Honey Pains in Northeastern Turkey

There was enough time to wonder, is this it? Is this what it feels like to pause time, to travel outside of your body and look down on all of your bad decisions: the dark, pot-holed, mid-night drive from the Georgian border to Kars, Turkey; the near impossible 72 hour Caucasian honey hunting quest in the middle of May. There was enough time to repeat all the facts that I know better than anyone, that beekeepers do not harvest honey in Northeastern Turkey until August, that climate change, winter consumption and regional corruption makes honey from the previous season a sparse commodity, that finding and buying honey here in May is a lost cause. I probably should have just bought some honey from the store and never have even tried. There was enough time to wonder, why would anyone want to hunt honey?

There was enough time for me to be wondering how the heck could there still be time. How could I be asking any questions at all? The flipping and swirling of the car never seemed to stop, as if I were in an unseen vortex of cold plateau air, pirouetting me round and round. Probably lasting only a total of five seconds, it was a tedious tumble, off the road, over a hill, and to a neat little rut in the grass. The final sculpture state of the glass cascading around me, the sharp bends of the car, and the twisted doors pulled me from my floating viewpoint above the scene and back into the passenger seat of the truck.

I had just survived a terrible car accident on a Sunday morning. In 24 hours, I would be leading my very first honey tasting tour as part of my start up travel company, Balyolu: the Honey Road. In 96 hours, I would be presenting two years worth of research on honey to 45 members of National Geographic. In my daze, I dug through the shards of glass in the back of my truck and pulled out my computer, my camera, and the centerpiece of this insanity – my honey. One jar was black, bitter, chunky, the only remaining jar of “crazy” honey I could find from 2011. I paid 200 TL for 5 kilos, drove two days, and stopped in four villages to acquire it. This honey is dark, bitter, and tastes of wood circular hives, the kind that follow your footsteps with their hollow ancient eyes. It triggers memories of old-men hanging from trees while harvesting, their grandchildren watching them as living relics of traditions.

Then there was the platinum colored honey from the Eastern Turkey/Georgian border in Posof, a nice creamy caramel looking honey comprised of fruit tree nectar with a citrus tang customary of plum flowers and thistle blossoms. This mid-mountain honey tastes of micro-climates crashing into one another, segmenting the Caucasus between fertile forests, arid mountains, and expansive tundra plateaus. The tastes are tangy, especially when served beside the homemade apple cakes and cabbage dolmas from migratory beekeepers visiting the region for the summer.

Honey is complicated, and finding it, experiencing it, understanding it, is no easy task. The majority of small-scale local beekeepers I want to support and learn from take days of walking to reach, and are truly in some of the most remote mountain corners of the world. Here in their resource rich, monetarily poor mountain kingdoms, the seasons are short and volatile. And for all of their remoteness, they are effected by every shutter and explosion of the modern world - the wars to the south in Iraq, leading to waves of mud-rain; or the clammy hands of climate change, flooding the region with humidity, hail, and heat.

The final jar of honey left in the car was a generic store-bought honey, its factory label and plastic wrap nonplussed, the seal fortified for the trials of modernity, such as car accidents. This honey tastes generically sweet, and in its sweetness it is faceless, scentless, empty. I stared at this mysterious story-less honey for a moment and without thinking, I dropped it on the crushed metal creature that was once my truck. Walking away from this moment of reckoning, I clung tightly to my two remaining jars of honey, both tucked safely under my arm.

C De Medici Jaffee

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