I am still missing India (especially my plants) but its also so nice to have sunlight after 7 pm and toilet paper and water I can drink straight from the tap. The streets are so clean! Where are the cows? I often feel like I’m back in the US, yet for some reason everyone is speaking French. Any minute now I will wake up and be back in the muggy jungle again.
After a weekend at our grandma’s house, we took the train to our first farm to dive into the beekeeping world! I thought there is no place more beautiful than India, but it has obviously been too long since I had been to southern France. The farm is perched in the Pyrenées foothills, rolling hills of sunflowers and corn just beginning their climb into the long months of summer sun. Red poppies, thistles, and clover peek out of the fields of golden wheat. A crumbling chateau is perched on a nearby hillside, while the peaks of the Pyrenées show off the last splashes of winter’s snow. The family has two daughters, one of which has a kitten and the other a beautiful white horse. They farmhouse is covered in charming grape vines. They have a seperate apartment with a bathroom, kitchenette and small deck for Wwoofers, which was unexpected but it was so nice to be able to unpack in our own space. And did I mention the view? Brett and I are going to have so much fun exploring the nearby forests, creeks, lakes and old villages on cycle and on foot.
Our first day on the job was spent in the miellerie, filling glass jars with golden acacia honey, and then sticking labels on the filled jars. The farm produce several varieties of honey: sunflower, chesnut, honey of the forest and springtime flowers.
Stephanie manages 150 hives. The hives are placed in spots all over the nearby counryside, so when we go to work we also get to tour through the never-ending green hills and the tiny villages of stone houses and climbing roses. Brett and I both got our own beesuit, which comes with a sweet netted hat and a pair of thick gloves. Stephanie and Dany are very willing to teach us the ropes, like how to tell the difference between nectar and honey, how to find the queen (they’ve marked her with a colored dot), and how to properly smoke the hive before opening it. Tonight we are moving a group of hives to a field lined with just about to bloom chesnut trees. We will move them at night, when the highest number of bees will have returned from the day’s forage. Imagine if you had spent a long day collecting pollen in the forest only to return to find that your home had completely disappeared!
Today we transferred a group of chesnut honey bees into bigger hives. It’s a humbling experience to swim through the clouds of buzzing life. Even if you don’t speak bee, it is immediately obvious how organzed they are. And they are all working so hard.
Somehow one of the girls got under my hat and started crawling under my collar. I tried to calmly but swiftly walk away from the hives so I could pull off my hat, but by then we could smell each other’s panic and she stung me on the back of the neck, swift and sharp. It hurt. But did you know that beestings can help cure arthritis, MS, tendonitis, and (according to Baburam) high blood pressure? If that’s the worst that can happen in our three week stay here, I think I’ll be okay.
The family has two small vegetable gardens and some chickens. ‘Nous sommes vegeteriens, ça va?’ ‘Oui, oui!’ Today while we were in the forest I foraged a large bag of nettle leaves, which are a very healthy spring delicacy, good for the urinary tract, kidney, immune system and respitory tract. After you cook the tender leaves the sting goes away. Stephanie’s putting them into a soup right now.
(I came to France with boxes of masalas, spices, and pickles so that I could cook Indian food for our French hosts. So far, it hasn’t worked out like I’d planned. When I made my Mamie try some gorgunkala pickle, she sassily replied, Mais c’est du diable, ça! Ca te donne du feu au fesse!” Then Brett and I made lunch today and I must have put too much curry on the fava beans because Stephanie ran from the table with her mouth full of spicy vegetable. But she did say her stuffed nose is now clear; so maybe it was a happy accident. Note to self: the French don’t do spicy.)