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  • James Corson

Fruitless Fall and the Third F

“Jesse” James Corson, better known for the keeping of bees in Canterbury, continues to take us along on his epic motorbike trip across North America aboard a Triumph Tiger 800. Part one saw Jesse James attempt to tame the Tiger, in part two he well and truly had it by the tail, and now, together, their tales continue…

By James Corson

The old-time beekeeper stood on his doorstep watching as I killed The Tiger’s engine. I pulled off my helmet and conjured up my introduction.

“I’ve journeyed 25,000 kilometres to find you,” is what I had in mind to say, but it all came out back-to-front. Instead, we stood at a Covid-respectful distance and looked at each other in silence.

I smiled and broke the ice and we started to talk… Of bees, of where I had come from, and the journey. The old-timer softened.

July 5, fresh from a day of partying in the USA and James Corson pulls his Triumph Tiger motorbike over to the side of the road to breath in the fresh air of Vermont, during his epic road trip.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” he eventually offered.

I had read about Kirk months ago in a book called Fruitless Fall, about his struggle with the mite, the United States Department of Agriculture’s introduction of Russian genetic stock which was varroa tolerant, and of his desire to produce organic honey.

Kirk had no contact details, but I had sleuthed him down by visiting a local organic co-op in Vermont’s Champlain Valley and finding a local bee-man’s address on a pot of very expensive honey.

Vermont and one of many barns – but a big on at that! – during the thousands of miles covered.

That bee-man, Chaz, was a third generation Champlain Valley beekeeper. I found him in his grandfather’s shed, not far from town, where he produced and packed honey to export to the world. As we talked he spoke of his struggle to keep his bees alive, of varroa and the “neo-nics” in the crops of corn that the bees gathered pollen off in the late summer.

His main woman “C” phoned a neighbour who relayed directions to find Kirk.

“Head north on 334 for 12 miles. There’s a big red barn with an eagle painted on the front. Kirk’s place is the second on the right… before that!”

After the stilted intros, Kirk and I whiled away the afternoon over an endless pot of green tea. “The Russians were great initially,” he said.

“You just had to learn how to work with them. They are slow to go, like the African bee, and they build swarm cells like crazy. And like the African, they kept on top of the mite… without the aggressiveness.”

He sipped on his tea and looked pensive.

You never know what scenes are to be found when you get off the highways and hit the backroads of the USA, but one thing is for sure – the Star-Spangled Banner is never far from display.

“They’ve got inbred now. This year out of 700 hives I’ve got 176 left alive. The issue is, it’s not the varroa, it’s the other stuff, the chemicals that are poisoning our bees. If we had healthy bees, I think they’d live with the mite.”

The afternoon wore on. The cloud cloaked the wooded hills and a light drizzle fell. We talked of higher spirits guiding our endeavours and our struggles for simplicity in a busy world, and of the bees as our teachers, and of how in the end it really is the girls who rule the roost.

“Which,” he said “is why I never married, but like to live next to my queens.”

I left Kirk's place in the low evening light and, as I meandered home to my camp by a wooded lake, I thought of Fruitless Fall, and how my life on the road had become a refined simplicity of Three F’s.

Food, Fuel and Friendship.


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