The Honey Mountain

beekeeper in front of bee hiveThe road wound its tortuous way up the Greek mountain, little more than a twisted ledge cut into the ancient rock. Dusty, rocky scree crunched under the little car’s tyres, leaving billows of dry dust swirling in its wake. The views, both left and right, depending on which turn of the hairpin bend one found oneself on, ranged from stunning to terrifying, a sheer drop only inches away, that lasted for thousands of rocky yards, or distant views of endless magnificent mountain peaks, speaking of terrifying natural forces.

Massive rocks perched on narrow ledges; patiently waiting for the day they would get the chance to take wing and fly, while sweetly scented, olive wood smoke from village cooking fires laced the mountain with frills of white. Dark and sinister caves in sheer cliff faces, twisted pine, oak and fig trees as far as the eye could see. Little villages surrounded by ancient olive groves, nestling here and there among the rocks, and pristine Orthodox village churches, white walled, red roofed, domed and decorated, obviously very much loved by the local folk.

As the altitude grew higher the land became rougher, the track narrower still, the pine trees starting to take over the landscape, dressing it prettily in fronds of fresh green. Goats skipped from rock to rock as nimble as birds, their bleating voices adding to the music of the mountains. The air became still, devoid of the mechanical sounds of the twenty- first century, making it almost a crime to restart the engine of the little car that had so bravely carried me this far.

People were few and far between, a grizzly old man sat outside the odd, rickety old house, while his black scarved wife, equally as grizzly, carried wood or gathered succulent grapes from the trellis outside the old, ill fitting wooden front door. The road was empty, quiet and peaceful, the only other traffic a little old lady riding her donkey home from the village. History was unfolding its picture book before my eyes, but it was a history that was as alive as it was ancient, as tactile as it was dry and dusty.

On and on the little track wound, like a never ending spring, upwards, ever upwards into green pines and azure sky. Little clearings started appearing among the gnarled trees, rocky little openings among the pines, populated with little boxes all in rows, some gaily painted, some plain white, all housing that much loved little insect of Greek folk lore, that industrious little creature Apis mellifera – the HONEY BEE. The little insects were everywhere, buzzing and thrumming through the clean fresh air, till I felt the whole mountain vibrated with the sound of their whirring silver wings.

I counted fifty hives here, thirty there, another twenty or more further in shadows of the forest. Around the corner another apiary met my eyes, maybe one hundred hives painted bright. The sight was stunning, acres upon acres of little boxes, perched on the Greek mountainside. Fire lilies grew in profusion, a flower one would have expected the bees to visit avidly, but no, the little insects had a better nectar source to visit, a gift to them from the tiny aphids on the black trunks of the mountain pines, which the bees worked with their usual determined industry…… the honey flow was on.

The peace was suddenly shattered by the angry sound of a truck, trundling its way back down from further up the peak, they slowed down and stopped, three smiling faces greeted me. ” Kalispera!” “Kalispera!” we called to each other, smiling eyes and hand signals, doing most of the talking. The truck was laden with more hives of bees, neatly stacked on the back of the vehicle, being moved to a better site. With simple Greek hospitality the lady seated between the two darkly handsome men, reached down and passed over a handful of golden honeycomb dripping the wonderful sticky fluid over my hand. A first taste of the Greek mountain pine honey, and sticky fingers to be licked and enjoyed for many minutes.

I moved on up the track, meeting goats and sheep in safely penned acres, a skinny dog living in half an upturned barrel, chained to a post, guarding the flock, and still more hives glowing brightly among the dark green trees. Fifty thousand hives on the mountainside I was told – and I believed it.

This, I thought as I viewed the scene, was beekeeping on grand scale, as far removed as the moon, from the little white WBC hive, nestling among the purple lavender in an English cottage garden. This was rugged, fierce, almost desperate beekeeping, on an unimaginable scale, supplying the people of Greece with a much loved product of ancient lore and magical properties.

Long live the Honey Mountain.

© Rusty Wise

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