For the last 48 hours it has been raining. Everywhere water is running. The track from the back door to the woodshed is a quagmire. The creek has broken its banks and come out over the flat below the garden. The dogs are thick with mud. The rain, destructive for the oyster farmers on our boundaries, inconvenient for many, assures us of huge spring.
Late Friday night, before the rain, friends arrived from the north of the island with a trailer load of bees. They have a small pollination business and their bees are in demand in late spring and summer to pollinate crops. They start on the canola, move to white clover and finish with chicory before moving back to the clover pasture. They sell the delicate, fragrant honey (you can buy it here). But in the winter they need somewhere mild and sheltered and compared to the north of the state, that is exactly what we are.
Early Saturday morning I drive with them to unload the hives on a north facing ridge in a pocket of bush thick with prickly box and acacia above a creek edged with flowering gorse. The gorse is a problem we battle year round, for the bees it is a boon.
My friend beckoned to me to press my ear to a hive. It hummed. A bass beat. I’m shocked at the intensity. Afterwards I remembered standing in a concert and the thrilling feeling of being taken over by a beat more powerful than my heart.
My friend walked to each hive and pulled away the material blocking the entrance. A cloud of bees rose. The scouts flew off. The workers set to cleaning the detritus that had built up in the hive overnight, the dead were carried out and dropped to the earth. We went down the hill for breakfast.
Later that afternoon, before the rain came, I walked to the flat below the hill from the bees. I carried a bucket and called to the three old horses. I wanted to move them to where I knew they would be safe from a big flood. They came at a stately trot. I pulled the gate open and stood waiting as they splashed through an already full creek. A gorse bush was bright with golden flowers, and now in the window of calm before the system moved in, it was humming with bees.
The rain arrived on Saturday night. By Sunday the rivers were angry, fat and brown. Roads closed, people were cut off. The swell was heavy, white horses chased the horizon. When I get up on Monday morning to make smoko sandwiches for crutching and put a chicken casserole in the oven, the rain is still lashing the courtyard roof and running down the gutters.
After lunch is on the table. After the dishes are washed up, the wet laundry draped on racks around the fire, after the floor is mopped and emails answered, that is right at the end of the day, I pull my gumboots on to check the bees.
The air is gentle after the violence of the rain and there is much activity on and around the hives. I keep walking past the point I had intended to turn for home. I follow the tracks of wallabies, see the imprint of a deer hoof. The dogs desert me. The creek roars through the steep cliffs. A wallaby breaks cover. It thumps its tail hard just once, a warning, and then leaves in silence. I follow the cliff along the top of the creek. A kookaburra calls. A black cockatoo pulls a strip of bark off a wattle, its powerful beak cracks into the trunk searching for grubs. I step around the skull of a possum, the scat of a devil in the middle of the path marks a territory.
My friend tells me the way bees communicate where food is to other bees is by performing a dance. Despite having flown hither and thither foraging they return in a straight line to the hive, (even if that hive has been put on the back of a trailer and driven a couple of hundred kilometres to a new place). They then dance a map to where the flowers are.
I think about this all the way home. The different ways we make maps for each other. Words are one way, the sharing of them, the way we see ourselves in the ‘I’ we read. So perhaps if you’
re a little lost this week, you can think of the bees on the hill dancing their maps out into the world and know there are all sorts of ways to find a path forward.
I love Kathleen Jamie’s books (Findings, Sightlines, Surfacing) - but this essay - in the LRB on bird flu decimating the wild bird populations, is devastating, compulsive reading. It was a week for rereading. I returned to an essay that made a huge impact on me when I first read it. Janet Malcolm’s 41 False Starts, a profile on the painter David Salle is the most wonderful rumination on process, on how to start and when to stop. I also reread this wonderful profile on Wendell Berry. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this essay before…but there are more of you now, so here it is again. And thanks to lovely sitter MS, I fell down a Charmian Clift rabbit hole. This review essay, A Serving of Insurgency with Breakfast by Fiona Wright on a new edition of her essays Sneaky Little Revolutions, edited by Nadia Wheatley is a great starting point. Finally, here is Christopher Hitchens, Siding with Rushdie, in the LRB in 1989 when his life was first threatened. It’s a stinging read and as relevant today as it was three decades ago.
This conversation between Ezra Klein and Ruth Ozecki kept me totally entranced all through cooking duties. I’ve been loving Skye Manson’s new weekly bite sized podcast Daily Routines. It comes out every Tuesday and is just a delightful insight into how people organise their days.
This weekend just past I had a sneak peak at some of the program planned for the annual East Coast Wine Trail Festival September 9-18 (which is actually 2 weekends). I had the most spectacular golden!! oysters from Melshell Oysters. I’ve never seen anything like them and perhaps there’s a wow factor in the beautiful golden shells, but they sure tasted good too. We had a beautiful lunch (which I didn’t need after the oysters) at Mels Kitchen at Springvale Wines. A must stop if you ever get the chance to drive up the east coast of Tassie. We had another tasting at Freycinet Lodge - Flavours of the East Coast - with some seriously beautiful wines. Dinner was delicious and the Lodge seems to have had a lick of paint and a serious investment in the kitchen since I last went there. There is all sorts of events - from a black tie and blundstone evening at Devils Corner, to a Sip and Shuck on the Melshell barge with matched Gala wines, to a Wild cooking with game workshop with matched wines at Twamley Farm. If you’re planning a trip to Tassie and are interested beautiful food and wine and meeting the people who produce it - then this is an annual festival that just keeps gettin better and better. It runs from Sept 9 - 18th. All the info is at the website here. And I think that is quite enough from me. Thanks for reading.