DOUG ELLIOTT'S ADVENTURES
The Africans in Mexico - A Bee Hunting Adventure
“Vamos al enhambre. Quieren ustedes ir?”
“Let's go to the beehive. Do you want to go?” they were asking us.
Si! Si! Si, Por supuesto," we replied. "Yes! Yes! Yes, of course!"
The year was 1985. We were about 600 miles due south of the southwestern tip of New Mexico in a remote foothills village on the western slope of the Sierra Madre mountains in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
Walking with author Doug Elliott
Although I'm questioned regularly on the best events and trails in Western North Carolina, nobody ever asks which locals are worth meeting. Maybe they assume I'm a fan of the trail racers who routinely snap finish lines or those climbers who do their Spiderman thing on challenging rocks.
Truth told, I'm most intrigued by the lore lords — herbalists, naturalists and storytellers and such. I like to learn something on a hike.
Basketry from natural materials has been an interest of mine ever since I saw Paul Geouge’s tulip poplar and hickory bark berry-picking baskets hanging from his porch in the South Toe River Valley in the shadow of the Black Mountains of North Carolina. It was almost thirty years ago that Paul and his son Ben generously taught me how to make them and I’ve been making ever since. In the last few years my son Todd has been making them as well. The trees we use are usually 10-30 year old tulip poplar sprouts that are shading some of our cultivated areas.
Central American Adventure
We had a marvelous trip to Costa Rica in 2006. First we went to a no-frills jungle lodge called Rara Avis (rare birds) fifteen kilometers into the jungle. It takes three or four hours to travel that distance. It’s an amazing, wet, green rainforest scene.
On the trail we found tiny bright red frogs with blue legs. These are called “blue jean” or “strawberry” frogs. They are one of the brightly colored tropical frogs with toxic skin secretions known as poison dart frogs. Related species of these frogs were/are used by native hunters in South America to poison the tips of their blowgun darts. We learned that these little warning-colored beauties have an extraordinary life history. The males establish territories and staunchly defend them. Occasionally during the breeding season they can be seen (looking like tiny sumo wrestlers) struggling with each other over a tiny piece of the forest floor from which to sing a love song described as “insect-like chirps and buzzes”.
I just couldn’t get it out of my head!
Ever since I had seen the article in that old National Geographic Magazine about the Cree Indians, I hadn’t been able to get that picture out of my head. It showed a young Cree mom diapering her baby with sphagnum moss.
Wow! What a concept! I knew sphagnum moss well. I had seen it many times in my wanderings in wetland areas in various parts of the country. I had marveled at its pale green color and its soft, absorbent, spongy texture. I had picked it up by the handful and marveled at how much water I could squeeze out of it. One time I did a test with a bunch of dry sphagnum and a sensitive scale. I found out that it would hold 12 times its own weight in water. Sphagnum's remarkable ability to soak up water is why it is so important in nature.
Todd's Adventures on stage, with chickens and with bees - 2005
Our son Todd had been working up a few stories, tricks and fiddle routines and we have had a great time performing together the last couple of years. The summer of 2005 we were invited to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Utah and the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee where he told stories about his chickens and played fiddle tunes like "Cluck Ole Hen". People seemed to like it pretty well.
I have been keeping bees for some twenty-five years. As Todd seemed interested in bees as a little boy, I invested in a kid-sized bee suit and we have had fun working together in the bee yard.