Friday, June 15, 2012

Capturing a Wild Hive

A little over a month ago my wife and I were walking past the entrance to a neighborhood near our house when I noticed an unusual amount of bees flying out of a bush.  So, being the big geek that I am, I looked around the bush and found this brick post column behind the bush.  And coming out of the the lower post hole was a bee hive!  I had been wanting to add a second hive to the backyard without having to purchase more bees, so this discovery was perfect timing.  The next photo (altho it's kind of hard to spot the bees) shows the foragers coming out from around the post.  I took an old bait hive box from home and balanced it up on top of the higher beam.  I baited the hive box with some attractant and a couple of frames of comb and honey.

Then I took the fence post out and built a screen funnel, taping it over the entrance of the hive (post hole) and positioned it up to my bait box.  But I noticed after a week that the bees weren't interested at all in my hive and continued to cluster under the box.  The photo below is the FIRST cluster that I've "harvested".  It would be great for them to start taking up residence in my box to make it easier for me to transport the whole colony, but as you'll see in the next videos it's not that hard to collect them when they're all clustered in one spot.  

sorry about the landscape crew in the background.

Eventually, the bees from the "foreign" hive will chew through the newspaper and integrate with the already established hive.  You use this method because bees are all about how you smell.  If you don't smell like the rest of the colony, you don't belong.  So if I were to just open the box and dump the new bees in all hell would break loose and the existing hive would try to kill as many of the new bees as possible.    This way the new bees take on the right smell as they slowly move into their new home.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Diggin' Deeper. AKA Alabama Shakes and Janis Joplin

A friend of mine recently got me turned onto the band, Alabama Shakes, a roots band based out of Athens, Alabama.  I loved their songs.  Loved the lead singer's (Brittany Howard) voice and guitar playing and, of course, HATE that Jon Pareles from the New York times mentioned Howard and Janis Joplin in the same sentence.  Ok, why do people see a female lead singer doing rock and immediately compare her to Janis Joplin?  Janis Joplin was terrible.  Brittany Howard can sing.

Another thing.  I love the fact that a band comes out and actually plays good roots music, doesn't have a style consultant and isn't using auto-tune features on their vocals.  I love the fact that the Alabama Shakes have a pretty good grasp of great American music that's come before them (and I know it's hard to believe, but music did happen before them).  They keep it simple.  About the groove and voice.  What makes me scratch my head sometimes is that folks hear bands like A-shakes and immediately freak out and wonder where the Shakes have been their whole life.  People see that the A-shakes come out wearing rock clothes and a female lead who plays guitar and think that they've discovered this new-found music and can't wait to tell everybody.  Believe me, I was just as excited to check YouTube as soon as I heard about them and when I did it was another breath of fresh air for me.  Almost as if I was in a sealed room where the last of the sweet music air that I had been breathing was almost gone and then someone cracked a window and the Alabama Shakes came in to keep me going a little longer.

This post is a suggestion to people to dig back a little and not let some of the earlier artists get swept off to the side for the latest and greatest.  Here's a little YouTube list for your enjoyment.  And you'll find that Brittany Howard and Alabama Shakes have a closer connection to these than to Janis Joplin:

Let's start with Memphis Minnie:

We'll jump ahead a little to Sister Rosetta Tharpe:
check out that Gibson SG she's playin'

Now we'll move on to The Duchess (Bo Diddley's 2nd guitar player):

Now to the soulful, Barbara Lynn:

Now, we're going to present day, before the Alabama Shakes, to the great Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and my favorite, Mavis Staples:
This is a modern film shot in 2007 on vintage equipment!

singing a song that Jeff Tweedy wrote for her.  Mavis has been doing this since the fifties w/ her family gospel group, The Staple Singers.  Check out my buddies backing her up: Rick Holmstrom (g), Jeff Turmes (b) and Stephen Hodges (d)

Managed to get this done w/o any Janis Joplin!  Thanks Alabama Shakes for keeping it going and letting a little more fresh air in the window.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Low In The Grave He Lay

Every Easter Sunday I think of a story my mom used to tell about my grandmother. She and my grandfather would sit in the pews of their church until it was time to sing, "Low In The Grave He Lay." The congregation would stand up and start singing and when they'd get to the chorus, suddenly my grandmother's voice would almost shout out and she would swing her arm up like she was marching and sing, "Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o'er his foes!"

I only remember her singing this way once when we were visiting for Easter and she was older, but the vigor of her marching for Jesus never ceased. Her arms still swung up and although her voice was softer you could still hear it's passion. She knew God and he knew her and she was going to keep on until her body couldn't hold onto her anymore.

Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior;
Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord.

Up from the grave He arose, (arm goes up here! Ha!)
With a might triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a victor of the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! (shout this part out!)
Hallelujah, Christ arose!

Vanity, they watch His bed, Jesus my Savior;
Vanity, they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord.

Up from the grave He arose,
With a might triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a victor of the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah, Christ arose!

Death cannot keep it Prey, Jesus my Savior;
He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord.

Up from the grave He arose,
With a might triumph o'er his foes.
He arose a victor of the dark domain,
And He lives forever with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah, Christ arose!

Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Smokehouse -- by Ben Hernandez

The sun still seemed high in the late afternoon and its heat weighed heavy on the ground baking the granite dust and sending up little dancing waves. It chased all the creatures into the shade except for the three riders out in front of the ranch house.

“McNeil, come on out and talk to us!” shouted one of the riders. “We need to finish what we started back in town!” shouted another.

Inside the house Frank McNeil turned to his son. “Out the back door now and get yourself in the smokehouse. Wait there until I come and fetch you.” Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes as his father handed him his army revolver. “C’mon now, do as I say.”

“Yes, sir,” said the boy. He looked down at his father’s gun. It was a dull charcoal color and smelled of oil. He wrapped his fingers around the smooth, walnut grip and felt the edge of the trigger. His father looked down at him. “Samuel, go now!”

The boy moved, quick through the house, turning back once to see his father jamming cartridges into his rifle, before he slipped out the back door. Up on a short rise was the smokehouse and he ran to it holding the revolver in both hands. He reached the weathered door of the brick building, rotated the iron latch and when he entered blackness overtook his sight. He stood in the cool room for a moment to let his eyes adjust then found a place in the corner on the floor and sat down against the wall.

Samuel set the pistol beside him and wrapped his arms around his knees. Tiny blades of light cut through the timbers of the rough-hewn door spreading out in broad stripes across the floor and walls.

There were the voices again, muffled and far off, the rough and ugly sounds of the men out in the front yard. His father called out from inside the house now and the boy slowed his breathing and strained to hear, but the blood beat too loudly in his ears to make out the words. He heard the horses chattering and beating their hooves in the corral. Again, the men in the yard. His father answering.

The report of a single gun brought the boy to attention. More shots followed. They were tiny firecracker pops in the distance. Glass shattered with each one. Then nothing. It was minutes before he heard laughing and sounds of things breaking inside the house. His mother’s piano was being played.

Then a voice called out clearer now, closer. “Look around for his boy!”

Samuel lifted the army revolver off the ground and held it to his chest as the lug, lug sound of thick boots came near to the brick smokehouse. The stride was too short to be his father’s and his father had no use for spurs. The boots stopped at the door of the smokehouse. “Boy, come on out,” said the man. He chuckled, “I won’t harm you.”

Samuel was motionless, his fearful eyes opened wide in the dimness of the room. The man outside shifted his weight and the grit beneath his boot ground against the hard-packed dirt. The door latch began to move then unlock and the door opened. The giant silhouette of the man filled the doorway. He ducked to enter and as he straightened up the end of his rifle barrel caught the meat hooks hanging from the rafters causing them to ring out like miniature church bells. The boy got to his feet as the man called once more, “Boy! No use in hiding in here. Come out where I can see you.”

Still in the shadows of the corner Samuel cranked the hammer of the Colt back with his hand and leveled it. The man paused upon hearing the mechanism just before the boy pulled the trigger. The gun roared inside the room as the sound of the blast slammed against the walls and now the boy heard nothing except a high-pitched scream inside his head. The man lay on his back across the threshold of the smokehouse with one hand clawing at his shirt and the other gripping the lower hinges of the door. His boot heels dug into the floor as he tried to push himself out away from the boy. The powder smoke hung in the air a moment before being drawn through the open door into the heat.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Horse Thief -- by Ben Hernandez

The moon was out and it’s light spread across the branches of the scrub oak casting a phantom hand on the small house. He slept in a room at the back on a rope bed near the pot-bellied stove. Winter was early and the night was cold.

Out across the hard-packed yard, beyond the barn the sound of the horses in the corral pulled him from his sleep. He lay still, listening. There it was again, the horses whining, hooves stomping. There had been news of Indians, off the reservation, stealing horses through the territory, reports he had passed off as gossip. But now he could hear the agitated animals clearly.

He swung his legs off the bed and caught his toe on the cast iron foot of the stove as he moved to the doorway. Cursing and shuffling through the front room he sat again on a rough-hewn walnut bench to pull his boots on. Hurry, before they’re gone with the whole damn string. He stood and paused to force the fog of sleep out of his eyes and then reached for his rifle fixed above the door.

The barrel was cold and the gun heavy as he leveled the weight in his hand. He left the house, stepped off the porch and was now in the yard dressed only in his boots and long underwear. A long shadow stretched behind him leading back to the front door.

The air made his knees and knuckles ache as he approached the barn and his nervous breath burst into the night like smoke. The man edged close to the barn wall now, hunched out of instinct with the rifle held low and thrust out in front to probe the darkness. He turned at the corner of the structure, seeing the ponies and the figure of a man among them.

From the cover of the barn he moved to the first corral post. The thief had not noticed, still trying to manage the horses. The man crouched, passed between the rails and finally stood not more than ten feet away when the thief turned his face. The moonlight was enough for the man to recognize an old neighbor, one who had fallen on hard times, losing property, a wife and had turned to drink for comfort.

“Duncan Barnett?” The sound of the man’s voice startled the thief so that his legs nearly buckled and he dropped the leather cord he had tied to one of the horses. The man said again, “Barnett.” But even in the dark he could see the deadened and weary eyes of a drunkard. The prodigal son not yet returned to his home.

“Stay back, damn you!” said the thief. He reached into his threadbare coat and pulled a pistol from his belt. “I mean to take these ponies mister and I’ll shoot you down if you try and stop me, by God.”

“Barnett,” said the man, “It’s Roy Martin. Don’t you know me? Roy Martin?” Martin lowered his rifle, “C’mon over to the house and get you something to eat.”

Barnett’s pistol dipped and rose, a drunk maestro conducting an orchestra. “You all can go to hell,” said Barnett. “Every last one of you.”

The gun fired, splintering a fence post behind Martin and the explosion echoed hard against the buildings. Martin stepped back and held his hand up.

“Duncan, please,” he said. “Put that pistol down. You want a little money? Come with me.” Barnett’s gun fired again this time striking the dirt at Roy Martin’s feet.

“C’mon up to house and get warm. I’ll fix you a pallet to sleep on,” said Martin. Barnett steadied his revolver, but the rifle came up and fired first. The bullet sent up tufts of fabric as it hammered Barnett to the ground.

Roy Martin breathed deep to calm the nausea as he stared down the barrel of the Remington to the fallen man. The horses had yet to calm down and their eyes were still wide and round and white.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Trail Running

Two years ago I left the pavement. I saw the opening in the trees and stepped onto the natural surface of the trailhead and from then on I was a trail runner. Running out on the street was becoming difficult for me. I was tired of putting up with traffic, exhaust, stop-lights, sidewalks, noise and I’m not a very disciplined runner, so the thought of forcing myself to sprint around a track for speed work sessions was about as exciting as mowing the lawn.

So on the advice of my buddy, Dexter Pepperman, I joined him for a trail run one morning out at Francis Beatty Park. I didn’t have trail shoes at the time. I ran in a pair of old, spongy Asics DS Trainers. We did about 5 miles and I was hooked! I wanted to come out there everyday and run through the woods like Natty Bumppo.

The first thing people say when I encourage them to start trail running is, “Oh no, I’d probably fall and hit my head or break my ankles out there. ” While this can be true in trail running answers like that usually come from people who hardly spend any time running out on the trails. I was one of those people. As a kid who sprained his ankles every few months from playing too much basketball I knew first hand what my limitations would be when I subjected my clown ankles to the “punishments” of a North Carolina trail. I saw every root and rock as tools that the trail was using to buck me off of it like a cowboy on the back of an angry bull.

Trail running w/ my brother near our house.

Running trails is more than just buying a new trail shoe (although, it helps). It takes practice and patience. You have to slow down and, without sounding too new-agey, it’s about understanding and working with the trail. In the end, you still may catch your toe on a hidden root stub and find yourself crashing face first into a patch of red clay.

I’ve run into herds of deer, a coyote (which I’ve never seen in NC before. They were practically pets where I grew up in CA), hawks and owls. I saw a guy out on a trail dragging off a piece of an old car that had been abandoned out in the woods and a few weeks later the entire rest of the car was gone. I’ve been caught in thunderstorms. Been slightly lost a few times. I’ve been bloody and muddy.

But that’s exactly what I love about trail running and why I can’t get enough. I don’t worry about qualifying for Boston. I don’t get disappointed when my workout doesn’t go well. Leaving the asphalt for the trail is about enjoying the adventure of running out in the woods and not knowing what you’re going to find.

So, here are a few tips that have helped me and might keep the trail from buckin’ you off it’s back or least keep you holding on for the ride a little longer:

  • Wear a hat with a bill. I like to do this because it gives my face (especially eyes) one more second of protection from little branches that hang down into the trail.
  • Take a watch or don’t take a watch. Sometimes I need to take a watch or I’ll be out there all day. Time slips away from you. That’s the exact same reason I mention not taking a watch.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with plenty of room in the toe. Your feet will be swelling. Your toes will be wanting to crash into the end of the shoe. You need room to let these things happen.
  • Pepper spray. You never know who you’re going to meet out there. Although, I’ve never really had trouble with people, I did have a run in with dogs.
  • If you’re going for a longer run and you can’t get back to your car until the end, bring some water and some sort of fuel.
  • Cross-train. Believe me, I hate cross-training, but I’ve definitely seen its benefits come out in my trail running. I have a stronger core, better flexibility and stronger ankles.
  • No headphones. First, there’s the safety issue. Sometimes there are mountain bikers on the trail and you need to be able to hear them coming. Sometimes there are other people out there and you need to be aware of your surroundings. Second, wearing headphones defeats the purpose of running out in the woods. You don’t need them. You’ve got enough media stimulus creeping into your brain all day. This is your time to get into nature and run like a wild animal.
  • And finally, just get out there and try it. Experiment with your form. Practice your footing around tricky roots & rocks. Take your time and have a ball!

Monday, November 14, 2011

So... I was on Chris Robinson's tour bus last Sunday...

I was out in the front yard raking leaves when I got a message from my old buddy George Sluppick. George is a drummer whose list of cool bands he's played for is a mile long and now he's playing for the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (Chris Robinson, the lead singer in the band The Black Crowes).

His message was simple: "I'm in town, come on out." For those of you who don't know me, I used to play music for a living as well. It was 10 years of touring, recording and local gigs. I did ok for myself; lots of festivals, 4 albums, a couple of awards, some small magazine articles, a few trips to Europe. I've settled nicely into my life here in Charlotte, though. I haven't missed playing music that much. Bought a house. Have a day job. My commute to work is about 15 minutes on a surface street--no traffic. I get to come home and have dinner with my wife most evenings. I took up beekeeping.

I'm still working on a couple of music projects that are cooking on the back burner, but there was something about George coming to Charlotte that brought things back out to the front.

I left the house around 7pm and headed over to NoDa (North Davidson, for those Californians who don't know Charlotte) to the Neighborhood Theater. I called George's cell phone and when he picked up he instructed me to head around back to the tour bus. As I turned the corner and saw the big bus, the door opened and out jumped George.

I hadn't actually seen George in about 3 or 4 years when my old partner Nathan James and I were in Memphis, TN playing some gigs. We stayed at George's house. He treated us to some BBQ Nachos (his creation, and I won't give away the secret recipe). I remember that trip fondly which is another blog post for another time. It's amazing the ways you can catch up with someone you haven't seen in awhile. I used to see George all the time when he lived in San Diego. We played gigs together. Then I caught up with him in Memphis and now here we were in Charlotte.

George was wearing a cowboy hat and his hair had gotten long and was streaming down to his shoulders. He had on a western shirt covered with a blazer and on his face were his signature horned rim glasses. He gave me a big bear hug.

Ben Hernandez and George Sluppick

I stepped up into the bus and George offered me a beer and introduced me to the bass player, "Muddy". Chris was in the back of the bus watching TV, so George and I sat in front and started to catch up on 3 years of lost time. He asked me what I was up to and if I was playing any music. I asked him how the tour was going. Chris came out shouting something about a football game.

After a few minutes George and I decided to head across the street to Smelly Cat Coffee to get a couple of cups. We sat outside and watched the people lining up for the show out in front of the theatre. George noticed these knitted hats that a lady was selling outside the coffee shop. He said something like, "Man, look at those hats...I gotta get me one." Our conversation was simple. It felt good sitting back with an old friend and talking about how we've both ended up where we had. We reminisced about Los Angeles, San Diego, Memphis....Music. We talked about strength of family. Burying the hatchet with people and forgiveness. Friends. It was the first time in a long time that I felt truly comfortable being in Charlotte and in the same moment, lonely.

We finished our coffee and George approached the lady who was selling the hats. Her "husband" came up too and we noticed both wearing her creations. She said, "I knit all the hats myself and I don't use any kind of pattern. Just what comes out of my mind." George looked at all the hats and then at her husband and said, "Man, you got a good one here (referring to the woman). You better hold on to her. She'll keep you warm at night."

We walked back across the street to the venue so George could start getting warmed up with the band. I checked in at the door (George had put me on the guest list) and entered the theatre.

There's George in the back w/ his cowboy hat.

It was great watching George play again. He and I had played together many times when we lived in San Diego and I missed that sound. The band was good. I enjoyed the songs. But I had to smile when I saw George playing. He does this thing where he jumps off his drum stool when he wants to really punctuate part of the song. Just like old times. George is one of the funkiest drummers I know. He's George. He can be funny, stubborn, moody, philosophical, kind, generous and it all comes out in his playing. George, that night, was a link to my past life that had followed me to Charlotte. There are some things about that life that I was glad to leave behind and George was a reminder of the things that still hang on and haunt. And it feels right knowing that they are still there.

The band took a break and George brought me backstage. We talked about the first set and what I thought. We took a picture for the record books. I told him I couldn't stay for the last set because I had to get up early for work. Having a day job can still be an adjustment for me.

He gave me a parting bear-hug and a hand shake and we looked at each other in a way that said, "Been missing my old friends lately. Glad to hear your doing well. I'll be seeing you again soon."

I walked back to my car. The streets of NoDa had quieted some and I felt a melancholy feeling that my brother and I talk about sometime when you're walking through a city. It was a feeling of being caught between two places and the present and the past. Being caught in the middle of comfort and loneliness and inspiration. I went home and started writing a new song. Thanks George.