Along the byways
lined with dancing grasses
and waving wild flowers
sweet evenings walking.
Silver screen of images
timeless tales he tells
lazily he wanders
through field and forest vale.
The river Dropt springs in Capdrot, Perigord, and slowly flows through Guyenne, and L’ Entre Deux Mers. It drifts past unchanged landscapes, medieval towns, and farms. Many watermills along its path have utilised its force to mill grain to flour. It regularly breaks its banks, and floods across the plains of the Dropt valley. This curse is also its blessing, as the tides of modernity, and construction are held back. No roads run alongside. Bastide (walled, fortified) towns overlook, and bridge its waters. It was once used to transport goods to the port at Caudrot near La Reole, which were then loaded onto larger boats travelling down the Garonne to Bordeaux. When river transport was replaced by road, the Dropt became a forgotten river, save for the fishermen and locals delighting.
It’s market day in Monségur, “On y va!” (“Let’s go!”)
The telephone rings, I pick up, “Hello.”
“Bonjour, this is Monsieur Gillet, is Jean-Michel there?”
” Not at the moment, but he’ll be home soon.”
“Will you ask him to call me. There is a bee swarm in my neighbours garden.”
“I will, Salut Monsieur Gillet.”.
Jean-Michel calls him when he arrives, to know more about the bee situation. The most important question being exactly where the swarm is, high or low. He’s pleased to hear that the bees are huddled very low, almost next to the ground, on a shrub. He says he’ll be there very soon.
We gather the equipment we need, a carrying hive, beesuit, gloves, smoker, pruners, small sweeping brush. I take my essential, a camera.
Uncomplicated moments take place on site. Suit and gloves on. Jean-Michel places the unlidded hive with one of three wax frames removed, as close to the swarm as possible on the ground. There’s no need to use the smoker this time. So he prunes away one branch to clear his way, then using his brush and a hand he takes a handful of bees from the centre of the swarm hoping that the queen is amongst them, and places them into the hive. This is a tricky moment. Even though the queen is large she is so protected by the workers that it’s impossible to find her. If he loses her the whole swarm will likely fly away.
The swarm get agitated at this point. Bees start flying in larger and larger circles looking for an enemy. I’ve been clicking away with the camera but I begin to feel uncomfortable, so I back off and put a few metres between myself and the swarm.
Jean-Michel is happy, he has swept a good number of bees down towards the entrance and it looks to him as though the queen is in the hive. The workers are entering, and the guards are on the platform with their stingers in the air, a sure sign they’ve someone inside to protect. He replaces the removed frame into the hive. He has prepared three frames that support a thin leaf of wax and this helps them to adopt the place. He puts the lid on. After watching for a few minutes we leave the site until the following day. While we’re gone the bees will install themselves in the hive, already busy molding the wax on the frames into combs for the queens young. These first hours are the most productive in the new hives lifetime.
Tomorrow Jean-Michel will introduce them to their permanent home, a brand new freshly painted, lilac hive in our garden.
“I know that I know nothing.”
Mysteriously something was wrong for the bees, they did not like our carrying hive, and when we returned the next day they had left. We will dwell on why, but never know. Better luck next time.
PS The true story written, and the photographs shown are of separate moments, but brought together for this post.