I personally abhor the term “blog.” It’s often too onomatopoetic when it describes the regurgitation of the inner workings of someone’s mind and the spewing forth of the minutiae of an author’s life. I forget who once said about a writer, “Just because you think something doesn’t make it interesting.” But I have something personal to share tonight because I believe it’s relevant.
Loyal readers have noticed (and a few have mentioned) I never wrote the conclusion to last year’s roadtrip. The short excuse is I was very busy at the Honey Exchange as spring rolled into the summer of 2017. In truth, looking back now I believe I was battling a mild depression in the first half of that year. I also felt like I didn’t have much to say because the journey ended without any noteworthy incident. We lost one package of bees to a leaky syrup feeder. Other than that, 195 packages found good homes with the happy beekeepers of the northeast. There was a moment, however, when that conclusion was far from certain.
It began with insomnia. I’ve been trying to recall if I had a big coffee too late in the afternoon on the Friday before I was scheduled to pick up the bees. Till very recently I could drink coffee right up until bedtime and still fall asleep just fine. Then I turned 50 and like someone flipped a switch, that ended. Many people have experienced the sort of sleeplessness where you look at the clock and think, “Okay, if I fall asleep now I can get seven hours of sleep.” Staring at the clock an hour later, it’s six hours, then five, then . . . But I absolutely knew I needed to get some sleep because I had a challenging drive ahead of me. At some point in the wee hours of the morning my insomnia transformed into a full and terrifying panic attack. I had never experienced one before and I hope to never again. For those of you who have never been through such an ordeal – it is both physically real and entirely irrational. In the throes of it you genuinely feel like you can’t possibly get through it. Then you do.
To make it seem even more distant and surreal, during the 24-hour drive that followed my few fevered hours of sleep I felt more alert than on any of my previous trips. The human body is both a deeply flawed and an awe-inspiring machine. I drove, stopping only for gas and toilet breaks, till I reached Connecticut and snatched a few hours of deep and reinvigorating sleep, then arrived in Portland about 9:00 Sunday morning, cheerful and alert.
This is perhaps more confessional that you have come to expect of the Bee-Loud Glade. I bring it up because I believe we can all benefit from more frank conversations about mental health. If I can reach one person who is feeling terrified and alone, it’s worth writing. You’ll get through this. And you don’t need to feel alone. There are people everywhere who want to help. That’s the real thing I want to write about tonight.
I try to avoid too much anthropomorphizing of honeybees; it’s easy enough to find that elsewhere. When I have a chance to teach school kids I always make an exception when it comes to the subject of altruism. I love teaching that word to kids and explaining the idea of having greater concern for the welfare of others than for the welfare of oneself. For bees in a colony, this is innate. We human animals, burdened with free will, must choose altruism. As I say to the kids, if everyone is looking out for everybody else you don’t need to worry about yourself because everybody else already is, right?
Looking back on my old essays I realize the story of the Million Bee Roadtrip is usually told as a solitary journey because I drive alone. I may have failed to mention a bunch of people behind the scenes who make success possible.
Today it rained pretty much the whole way from Maine to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I arrived here with tired eyes and a single photograph. “Super Duty” doesn’t begin to describe the sweet truck I am driving this year. After last year’s trip I mentioned to a group of friends that I was towing right at the limits of my own car’s ability and my friend Bill said casually, “You should use my truck.” After I fretted for months about towing bees, I checked back with Bill to see if he was serious. He was. So I’m tall in the saddle in one of the nicest vehicles I’ve had the opportunity to drive and this year we’re bringing up 256 packages, almost three million bees, all thanks to the immeasurable kindness of Bill.
So before I close I want to say a word of thanks to some of the people who have helped us along the way. (This list is in no way complete so if I forget somebody – it’s late – please know it is not for lack of gratitude.)
In the first year of the trip Jim was my co-pilot. He kept me safe and sane and I’m pretty sure I repaid him by being miserable company for four days straight.
For the first two years, Josh graciously lent us his trailer. Only the demand for more bees drove us to buy a larger trailer of our own.
Erin Forbes (Overland Apiaries) has given the Honey Exchange much. On my first solo drive though, Erin phoned me late in the night just to keep me company. She told me, “I have a very real feeling this is going to go well for you.” It made me feel much calmer. And she was entirely correct. I never said thanks for that.
Thalassa came into the shop last year and said she’d love to just come and help on package pickup day. She did, her help was beyond measure, and she didn’t ask for anything in return. She’ll be back this year and then she’ll be joining the Honey Exchange team officially for a day a week starting this summer.
Margaret Curtis is an expert meteorologist and a wonderful friend. She has always offered insight into the weather I’ll encounter on the trip and last year she went above and beyond and enlisted the help of some other members of the National Weather Service to help me cover a 1,100 mile diagonal across the eastern third of the US. Without their advice I would have almost certainly have driven into terrible thunderstorms.
Lastly, while I take my annual “vacation” things keep humming at Command and Control. Thao Kieu is a big part of that; she’s become a valued member of the Honey Exchange family. And finally I must mention my beautiful and brilliant wife Meghan. She’s home alone tonight, quietly celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary. She’s the other half of my soul and she makes all of this possible and everything worthwhile.