I cannot believe I am doing this. I am in a little
boat, four metres thirty, the sea is wild and I have twenty thousand
passengers. I look to see if they are OK. I look in through the
mesh, they look out. They seem OK, but then they can't see what
I can; the waves, the rocks, the spray. An English sailor would
call this sea lumpy, a Greek, with equal understatement, would say
ekei thalassa, there is sea.
Thank God it is not windy. Waves can cause problems,
they can break over your boat, especially if you go into them too
fast, or you are too slow and a following sea catches you, but they
do not drive you into the cliffs and onto the rocks. The wind does
that and there is no wind, so I can keep in close to the cliffs,
maybe five metres, and I can dodge in and out of the rocks. This
close to the shore the waves are not so big. They break up as they
rebound and meet the oncoming wave and create a choppy, lumpy, environment.
Not dangerous, unless I make a mistake, but stressful and tiring
and I have been up since four this morning.
|In June a wash of mauve tumbles down the mountainside
I cannot believe I am doing this. Moving
my beehive from the winter location, snug on a steep hill in the
forest, to their own private valley by the sea in the north of Saria,
the next island. There they will be ready for the blooming of thymari,
the thyme, which, in two weeks will cover the mountains with a mauve
wash and provide nectar and pol-len and enable my lovely, lovely
bees to flourish and give me honey. I was in the trees before dawn
and it was dark and I had to approach the hive without light. I
did not want to disturb the bees and have them come pouring out
as I closed their entrance. They guard the entrance valiantly against
robbers in daylight. But they were asleep inside as I approached
and I had no problems. They were quiet too as I carried the hive
down the mountainside, loaded it onto a truck and drove it to the
beach. There they rested while I drank tea and waited for dawn.
It is best to transport bees in the cool of the night,
so they do not suffocate, but the way to Saria is rough and in the
dark that can be difficult, so we wait for the light. Bees regulate
the temperature of their hive. If it is too hot they stand by the
entrance and by the mesh and whirl their wings to circulate air.
Too cold and they block up the mesh and the cracks in the wood with
propolis, a magic, sup-posed healthy element, secreted by special
glands. They make honey by collecting nectar, mixing it with water,
stor-ing it in the comb, whose cells slant slightly upwards to avoid
drips. Then they cure the mixture, by maintaining the temperature
precisely and evaporating off excess water. You and I make wine
or beer in a similar way. We read books about it, we learn from
our friends. But a bee? This tiny, furry creature. How
does she know, for it's the females who do the work? How does she
know what the tempera-ture is and what to do about it? When the
honey is ready, they cap it with wax, secreted by another gland,
so that they can store it for the winter. As it happens, capping
the comb means that I can transport full combs home without spilling
any. We work together my bees and I.
It is best to transport
the cool of the night.
As the sky grew lighter in the
east I returned to the beach. I look through the mesh again. All
is quiet; the workers are calm and deep inside, the queen is at
ease. I have been taught to respect the queen. I do not call her
mana, or mum, as the locals do. I am a beginner. A subject. To me
she is E Vassilissa, the Queen. I loaded my twenty thousand passengers
and the queen into my little boat and off we go in what looks to
be a dead, calm sea. But not for long.
On my own I would turn back. It is too rough now, too difficult.
I have to look in four directions at once, avoid this wave, slow
down for that, wait behind this rock, then glide between those two
small ones. And what's it going to be like in Alona? But when we
reach Alona it is dead calm, dead flat. Sheltered from the Sirocco,
the south west sea, it causes me, for the first time ever, no problems
at all. Around the Mediterranean, wherever they grew wheat or barley,
you will find in the old historic countryside round flat stone constructions
among the terraces and the olive groves by the sea. In Greece, in
the villages, they are called Alona. This is where they took advantage
of the summer wind, the Meltemi, shaking the grain from the sheaf,
break-ing it a little then throwing the mixture up in the air so
that the wind can separate the wheat from the chaff. If you have
seen this you are lucky. If you read about it, then, no doubt, you
will have been told it is biblical. It is not. They were doing this
long before the bible became the confused oral history of tribes
of nomads and farmers. So I cross the bay of Alona, away from the
cliffs, away from the rocks. And Steno too is calm. The narrow,
normally wild passage that separates Karpathos from Saria is benign
today, the sea oily and flat like yoghurt.
I chug up the east coast of Saria as fast as I dare.
The sun is climbing, the day warmer now. I don't want my bees dis-tressed.
They are by the mesh now in their hundreds, wings whirling, facing
the breeze, keeping the hive cool, keeping alive. Me too. Still
alive. Where are those rocks outside Palatia? There. OK. Wide berth
and we are at Alimounda, the summer residence. I anchor the boat,
tie up on the beach, carry my little darlings two hundred metres
inland. I place the hive in its spot, sheltered from the wind and
the afternoon sun, and provide them with a little runway; for they
like to land a few centimetres from the entrance to the hive and
wait before walking in the entrance.
It is hot. I am tired. I rest for ten minutes. I put on my gloves,
my beekeeper's mask and jacket. I light the smoker. It is the smell
of smoke that enables us to work bees. They think there is a forest
fire coming and they start to gorge on their honey, ready to transport
it to a place of safety. I open the entrance, smoke it a little
with the smoker and wait. Nothing. They do not come pouring out,
an angry, danger-ous, mass of high pitched buzzing. I have done
my job properly. They are not frightened, they are calm. I walk
away and sit quietly. A little while and a few bees come out to
search for water, pollen and nectar. When they return they will
perform a dance, a circle or figure of eight in front of the entrance
to show the others what they have found and how far away and in
what direction. They will be happy. Her majesty will be happy. Here
there is plenty. I have done my job. Now they can do theirs.