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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Siren Song of Honey


Many years ago while we were on a road trip, maybe somewhere in Kentucky, I picked up a jar of honey in a small grocery store. David looked at the price and indicated a cheaper jar. “No, I want to try the local honey,” I insisted. He has never forgotten the incident, which at the time amused him enormously, and he still teases me about local honey but now in a more supportive manner, pointing it out when he spots it along our trail. Thanks to agricultural voices like that of Wendell Berry and to local publications like Edible Grande Traverse (the Winter 2011 issue is one of their best ever), no one laughs at local honey or local produce any more. (Here's the link for EGT, by the way.)

I woke this morning from dreams of honey, dreams of rivers of heavy, thick gold, the result of having read myself to sleep last night with Australian travel writer Grace Pundyk’s The Honey Trail: In Pursuit of Liquid Gold and Vanishing Bees. Halfway through the book, I was struck by coincidence on Saturday morning, when I learned that friends from Grand Rapids who bought an old house here in the county that they are making habitable little by little (they remodeled the chicken coop first, in order to have a place to stay while working on the house) had recently attended a state-wide bee conference and will soon receive their first bees from Georgia. Z’s Bees! Can’t wait!

Pundyk’s quest for pure, unadulterated local honeys and the inside story on the complexity of today’s global honey market takes her literally around the world, from Yemen back home to Australia and from there out to New Zealand, Borneo, Russia, the U.K., Italy, Turkey, the U.S. and China. A reader has the delightful illusion of traveling along to each of these countries and to remote areas within national boundaries, but along with the personal is the factual, the story of trade and markets and tariffs, regulations and standards and all the various ways that money and honey intersect. I’m sure you wouldn’t have to be an aficionado of bees to find this book fascinating. On the other hand, once you read the story you may find yourself following swarms and looking for signs by the side of the road, and who knows what adventures you may find?

Unpacking boxes to rearrange storage in my fresh, new kitchen (still the tiny “Paris kitchen” but transformed, so that I feel I’m dreaming there, too), I unearthed the sweet jar of rose honey another friend brought back from Poland to us. “Produkt z ekologicznie czystych terenów Puszczy Bialowwieskiez,” says the label on the lid of the jar and shows a majestic bison against a background of green grass.


But I’m thinking about honey closer to home (especially that of our neighbors whose hives were ravaged by a bear in recent memory) and looking forward to seeing, when the snow has melted, stacks of white boxes in the orchards. Alas! It will be many weeks before the farm market starts back up in Northport. Perhaps, however, an expeditionary foray within the county will yield the gold I seek. We have an errand today on M-72, and I’m already humming happy backroads songs.

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