This week, one of the wonderful writers and educators I follow on Twitter, Kate Messner, just started a summer writing challenge for teachers called Teachers Write. Kate originally envisioned this as a small group of teachers working together to make the time to write and to support one another. But @KateMessner didn't count on the resonance such an idea would have with her more than 7,000 followers on Twitter and her Facebook friends, many of whom retweeted or linked to her challenge. Kate had more than 700 people, including me, sign up to participate in her challenge.
Day 1's Monday minilesson was on making time to write and the challenge is to come up with a writing plan for the summer. I'm up to my eyeballs trying to finish the school year about a week early so I can fly out to the A.P. English Language and Composition reading this Friday, so I haven't made the time to make a plan I know I'll stick to. Still, I felt it was important to carve out 20 minutes or so to blog here and start the semi-weekly 6/5 quickwrite. So, here's my zero draft writing in response to Kate's prompt: Write for two minutes to describe a very specific place. If you’re just free-writing, it can be a place that you love, or have visited, or a place that frightens you.
Zero draft--The Bee Yard
At the side of our house is a little enclosure my husband and I built for our bees. It started as a simple idea: build a lattice work privacy screen to keep people from stumbling through our open side yard to where we planned to keep our bee hives. Early in the spring on 2010, we would get our first two hives installed. The unfenced side yard gave them plenty of sun and we had very little planted there that we loved. We paid a guy a few hundred bucks to take down the Eastern Red Cedar trees that lined the sidewalk. We'd wanted to take those down for years, but the damage done to them by the previous winter's snows and the decision to have beehives near by that would be damaged if the trees took snow damage in the next winter finally spurred us to action.
Once the trees were removed, we put in two 4x4 wooden posts into the ground so that an 8-foot panel would be parallel to the sidewalk and about 15 feet or so away from it. Then we place another two posts about 4 feet farther into the yard at roughly a 45% angle from the back panel posts. This way, the lattice panels formed an open-sided trapezoid, with the open end facing away from the street. Inside that, we made a 4x8 frame and poured in river rocks. Some friends helped us pound the rocks solidly into the frame to make a base for the hives. Then we put in cinder blocks to serve as a base for the hive. Because we had two hives, we placed the hives at each end of the stone pad. On one end, there was a green hive and on the other, closer to the house, one we'd painted light brown.
Even though we've changed the beeyard and expanded it since then, I still love to go into it on a cool spring afternoon, just to see the bees at work. Sometimes, I like to pull a chair out into the yard, ignoring the cars and people passing only 20 feet away, and watch the bees come and go. Early in the season, while the nectar flows readily, the bees ignore me and I can sit 3-4 feet away for a close view. That puts me almost into the flight path and I hear them, and can sometimes even feel the air move, as the dive past me to bring the hive their secret loads of nectar or the garrulously-colored pollen they carry on their legs like puffy pants. I tune out the afternoon traffic on our busy residential street and focus on the hum of healthy hives, a sound created in part by the coming and going of the bees as they whirl up and away from or dive straight back into the entrances and in part by the bees who stand just outside those entrances, fanning their wings to cool the hive and to send the scent of home winging toward their foraging sisters. The watching the flights, listening to the sound of the living hive, and breathing that unique scent of honey, wax, and something that I can only describe as bee smell puts me at ease. I can lose minutes without noticing. In the beeyard, I'm not the center of activity, nor am I even a significant part of the scene; I'm just a minor flight path diversion.
Author's note: I will admit that I took much longer than 2 minutes on this. I thought about it and looked at pictures and ended up telling more of a story than I intended. But it still qualifies as what Anne Lamott would call a "shitty first draft." I'm going to leave it raw like this in hopes that I come back to it for inspiration later. That's the point, right?