Ed Colby: Beating the heat | AspenTimes.com

Ed Colby: Beating the heat

“The king was in the counting house, counting out his money …”

My beekeeper boss Paul loves these summer dog days because this is when he starts extracting honey.

When he estimates the net weight of his honey-filled supers in the honey house, multiplies it by the market price, and makes a calculated guess about future production, it gives him an idea how much money he might make this year. Paul doesn’t talk about this, but we all know. With honey prices hovering in the stratosphere, in his mind he’s already tarpon fishing in the Keys.

The honey house stays above 100, and probably a lot hotter, although nobody actually checks the temperature. You want a hot honey house so the honey spins freely out of the comb. Paul cranks up the radio and works alone all day extracting. He sends the crew out to work the bee yards from Silt to Parachute to Steamboat.

It’s not exactly cool outside, either, with temperatures ranging in the 90s most days this record-hot summer. Of course none of the trucks has an air conditioner that works.

Loading honey supers onto the truck at the Zehner yard outside of Hayden, I feel so hot it occurs to me I might actually get sick. Afterward I park the truck by the Yampa River.

Derrick says, “What are we doin’?”

I say, “We’re goin’ into the river with all our clothes on.”

He says, “We are?”

You never saw a kid jump out of a truck so fast.

Arms outstretched to the side, I walk across the stony bottom in my long-sleeved shirt, jeans and Converse All Stars. Maybe some stern-faced preacher will push me under and baptize me. From waist-deep in the current, I plunge head first into the riffle, and the cool river gently sweeps me away. When I come up I’m 12 again, and the world looks new.

“No lifeguard on duty” only adds to the Huck Finn charm. But you could wedge your foot in the rocky bottom or get tangled in some barbed wire, and that would be it.

Fishermen drift by in a canoe, and I say, “Sorry for spooking your hole.”

One of the anglers says, “That’s OK. It’s a big river.”

Now we go into the river every day. Even Mark succumbs to its siren song, though cowboys mostly hate water. He sits hunched-over on the bank, struggling to remove an upturned cowboy boot, just like the cowpoke in corny cartoons. Then he steps gingerly into the river, grinning, as the sun illuminates his ghost-white cowboy shoulders.

Swimming-with-your-clothes-on as an energy-efficient personal cooling system totally changed my outlook on hot weather. A noon plunge keeps me chilled for about two bee yards. When I’m almost dry I put on my spare pre-soaked shirt, and it’s October again, no matter how hot the day.

I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t walk around dripping wet all summer.

The other day when I climbed out of the river I almost tripped over an old bison skull half-buried in the sand. I have the picture to prove it.

Right away I knew what it was. Broader and more massive than a cow skull, its short curved horns gave it away. Mark knows his Western history. He said, “The Sioux used to come down here from Wyoming to chase buffalo.” The skull had a hole in one eye socket, and we speculated about that.

Lucky finds like this never happen when you put your head down and grind it out. We drive right past this spot all summer. We could have almost seen that skull from the highway.

Thank goodness for hot weather, an air conditioner that doesn’t work and a river I just can’t resist.

[Local beekeeper Ed Colby’s column appears every other Tuesday in the Aspen Times. Ed’s e-mail: esc@sopris.net.]

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