In Kars, I try to travel like a bee. Staying close to my home base, but leaving to feast on the diverse scents, exotic colors, and daily changes of my surroundings. I glide over the familiar rolling steppes that have become my home, noticing when budding flowers open after the rain and when old ones are withered. I feel the new season that is every couple hundred meters on these ancient steppes, and the untamed wild of 2,000 flowers calms my heart to a happy buzz…
That’s why I feel like a cheater when I jump in a plane, and the next thing I know I am standing at the farthest western corner of Turkey. My warm fleeces, my cozy socks, my heavy sleeping bag are snug in Kars and I am a world away on a whole other set of borders in Trakya. Hugging Bulgaria and Greece, the new landscape is hot, sunny, European, and crowded.
Although I am now 2,000 km from Kars, there are glimmers of familiarity. Edirne, like Kars, passed between Russian hands in the last 200 years, and both were important trade doors and military outposts since the beginning of imperial history. Trakya also reminds me of something else that is distinctly familiar, my home back in the United States. Driving past golden rows upon rows of sunflowers, the symmetry, the monocropping, and the perfect lines almost resemble the corn that has become synonymous with U-S-A. Monocrops like corn, soy, cotton, and even beautiful sunflowers spell efficiency and revenue, but also risk. They weaken ground soil and they are susceptible to wide disease and pest outbreaks, thus making them pesticide and fertilizer dependent.
Ironically, here in the sunflower fields of Trakya, I don’t stand too far off from where the first pesticides were used in 1500 BC Mesopotamia (modern day Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Iraq), where farmers would dust their crops with sulfur to protect from creepy crawly invaders. Over the subsequent 4,500 years of agriculture history, our use of pesticides evolved, making a big jump in WWI and WWII with the increase of cost-efficient, deadly, chemical warfare technology produced by Monsanto and Dow Chemical Company. Once the US was no longer engaged in direct conflict, these weapons were modified and repackaged into an alphabet soup of insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides (DDT is good for meee).
While there are arguably benefits for maintaining a stable food supply, undoubtedly pesticide use is not the only option. And for some reason when all the bees started disappearing, too many people readily pointed their fingers at varroa mites rather than the thing weakening the bees immune systems’ in the first place: “pes·ti·cides (N): A substance used for destroying insects or other organisms.” Oh yea, bees are insects aren’t they.
So does it come as a surprise that Turkish beekeepers report the highest amount of bee losses around the sunflower crops in Trakya? Not really. As I cruise past the sunflower fields, I think of traveling like a bee here. The sunflowers’ bloom is short and uniform, rendering the warm territory a food desert for the rest of the year. I guess in the end, even if toxic chemicals didn’t kill me, starvation would.
… fortunately, beyond the beautiful but deadly sunflower fields, the region has an organic wild side. Check back in tomorrow to find out where.