Jessie James’s Big Adventure


After 20 years of bees, Canterbury beekeeper James Corson says he needed a break “from the daily of six coffees, cracking lids, fixing stuff and crashing with a dozen beersies on a night!”. So, he’s jumped ship and absconded on Air New Zealand’s waka Dreamliner to follow a dream in North America … “a motorcycle roadie where no two days are the same and the challenge is survival”. It couldn’t be completely without bees though, so JC checks in from his long-awaited adventure describing life on the road and Canadian beekeeping practices witnessed along the way.

By James Corson

It's mid-May and I write from my long-time mate’s place up in Northern Saskatchewan. We first met beside a beehive in Wanaka over 30 years ago. Mateship is special, and though the times together have been fleeting as we each raised families, the bond remained, providing unexplainable loyalty and counsel through the highs and lows of our life journeys.

Beehives in Montana, USA, eagerly awaiting some warmer weather. Spied during a sojourn across Canada’s southern border by “Jessie James” Corson.

Spring is slow in Northern Saskatchewan. The air is cool, the land brown and sombre as it awaits warmth to ease it into growth. Joe’s bees sit in warm clearings amongst the trembling aspen trees, living on sucrose syrup and pollen patties, biding their time as the pussy willow slowly breaks forth into bud and flower. Flocks of snow geese gather on the rich prairie earth, fossicking for grub and slugs. Kai and sustenance for the journey north to their Arctic breeding grounds.

There is more to see though and my soul settles into a slower rhythm and pace in anticipation of the journey ahead – straddling an 800cc Triumph Tiger motorcycle along the back roads below Hudson’s Bay, to Toronto and Vermont. Who knows where the road will lead … bee sheds of interest and people of eccentricity!

The long straight road ahead. Canada’s prairies as seen from the seat of a Triumph Tiger 800.

May 28 – Taming the Tiger

It had been a good number of years since I had ridden and it took a bit to tame the Tiger. The first time I tried she spun me a 180 and dumped me in the gumbo mud of Saskatchewan’s northern prairie. It was a steep learning curve and I had to call my mate to help lift her out of the ‘glue’.

But as my mate’s mate said, “James, it’s an adventure bike, so expect some adventure”. Wise words from a veteran bikie! After two weeks of waiting out the weather, I felt it was time to head south though.

This spring in the northern prairies have been cold, about 10°c colder than normal – whatever that is. Old mate was adamant that the bees would stay wrapped in their insulated overcoats until June 1. So, I was given a bit of time.

These guys up here have a different style of beekeeping. When the weather warms, the bees explode on the dandelion. They do no evening-up of colonies or shifting brood. It’s every bee for herself, and those not strong enough for a honey crop are split on the flow for nucs to cover next winter’s losses. Interesting.

I rode out of Mate’s place in a snowstorm and headed south for a day … without turning a corner!

Just north of the US line I turned west and followed a lonesome road through a landscape of endless cultivation and one-horse towns, where the sky is big, real big. So big I spied a dog running from 50 miles away…

I stopped for coffee one cold afternoon at The Wild Horse Cafe – aptly named in a small town where the only horse had bolted a decade ago. The neon sign read ‘Open’. Inside an AM radio chattered away in Chinese. A half-full coffee pot stood on the warmer.

James Corson’s mount, a Triumph Tiger 800, and the “heart-warming” Wild Horse Café.

After a couple of “cooees” through the back door, and no service, I helped myself.

Fifteen minutes later the short and wide proprietor appeared from out back. He refilled my cup and gave me a smiling thumbs up.

“How much,” I asked…

“No money,” he replied in pigeon and gave me another thumbs up.

I left him to his Chinese talk show and rode on across the cold prairie with a warm heart.

Now, after a week on the road, I am learning to tame the Tiger. The weather is warming slowly in fits and starts, but even 1200kms south of my mate’s place the willow and cottonwood are only just tingeing green and… the bees? Well, I guess they are still hanging out on corn syrup and patty.



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