During the abyss of grade school, through mind-numbing months of long division, spelling, and the names of planets, I scrooched at my desk and stared at a yellowing wall map of the United States. Far to the left, one place captured my imagination and beckoned me to it.
While the scent of brown-bagged peanut butter teased by stomach, the shape of that far-away state fueled my dreams. Perhaps it was the name, or the tales of pioneers, or the stories of a valley so fertile it could grow any crop. It was a mystical, magical, Jack-and-the-beanstalk kind of place.
Oregon. The word was music and I said it aloud. Oregon. So while my friends were off California dreamin’, my imagination was north in that great fertile valley caressed by the Willamette.
From those early fantasies, the dream of Oregon persisted. I ended up living there for a time and graduated from OSU, but my fascination never waned. Work, family, and opportunity eventually led me elsewhere, but my heart still lives in the Willamette Valley.
So last fall when I got an invitation to visit a beekeeper in Eugene, I jumped at the chance. It had been years since I’d been to Oregon and the thought of traveling back through the valley was irresistible. I added the trip to the front end of a busy summer.
Fate has a way of rearranging our plans and, as it turned out, my Eugene contact cancelled. But by then I was determined to visit my favorite place. I hadn’t yet decided how to proceed when I happened to answer a beekeeping question from an “oregonstate.edu” e-mail address. I remembered the name from previous exchanges so, on a whim, I asked if I could stop by for a visit.
The beekeeper, Mark Luterra, not only sent back a welcome but accompanied it with a list of everyone he thought I should visit while in Corvallis. It was a mother lode of names, contact information, websites, and phone numbers. I could not believe my good fortune.
I contacted everyone on the list, and within a few hours I had a five-day schedule of people, places, and events. During my brief stay, I met Karessa Torgerson of Nectar Bee Supply and attended her “Understanding Swarms” class where I met more beekeepers. I was invited to the home of Linda Zielinski, president of the Lynn-Benton Beekeeper’s Association, where we gathered around a cozy outdoor fireplace and “talked bee” over red wine, tasty food, and the fragrant tang of burning wood. During the evening, Karessa and another beekeeper, Greg Long, became interested in hearing about prison beekeeping and are now pursuing plans of their own. And I was honored to meet Amanda, an enchanting teenage beekeeper, who became enthralled with my butterfly net.
I attended a presentation of the pollinator film, Wings of Life, along with the Oregon Master Beekeepers. In succeeding days, I visited more beekeepers and photographed many hives and bees. During a visit to the OSU Honey Bee Lab, I met Ramesh Sagili, Assistant Professor of Horticulture, and Carolyn Breece, Research Assistant. Carolyn walked me through the process of testing for Nosema ceranae and Ramesh showed me samples of Apocephalus borealis adults and larvae. Matt Stratton, a student technician, showed me a hypopharyngeal gland recently removed from a honey bee and explained how it would be examined for its protein content.
Later Carolyn escorted me through the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture where Michael Burgett, Emeritus Professor of Entomology, showed me each of the honey bee hives in his eclectic collection, as well as the many types of native bee housing he has created. From there Carolyn took me to the OSU Experimental Farm where I got to see the 150 pounds of newly installed bees and the honey bee flight cages—enclosures for studying honey bees where they can fly but be restricted to certain diets.
When I wasn’t with beekeepers, I had time to visit the campus, walk by the places I used to live, and drive out to the cropped fields to photograph both honey bees and native bees in action. On one afternoon I drove around to all the places where native bee housing is being established in the community, and on another day I checked out the bees at the Starker Arts Garden for Education.
During my many visits with beekeepers, I learned some creative techniques, saw innovative pieces of equipment, heard fresh takes on beekeeping philosophy, and learned new things about both honey bees and native bees. Everyone I met was cordial, generous, and bubbling with bee enthusiasm. It was a dream trip in a dream place—the valley did not disappoint!
I have already written about a few of the things I learned while in Corvallis and I have dozens of discoveries left to share. But today, I wanted to say a public thank you to the beekeepers and bee researchers I met in Corvallis. Their kindness, knowledge, and willingness to teach were truly extraordinary.