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Notes from Todd

The Value of Getting Stuck

The most memorable time we ever got stuck with the bee truck, St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1997

Beekeeping is a very equipment intensive business; one travels around to a string of bee yards and has to be prepared for a great number of possibilities for the work that has to be done in a unique manner to hundreds of beehives each day. When you leave the honey house in the morning, you are on the road and in the fields until you return, and everything gets taken with you.

In the north country, the work on the land with the bees begins each year when there is snow in the bee yards. In these days of emerging light and warmth, as the weather dances back and forth between winter and spring, we start to visit the bees and make sure that they have enough food to get through to the nectar and pollen of the dandelion season in May. It is a very invigorating time to be on the land; as we travel from one bee yard to another, we see the steam rising from maple sugaring operations and the air is cool and refreshing, but not frigid as it was some weeks earlier.

Because one has to bring so much to the bee yards, the trucks are heavy and laden full of equipment. At times like this in the Spring when the ground is starting to thaw out and get softer, the questions are always there - how firm is the land today, how far do I want to walk (leaving the truck)? I wonder if I can take a walk to the bees with just a hive tool and a smoker to check and see if they have enough honey until spring or do I have to make eight trips and carry in 120 lbs. of boxes each time?

Like a queen bee sticking her abdomen into a cell and using them as calipers to quickly determine if the cell is a worker cell or drone cell, and leaving a fertilized or unfertilized egg there, a beekeeper is always testing the land and an analysis of this risk-reward ration constantly goes through your head and becomes part of your breath and being each hour.

On this beautiful St. Patrick's Day, Billy and I were circling around the last fence post at the Sawmill bee yard on Moses Gingrich' land. I knew challenges were ahead and gained speed to try and clear a muddy zone, but the wet clay swallowed the wheels of the truck and we were soon stuck in place.

Billy said that there was not a tow truck or tractor in this part of the Amish community in St. Lawrence County, New York to free us, and I knew that he was right, but we were soon liberated by a strength more powerful than any truck or machine.

Moses, Jacob, and Rudy are brothers, Amish men that work together in the sawmill. When I asked Moses for help to pull the bee truck out of the mud, he promptly set into motion the steps necessary to help us. He went to get the Percheron draft horses, Daisy and Betsy. As Jacob and Rudy lined up the leather harnesses for the horses, the metal hardware on this tack jingled in a symphony as the horses danced in excitement about going out to work together, their black leather pungent with years of sweat and work. After the horses were hitched to some strong ropes tied to the truck, they easily pulled us out in about ten seconds.

There is a great power in asking for help. People in the country understand when someone is in trouble and respond with a depth of generosity.

As we get stuck, we are forced to stop what we are doing, humble ourselves, and ask for help. It is an opportunity to meet new people and begin friendships. My relationship with this family turned a corner on this day in March. I was always fascinated to see how logs get brought in on a wagon pulled by horses or a truck, dropped off, and with their ingenuity and the strength of their horses, logs get milled, planed, and dried, all without electricity. The many bee hive boxes that I prized the most over the years were built in this sawmill, from boards they made from logs in their shop.

For years, a long thin band of beehives on Moses' land, between the saw mill and a cedar swamp, provided us with tons of honey. I am very grateful for the relationships that grew out of the day where we got stuck, and all the blessings that followed.

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