was up Mamm Creek and Dry Hollow, on the south side of the Colorado River, helping Paul with his honeybees. Hay fields are stunted. Bindweed crowds the scattered seedlings in newly planted alfalfa. There’s no water.
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Coming back home to Peach Valley, just west of New Castle, was like driving into the Garden of Eden.
Our ditch runs full – for now – but it’s not like people conserve. Let’s be honest. The Law of the West is “use it while you have it.” We have an environmentally correct, state-of-the-art, low-flow toilet. Every day we save a few gallons of water when we flush. That’s good. But I’ll give my apple trees 10,000 gallons by morning.
In Nevil Shute’s end-of-the-world novel, “On the Beach,” cobalt nuclear bombs destroy the Northern Hemisphere, and a group of people in Australia waits to die from windborne fallout. They try to live as if everything were normal. A couple plants a garden. Moira drinks. Dwight, the American naval commander, takes his submarine on maneuvers. That’s how it is waiting for the ditch to go dry. Everything’s OK now, but the ditch will go, and when it does, this little slice of paradise will wilt and die.
I don’t know what to do about my bees. The little darlings are in Aspen for now, and maybe for all summer. They’re currently feasting on dandelion, serviceberry, and chokecherry blossoms, and they’re making honey. They dutifully bring in very large quantities of pollen, and I go up every four days or so to empty the traps. A nice thing about Aspen is the bees follow the flowers up the mountain. When the dandelions finish at 8,000 feet, bees find them at 9,000. Where we live, only the irrigated valley floor supports abundant vegetation. But honey production in Aspen last summer was a bust after July 4.
The crop duster called a week ago and said he was finished in Peach Valley. I could bring the bees back any time. But flowers need water to produce nectar, and bees need nectar to make honey. Where are my best chances? Up in the mountains they might at least get some precipitation. Peach Valley doesn’t get much rain even in a normal year. Here, I’d be banking on ditch water.
Honeybees resist comprehension. Sometimes they make honey when everything’s wrong. Then when conditions are perfect, they disappoint you. You just never know.
Drought makes it tough on the bears, too, and they hit Paul’s yards with regularity. On Wallace Creek, west of Parachute, a bear repeatedly walked through live electric fences to get to beehives. Paul put a stop to that when he laid chicken wire on the ground to improve conductivity. A little rain probably helped that, too. One of the yards we visited last week had a smashed-down fence where a bear leaned over for a look-see.
Tuesday I’m helping Paul move bees onto Silt Mesa. I’m not taking a raincoat or even a jacket. I’m sure it’ll be a beautiful day.