Bumble Beeing: On Story-telling, Science, & Magic at 3,000 m


Holding her gun with a big grin, a woman shoots a round of bullets into the mountain mist. I scream and dive under a log. Around me, my hosts laugh. “What are you doing Buket Hanim?” they tease. Although the sight of me squeezing under a log is funny, they kindly put away the gun, and coax me out from my hiding place.

We are at the edge of Turkey, on a 3,000 m high mountain crest somewhere between Savsat, Macahel, and Georgia. My hosts, 20 or so village people from Camili, have taken me into the mountains for a day of driving trucks, grilling meat, loving nature, and telling stories. The time that foreigner dove behind a log is quickly becoming a new favorite.

Although the gunshots send me running, I feel safer here than I do in most cities. My hosts are kind beyond all belief, and they eagererly make me feel at home, high in the icy breath of Turkey’s mountains. They wave a chunk of cheese near my log and lure me out from my hiding spot. Within minutes, a feast is perched on a tray on my lap. The adjectives thick, creamy, white, stringy, boiled, dried, pungent, spongy, yellow, and salty rearrange themselves in front of dairy and corn, resulting in every variety of cheese, yogurt, and bread. Everything is so fresh, it tastes as though it was milked from the clouds. Shaking from the cold, I effortlessly down thousands of calories in hopes that warmth will follow.

Mist passes through my body, and upon hitting the thick wall of cheese and bread in my stomach, it leaves a wake of shivers and goose bumps on my arms. I stare: at the ghost figures of clouds transforming around me, at the goats’ horns curling into question marks above their heads, at the exotic flowers whose sheer existence in this land of extremes is a miracle.

I have had a creeping suspicion over the last few months that I have fallen into a world where magic is infused into reality. Where science, folklore, and tradition are welded together to create a reality that puts “super” before natural. The locals spend all afternoon telling me stories that confirm my feelings. They describe the visions they have had while napping next to the valley’s sacred rocks, and how a famous eight-year-old boy in the village can accurately predict weather, more than 10 days in advance.

Here in my world of super natural, the cold, the shaking, and the altitude make me think of another local anomaly, the Bombus terrestris, otherwise known as the Bumblebee. The Bumblebee can survive at higher altitudes and colder climates than any other known eusocial insect. Scientists have observed these insects as far north as Ellesmere Island in the arctic circle, and recorded successful flight in air chambers simulating conditions at 9,000m (29,528 ft) above sea level (note: this is higher than the Mount Everest summit – 8,848m). While the Homo sapien consumes copious amounts of cheese and bread to stay warm, the Bombus has learned to harness the power of shivering to warm its muscles, enabling it to fly in very cold climates. Although cocktail party banter has challenged the Bombus’ ability to fly, calling its flight “beyond scientific explanation,” research in 2003 proved that Bombus just has a superior understanding of viscous fluid dynamics. And if science doesn’t present a convincing enough case regarding the incredible abilities of the Bombus, story-telling has forever forged a connection between Bombus and magic. The bumblebee is the inspiration behind the name of Albus Dumbledore, one of the most powerful wizards of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as the word “Dumbledore,” meant bumblebee back in 1875.

After lunch, we drop over the pass to visit another village and pick blueberries. Nestled in the bushes, I hear the comforting hum of the Thoracobombus, a Bumblebee subspecies unique to Turkey. Looking at the houses around us, it’s hard to imagine that people live here. In some ways, their existence reminds me of the life of the Bombus. Both require hardy survival skills, and inspire stories of magic and mystery.

Camili’s yayla, so beautiful.
I’m posing here like a tough KIZ, but maybe you can tell by my face, I am freezing. Someone play horon with me please!
Our mangal camp!
First they carve the meat, then they carve the sticks, next up is the shish feast.
Lunch time.
Fire, shish, trucks. Yea!
While the others feast on barbequed meat, I indulge in my veggie stables: three different kinds of cornbread and cream, yogurt, dried yogurt, two types of cheeses…
Mountain flora.
Findikli Yaylasi.
Waterfalls on the way up to the mountains.
Just a man, his tractor converted into a waterproof pick-up, and his awesome goat. My favorite kind of mountain traffic.
The Cebeci goat.
Crazy horn action.

Posted on October 1, 2011, in Bees Keep People and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 72 Comments.

  1. Fabulous. One of your best posts yet. There’s a lot of magic in the curves of those goat horns too!

  2. Love this post, Kat. Reminds me of a visit I made to a mist-shrouded mountain in Catalunya, Spain. And the yayla wildflowers are so gorgeous in Turkey. This summer we made our annual trek to my in-laws’ yayla near Trabzon. I hadn’t ever been there in June and was thrilled to see the wildflowers in bloom. My mother-in-law said they tried to count the different varieties and finally stopped at 54! So lots of happy bees there. :-)

    • I love this story Justine! I have had similar moments, the flower season is so short, but boy is it full! What yayla near Trabzon was it? Did they have great socks?

  3. Liked the part about the bumbles. The food looks amazing too. Is that really a goat with the man? It looks more like a ram.

    • Hi Emily, I am going to guess that you are right about the ram! When I was writing the post, I was translating from Turkish, I had wrote down koyun, thought that was wrong and went for goat instead…it was a koc!

  4. this post is great!
    have you ever thought of writing a book of your travels?

  5. What a beautiful post — with a well-deserved Freshly Pressed nod. Congrats!

  6. Thomas Fortune Work Centre Gardening Group

    Beautiful pictures and a great read, well done.

  7. What an absolutely incredible place!! Gorgeous photos! :)

  8. Thank you for showing us that good people can be found anywhere.
    In Bosnian the word for bumblebee is “bumbar” :-)
    Perfect love!

  9. It’s lucky that your passion if for bumblebees, and not unicorns. Admiration for going such lengths to study the bumblers.


  10. Crazy horn action is the best kind! Great post.

  11. Amazing set of facts about bumblebees. I thought they just stung really hard.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Great pics, as well. TY


  13. A really great post and fantastic pictures- I especially love the one of the sheep!

    Oh, and congrats on being Freshly Pressed :D

  14. Hi, great blog and what a great bold life you have. I really like your meal’s photo, imagining three different corn bread and dried yoghurt … hmmm more appealing for me than meaty ones.
    Congrats in being freshly pressed.

  15. Beautifully written. Having kept bees for 8 years in Colorado and now living at around that 3,000m elevation most of our bees are of the bumble variety and we are always amazed at finding them active when no other insects are moving. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  16. Wonderful storytelling and amazing photo’s.

  17. Lovely Blog and Beautiful Photos!

  18. I wish our goats here look like those in your pictures. I’ve never seen such beautifully twisted horns in real life ever… Glad that the camera was invented. Lol! Anyway, great adventure you have in there!

  19. Awesome! I spent nearly four years on the other side of those mountains, in Georgia. It’s nice to see what’s across the border!

  20. What a lovely post ! Bees were used as a symbol of courage by Roman soldiers. It was with this in mind that I added a bee to my tattoo :) The bee seems to be a good choice for someone brave enough to travel such as yourself. Looking forward to more.

    • Thanks Elizabeth :). I am actually looking for an ancient coin with a bee on it… sounds strange I know…but thank you for the tip about the Romans, I will have to look into it more.

      Thanks for visiting!

  21. This has definitely made it onto my ‘must visit’ places list. There is just something inherently elevating about ascending mountains, and the thought of cheese at the top would be a good motivator! Lovely and alluring piece.

    • That’s great! My team in Kars is starting an ecotourism program that is building a trail system and homestay program for people to trek the route from Kars… if you are interested stay-tuned…and the great news is that there will be food tasting all along the route :)!

  22. The lighting in all of those photos gives ms travel urges like crazy! Great share. Thanks
    ~ firey

  23. Great read, Kat! Enjoyed all the pics and the wonderful story of your travels. My bee photo book will be for sale this month. I’ll keep you posted.

  24. The information about the Bumblebee is fascinating, I’ve always really have loved the insects and can’t help but to stop and watch them on their run for food and flowers. Your pictures are amazing too, I especially love the man and his goat with the crazy horns!

  25. what a country life!

  26. You really have taken a wonderful trip, Envoy you…

  27. A vewry nice

  28. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wN8X3YSogGw I am trying to get my video out there so please go watch it and tell me what you think. Thanks! <3

  29. Beautiful photography and what an amazing adventure you took me on. Great post!

  30. Saw your post on bumblebees on Freshly Pressed. It was the top story. Congratulations. You drew me in. Captivating. You’re a great writer, a courageous spirit!!

  31. These are really lovely photos. I love you post, it’s wonderful and colourful! (:

  32. I just loved the pics…. it shows the richness of nature there….. :)

  33. nice place. mountains and valleys holds a different kind of magic :) nice photos

  34. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your very interesting life!

  35. Beautiful post, beautiful pictures. Congratulations on being freshly pressed, and all the best with your endeavours!

  36. Wow, what an amazing place!

  37. What a fascinating adventure you’re on! Really enjoyed your post, and your photos are wonderful! . . . Great to see a different side of Turkey! I’ve read lately that honey bees are disappearing, which could create challenges for the ecosystem. Congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed”!


  38. awesome pictures.. i like them so much.. :-D

  39. beautiful, adventurous and brilliant!

    congratulations on freshly pressed!

  40. That’s a great opening line for a non-fiction blog about bees!

  41. What an enjoyable read – felt like I was bumbeling along … My favorite are the photos though – they are stunning ! Thank you for sharing this lovely piece !

  42. I love everything about this post. I am a beekeeper and so bumblebees are very interesting for me. Thank you very much. Also the goats are very cool too.

  43. “‘harnessing the power of shivering to warm its muscles'” I really like this line….but your entire article….L-I-K-E***….Your sense of prose is warming…Because of your article, this place, somewhere between Savsat, Macahel and Georgias…is definitely a place I would like to visit.

    • Thank you!!! I am so glad that you read it and liked it! My team is launching an ecotourism program in the region next year – stay tuned :)! Thanks again for visiting!

  44. this is FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!! visited Italy and went and lived with the locals, this reminds me of it, don’t need much..simplistic living, awesome memories and must say you captured your adventure (for us) so incredibly, don’t want to take from that..yet must add..nothing like coming back home to OUR BEDS! hehe

    well done..you are my new favorite!!!

  45. Christian Debbie Cheerilee Alvarez

    Very nice photos. I love the flower one!

  46. Congratulations on bee-ing Freshly Pressed! I read this one first, which drew me into four others, then finally back here so I could comment on what an awesome spirit you have. Really, Cat…these posts are addictive (in a totally good way). Your writing is hilarious, insightful and informative, and the pictures are breathtaking. Thank you for sharing this journey.

    • Thank you for this :). I really appreciate your comment and I am so glad you were inspired to read more from the site! Thank you thank you thank you :).

  47. Amazing place, reminds me of my own hills!

  48. Thanks for the lovely reminder that science and wonder are not mutually exclusive. They are intertwined.

  49. the photos are beautiful! and it sounds like quite an adventure. i’d love to visit a place with such spectacular scenery. thanks so much for sharing!

  50. I think that is soooooooooooo fun!

    The place is superb! I love to hike :)

  51. I love bees so much! I never understood why so many people are afraid of them. I want to go stay in a yayla! I bet the air is so fresh it makes you giddy. It is so pure that magic can still move freely, unemcumbered by the doubts of Humans whose imaginations have become stagnant and surpressed. So Glad to know the bees are alive and well in a safe place on our Earth. A wonderful choice for Freshly Pressed! Thanks!

  1. Pingback: Bumble Beeing: On Story-telling, Science, & Magic at 3,000 m | slopestreetcats.com

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