The smell of petrol mixed with the musty stench of Aymeric. On the back of the quad, I tightened my grip as we snarled around the bend into a crisp mountain breeze. The view opened up. Infinite lush green Pyrenees. I could finally breathe.
“This afternoon we go to the neighbors” Aymeric had mentioned while we wrangled another bundle of sticks on the muddy shores of the glistening creek. It’d been five days since I’d arrived at the farm, my second volunteer location. Sawing trees and hammering posts was taxing physically, but far more than my lats and traps, I ached for social interaction.
Less than a mile from the front gate, we turned off the main road onto a thin path. Under a thick canopy of forest, past a fern-covered floor we rode. At a rustic two-story home, the dirt came to an end.
“Bonjour!” out of an open kitchen door, a mother and child emerged. “David will be here soon” she said in French. Down the steep hillside behind us, a tan shirtless man galloped toward. Gasping for air through his big white teeth, he squeezed out “Hey! Nice to meet you!”.
At the center of the table, a block of creamy camembert cheese, “from the neighbor’s”, a vine of juicy purple grapes, “from the garden”, and a jar of golden honey, glowed in the afternoon sun. David poured me a local amber ale, to celebrate the success of hauling wood, another backbreaking task. “This is from the brewery in St. Girons” Aymeric noted, as we sipped from the terrace, enjoying the rolling peaks.
Sweet, yet subtle. “This honey is amazing!” I said. “It’s from my bees, I’ll show you!” David exclaimed excitedly.
The air vibrated in all directions. Just inches from the row of four wooden hives, we crouched, entirely unprotected. “So, these bees can escape?” I posed the obvious question nervously. “Yes, see.” David removed a piece of wooden siding revealing a glass panel with a small slit at the bottom, and thousands of black and yellow creatures with wings.
“What made you want to keep bees?” I asked. “They’re very important to nature, and many are dying.” David said thoughtfully. “And, they’re so interesting.” He proceeded to explain their traffic to me.
“See how this one is flying toward that flower for pollen, and how that one is going toward the water near the tree. These ones are receiving the supplies and bringing it in to make honey.”
“A hornet it’s called. They capture the bees and shred them with their teeth.” “Look, this one here just got one of my bees! See him carrying it away to eat on that tree!?” In just three minutes, David completely reshaped my perspective of biology.
Without a single sting, we walked back toward the house. At a patch of rice, we paused briefly. “I try two different kinds” “One short” He held out a small green pod in his left hand “And one long”, another in his right. “Very interesting.” I said to him. “Yes, but I did not produce enough for my family.” he said in his first somber tone. “I will do better next year!” He perked back up immediately.
Back at the terrace, we continued chatting. “I used to be a city guy. I’d spend my money on clothes and parties.” “My mother is from Vietnam, and a few years back, I visited.” “I learned about self-sufficiency.” He spoke with passion. “Are you happier now than you were in the city?” I asked. “1000 times happy!” He flashed that smile of big white teeth.
From the kitchen, a child began to cry. “I must go my friend but come back any time!” David hugged me and said goodbye. “Au revoir!”, his wife shouted from a second-floor balcony.
The sound of child’s laughter, and the flow of the creek. The scent of wet grass, and lemony pine needles. “Tylah!” the boys yelled out while chasing each other around the lawn. On the terrace, Krystal welcomed me with cake and coffee. With a need to socialize now satisfied, I too felt an immense sense of happiness from the simplicity and beauty of life in the Pyrenees.