This is my first summer season on this land. With the intensifying heat and humidity, I’m learning to observe and adapt to these changes both within and without. The ubiquitous snails below and spiders above make it necessary to walk extra carefully, especially at night. On some windless nights, I wake up drenched in sweat. However, it is also the season of the juicy fruits, these golden nectars of life from Mother Earth are certainly gifts after a long hot day. Grateful for the abundance of wampi and starfruit!
This pineapple was sowed by previous house owners about four years ago. I recently found out that they were friends of my aunt’s who now live abroad! A great serendipitous surprise and was great to connect with them. Three were ripened when we harvested, though two of which were already eaten by creatures, a testament to how incredibly delicious they were!
Since a young age, I had always been interested in botany and herbology. When my father told me that my great-grandfather once sold traditional Chinese medicine out of his small grocery store in Edmonton, I was amused. When my grandmother told me that he cured his own cancer using a concoction he himself made, I was immediately shaken. I imagined him dedicatedly studying herbology behind the counter with his abacus nearby. I pictured him as a doctor in disguise, making ends meet selling coffee and whatever the rednecks needed but his passion lied in the power of plants. Although I had never seen my grandfathers on my paternal side, I like to think we are linked through this mutual affection for plant medicine.
Nonetheless, growing up in the city, I had never planted anything in my life. During my university years, while there was a community garden on campus, I never even went into it. My peripatetic days soon followed and I was never in one place long enough to grow anything. My first encounter with “farming” was when I apprenticed with PEACE, a co-op advocating sustainable living. I learned to grow rice with them, then took care of a small garden with two other members. We spent a lot of time prepping the land, making beds, and creating the fence. A year later, the land where we had our garden was taken back by a villager. I was disappointed at that time, but also slightly relieved for reasons unknown to me at that time.
Now with my own land, I thought it naturally mean I could finally down-root but shockingly it has been difficult. While I can plan in decades time, at the same time, thinking with such a long-term mentality is very unfamiliar and, frankly, overwhelming. The garden is indeed a reflection of this current state of mine. Back in May, we sowed a second round of beans and riverhemp (Sesbania cannabina) for nitrogen fixing. They grew like weeds and had a growth spurt in the last two weeks due to the heavy rainfall. 8 weeks later, we harvested them, though we were a little late as they have grown up to almost shoulder-height and already flowering. The stems are quite fibrous already so instead of cutting them short and digging it back into the soil, we decided to simply lay it out to dry on top of the soil. Like all things in life, allowing time to take its course.
May the soil of our garden become healthier and more fertile with each passing season and may one day this garden be a beautiful and thriving food forest with a herbal garden dedicated to the “herbologists” of the family.
Recently, we had found a hornet hive in the garden, on the elevated edge adjacent to the slopes. Last fall, we had grown sweet potato leaves on the edge and it had thrived till the end of the spring season. Very quickly vines and weeds dominated the area. In my head, I imagine a wall of flowering vines on the slope – a beautiful image that is on my low priority, hence knowing that the weeds will only grow back with time, I have purposely neglected in cleaning out the area.
Virginia, my friend and gardener teacher, found it first one afternoon when she was making a garden bed nearby. She saw wasps hidden behind the vines and got stung on her legs when she tried to locate it with a bamboo stick. She reported some stinging pain but seemed to be okay that night, I foolishly also didn’t think much about it. A week later, Wah was working on installing new water pipes and told me that he has to get rid of the hive to work on the pipes. Finally, I went to what’s in the way.
It was the biggest and most beautifully terrifying hive I have every seen.
That evening, we made a butterfly-catch net with leftover mosquito netting, wire, string and thread. I had never caught used such a net before, let alone for trapping an entire wasp colony. However, Wah seemed to be confident that it would work. “We would have to demolish it in steps. Tonight, we would have to first get rid of some of the branches around it”. Afterwards, he efficiently armoured up in long pants, water-proof jacket, goggles, and boots. We tied a thin scarf around his head. He approached the hive in the last moments of daylight and moved away the big branches on the slope. The wasps immediately became aggressive. Just as he was running away, a wasp got underneath the scarf and jacket and stung him on the shoulders.
The afternoon of the following day, Wah armored up again. This time we tied hardier nets around his head and he added another layer of jacket. “Are you scared?” I asked him. “Scared of what?” He replied. With the butterfly net and scissors in hand, he approached the colony again. I watched him as he swiftly trapped the hive with the net and leaned forward with his entire body. Mr. Go hosed the colony down with water as he tried to cut the surrounding branches. A handful of wasps swarmed the garden.
Lots of protruding branches hindered the netting and it took some time to get rid of the vines and to ensure the net was tight enough. I could feel the wasps getting angrier and angrier. Finally he pulled the net away and into a plastic bag that I was holding. Immediately, I felt a sense of remorse. It made logical sense to get rid of the colony as it could pose a threat to us human inhabitants, but I couldn’t push away this sick feeling I felt in my stomach. I watched as Wah set the slope on fire as I asked myself…what have we done?
The following few nights I couldn’t sleep well. It felt as if the wasps ghost have been following me. Since a few years ago, I had started to eat meat again and had continually contemplated about the relationship between humans, our desires/needs, and our relationship with the animal kingdom. In an ideal world, we would still live in tribal communities and hunt our own food. I believe hunting is a sacred act in the balancing of the eco-system. In every hunter, animal or human, the pursuit of another life requires sharp skills, deep understanding, and holistic wisdom. In some ways, one life becomes another before the succession of taking another being’s life. I am not opposed to killing but it needs to come with great reverence and preparation. On the other hand, the trapping and killing of this insect colony was driven by fear and impulse. It was no hunting; it was merely domination for our self-righteous safety. We left the broken hive in its plastic bag outside, I couldn’t look at it for days.
My sleepless nights triggered me to think deeply about what happened and ways to mend our actions. I believe all humans and non-human spirits show up for a certain reason and it is our work to connect with their guidance. Wasps work in highly cooperative communities by “workers” who feed the Queen. They are extremely territorial and can travel far to hunt for food. I am reminded to reflect upon my current situation. Since moving onto this land, I have been overwhelmed and now approaching a burn-out. I have also been resisting the chaos that have arose from managing too many things at once…different construction stages happening simultaneously, my own involvement in building as well as delegating tasks, mixed inputs from different people, and refining land design through continual research. It has indeed been a huge lesson on time management. The wasp reminds me to work in efficient synergy with others, to embrace the swirling chaos, to stand strong in my vision and role, and to create healthy boundaries. While these lessons have been looming on my conscious periphery for some time, the occurrence of these swirling giants brought these matters to the forefront, right before an impending burn-out. Thanks to the wasps for their alarming reminders and other blog writers who have shared their insights.
Today, I finally had the courage and strength to face the drenched plastic bag. The energies of fire and water were used in the destroying of their colony. I felt it to be appropriate to bring in the rooting energy of earth to forgive, nourish, and revive. With an incense and prayer, I dug a hole for the colony and planted a papaya seedling on top of it.
I pray for the swirling energy of the hornets to come alive within me.
To help me surrender to the seemingly chaotic, to reconnect me with the matriarchal power, to guide me in playing my role in a healthy and balance eco-system, to fill me with trust in the divine.
May the energy of the earth forgive us for our ignorance, to teach us the lesson of compassion, and help nourish our minds, souls, and bodies.
In my time of reflection, I learned that these wasps are actually a type of hornet. They can be so deadly that they can stage a massacre on honeybees, hence they are nicknamed “murder hornet”. And with every species in our plant and animal kingdom, each has its role to play in our greater eco-system. They are important in controlling heaps of farm/garden intruders and are helpful in pollinating flowers. They are widely researched in Japan and have co-evolved with local honeybees in such a way that bees have found a way to attack these deadly preys by suffocating them in heat (bees heat tolerance is 118 degrees Celsius while hornet’ tolerance is 115 degrees Celsius). The animal kingdom is indeed amazingly intricate and complex!
Back in November of last year, there was a day when I had to go into town for a project meeting I felt very unmotivated to complete. I left in the morning with much hesitation after a briefing in the morning on the day’s work with Mun, the gardener, and Mr. Go, construction worker. On my way to the city, my stomach churned nauseously, there were many things I wanted to do in the garden and on the land instead. I also felt uneasy about leaving them with the day’s work. Upon returning home in the evening, I found Mr. Go in the bare pond. He had finished moving much more rocks than I had asked him to, and they weren’t placed in a way in which I had imagined. Out of an impulsive fit, I had a breakdown. Mr. Go immediately apologized for “not listening to my instructions”. I knew he only had good intentions but still I felt this rage within, blaming myself for not being there. The next day I called him and told him to not come.
Mun, my friend and gardener who lived on the land at that time, asked me why I didn’t want Mr. Go to work. We all knew how skilled and helpful he was. Few weeks later when we needed help with some heavy lifting, I tried to call him and found out that he was in China. Half a year later, I was able to reconnect with him and he was available to come work again. During this half a year, I realized how controlling I can be and the intensity of my resistance. My fixations have become havoc to myself and others.
I am grateful to have Mr. Go back on the team. He is an experienced construction worker from Canton. His is a well-rounded worker with many areas of expertise, including working with cement. However, his upbringing in the rural countryside means that he is experienced in traditional ways of construction that is often not common with local workers. I appreciate his cheeriness, easy-going and helpful attitude. He also has his own garden and often brings a bagful of veggies with us. Thank you Mr. Go for your all your help!
We had decided to replace our old windows for reasons of durability and this month, after months of sourcing and waiting, we had successfully installed new aluminum windows with mosquito screens. Frames and walls had to be built to accommodate our new window sizes. With our new windows, this is the first big step in our renovation. Thank you Wah, Go, and window company for their meticulous work!