An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of March 28, 2010
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining Chichén Itzá Ruin in
YUCATÁN, MÉXICO

THE BEEKEEPER'S SMILE

With the arrival of the dry season, Maya beekeepers acquire a new chore: They must keep troughs next to their hives filled with water. Often the hives lie well away from any road. Therefore, deep in the forest often you meet these beekeepers trudging down trails bent beneath large, heavy plastic containers of water sloshing on their backs, held in place by tumplines around their foreheads.

I find that beekeepers in general are smarter, better educated and more philosophical people than average. Moreover, there's something else about them that until recently I haven't been able to put into words. That matter deals with a certain bittersweet disposition most of them seem to have, often expressed with a sad-seeming smile.

I think the basic smile arises from experiencing firsthand the bounty and richness of Nature. Why wouldn't one smile who spends his time gathering honey from forest and fields, who everyday beholds the mysteries of honeybee lives, who habitually sees golden honey transluced by sunlight, and who tells just by tasting whether a honey mostly comes from mango or acacia flowers?

And yet, these smiles are never exuberant or even long lasting. Always a certain air of sadness shades them.

Maybe it's because nowadays few young people show interest in such demanding work that pays so little. Maybe it's because ecosystems that once produced honey bounteously now produce much less, or because the honey they produce now lacks the delicate and nuanced flavors its once had. Maybe the greatest loss of all, however, is that nowadays few of a beekeeper's customers can recognize an exceptional honey when they taste it, the new notion simply being "the sweeter the better."

So, these old beekeepers keep plodding the forest trails, bent beneath their heavy loads, ever quick to flash a little smile if they meet you, but never eager to spend much time talking, and seldom smiling for more than a flicker. And somehow this beekeeper persona strikes me as a model I can admire.