Yackin’ it up in Yakima
October 22, 2012
Grey clouds settle low at mid-morning and I watch a steady rain streaming down the tall windows, pooling on the asphalt. Low slung tow vehicles pull strings of baggage carts that look like little circus wagons while food trucks zip back and forth. Large as they are, airplanes look small from my perch above. It could all be a spread of animated children's toys beneath the tree on Christmas morning, or the interior circulation of a termite mound or an ant farm perhaps. It would be nice if I was watching this gentle rain out my windows in Colorado, but I'm not, I'm sitting in the Seattle Airport waiting for a flight back home. I have several more hours to spend in the ant farm.
The trip to Yakima was interesting. Interesting. That covers a lot of possibilities. It's a word you use when you don't want to commit. Interesting. But this trip was interesting in a good way.
Yakima sits in the rain shadow on the east side of the Cascades and from what I could see it is really dry country, considerably drier than we are here along the Front Range even though we sit in the rain shadow of the Rockies. Six inches of rain a year is what Don Aman told me. Don was the organizer of the event, a public forum and showing of the documentary "The Vanisghing of the Bees," a young man full of enthusiasm and energy, a likeable guy and a pleasure to hang out with for a couple of days. On Friday we did a tour of four wineries in the area in a white stretch limo and at each stop Don set up his camera and interviewed one of us while the others did some wine tasting. The footage is for a video for the public television station.
There were four of us who were on the menu for Saturday. Maryann Frazier, an Extension Specialist in the Department of Entomology at Penn State University. Dave Hackenberg, a commercial beekeeper from Pennsylvania, Dave Mendes, a commercial beekeeper based in Florida, and me. They all knew each other, and while I felt like I knew them from phone conversations and from seeing them often on videos and interviews, this was the first time I had met any of them face to face.
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Dave Mendes is rapidly becoming one of the largest beekeepers in the United States, with 20,000 colonies. Dave Hackenberg is the beekeeper who first broke the story in 2006 on what has come to be called Colony Collapse Disorder. He only has 3,000 colonies and his commercial friends kid him about being a hobbyist, but Dave, or Hack, as his friends call him, is a central figure in American beekeeping. Maryann has been very involved in identifying the chemical environment confronting the bees. And me? They think I know a lot more than I do.
The central focus was a showing Saturday evening of "The Vanishing of the Bees." This documentary had its start here in Boulder County in the summer of 2007. I had been asked to give a talk in Boulder at Café Scientifique about the bee problems and the director and producer of the documentary, Mariam Henien, got wind of it and came to Boulder with friend and photographer and fellow director George Langworthy to film it. One of my beekeeping landlords, David McKay, was still living in California, but had a condo here in Boulder and he graciously offered it to Maryam and George and they followed me around for three days and got a lot of footage.
Then Maryam found the two Daves, Mendes and Hackenberg, and my moment in the sun was eclipsed. They all went to France for the French National Beekeeping Convention, then over to England. The production was still being done on a shoestring and to keep the cash flow going most of the Colorado footage was sold to a group in England working on a UK version of "The Vanishing of the Bees."
It's only right that the two Daves became the central figures because their role in it all was much more significant than mine. The same could be said for Maryann Frazier, she was doing some of the fundamental chemical analysis and was interviewed for that work. I got one 10 second spot toward the end, but it was a good one.
Beginning at noon Saturday there was a public forum and each of us had an hour. The documentary was shown at 6:00, followed by dinner afterwards.
The purpose of the whole thing was to bring some awareness to the public of the role of honey bees and some of the problems they are facing. The agriculture in the Yakima Valley is primarily apples, with smaller acreages of pears and cherries. Fully 90 percent of the agriculture in the valley is directly dependent on pollination so bees occupy a critical role in the economy of the area.
On Saturday we had a tour of the Holtzinger apple packing facility and that was really interesting, I'll think differently about the apples I see in the stores having seen the trip they take to get there. At the peak of harvest Holtzinger packs more than 3 million pounds of apples a week in 40 pound boxes.
I have often said jokingly that I could be a world traveler if I could just come home and sleep in my own bed every night, and that thought was in my mind as I sat in the Seattle Airport watching the flow of American commerce. I've done my share of wandering the U.S., in fact Barbara and I were near the Yakima area in 1972 on a road trip, headed for some backpacking on the wilderness coast of Vancouver Island. As I've said before, many of my friends are exploring the world, with trips to nearly everywhere, but I find as time goes by I have less and less enthusiasm for the travel. I'm content being in familiar places doing familiar things among familiar friends. Tracy and Erin picked me up at the Denver Airport and I got home about 11 o'clock Sunday night. It was a great trip, I learned a lot and met some important people, but in the end I'm right, it is best to sleep in my own bed and I'm glad to be back home.
P.S. A documentary I was interviewed for earlier this year aired on the internet two weeks ago and will be released to cable TV the week of October 22. It will be shown Monday October 22, at 10:30 p.m. Colorado time and again Thursday at 7:00 p.m. on Direct TV channel 375 or Dish Network channel 9410. For the internet version google Earth Focus. ❖