Mountain Bound: Starting a Honey Hunt in the South Caucasus
Kars is confused. Light rain and warm sun coax late flowers into bloom and beekeepers sigh in frustration. Imagine that you went to the beach for a week-long vacation, and it only rained. You saw the sun just once – in the rear-view mirror as you drove home. This, in short, describes the honey season. However, while the honey extractors spin dry, my story of honey hunting in the South Caucasus is already more than a full harvest, and it has only just begun.
The familiar reprise of beekeepers “It just didn’t happen this year,” is repeated by beekeepers in all of our interviews. The region was too hot, and dry. Then, it was too cold and rainy. But the perfect combination of warmth and rain never coincided. The flowers never reached their full bloom and the bees stayed close to home, waiting for the perfect conditions which never came.
Everyone looks a little perplexed, shaking their heads as they flip through frames, finding few with capped honey. The glittering open eyes of honey comb look like half completed art projects.
Now the region feels warm, a soft heated-wind rakes the dried wheat and barley into neat rows. But snow is near. Up in the mountains, a thick cloud like a heavy wall waits.
And we are heading there.
Our bags are packed and our travels are synchronized perfectly with the migrations of beekeepers. Just as the honey season reaches its close here in Kars, we are climbing over high mountain ranges and dropping down into dramatic micro-climates – returning back home with the bees who were set to roam the mountain tundras for the summer.
Put simply, our plan is two-fold:
We are uncovering the unique living histories of beekeeping and honey here in the South Caucasus.
We are mapping beekeeping journeys, connecting our sticky sweet tales with walking and traveling routes throughout the region.
There are two of us, me (Cat Jaffee, Buket, or Katreven Japarize) and Claire Bangser (or Benzeli). We have all of our supplies: computers, beekeeping and camping gear, mobile modems of various shapes and sizes, honey collecting jars, and an ample variety of cheeses – which are refreshed daily by shepherds and mountain villages.
We are here on a National Geographic Young Explorer’s grant, wanting to share with you a semi-forgotten world of beekeeping – that we are reminded of ever-so-often, when honey prices rise, when cries about disappearing bees hit the headlines, when beekeepers dressed like white grim reapers march through streets protesting pesticides. But as much as bees are a natural phenomenon bearing the apocalyptic omens of our future, pulling at our heart-strings, like stranded polar bears on floating icebergs, I can’t help but be drawn to the people who work and live beside them. Who are these keepers in the backlands, here at the heart of some of the world’s oldest honey (sorry Egypt, but the Caucasus clocks in honey discoveries at 5,500 years old)? And what can they teach us about life, humanity, history, and our future? Where does this regional culture around honey come from, and what can it tell us about local economies, social conditions, changing environments, and regional dynamics?
Formally for the next three months (and hopefully for much longer), we plan to share with you our stories and adventures from the field. Subscribe, stay tuned, and let the honey hunting begin!
Posted on August 29, 2012, in Culture, Environment, Food, History, Travel and tagged Balyolu, Beekeeper, Beekeeping, Cat Jaffee, Caucasus, Claire Bangser, Honey, kars, National Geographic Young Explorer, South Caucasus. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.