To start off with, yes, it was a bee farm, but it's also someone's home, and they were ever so kind to welcome us. James does raise bees (queens to be exact). His lady Jenny is a lifelong friend and Ellie is their baby. (You may recall I threw a vintage travel-themed baby shower. Here is the perfect baby!)
We spent three days at James' home in middle Tennessee, where James taught Nate how to drive a tractor, how bamboo makes a gigantic popping noise when added to a fire, and how to make Lop, a Thai delicacy. Venison lop, to be exact, caught from the woods on his property.
While James and Nate made lop, and the more Tennessee-influenced bacon, Jenny and I drank tea on the porch, exchanging stories and confidences as lifelong friends do. When I needed to sleep, she let me sleep. When I needed to write, she let me write. When I needed to go into town, she drove me in James’ big truck, with the baby cooing in the backseat. She obliged my obsession with photographing the retro motel sign and flipping through eight-tracks in the antique mall.
When I was 20 years old and dressed up for Bill Clinton’s inaugural ball, tickets procured by my DC friend Jenny, I did not see us sitting in a pickup truck driving through Clarksville.
But here we were. There is something to a friend who has known you for 20 years, knows your quirks and faults, and still keeps hanging out with you. And when she lets you photograph her baby wearing a Beyonce onesie by a bee box? Irreplaceable indeed.
One afternoon I fell asleep in the swinging bench by the fire in the back. Nate was upstairs reading. When I woke, it felt like déjà vu. The smoke from the fire, cowboy boots on my feet, sleepy eyes. The déjà vu was from the horse ranch in West Texas in 2009. Around that time, I was filled with so much hope, my first years on the road as a travel writer. It was also around that time that I slowed with the writing for myself, and gained traction writing for someone else. My words came like a trickle. It seemed I could only write headlines and series of lists.
That was all in the past. Walking toward the woods, I listened to a podcast featuring the writer Augusten Burroughs. “When we’re not creating, we’re destroying,” the host said, and I agreed. I was insufferable when I wasn’t writing and caught up in getting praise from the outside world. Hell, I could be unsufferable even when I was fairly grounded and writing personally, regularly.
Writing is not the cure-all, but it is my lifeline. It's not good to bury it. It's deeply connected to every single other area in my life, and when I don't have it, I start sliding.
On the rock path to the field, my boots slipped on the rocks under foot. Up ahead, a clearing, with a circular field. To my left, a deer stand, which I climbed up. My boots kept sliding and I thought it perhaps unwise to try to do this alone, but I did it anyhow.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” Elizabeth Gilbert said that. It’s true.
I really wanted to go to the Rural King, and got a chance when the rains came in, prompting us to stay another day.
We watched the baby chicks in galvanized steel tubs ("chicken nuggets," said a fellow customer, causing me to have guilt over the Chick-Fil-A sandwich from the day before). Overalls and candy by the pound and camo everything and cane sugar sodas. Back at the house, Jenny played hostess to Nate and my taste test, lining up the brightly colored bottles of soda from The Rural King (it was a tie between Olde Brooklyn and Cherry Breese.) On our way out of town we’d load up a pink Rural King pail with the sodas for his 10th birthday party in a few weeks.
Me: "I like the taste of Olde Brooklyn the best but like the branding of the Cherry Breese." Nate: "10 year olds don't care about branding, Mom."
James invited us to taste the honey straight from the combs, and we pushed our fingers past the wax to taste the most perfect mixture, flavored by the trees that covered his property. No chemicals. He invited Nate to paint the bee boxes, and worked with him to paint a small wooden square, which James signed “The Bee Doctor.” Together they carried logs and rode an ATV down to the river, while Jenny cradled the baby, and then I cradled the baby, watching the sunlight reflect off the mirrored cat sculpture James had brought back from one of his international work assignments.
No Wi-Fi out here, and still I was reaching for my phone each time it buzzed. Conditioned to jump at each sound. Looking for an outlet when the bar got to red. I felt the pain deep in my back and down my leg. It could be my fibromyalgia, it could be stress, or it could be a story that just needs to be born. I’m tired of carrying around the weight of stories untold. There is only one way to get them out.
(Those are all drones. No stingers.)
We drive home, the pain in my back calling out. "Hey I'm here!" Sush, sush, little fears. You have been to The Rural King. I say a prayer, curl up in my office at home, and start to write again.