Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

Op Ed I wrote regarding open space and public lands.



Great Expectations:
My bee boxes were empty this winter. Both colonies bolted, as in the bees left. I suspect this occurred in September. I was very consumed with wrapping things up in Toledo and didn't have time to get back to the creek house and check on them at the end of the summer. Long story short, I ordered some more bees this spring. Two, three pound packages. One for the back yard and one for my brother-in-law's farm.
It is always a trip to transfer a package of bees into a hive. There is something that is very counter intuitive to opening up a container full of thousands of stinging insects and dumping them out. Mixed with this base, primal emotion there is a high level of attentiveness and care to do this adroitly and this is all tempered with the great expectation of a honey yield to follow.

Since last year's bees bolted they left a great deal of honey and I will be using this to help the new bees get established. These bees are enjoying the privilege of not only having honey in the hive when they arrived but they are also setting up residence in hives that have established comb. Creating or building comb takes time are energy so having frames with existing comb is a tremendous asset for a colony. Consequently it is certainly feasible that there could be enough surplus honey to warrant a harvest this fall.

I also picked up a bee gum this spring. That is a traditional term for a bee hive that is situated in a hollow tree or log. Phil and his crew were working on some trees in Madison and they dropped a big cherry that had a hive in it. The fellows cut the log into a manageable section and we got it loaded into my truck. Back at the house I was able to get the log out of the pickup with the little tractor and end loader. With a little bit of pushing and shoving I got it situated on a couple cinder blocks behind the barn. Cool!

There isn't that much room in the log and I am hoping that this colony will thrive. If they do well, they will certainly swarm several times this summer. If I keep an eye on them and I am lucky I might be able to catch a couple swarms and get them established in my commercial hives.
Yet another great expectation.

When I was driving back from picking up the packaged bees I witnessed something that I will surely never see again and I hope I will always remember when I reflect on my aspirations and expectations.

I was driving north and on the west side of the road was a hay field, on the east was a block of mature trees. A pair of geese were grazing in the field and a red-tailed hawk came floating out of the woods clearly on a stoop toward the goose that was closest to the road. Both geese flushed but the hawk was on a perfect Intercepting vector. At the last minute the target goose folded its' wings, turned sideways in the air and literally dropped like a rock. The hawk overshot its intended prey and continued flying aimlessly along as the other goose was well on its way to a safe escape.

This was a remarkable thing to witness. First, the evasive maneuver was simply mind boggling. The goose just collapsed in the air and fell. Second, I couldn't believe I saw a red-tail hawk attempt to take a goose! Talk about great expectations! Geese are big birds. And finally I have to wonder what would have happened if indeed the hawk would have grabbed the goose? Geese are not only big but they are tough birds. I have to assume that a goose would severely beat a red-tail up. The expectations I have for my bees have nowhere near the dire consequences of life or injury as those that could have unfolded if the hawk would have realized his mark. I suppose the moral of the story is some time it just might be best if our expectations are not realized.


Some Dusty Woods:

Being back at the Creek House for the past 6 months has certainly illustrated some of the benefits of the loft condo living. When you leave, you lock the door walk away and forget about it, no sump pumps, down trees, plugged driveway culverts, nothing like that.

But we are back, living in "Some Old Dusty Woods”.  Which happens to be one of my favorite Greg Brown songs.  (Lyrics posted below) 

Last night I was on a step stool killing dozens of some kind of beetle on the living room ceiling.  Obviously one of the window screens has a crack, or maybe one of the doors. This past week I have been waging war on carpenter ants, carpenter bees and wasps.  

And my little woodlot has been invaded by a spreading force of invasive plants: Japanese knot weed, two types of honey suckle, multiflora rose, English ivy, periwinkle and several others.

I have enjoyed engaging in the war but I know that ultimately all of my actions and efforts are transitory which helps to remind me not to take this too seriously.  It is in effect recreation.  These things are not essential to my survival but engaging in these endeavors are indeed part of the human condition.  

Entropy is a crazy thing.  After being not living here for four and a half years the amount of small repair and replacement is staggering. And the large projects  I left behind seem even bigger.  

It is really overwhelming what to do in any sort of order, so I just do whatever happens to strike me as important or what seems essential to do in order to do the next thing. 

So there is tractor work, planting bed restoration, rock wall landscaping, pavers work, lots of chainsaw and fire wood and tree work and the creation and management of storage and order.   

And then there is music and outdoor pursuits.

Excuse me but I’ve got to go play guitar for a bit.   

Dusty Woods

Greg Brown Slant 6 Mind

(a vision of Robert Johnson)

He's riding in the back of a wagon and his city choes are dragging

and the sweat is pouring down his back

One eye west and one eye south

Two words fall out his mouth

He jumps down, waves, walks across the railroad track


He's in some dusty woods outside of town


Got a piece of paper folded in four, a stub pencil from the hardware store,

and a guitar that looks like it's been used

The birds shut down their song

He can't stay too long

There's something up ahead he's just got to do


He licks the pencil, looks around, writes a few words down,

and pulls a moan from his guitar

A hound dog answers low and he stands up real slow

He's got a ways to go, he don't know how far


He's in some dusty woods outside of town.

Pedestrian Ramblings: 

Took a shot with the phone of the super moon through the trees, over Big Creek.  There was a fair about of cloud covers so there was a hazy image to begin with.

I am going into my second month of “retirement” from the pubic sector.  I believe that October was the first month in 35 years or so I haven’t gone to a park board meeting and that was pretty nice.

The past few weeks however have been a ride!

Moving is always an adventure and the move back to NEO was just that.  Evidently I cracked a tooth somewhere along the way and have had quite the run with antibiotics and several folks involved with the dental profession. 

Happy to report that I am going the right direction, and now that I have lost that tooth, you should hear a marked improvement in the tonality of my blues singing.   I was thinking “A Mouth Full of Trouble” would make a great theme for a blues tune!


Maybe because of this transition period in my life I have just been enamored with Chris Smither and his tune “Leave the Light On.  Whatever the reason, it is a great song and Chris is a wonderful musician and song writer!

Summer Abundance 

I'm sitting on the porch at the creek house with the occasional whirring sound of humming birds in my ears as they dart to and from the feeders.  After a breakfast topped off with biscuits from the oven, fresh honey and Irish butter I am nearly in a coma.  The roar of the 17 year cicadas has finally began to deminish and the tree branches where they have deposited there eggs have browned.  Other than that all of the vegitation is lush and green with the occassion patch of summer blossoms or early seed heads.   

Yesterday was the first day of a 10 day vacation and it was a big day.  It with a 7:30 am stop by the Toledo Farmers market to buy blueberries and sweet cherries grown by some friends in Michigan then across state to the NEO winery region.  At 12:00 I was performing at the Firehouse with the Next Best Thing.  Behinds us we had the spectacular blue sky, blue water backdrop of the Lake Erie Central Basin.  Got done at 4:00 and bolted over to Kosicek Winery for a second show and there was a smile on my face when I hit the bed.  

Although it has been extremely dry across the northern half of Ohio the temperature has been nearly perfect for the past few weeks with exceptional blue sky and remarkable sunsets.

Life is good here.

Before breakfast I was playing around with a Doc Watson inspired version of Columbus Stockade Blues.  This is a great old traditional tune that is often thought of as a bluegrass song.  Doc recorded it in a minor scale that is really engaging and with a little tinkering I came up with a suitable arrangement for me.  My mom and Aunt Pearl used to sing this and this has always been one of my favorite songs.  I am looking forward to performing this version.    

As I was driving over from Toledo yesterday I happen to listen to Rod Stewards Maggie May which always brings back a host of memories from when I first heard that song.  I was in the 8th grade.  For the first time I started to think about what was going on in England in the early '70s to inspire his album Every Picture Tells a story.  Mandolin's were not a common instrument in popular music at that time and is featured in both Maggie May and Mandolin Wind.  

Brits are often credited with re introducing American's to US blues, fascinating the think they might have played a role in re introducing this instrument into American popular music. 

July 4th

It is beautiful Ohio summer morning and I have been up for a while.

Got up a bit early to enjoy some quite time and take inventory around the homestead.

I played at Zocalo’s Saturday and the Lake House yesterday which are two completely different gigs so maybe I am up because I trying to reconcile who I am after playing in such different places.

Last night was a spectacular evening. The sunset was not dramatic, but the platinum color of the lake more than made up for it. Even the drive was great. It was the first night after the new moon, and there was this tiny crescent in the north west sky.

This morning, I took the time to go sit by the creek on a big granite boulder that was pushed down from Canada by the glaciers. I was looking across the stream at another geologic feature, an anti-cline. That is basically a wave in the bedrock form some distant time in the past when an earthquake or some major disruption caused an upheaval in the earth’s crust.

It is a really cool feature. The cliff is about 60 feet high, and the exposed rock is layered shale. Generally this stuff is stacked up flat layer upon layer but because of the anti-cline there is this very distinctive hump in the layers. Sort of like taking a stack of printer paper and bending it. Only a little more impressive.

The cliff swallows have taken advantage of the situation and built a nest in the seam that formed in the shale. I don’t have a suitable camera to catch them as they fly in and out of their nest, but after my morning musings, I took some pictures anyway.

So whenever I sit on one of these big rocks, I always think about the glacier ride coming down and the force of the water moving it back down the stream-bed. Of course this made me think of Jeff’s song Like A Stone, which make the analogy of human resilience to rock.

Human resilience is an amazing thing but it is all so tenuous.

I know several young men who have been deployed in our recent military missions in the mid-east, who are trying so hard to create or hang on to some sort of life and recover from their experiences.

I don’t profess to understand why there can be such evil in our world and why we can’t find a better way of addressing it. But to sense the incredible disruption these young men are living with, and to think about the folks actually living in war torn areas of the world is so deeply disturbing.

So as I sat on my rock surrounded by the beauty of the world around me I couldn’t help but think two things:

Be thankful and grateful for the existence that I have had and to recognize the sacrifices that have been made for me to enjoy the serenity of this morning.

And what can do to help make this world a better place for others to enjoy.  I hope that music can be a part of this.


The loss of darkness

I had to drive to Cincinnati this past week for a work related engagement.  I wasn’t able to leave until 6:00 or so and this made for a few hours of driving after sunset.

I would have said several hours of driving after dark, but that really wasn’t the case.  We really never drove in the dark.

I am used to the drive down 71 to Columbus but I have rare occasion to continue south on this route. 

As we drove past Grove City we could smell the landfill that was designed by a friend of ours Kurt Anderson nearly thirty years ago.

He was a brilliant individual who succumbed to an inherent drive to always push the limits.  An excessive use of alcohol, drugs and some ultimate bad luck resulted in an untimely death.

Kurt had received national recognition for his design to capture and reuse the methane gas generated by the landfill.  As we drove by I wondered if the smell was the result of the single digit temperatures, a flaw in his design or some failure to maintain the system for cost cutting measures.  (Probably the latter)

There is a long stretch of 71 that goes through some exceptional farmland.  Land that feels as flat as a board and for all intense and purposes you might think you were in Iowa, so MJ que'd up Greg Brown’s “Iowa” CD as fitting music for this portion of the ride.

Of course historically this land might have had pockets of tall grass prairie, but was predominately forested at the time the first pioneers began their explorations.

It is hard to imagine just what those forests must have been like and about the best way to get any kind of descriptive idea is to look up and read some of the early surveyors journals.

I have read bits and pieces of journals from Israel Ludlow who worked in southwest Ohio and Seth Pease in northeast Ohio.  Both of these men recorded what the natural features they saw in addition to simply measuring and monumenting the countryside.

Their observations are simply fascinating.

Ohio had spectacular forests that were cleared to make way for farmland.  It was not uncommon for huge tracks of these hardwood forests to be burned over the winter months just to clear the land.

Every kid in school today knows about the loss of the rainforests but few people realize that our predecessors cleared the eastern United States in much the same way.

We were now driving through one of the most productive areas in the country for row crop agriculture on an interstate that had been built through rural, prime agricultural land.

What struck me as we drove along was how many lights there were across the landscape.

It seemed that every farmhouse or out building had a cluster of high output lights.  At every exit with a gas station there were a myriad of tall light poles.

The amount of light pollution was really disheartening.   I suppose as a culture we have been conditioned to be afraid of the dark.

That is all I can think of.  Why else would someone in rural America hang high output lights off of every building?

The opportunity to enjoy the night sky is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

When I was growing up in southwestern Ohio, one of my most engaging winter time actives was looking up at the night sky and taking in an overwhelming display of stars and planets.

It made me sad to observe this as we drove along and to think of the simple enjoyment that we are denying ourselves as a culture.

The dark is as much a part of the day as the light is.  It seems strange that we would choose to not enjoy the benefits of each.

Currently we have the privilege of living in a very lovely location and I have often marveled when a new neighbor moves in or builds a new house on our street what they choose to illuminate.  Sometime it is the length of their driveway, other times it is the porch, or garage, or outbuildings or in some cases all of the above.

And I wonder why they do this?

If they are afraid to live in a natural setting why did they move here to begin with?

Are we that afraid of the absence of light or are we afraid of what we might see in the darkness?

But I guess it is not to unlike having constant background noise on to perhaps keep us from hearing our own thoughts.

I think we listened to Greg Brown until we reached the hotel.

Yesterday in the early afternoon, I was driving through the valley, and caught site of a large bird over head. Sure enough it was an eagle, nope there were two eagles!

They were both immature, just beginning to get white on their head and tails, and they were engaged in a mating flight.

Now I don’t know enough about eagles to be sure if this was the real deal and if immatures actually mate or if this was a pseudo mating flight.

Sometimes animals do a sort of pre mating play as juveniles, sort of like teenagers making out. Ideally it’s just practice, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, perhaps you have seen this on nature shows or maybe had the chance to actually watch such a site.

It was an incredible and I pulled the car over and watched for ten minutes or so.

They would circle around over this broad spot in the valley floor, the male was a little smaller and would glide over the female and she would turn upside down. They would grab at each other’s talons as they were falling toward the ground and then disengage and right themselves right above the treetops. Off they would fly, climbing up into the air and repeated this again and again.

To see the female flip and fly upside down and to see the male turn completely sideways and slip down through the air to meet her was simply a spectacular spectacle.

This all was taking place about a quarter mile from my house.

Now you might ask, "Why in the world would I want to move?"

Well that is a good question.

If things progress with the other position, we intend to hang on to this house if we can.

It is a great location and would be a lovely vacation and weekend getaway house.

This might be a pipe dream but then again we’ll sort that out when we get there.

At any rate I have been truly privileged to live for the past 11 years or so in such a cool spot that has generated so many wonderful memories.

I have watched mink hunt in the creek, as well as two big water snakes work together to herd and catch minnows. And no I am not making that up.

I have had red fox sit and look into the back door in the dead of winter as if pondering the possibility of coming in.

I watched a coyote ambush a red fox off the side of the hill.  The next morning I examined the remains in nearly the exact spot where I discovered similar fox remains a few years and wondered what had happened. That day I knew.

MJ and I have been entertained by two families, at the same time, of pileated wood peckers enjoying our suet feeders.  The adults were feeding their clumsy youngsters who couldn’t negotiate hanging upside down to feed themselves.

And I will never forget watching both eagles and kingfishers hunt steelhead in the creek.

The kingfisher realizing at the last second of his dive he was no match for the big fish and pulling off before hitting the water.

And of course there is the recollection of the early morning hours on the day of the five-hundred year flood, lying in bed with MJ feeling large logs smashing into and shaking the entire house while the little creek was roaring with the extreme volume of water.

So yep this is a special place.

I suppose I too am engaged in the Acrobatics of Life.

I know I am privileged to be here, and fortunate to be considered for yet another position that may allow me to continue to work to protect, enhance and share the benefits of these things that inspire me.

I don't know if this is just practice or will produce, but it's the journey that is life.

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