Spring has finally come to my neck of the Maine woods. Last week, for the first time in months, the temperatures rose into the 40s and exuberantly I made my way to the apiary to check on the bees. After five years keeping bees I know enough to realize that the odds were against me. Last year’s neglect led to hives with high infestations of mites, and while I hoped for the best for my remaining hives, I was realistic about what I might find when I opened the hives.
I could tell as I approached that it was likely the colonies had perished. On a warm sunny day in March the bees should have been flying, but the bee-yard was silent and devoid of life. Hoping against hope I lifted the top covers, but alas–inside I found only death.
You might think I would be devastated by the loss, but such is beekeeping in this day and age. Last year I chose to focus on expanding my farm, and so I did not invest much in the way of time or money into the bees. And it was evident when I finally did mite-tests on the hives and found them overwhelmed with the parasites. Belatedly I attempted to correct the situation, but as is so often the case in farming–if you miss the window of opportunity that Mother Nature affords you, it is often too late to do much about it.
This “window of opportunity” is something I emphasized with this year’s bee-school students. I want them to learn from my mistakes.
Now here I am. Facing divorce, a farmer without a farm, having sold off my precious goats, starting over at square one, and not even a single colony of honeybees to boast of. People ask me how I am doing, and I answer honestly: some days are good, and some days are not.
Mostly I take each day as it comes, holding tight to hope and putting one foot in front of the other with sheer determination. But some days hope and optimism are fleeting. Some days the dream of having and working my own piece of land seems too far out of reach, and the pressures of the world are too overwhelming to bear. Those days I question myself, my choices, who I am and what I am doing. Those days are filled with anxiety and uncertainty and–I’m not ashamed to admit–sometimes even a fair amount of depression and self-pity. There is no choice but to endure the day hour by hour, knowing that somehow this too shall pass.
Then–just the other day–someone said to me when we were talking about my farm and the divorce: “What good is a farm without land?”
And that irked me. At first I didn’t know why their words bothered me so much, but it was one of those conversations that stuck with me, and the more I play and replay the conversation over in my head, the more that question bothers me.
I am a farmer at heart, with or without a farm. And I have a farm-based business even without land to farm on.
Yes, some aspects of my farm I’ve had to let go of–the goats, the market garden, and for the time being–my grandiose plans for a pollinator conservation and sustainable living center.
But there are aspects of my farm that survive, such as the apiary. I have new colonies coming later in the spring to replace those that have been lost, and I have hopes of catching some swarms too. I have my beeswax products that I make and pedal, and I still have a dozen or so laying hens that are mine as soon as I have a coop to put them in.
I have small but growing group of dedicated customers and followers who support me and my farming endeavors, who swear by my beeswax soaps and herbal salves, are first in line to buy the season’s honey, and who clamor for my farm-fresh eggs. They may be few in number, but regardless I have customers–and that constitutes a business–however small it may be.
Perhaps the question bothered me because it is one that I have asked myself on those bad days when I am overwhelmed by life, doubting myself and uncertain about what my future holds. On those days it’s hard not to look at all that I have given up for the chance at fabled happiness and wonder if I have made the right choices in my life.
I am a farmer with no land to farm on. I am a beekeeper with no bees. How can I rightly call myself either?
And yet I do. I cling to those titles like a life-line. They have become part of my identity and I cannot let them go. I may be back to square one, but I am not quitting. I will continue working to build up my business on leased land until the day that I can invest in my very own farm and land. I firmly believe that I will have that some day.
There is a poem that I came across when I was still just a teenager making plans for the future, and it has stuck with me all these years.
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die life is a broken-winged sparrow that cannot fly. Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go life is a barren field frozen with snow.” ~Langston Hughes