July 15, 2012

Plunging My Hand into a Field of Terror at the Lavender Farm

I consider myself a pretty brave person.

Considering my upbringing - immersed in my mother's various phobias, fears and compulsions ranging from water to heights to germs to actually leaving the house - I've fared relatively well in facing the perils of both humdrum and high octane natures.

But I am afraid of a few things:
  • heights
  • the dark
  • bees
  • being alone
By necessity I've learned to live with being alone, though perhaps my greatest fear is that my current state of solitude, loneliness, lonesomeness, and/or aloneness (whatever, semantics) might be permanent. But on a day-to-day basis, I make the best of it.

Over the last three years, I've spent many of my hikes trying to conquer both my fear of heights and of the dark, scrambling my way through the blackness and often bringing myself to tears. Those fears have proven relentless, but they've subsided...somewhat.

I'm not sure I'll ever get over my fear of bees - maybe when I finally get stung. But for now, I would rather jump out of a plane than be locked in a room with one bee.

So for a person with a crippling fear of bees, lavender picking is a challenge. Honeybees LOVE lavender. The entire field buzzes with them.

But for some reason, despite that, I chose to brave the bees and pick some lavender at the New Oak Ranch in Ojai last week.

"What's the strategy?" I asked my fellow pickers, a couple who were delighted at the scent and considered the ranch heaven. "I mean, there must be a strategy, otherwise you'd just cut from one bush and be done in five minutes."

They shrugged their shoulders and I sauntered off, trying to strategize. I discovered that there is a tremendous variety of lavender, ranging in all shapes, sizes, and even colors.

Who knew?

I made it my goal to document and collect the most eclectic lavender bunch I could fit into my twist-tie, regardless of which ones were best-suited as picked flowers, for drying, for sachets, for culinary use, etc.

Although, really my goal was to not get stung.

The bees were everywhere. It was difficult to find a stem to cut without a bee sitting atop the purple end of it. At one point, a bee became attracted to my collected bunch and landed on it, necessitating me to shake it free and hope I hadn't trapped one inside the bunch to be discovered and released later in my car, which would be rendered a death trap responsible for my ultimate demise as I became bee-stricken.

The lavender scent, wafting hot in the afternoon sun, was soothing enough, and it turns out that honeybees - at least, these honeybees - are far more interested in exploring the lavender than in stinging my fleshy bits. In fact, Bill, the ranch's owner and our host for the day, claims that there have only been three visitors stung in their nine years of operation, and that in every case, the lavender-picker literally grabbed the bee that stung them - a feat I managed to avoid, with a few squeals and a lot of sweating.

For the fruits of my labor, I had a great-smelling car all afternoon.

And not a bee in sight. Though I squirmed in the driver's seat for a while, convinced one had hitchhiked its way out of the ranch in my clothing.

Someone recently asked if I would ever try beekeeping, given my fear of bees. "No way," I said.

"But what if you had all of the protective gear? What about then?" they persisted.

"OK, yeah, probably. Maybe then."

Related Reading:
Reaching My Limit
Driving in the Dark

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