[Preface: This is the essay I was intending to write upon our return from Kentucky last April. The drive was exhausting, then was followed by many months of breakneck business at The Honey Exchange. As we begin preparations for the next journey this spring I am finally getting around to telling the second half of this story. For your enjoyment . . .]
I could have used another hour of sleep. Instead I was sitting in a Waffle House in Elizabethtown, Kentucky and it was still dark outside and I didn’t realize the fates were laughing at me. Too anxious to eat, I stared at co-pilot Jim over a sodden waffle, “Let’s go. We need to be there at 7:00.” Clarkson was a little over a half an hour away and we still had to do some last minute setup of the trailer. And it was spitting drizzle.
The day before had been nice and sunny. I had relaxed a bit as we watched the new thermometer accurately read the temperature in the empty trailer behind us. Pennsylvania was behind us by the time the sun rose and we passed through the tail of Maryland that hangs off to the west – something I’d never known existed. In the bright mid-day we crossed through the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia and I was awestruck. I had never been to West Virginia before and, I confess, my only impressions of the state came from movies of the hardscrabble life of coal mining and I’d presumed the terrain was always muddy and covered in soot. The plunging mountainsides were stunning, ablaze with blooming spring flowers, and the air was redolent of lilacs. Oddly, I didn’t see any lilac and I have yet to learn what made the mountains smell so wonderful. The later half of the day was spent crossing eastern Kentucky. The beauty of that state was exactly as I’d imagined, only this time it had been informed by movies about thoroughbred horses. The gently rolling hills were green beyond description and the land is sprawling, broken only occasionally by white fences, and dotted with genteel estates and tasteful farmhouses. The natural beauty of the drive helped distract me from how nervous I was about the task ahead. I had to pick up a million bees in Clarkson, Kentucky at 7:00 am.
We had stopped for the night in Elizabethtown because our guidebook showed nowhere to stay anywhere closer to Clarkson. We found a room at LaQuinta Inn and crossed the road to have dinner at the Texas Outlaw Steakhouse. I tend to carry my anxiety in my gut so, in retrospect, the Giant Blooming Onion probably wasn’t the best choice for supper. We went back across to LaQuinta and in my dark delirium it seemed the two places stood in an uneasy détente. A cross-border incursion could never fully be ruled out; I slept fitfully.
The morning’s alarm rang loud and rudely and we set off into the darkness in search of a good cup of coffee. Instead, we found the Waffle House. I got back on the road feeling empty and sickish. Around the time the sun came up, I believe I saw a sign on the highway saying “Entering Central Time Zone” but I thought nothing of it. We arrived at Walter T Kelley Co. and it seemed abandoned. As we assembled the side walls of the trailer in the chilly rain the reality set in: we had spent the night in a different time zone and arrived an hour early. From this point the day could only improve and it did as soon as the wonderful people who work at Walter Kelley began to arrive.
We were greeted by the warm musicality of Kentucky accents and people whose hospitality is legendary helped us load our car and trailer. In my fretful calculations I was certain it would be challenging to load 100 packages of bees but they fit as though the trailer was custom made for the job. With brisk efficiency we were ready to get back on the road and our Kelley friends assured us we had a perfect day for hauling package bees.
The drizzle turned out to be a godsend and it followed us all the way home. We put a tarp over the packages and opened up the vents on the side walls. The highway wind gave ideal ventilation; the tarp trapped just enough warmth; and the overcast day and cool, damp air kept the load from overheating. The dashboard of the car told us the outside temperature and our new thermometer tracked the temperature in the middle of the trailer full of bees. The plan was: if it got too hot we would remove the tarp to allow more ventilation; if it got too cold we could close up the side vents or stop entirely to let the bees generate warmth. But the temperature stayed in the ideal range throughout the day. As night fell we crossed back into Pennsylvania and the outdoor temperature even warmed up a bit, so we pressed on, trading off one hour shifts of driving and sleeping.
About 9:00 the next morning we pulled into the Honey Exchange, unloaded the bees, gave them a spritz of sugar syrup, and I finally was able to relax entirely.