Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen

It’s noisy in there, and hot — 90 degrees no matter rain or shine, freeze or thaw. I lift the lid and they rise to greet me, each one a tiny, fuzzy genius. Though disturbed by my intrusion, they are, happily, mellow and unmilitant. Eleven pounds of them swirl around the hive, or cling to combs inside tending to business more important than my arrival. That’s roughly 40,000 honeybees, and they make quite a buzz.

They are dancers, architects and alchemists, making gold — it seems to us mere primates — as if from the very air. I know there’s more to it but I love the thought of my bees spinning sunlight and flowers into viscous treasure. Brushing them away gingerly, I lift up the combs, one and then another, checking them for eggs and brood and honey before replacing each one back, carefully and with no undue haste.  The bees are patient with me and my intrusion, and for that I’m grateful.

Gratitude, however, doesn’t begin to cover what we owe to bees collectively: they pollinate 70 of the top 100 food crops humans cultivate, supplying 90% of our nutrition world-wide. They’ve been part of agriculture for some 4,500 years and we’ve all benefited from their work. We need them, yet consider them — if we think of them at all — as a resource to exploit, or maybe even as a nuisance. They’re stressed and dying, mostly due to pesticides and habitat destruction.

If you like to eat — and who doesn’t, really? — you’ve got a part to play. Plant flowers that will nourish them: natives are best but clover, alfalfa, and many others are good too, even weeds like dandelions. Don’t use insecticides or buy plants treated with them. Buy organic, when you can. And buy honey, or other bee products, from a local beekeeper.

You and the bees will be the better for it.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

Peggy Hansen

I know I shouldn’t do it. It’s as bad as smoking, maybe worse according to some data, but I just can’t help it — like a moth to flame, I am powerless. I open the vent and breathe in through my nose as outside air streams into the car.

These winter mornings on my way to work, the mountain air is laced with wood smoke. Blue, grey, or white wisps and tendrils curl up from chimneys by the roadside, revealing silent houses tucked between the redwoods. The aroma is intoxicating and evocative.

We all remember campfires, roasting hot dogs or s’mores, good friends and scary tales, stars beyond number high above. It might have been a forest, or a beach, or just your parent’s yard, but somewhere, sometime, you’ve been imprinted with the smell of wood on fire, linked to happy times. It’s primal too: we crave warmth, and light brought to the darkness can hold back leopards. Safety is a good thing.

These days, of course, the predators we fear are vastly changed — more abstract, more varied and perhaps more deadly. Obesity, climate change, greed, terrorism and intolerance are just some of the new bad guys. Wood-burning stoves are pretty small potatoes on that scale, but the smoke they put out is just as deadly. Dioxin, arsenic, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide are some of the toxins found in wood smoke. Its small particles, many carcinogenic, get deep into the lungs — and from there to the bloodstream.

I know all this, and I don’t burn wood myself — for heat, light or ambience. I know my neighbors need their stoves and I can’t fault them for it, though I do hope they use dry, seasoned wood and have clean, efficient stoves. Meanwhile, for a few seconds on a frosty morning, I’ll enjoy the smoke from their fires — and all the memories it can carry.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a writer, artist and photographer. She lives in Santa Cruz County.

Peggy Hansen

We were walking around the back of the garage, studying the trees to see which limbs needed to be trimmed, when he stopped suddenly, an odd look on his face — half puzzled, half afraid, as if he’d seen the shark from ‘Jaws’, or maybe a White Walker, lurking at the very edge of view, both equally improbable in the Santa Cruz mountains.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. His answer made me stop, and ponder what we’ve come to as a species.

“It’s too quiet. There’s no music, no cars, no sirens or construction noise. It’s kind of creepy.”

Creepy? I recoiled at the affront. My first impulse was to tell him just how wrong he was, how it wasn’t quiet at all if you knew what to listen for. The forest is an orchestra, full of sighing trees, rustling leaves, scolding squirrels, bossy jays, and many more unique and diverse instruments. But before the words formed on my tongue, I realized that wasn’t the real issue, so I swallowed them and we kept walking.

It wasn’t the softness of the forest’s song that had my visitor on edge. Of course he could hear it, and he knew there was sound all around him. What disturbed him wasn’t what was audible, but what wasn’t. There was no sound of us, our clamorous and busy tribe, making its mark on the land wherever, whenever we venture out upon it. There was no reminder of our presence, our ability — some say our duty — to command and remake nature to our will, nothing to indicate that we are powerful, important, or even necessary. There was only the light breeze ruffling the manzanita, a raven winging overhead and calling to its mate, and the soft crack of acorns dropping to the ground.

I felt right at home.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is an artist, photographer and organic farmer. She lives in Santa Cruz County.

Peggy Hansen

A hen dies in the night, swift and unexpected; you find her soft, small corpse under the coop, head tucked beneath one red-brown wing. What silent malady had she concealed–or had you, ignorant and way beyond your depth, failed to note in time?

The new hive starts out great, the bees busting out the comb and brood, filling their allotted space in record time. You give them more, and they greedily accept. The rains have become myriads of blooms, which they happily convert to wax and eggs, filling up the hive again. Your day job keeps you from giving them more room right away, and when you get home, it’s too late. A quick glance through the hive window shows they couldn’t wait, or wouldn’t, and have swarmed–two thirds gone, with the precious queen, to seek out greener pastures. The forlorn remainders dot the creamy comb, dark bodies stark against its pale geometry.

The apricot in March looks like a snow globe, sparkly frosted petals dotting every twig on every branch, and you imagine fruit, gallon upon gallon, for jam and pie and tarts and–best of all–just eating out of hand, exquisite smell entwined with peerless taste, and your heart lifts. Who doesn’t love fresh apricots? Then El Niño rails and blows at the wrong time, shattering the snow globe. There is no fruit set, despite the promise of the flowering.

Somehow, though, there are still eggs aplenty. The jilted bees have raised a brand-new queen, and are rapidly rebuilding. There’s even a new swarm, nestled in an empty hive and making it a home. And this year there are loquats, and blueberries, and blackberries gone berserk with fruit. It may not be exactly as you’d planned, but it is enough–and so much more.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is an artist, photographer and organic farmer. She lives in Santa Cruz County.

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A few months ago, I discovered something amazing. I’d seen it thousands of times before, but never really paid attention. It was just there, a background as I hurried from point A to point B, a wordless blanket shrouding my house as I slept, an invisible backdrop to an outdoor concert or a rooftop drink with friends.

What is this wonder, so unquestioned, yet so fascinating? It’s nothing fancy or exotic, and you don’t have to go far to find it. It’s no more or less than night itself — implicit, deep and intricate. Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m talking about — we all know what night is, right? What’s the big deal?

Night isn’t just the absence of day, though it certainly is that. Night can be a time of freedom as we leave our jobs, commutes and daytime stress behind. Other things fall away with the sun’s light too. Colors are less bright, shadows become less sharply defined, and the busy noise of day fades quickly as the moon ascends the arc of heaven. In their place, night brings treasures of its own: softer and more subtle colors, richer and more complex shadows and the music of its many creatures, varied and evocative.

Next full moon, go outside, stand still, and just be in the night for 10 or 20 minutes with nowhere to go and nothing to do but pay attention. No doubt you’ll notice something new. At first, it may be your own breathing, or the beating of your heart, sounds the busy press of daytime overrides. After a few minutes, perhaps you’ll be stuck by the way the air moves and breathes, the way the stars and planets track overhead, or the way the moon’s glow transmutes ordinary into extraordinary. Make the night itself your sole intention, for a minute or an hour, and who knows what you’ll discover?

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a writer, artist and photographer. She lives in Santa Cruz County.

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So, now that summer's over you'll get to relax, right? I've heard this, or some version of it, from many of my city friends in recent weeks. They mean well, and I sure wish the end of summer did mean a break in farm and garden chores….but alas, there's truly no such thing.

Though what greets you at the weekly farmers market decreases as the days shorten and the sun–still bright as in midsummer–warms your skin a little less each day, there's as much activity as ever back on the farm. Behind the colorful displays of peppers, winter squash and dahlias, there are seed catalogs to scrutinize, fields to prep and sow with cover crops, beds to clear and trees to tend. There are fall crops to wrangle, like apples and persimmons, and spent berry canes to untangle and remove. Onions and garlic go in the ground about this time, though you won't see them till the long, hot days return. And of course, a host of winter veggies, started before summer even thought of leaving, to look after and prepare for harvest.

When the rains come — I'll be optimistic — there will be tools to sharpen and repair, compost piles to shield with tarps, and books to analyze and balance. There'll be supplies to inventory and restock, frost blankets to dig out of storage and deploy, and fences to inspect and mend. Every day, no matter what the season, there will be animals to feed.

And before you know it, there will be spring seeds to sow in flats, and keep toasty warm in greenhouses. The cover crops will need mowing, and the berries will send out new canes that need tying up. And soon enough you'll be thinking, "I guess vacation's done for all those farmers!"

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

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She hangs there, upside down, eyes fixed on me as I open the gate and ease into the garden. I leave it open behind me, a portal to the wild air I hope will call to her. As I draw near, she unclamps her talons from the netting and explodes out of the corner.

She bumps against the overhanging net, this oddly constrained sky, and latches on again. I try to herd her to the open gate, but she's not having it. The yellow toes, tipped with tiny scimitars, cling even tighter. The sharp eyes, bright and lucid, do not blink. The beak — that deadly instrument — gleams and menaces.

I have to get her out, but how? How, exactly, does one extract a wild peregrine from one's tomato garden without either party being wounded? Bird netting is supposed to keep birds out, not in, but here we are. "Bees," I remember suddenly: my long-cuffed goatskin beekeeper's gloves are just the thing. I fetch them from the house and slip them on, feeling anxious, desperate and hopeful. Somehow, I have to manage this.

She lets me get right next to her, eyeing me intently but without complaint. I stand still for a moment, then reach out both hands and cup her body gently. The heart beats at the speed of light — hers and mine alike — and I feel her anger, fear and hope. With one hand, I softly stroke her back and head, and tell her it will be alright.

We stand like that for several minutes. Gradually, the toes begin to uncurl, and I pull her free of the netting. Her wings quiver once, twice, and I hustle to the open gate, hands full of impatient, flapping falcon. At the threshold I open them, arms high. She soars away, without looking back.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a Santa Cruz-based organic farmer and photographer.

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"They leave the wings," Jack said. We crouched down low, scanning the damp sand as the morning mist began to burn away. Among the forlorn scattered feathers, and the oddly disembodied, bright white wings, bold etchings told the story. The peregrine a dark, decisive bullet shooting down toward the gull, striking hard and severing the spine. Its tail and feet grazing the sand as they struggled, outcome long foretold. The gull become a meal, nature's harsh and unremitting destiny — every morsel gone except those lonely, pristine wings.

We moved on, eyes alert for other signs. A string of dots tucked beside a rocky cliff face, each tiny toe kissing the dust lightly as the mouse scurried toward shelter, tells another story. Not far off, we find what we expected, a slightly wavy line of tracks, soft round pugmarks of a bobcat searching for a snack. The two don't cross, and there's no sign of a scuffle, so we know the mouse arrived home safely. The cat continued up into the dunes, where we lose the trail but find instead the blunt, chewed stems along the hem of every plant and bush that signal rabbits — abundant numbers, by the look of things.

Around one dune and down another, skirting bursts of poison oak and trying not to crush the sand verbena, we find the rabbit tracks, runs of prints from one safe haven to another. By now the sun's well up, the fog long gone, and the wary dune inhabitants all under cover, though their tracks are unmistakable for those prepared to slow down and use their senses.

They are threads of a tapestry we all used to know, waiting to be picked up again. Each one ties us to the animal that made it, leading to a new, old world of rediscovery.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

persp-hansen-150x150

It's noisy in there, and hot — 90 degrees no matter rain or shine, freeze or thaw. I lift the lid and they rise to greet me, each one a tiny, fuzzy genius. Though disturbed by my intrusion, they are, happily, mellow and unmilitant. Eleven pounds of them swirl around the hive, or cling to combs inside tending to business more important than my arrival. That's roughly 40,000 honeybees, and they make quite a buzz.

They are dancers, architects and alchemists, making gold — it seems to us mere primates — as if from the very air. I know there's more to it but I love the thought of my bees spinning sunlight and flowers into viscous treasure. Brushing them away gingerly, I lift up the combs, one and then another, checking them for eggs and brood and honey before replacing each one back, carefully and with no undue haste.  The bees are patient with me and my intrusion, and for that I'm grateful.

Gratitude, however, doesn't begin to cover what we owe to bees collectively: they pollinate 70 of the top 100 food crops humans cultivate, supplying 90% of our nutrition world-wide. They've been part of agriculture for some 4,500 years and we've all benefitted from their work. We need them, yet consider them — if we think of them at all — as a resource to exploit, or maybe even as a nuisance. They're stressed and dying, mostly due to pesticides and habitat destruction.

If you like to eat — and who doesn't, really? — you've got a part to play. Plant flowers that will nourish them: natives are best but clover, alfalfa, and many others are good too, even weeds like dandelions. Don't use insecticides or buy plants treated with them. Buy organic, when you can. And buy honey, or other bee products, from a local beekeeper.

You and the bees will be the better for it.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

 

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It flows, colorless and clear, weightless till you try to carry it. Each gallon tips the scale at eight pounds and change, a number that's abstract to most of us. Why should we know or care about the weight of water? This winter, our state's paltry rainfall has me thinking about water quite a lot. More precisely, I've been thinking about how much of it I waste.

There's some low-hanging fruit, and I've picked it. Most Californians know the water-saving mantra 'if it's yellow, be mellow.'  Running the dishwasher and washing machine only when full, installing low-flow showerheads and toilets, and turning off the water while brushing teeth are easy too. Converting to drip irrigation and installing rain sensors on sprinkler systems is a little harder, but still in reach.

My house was built long before rainwater harvesting or grey-water entered the lexicon and retrofitting only goes so far. All the water I use drains into a septic tank, eventually leaching out into the yard. How much better, I thought, if some could be recaptured?

I bought buckets, small ones for the bathrooms and the kitchen, and a large one for the shower, and proceeded to collect water. Even being conscious of my usage, the amount I harvested each day was horrifying. When I carried it outside to lavish on my garden, its weight was a blow – and an epiphany.

I pictured Third World women lining up for water, jars and buckets on their heads as they trudge along a dusty path, miles from home. We just turn on a tap, and out comes clear, clean, life-costing almost nothing. Maybe that's the problem: it's too easy and too cheap.

My small steps won't save the planet or even our state. But if more people understood the weight of water, and its value, it would be a great start.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

Peggy Hansen

So, now that summer's over you'll get to relax, right? I've heard this, or some version of it, from many of my city friends in recent weeks. They mean well, and I sure wish the end of summer did mean a break in farm and garden chores….but alas, there's truly no such thing.

Though what greets you at the weekly farmers market decreases as the days shorten and the sun–still bright as in midsummer–warms your skin a little less each day, there's as much activity as ever back on the farm. Behind the colorful displays of peppers, winter squash and dahlias, there are seed catalogs to scrutinize, fields to prep and sow with cover crops, beds to clear and trees to tend. There are fall crops to wrangle, like apples and persimmons, and spent berry canes to untangle and remove. Onions and garlic go in the ground about this time, though you won't see them till the long, hot days return. And of course, a host of winter veggies, started before summer even thought of leaving, to look after and prepare for harvest.

When the rains come — I'll be optimistic — there will be tools to sharpen and repair, compost piles to shield with tarps, and books to analyze and balance. There'll be supplies to inventory and restock, frost blankets to dig out of storage and deploy, and fences to inspect and mend. Every day, no matter what the season, there will be animals to feed.

And before you know it, there will be spring seeds to sow in flats, and keep toasty warm in greenhouses. The cover crops will need mowing, and the berries will send out new canes that need tying up. And soon enough you'll be thinking, "I guess vacation's done for all those farmers!"

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

persp-hansen-150x150

Go beyond the market for a minute. That fruit you're holding has a story, about work and care, sun and water. It's also about the harvest; a dance of exploration, partnering, and purpose that changes and delights both parties.

First, as for any dance, you need the proper costume. Here, that's long sleeved shirt, long pants and sun hat. Gloves are optional: I mostly go without unless I'm picking berries. Also, tools — not many, just a sturdy picking box or bag, and a light but trusted ladder.

Next, survey the scene and plot your choreography. What is the angle of the sun and the set of the branches? Where is the fruit sparse or heavy, inviting or still green, smooth-skinned or bird-bit? Where will the ladder best be placed to reach this one and then that? Where will the tree accept embrace and where will it refuse? Once sure of your partner, set the ladder firmly and begin.

Every sense will guide you; sight for judging blush or hue, smell to catch a sudden waft of nectar, hearing for the creak and rustle of the tree echoing your movement, taste to spot check as the impulse strikes you. And touch — the last, but most critical. Take the fruit in your hand and hold it, gently. Feel its heft, the firmness or slight give against your grasp, and ask the tree if it is ready. As you tug ever so slightly, she will tell you: ripeness falls to you like water into sand, softly, smoothly, silently. Resistance says perhaps tomorrow, but not now.

When the picking's done, climb down and thank the tree. Is that her sighing, free now to begin another season's work? No telling, but perhaps you'll hear it as you bite into that peach.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

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It's a bustling summer day, folks jostling for the ripest melons or the freshest flowers, stalls bursting with color, smell and texture as the crowd flows ever on. My list is long, and I've got lots to take in, and lots to buy, before the morning's old.

A mandolin sings suddenly, gentle yet insistent, then a fiddler adds her strain — and all at once my cheeks are wet, some secret sadness welling up, massive and unknowable. Everyone I miss, or have ever missed, pulls at me like a black hole in the center of the farmers market. Their shades call me, and I dance along the unseen edge as the bluegrass wafts between the berries and the lettuces.

Why does bluegrass make me blue? It's never been a genre I sought out, or one I really knew till a few years ago. Now it's everywhere, part of the latest urban farming, homesteading and crafting craze, and I can tell a hammer dulcimer from an autoharp at 50 paces. There's something in it, like good old style country music, that grabs the heart and opens it, willing or no, and makes you listen. Why, it makes you wonder, is the world the way it is? Why do we create such madness, and inflict such pain? Why is he, or she, not here with me?

A singer joins in, and I notice others in the crowd sniffling, or wiping an eye as we all mourn our childhoods, our loved ones, the pure and pristine land and ways that might live only in our fantasies. It's a sad and perfect day, sweet and bitter, and the music calls us all to dance along that narrow precipice. The berries and the lettuces will be waiting when the song comes to a close.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer, organic farmer and radiologist in Santa Cruz.

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"Oh," I say,"Maurice Sendak died. Remember when you took me to his book signing, those many decades gone?" I still have the book, dedication scrawled across the frontispiece, and of course the memory. The rumpus was wild that afternoon, indeed.

She does not, cannot, reply.

From Goodnight Moon to Murakami, Tom Kitten to Tom Sawyer, and countless more between, books were a world to us, a window, and a wonder. I remember when she told the school librarian to let me have as many as I wanted, never mind the limit. She knew what they meant to me, and she understood my hunger for the treasures they contained.

Her eyelids flutter so, so softly, and she murmurs as the morphine drips its slow, slow magic. This bed, this hospital, are no fictions, and we are no characters with finely scripted parts. This death is all too real, too sudden, and too soon. We sit, restless against unkind plastic chairs, and keep awkward vigil.

An eon or an instant passes, and there is no fluttering. I touch two fingers to her neck, and feel only skin — soft, warm, motionless. This gesture harkens back to internship, made always and only for the same sad reason — pronouncing death. What a phrase, I think. How is death pronounced, exactly? What sound can any other words receive once that one has been uttered? It hovers, thickening the air in the silent room. The slightest hint, and she is free.

It's been two years, but I still feel her, like a secret character the author hadn't met, as I turn the pages of a novel or a history. I still want to share my finds with her, and greet her new discoveries. I'm starting a new book tomorrow, Mom, I say. I'm sure you'll like it.

With a Perspective, I'm Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer, organic farmer and radiologist in Santa Cruz.