To Bee or Not to Bee |

To Bee or Not to Bee

On our first date, Wendy cooked dinner at her little cabin outside of Sitka. When I walked in, she was scraping the flesh off a sealskin.

I said, “Where’d you get that?”

She said, “It got tangled in the longline gear and came up dead. I couldn’t see wasting the hide.”

That was Wendy: pure Alaskan. She crewed on a halibut boat. She played her fiddle at the drop of a hat. She believed in opportunity, and a grubstake.

“Oh, wow,” I thought. “This one’s the real deal.”

Usually I got out of Alaska quick-like after the salmon season ended in September, but this particular fall I waited on a new Yanmar diesel engine for my hand troller. The Okeanos sat on blocks in the boatyard.

Wendy and I clicked. I found her enchanting, not to mention practical. How many girlfriends can help you put an engine in your boat?

She said, “Next spring if you put a drum on the Okeanos, we could fish halibut. I could teach you.” But I never really said yes. She’d told me she was looking for a “good Christian man,” and I wasn’t there.

All arms and legs, she somehow evoked Popeye’s Olive Oil. At 6 feet 2 inches, she towered over even me. Once I said something about her being “tall.”

“I’m not tall,” she said simply.

I said, “What would you call yourself then?”

“Fairly tall,” she said.

As I waited a month for that engine, it poured. Do you know Sitka? Never go there in the fall. Southeast winds pound the rain sideways. You eat breakfast in the dark.

Whenever the weather broke, Wendy would dance. One morning after weeks of seemingly solid rain she looked out at this tiny patch of blue. “Oh look,” she sang, “It’s going to be a beautiful day.”

She packed for a winter escape from Alaska. She thought she’d try Boston. She mulled over her list: “Cross country skis, toolbox, chainsaw …”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You won’t need that stuff in the city.”

“Well, what will I need?” she asked.

“A dress,” I said.

“Oh, right, a dress,” she said.

Wendy’s short pal Mary had a VW bug. We three made a plan. We’d take the ferry to Ketchikan and pick up my truck. Then we’d ferry to Prince Rupert and convoy back to the States.

Aboard the ferry, Wendy fiddled earnestly with sturdy Alaskans in checked wool shirts, as that ship bore down, foghorn blaring, into the mist and the rain and the night.

From Prince Rupert we drove our two beaters across British Columbia and Alberta in bleak November. I wrenched. Those two cooked. We drank a few Molsons. We joked about Canadians. Maybe we stopped at a hot springs. I don’t remember.

Outside Banff we slept huddled like Inuit under the stars at twenty below. Well, don’t look at me that way. Didn’t I say it was twenty below?

Somewhere in Montana at a Y in the road I kissed Wendy goodbye and kept on heading south for Colorado. Wendy and Mary took the left turn that goes to Boston.

I won’t say I never saw Wendy again, but I will say it wasn’t the same. I take responsibility for that.

Now it’s been twenty years and more. That was then. I have my memories. We all do. They’re enough.

Still, sometimes I wonder. Maybe right now Wendy’s boiling up some bear meat for a good Christian man. Maybe the rain just let up, and she looked out the window. Maybe she saw a tiny patch of blue. Maybe she just danced around the room and sang, “It’s going to be a beautiful day.”

Peach Valley beekeeper Ed Colby would like to thank his wife Linda for her shared wisdom, understanding, and red-pencil editing. Ed’s e-mail:

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