Señor Juan, the gentle grower of so much goodness, has gone. Who will tell the bees?
It is five Easters since Juan gifted us two humming hives and a pair of persimmon saplings. Or is it six? There are too many years to remember.
He’d walked me up the steep track to the sandy crown of his land beside the railway line. I kept my distance as he moved bare headed, bare armed and completely unharmed along the line of his honey family, opening and checking each of the 12 houses to find the heartiest for us.
While the sun floated away he took me to his barn to seek amid the dust of ages some spare frames and wax sheets, and to guide me as to how one marries the two by warming the wire. From one particularly large pile of redundant bits and bobs he procured his old keeper’s hat with veil, handing it to me with a knowing smile.
There was no hurry. When the twilight had silenced the breeze and softened the distance, drawing the bees home, we returned to his apiary and he gently closed the entrance slits of the chosen hives which were carried with care to our car. In all his actions and utterances there was the comfort of calmness, the measured pace of one who had covered so many miles, mostly, I suspect, on the rich earth of orchards.
What springs forth on his land now are tears. The life-pattern of impacted paths still defies the weeds, but the blush of care and love is now weighed with the first stirrings of wilderness. A different beauty will come, eventually, but the collision of great care – rows of fruit trees and the mosaics of flower beds and vegetables plots – with sudden abandonment, holds all the more poignancy when you know the person, the story.
Juan tended his hives even though he was a diabetic, and it was obvious to all who knew him that the scents and colours of that little farm were weaved into his being. For whatever reason much of what was produced there fell to the ground, a perplexing aspect of a very private life. To be asked to share any of it was a huge privilege, and I sit here remembering with awakening senses one breath when, turning full circle, I was happily lost among the heady harmony of peach fragrance and endless rhythm of trees.
Who, indeed, will tell the bees? I will. Now. As Celtic wisdom decrees
Marriage, birth or burying,News across the seas,All your sad or marrying,
You must tell the bees.
Here at Mother’s Garden all is awakening after nearly six inches of rain in a week. Green is adorned with yellow (rough hawkbit wild blooms and male brimstone butterflies), white (shepherd’s purse) and soft blue (Persian speedwell).
The air is full of birds and song, and the screech of a mother jay as she leads her three offspring on circuits through the pines. We await the first green beginnings of the vines now tidy after pruning, but have given up waiting for the ponies.
Remember talk of pregnancy? Everyone seemed convinced, and the law of averages dictated, that there had to be foal consequences after the stallion invited himself to our corral 17 times. But no. The vet has popped along, given our lawn mowers and fertilizer manufacturers the once over and gladdening my heart. What we have, it transpires, are two grossly overweight ponies. Short rations are the order of the day, month and possibly year for La Petita and Remoli,which is not helping their disposition one iota.
There are benefits. After being dragged by Remoli this morning as I was putting her out to graze my working clothes had the faint scent of wild thyme. That made a difference from the aura of chickens after a deep clean of the hen house and setting up some low perches for the geriatrics among the brood.
Woodwork has also included Joe’s increasingly intricate stable for his toy horses, made from an old wine box, assorted bits of waste timber and about 200 toothpicks. He and I have been tickling along with it for about a month and we are almost there. The debate is what comes next. I vote bird boxes, he votes tree house, which I suppose means that, roughly speaking, we are in accord.
On the western fringe of the farm there is a grand holm oak with boughs that fan out conveniently at the same height, although I am of the opinion it is too high as it leans over a broad, deep gulley.
Aiding and abetting Ella and Joe with the planning were Grace and Thomas, 18-year-old American farm volunteers who weeded, lopped, gathered vine prunings, burned, strimmed, mulched and, basically, worked their socks off for three weeks, which wasn’t a problem.
When they left for Germany we worked out it had been a seven socks visit. Every evening Grace would sit by the woodburner knitting toe warmers, a homely sight that also had both of our children searching for needles and wool again.
Thomas, meanwhile, wandered the farm with his two cameras, taking some of the photographs newly featured on our gallery. He and Grace became part of the family and, once more, we have been grateful for the worldly contact that has come through the HelpX website. www.helpx.net
PS A very important footnote – please also see www.imaginemozambique.org. Many of you will know that, with all love and admiration, we do what we can to support Lorraine and her charity in Mozambique. I was there, once upon a time, and saw first hand what Lorraine and her late husband Joe, began more than twenty years ago, bringing light, hope and help to the lives of children and adults coping with challenges beyond common comprehension. This is the new website. Now you too can see. Support Lorraine and her team if you feel able. Thank you.
There’s a buzz in the air and honey still for tea, thank goodness. And as if to acknowledge the wonder of it all, the dusky mountain bathes in nectar light. Spain may be Europe’s largest producer of honey with more than two million hives, but the dying is happening here like everywhere. My heart sinks when I look across at our neighbour’s broken land every spring.
The butterflies dance as we dig, and in the middle distance the bee-eaters whistle their arrival from Africa.
Not that our bees seem deterred. Fifty metres west of this year’s almost weedless potato patch we have two hives on the go. A third lies broken, a fourth is outside the barn awaiting my attention after an infestation of moths. I must get to it this week because the bees are feasting. The meadow of wild flowers grows deeper and we are going to have to cut some paths soon, once the tractor’s fuel feed problems are solved.
Below the front of the house, on the terrace nearest to the road, our three apple trees are proclaiming the spring, and around the blossom bees swirl contendedly. Two years ago we had a bumper apple crop. This year could match it.
Meanwhile, on the higher vegetable patch we have just planted some purple beans, testing rock dust as a means to remineralise and add nutrients to the soil. Who has caught on to rock dust?
I will tell you more anon….