The Honey Farm

Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way.
Exodus 33:3

I

The honey farm was in a valley in the northeast part of the county, not far from the river mouth. The region was not particularly known for its agriculture and that spring there had been a terrible drought, the worst in recorded history. The flowers were desiccated. The bees were discontented.

Sheila B., the proprietor of the honey farm, had placed several advertisements in various online forums and local newspapers across the country in an attempt to recruit free farmhands to help with maintenance and irrigation during these tough times. For the newspapers, she selected only cities and large towns, and none in the surrounding area: nobody from the villages in the region could be fooled into such a scheme. The focus of the print and online ads cleverly fluctuated between art and farming: it was promoted as either an artists’ retreat, or a chance to learn the apicultural trade.

Sheila had asked Hartford to find some blogs and websites – not limited to this province; spanning artistic and agricultural – on which to post the ad. Hartford, who can best be described as Sheila’s assistant, was the kind of middling, mild-mannered man that nobody ever remembers. Ten people responded and Sheila accepted all of them. Only eight showed up, and the eventual group that gathered at the honey farm had thus come, with a range of expectations, from all walks of life.

 

“What will we do with them?” Hartford asked.

“We need more people around,” Sheila said. “Many hands make light work.”

“We’ve done it ourselves up until now,” he said, his voice gray.

“And look how far that’s got us,” Sheila said, opening her wiry arms to gesture to the arid land, the drooping vegetation. “We have the chance to make this into a real thing, an enterprise, sell beyond the cranky artisanal market in the villages in the region. Isn’t that what you want, Hartford? Isn’t that what you signed on for?”

After a moment, he reached, his voice crumbling, for a last resort: “But where will they s-s-sleep?” Jealousy made him possessive and embarrassed.

“You’ll clean out the rooms up in the attic and we’ll get futon mattresses from, from that place…you know the place I’m talking about, the place in town filled with junk – ?”

“N-no, I’m not sure I –”

“Oh come on, Hartford, the second hand shops filled with Evangelists where you can buy old tea towels and household – ”

“I really don’t –”

“The Salvation fucking Army, yes, that’s the thing I mean, dammit!” Sheila’s eyes were slightly farther apart than was proportional and when she grew angry, her eyeballs bulged and her likeness to a toad grew all the stronger.

They sat there quietly for a moment, Sheila a little drunk, Hartford a little afraid.

“I just don’t know how I’ll…”

“Hartford,” she interrupted briskly, “you can leave at any time,” she said, though he knew that he couldn’t.

There used to be a river that ran into the valley; the conduit was still undulating with its former fluidity, the memory of its function still dictating its form. This was thousands and thousands of years ago. Now, the river by-passed this region and instead of riffling around up in the northern part of the county, it diverted directly south, towards the centre.

In the old hollow where the river once ran, ridges of sand drew topographical maps in the weedwater; fish had had to grow legs – salamanders and newts, grasshoppers and toads. The word “amphibian” means, literally, “both sides of life.”

The town had not yet accommodated for this season’s sudden drought. Patterns hadn’t changed, no research had been conducted into ways to either find more water, or use less. This was partly because there was still hope, yes, but primarily because the infrastructure just did not exist. Wells, like habit, run deep.

Sheila B. was intent on changing this.

 

The first honey harvest happens in the late spring. At this point, the pollen in the flowers is fresh, unripe; the resulting honey is pale and silvery with a fragile spume on the top – what is called, rather ironically, the flower of the honey – that has the most exquisite flavour. This early honey is of a different, rarer consistency than the mellifluous golden substance generally sold in shops. Flowers that start blossoming in this period include the fragile and complex, fruity and light flavours of apple, strawberry, and nasturtium.

There is no sense in trying to contradict nature: one must just follow the seasons. Sheila had set the arrival date for early April, then, so the group would have a chance to settle in and prepare. Sheila had a plan.

ISSN: 2116 34X