Mountains of Fire and Honey


I rose before the sun, dressed in the dark and slipped out to the van while the morning dew still blanketed the grass.  As I pulled away my van filled with the hum of a thousand wings voicing their disapproval.  The colony of honeybees strapped safely in the back was none too pleased. In the late summer Fireweed blooms on the mountain meadows.  We were going there.


Fireweed is a thin, scraggly weed for most of the year, growing where ever fires or humans clear the underbrush.  Some years these mountains are swept by wild fires that leave behind bitter ashes.  Fireweed helps reclaim the charred and barren soil.  In the late summer the fireweed flowers, hanging thick clusters of bell shaped blooms from its tops.  Where fire and men ravage the land the fireweed comes behind, transforming fire into honey for those who make the journey.  It is not easy to reach.


The way to the mountains is long, an hour’s drive through winding highways to the first forest road. Ten miles on the packed rock to an dusty gravel path, and five miles further on to the beaten trail.  These “roads” snake and curve, climbing and dipping like a roller coaster.  Single lane with turnouts, say the signs but turnouts are where the road grows a few feet wider and the mountain side is shallow, where vehicles nose to nose might find an inch to slip past.


There would not be much warning of an oncoming vehicle because I could only see fifteen feet ahead.  That’s where the road twisted next and I followed.  Along the way fallen saplings formed speed bumps and vast potholes served as warnings as though the mountain spoke, saying  “If you can feel this bone jarring crash, you are going too fast.”  The road pitched sharply upward and the trees fell away letting daylight shine on me as I crept slowly into the meadow.


The fireweed was everywhere.  Sweeping down the mountain side it hung like a pink topped mist.  It crowned the bare spots and lined the hollows with its tiny bell blooms.  The only sound was the brush of the wind and the steady hum of the electric fence.  The air was cold four thousand feet up but the bees at the other colonies were not deterred.  Their foragers filled the air at the meadow, wings flashing in the high mountain sun. 


I unleashed my colony and a blast of bees burst forth. Soon the hive was stacked high with supers and the bees had started to settle in.  I watched as the first scouts left the hive and laughed as they zipped back in to begin a mad dance.


As I drove away I stole one final glance in the mirror and then fixed my attention on the treacherous mountain roads.  Four weeks.  Four weeks and I would return to claim my bees and my prize.  To claim the golden rewards of this trip through darkness and distant roads, to the mountains of fire and honey.