"The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams."
- Henry David Thoreau
I keep a red Moleskine notebook, my Paris notes. In it I write, cut and paste all of the intriguing places I want to go, things I want to experience and people I want to meet when I'm next in Paris. Always on the list, but not yet realized, is to visit the Beehives in the Luxembourg Gardens and atop the Opera Bastille - two of the 300+ bee apiaries housed within the city's limits - a grand adventure Parisian indeed. I never thought that I'd realize my goal of touring a bee apiary only a few miles from my state's side-Midwest home...
"Meet your local Bee Keeper.
See Bees up close. Ask questions."
Such a tantalizing invitation - how could I resist?
Fifteen miles from my home, down a former Indian trail, is the most unusual little shop - The Outpost General Store. Train tracks run along one side, followed by acres and acres of cornfields interspersed with horse farms. You can come to The Outpost for gourmet groceries, a wine tasting, meet with the local book club, buy a vintage tea set, sample local cheeses, meet the local Bee Keeper, stay for lunch.
"Listen! O, listen! Here come the hum of golden bees."
- James Russel Lowell
At the front of the store, surrounded by a dozen people hanging on his every word, stood a gentleman - Rik Alex. He wore a white apron and a toque blanche (the traditional headgear of professional chefs). At first I thought that I had come on the wrong day; that there was a cooking demonstration going on instead. But as I listened to Mr. Alex, I too became entranced and realized that he wore a toque blanche because he literally is a Master Bee Keeper.
Mr. Alex's depth and breadth of knowledge of bees, honey, and bee keeping are extraordinary. And equally so is his ability to share that knowledge and experience in a way that is totally engaging. After the crowd had dispersed a little, I introduced myself and asked if he'd allow me to photograph and interview him for Belle Inspiration. He said yes, but that was as far as we got because there were so many people waiting to speak to him. So I boldly asked if he'd allow me to conduct my interview at his apiary. Again he said yes. I guess the Latin proverb is true - fortune favours the bold.
"Life is the flower for which love is the honey."
- Victor Hugo
"Oh, for a bee's experience of clovers and noon!"
- Emily Dickenson
Rik's apiary is housed on his two-and-a-half acre property, surrounded by corn fields, on a country lane appropriately named Honey Hill. Flowers are bees' primary food/pollination source. So, other than mowing a walking lane, Rik leaves his land free to be a wildflower garden - just gorgeous!
Rik, Coco and I spent a lovely afternoon walking his sun drenched, flower bedecked property while talking about bees, honey and life. Interestingly, Rik calls himself an accidental Bee Keeper. He inherited his apiary from his father. His hives and supplies are from the Sears Farm Catalogue and his expertise is born of four decades worth of good old fashioned research, trial, error and success. From his two hives, Rik harvest's an average of forty pounds annually! Which he freely and generously gives to his friends, his children and their friends.
Rik may call himself an accidental Bee Keeper but he's is much more than that. He is a member of the Bee Keeping Industry Club and is one of a very select few, in our slice of the world, who is an expert in the field and is treated as such.
"Eat honey, my child, for it is good." - Proverbs 24:13
At the end of our apiary tour, Rik invited me into his cozy home to sample a few honey varietals. Each had a distinct history, provenance and flavor: black honey from Arizona - grown in hives housed in giant cacti (I could clearly taste its smokey mesquite flavor). Raspberry honey from Maine - it's deep dark red in color but tastes surprisingly light and floral, with a hint of cocoa butter. Rik's homegrown honey is golden, sweet, mellow and nutty - delicious.
My Bee-adventure has given me a newfound respect for, and appreciation of, the complexities of honey. Yes, Rik gave me a large jar for my very own. I put it in my tea, spread it over my morning toast, drizzle it over water crackers topped with goat cheese and almonds, and I'm learning to cook with it.
When I'm next in Paris, the first thing I'm going to do is visit a few of her apiaries. Oui, you know I'm going to share that adventure with you too - bien sur! I wonder, does Parisian honey taste like champagne?
Vivre! Rire! Aimer!
This article was originally published in Belle Inspiration. I have extensively revised it and added photos, not included in the original article..for you. Also, here's the original Bees Knees teaser.