The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Curious Beekeeper

Stalking Bees in the Oregon High Desert

- March 1, 2019 - Rusty Burlew - (excerpt)

bee handstand rabbitbrush

Imagine e-mailing someone you met once, three years earlier at a beekeeping seminar. In a short note you write, “Why don’t I come visit you? You can feed me, entertain me, and chauffeur me around until I decide to leave. Won’t that be fun?”

Being an introverted recluse, this is unimaginable to me. The idea is so far off the wall, my face burns just thinking about it. Yet somehow, that is precisely what I did. And you know what? They agreed.

Over the Mountains

After a 250-mile drive, crossing the Oregon Cascades and then sliding between rolling hills of carrot seed and bee boxes, I approached their home with trepidation. I was so nervous I disconnected the first phone call and had to redial. The voice on the line didn’t sound familiar and for a moment, I considered retracing my route back to Washington. But alas, I pressed on and met my hosts at the mouth of their private road outside Prineville.

It wasn’t until they parked their Gator in front of me, head-to-head, that I realized they couldn’t turn around until I backed out of their way. But first, in the piercing desert sunshine, I greeted Naomi and was introduced to her husband, Larry Price. I hadn’t yet met the hill, but that was soon to come. I was nervous as a cat as we sorted the vehicles and got underway.

A Road Like No Other

Now I, too, live at the end of a private road that is hilly in places and littered with muddy potholes and outsized boulders. Most of my acquaintances think it rather uncivilized, but after more than two decades, I am comfortable with gravelly, rocky, and dusty passages. Until that moment, I felt well-versed in the subject.

The Price roadway, carved from Oregon basalt, is steep and produces a heart-pounding view from the side windows. To my left, a jagged cliff rose out of sight. To my right, tree tops floated in empty space with no hint of earthly connection. I shifted into four-wheel drive and reminded myself to pay attention to the road.

As we continued, I noticed several inhospitable tracks that veered toward mystery. Some had a name or a number, but none showed signs of life. The scenery reminded me of a time I was lost in the Anza-Borrego desert and unable to find my car: Super-heated rocks all look alike. I shuddered with the unpleasant memory and realized I could never find my way out of this maze without help. Words of warning came to mind, lyrics from the song Hotel California: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”1 What had I done?

As we crept in tandem up the hillside, I believed it was the steepest, rockiest road I had ever driven. In fact, I continued to believe that until we got to the actual steep part, which made the first section seem positively wimpy. I shuddered and eased into four-wheel low.

Off the Grid and Into the Light

A mile and a half along, near the top of the hill, we passed through a post and wire gate onto the Price land. Suddenly, the Ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, and western juniper gave way to a sweeping multi-county vista. In the midst of such an enchanting place, I felt I had emerged on the other side of the rabbit hole.

The house itself is built from native rock overlooking untold miles of central Oregon, and a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding an open floorplan brings it all inside. Free from the electrical grid, the property is outfitted with solar panels that power everything from the well pump to the freezers.

But the real magic is outside where a multi-season rotation of flowering plants feed Naomi’s honey bees as well as an ever-evolving panoply of wild pollinators. The parched rocks give way to gardens brimming with vegetables, berries, and flowers.

Along the pathways, concentric rows of lavender shimmied with impatient digger bees, and tall strands of silvery lamb’s ear quivered with bumbles and masons vying for lunch. Nearby, patches of golden yellow rabbitbrush winked with striped sweat bees and green-eyed sand wasps.

Everything Bee

Naomi and Larry Price are beekeeping rock stars. Naomi, a master beekeeper, is active in a number of Oregon beekeeping organizations. Together with Larry, she designed the Valhalla Long Hive and, later, the Valkyrie Long Hive. Both versions are built for beekeepers who cannot — or would rather not — lift heavy bee boxes, and both are designed to maximize honey bee health. In addition, the Prices have mentored ….