Storms and Magic

I hope everyone out there is doing fine, but I know in truth a lot of people are having a pretty grim time of the pandemic. As this situation goes on and on, the superficial feeling of connectedness the internet gives us feels more and more unreal, especially looking back.

As a friend dourly observed while thinking back to the past,

It's like before the 2000s, there were things to be excited about. Now it's just ordering things on Amazon Prime and photographing them for Instagram.

At the beginning of the week this sentiment felt quite acute, but towards the end of the week the fog lifted somewhat. Part of the antidote, I'm sure, is being outside. On the farm the ewes are lambing in the shed next to me and in the woods where the hives are set up, the trees are beginning to show signs of spring.

Dan came over to see me again on Saturday. Overnight, there had been a pretty intense storm, which as I write, continues to howl around the house. On Saturday, the weather continued to be really weird, alternating between sun and hail. I woke up to find the skylight of the bathroom open and hay and leaves blowing in. After cleaning it up, I came downstairs to open the door to Dan, hail pelting down onto his still-helmeted head, having waiting a few minutes since he got off his motorbike for me to realise he was there. He had brought sausage rolls, cider and a few slices of his birthday cake. We drank cup after cup of coffee before heading out to the woods to fit a trap camera to a tree. It's looking into a clearing in our little wood. On Monday we'll see if we've captured anything other than me trudging around, and we'll add another one overlooking the mossy banks of the stream there.

Coming back, we talked about crafts, music, history, old cultures and plans for summer. We watched Voices of the Past on YouTube, and particularly Snorri Sturluson's telling of Ragnarok, the final destiny of the gods and possibly the reiteration of the story of mankind. We enjoyed the intense imagery in the stories and got chatting about the assumptions on which the storytelling might have been based. Something I've never thought much about before that Dan laid out for me is how those old cultures rationalised things they didn't yet know. Norse people used perforated or carved sticks or logs to stir their mead. In doing that, they transferred yeast between the vessels they were being brewed in. They may have observed the effects of fermentation, but of course had nothing like the same understanding as we do today. Some say that they considered the process magical or sacred in the absence of any scientific model of it.

A lot of knowledge we take for granted now might have been considered sorcery in earlier times. Some of that sorcery might have been considered part of nature, and some of it a result of thought. Nature, in all of its bewildering complexity, could represent those things we don't, and likely never will, fully understand. This gets developed when exploring the outdoors or when beekeeping, or whatever else. Natural understanding could also represent the sapience that animals themselves can have.

Thought might be part of the more abstract, that which can be reached through observation and cognition, including that which we learn by our furtlings on our computers and elsewhere. Magic-wielding could be about possessing and applying knowledge, observed or synthesised, that's consequently advanced or otherwise uncommon. Fifty years ago in Arthur C Clarke's 1962 essay Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination appeared three laws about predicting the future. Often quoted, the third law was that

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Whatever you consider magic to be, this nature/thought perspective can provide something like a meaningful demarcation of the source, and limits, of our own understanding about the world around us.


Bee update

We continue taking our first steps in establishing our apiary here. Having built the hives, we are chatting to a couple of local associations to see about joining them and perhaps rehoming a swarm or two later in the season. Dan's bee suit came. It's so sting-proof that a pest controller used it for ten days in temperatures of 30–36°C and didn't get one wasp or hornet sting. The fabric gives 5mm of sting protection through a lightweight two-layer mesh separated by little struts. The air flow is reportedly very good and it's even possible to see right through the suit. I'm keen to get one myself. Last season I got stung by twenty or more semi-aggressive bees a few times. It wasn't much fun, but I'm mainly drawn by how comfortable the suit will be for Dan during inspections this summer. I imagine the woods will be somewhere we'll be happy to stick around in even after the inspections we do.