Back in November, I posted my favorite annual blog, one of two occasions I hope never to miss – Thanksgiving, and the anniversary of my brother’s untimely death. I wrote of my goal to get back into consistent writing, my second true love and the one that has endured, brought me pain and joy, and helped to pay the ever mounting bills that adulthood and self awareness dictate due.

It’s almost May, but it’s never too late to try again.

Tonight, I’m sitting on my porch, listening to my neighbor’s cranky mower, the robins caterwauling over the last of the day’s worms, and Babyman and Sister warbling over the monitor. All business-building, marriage-growing, and baby-birthing aside, I feel I did a decent job documenting Sister’s entre into this staggeringly beautiful world. Babyman’s, not so much. 

He is a miracle, of course, as all babies are. Nearly two, he is as blue eyed and blonde as he is opinionated. Beets, baths, and bodacious John Deer tractors are the bread and butter of his days. He is as sturdy as they come, and yet needs me in a way that Sister never has, and he grasps my hand wherever we go and I feel his tiny pulse tickle my ring finger and give thanks, almost always, for the plethora of platelets coursing through his bloodstream. Sometimes when he is wailing face down on the hardwood over some entirely insignificant slight, this thanksgiving is admittedly hard to come by. Despite all my assumptions to the contrary, I have not turned out to be the mother my mother is, and I lack wells of endless patience, even as I hold him in my heart and not my arms as the tantrum continues. 

So I am sorry, Babyman, for the lack of documentation of your babyhood, for you are nearly a little boy these days.

And I am sorry, Sister, for not capturing your transition from the only child to the incredibly independent, generally kind big sister that you are.

But know that little was transcribed because we have been so delightfully busy teaching you to hike and ski and bike, while carting Brother around on our hips, and it has been a delightful 22 months of minutiae.

   The days are long but the years are short, indeed. 




Half a foot of fresh, wet snow smothers our yard, and all the sounds of the early morning, as I sit down to write.  I sit reluctantly, not because I do not adore stringing words together, but because my absence has made such stringing less like jewelry making and more like jewelry repair – there are unexpected knots to unravel, sparkling beads dropped to the floor and lost forever, rings of emotion too loose or too tight to wear just yet.

But I am grateful for this season of repair – the words, I trust, will still be there, when my Babyman is no longer a baby, and the Rose of the West is in school, and the company checkbook is balanced, and all the nagging insurance questions are answered, and the endless emails accumulating in my various inboxes are properly acknowledged.  I promise myself that after Christmas, when the last package is shipped and the inventory taken, I will take the time each day to write, to sweat, to run my fingers along the guitar Brother Dear gave me for Christmas last year, as I so long to learn to play.  And hopefully that will happen.

For now, pictures worth thousands of words of thankfulness:


My Maggie Rose.  She’ll be four in May.  Amazing.


My Babyman. Howard was about a year old in this shot – he’ll be 2 in June.

For old, dear friends …

law school

(law school)



college progeny

And the chance to know the beautiful children of those old friends.

I’m thankful for new friends …


And the opportunity to watch my children become friends with theirs on a near-daily basis.

fairy godmothers

For Fairy Godmothers …


For knowing where you come from … this picture was taken in October, at the Black-Kitchens Family Reunion, near Millen, Georgia, to celebrate Aunt Sarah Black Johnson’s 100th birthday!


For civilization, and the business opportunities it affords – thanks for all the small biz therapy, Mags, and congratulations to you and Cole on your beautiful brewery!  I’m thankful for good beer, too.

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For wilderness, and the joy it restores in me.

glacier national park

For wilderness, and the chance for introspection it so often presents.

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For wilderness, where I fell in love with the man who changed my life.

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For wilderness, the keeper of my most sacred memories …


It’s hard to be thankful for you, Howard, when I miss you so much, but I am thankful for the 19 years we shared, especially those last months in Glacier National Park.


For bees, for pollination, for honey, for a bountiful harvest, for the chance to get up every day and do it all over again.


And for my little family.  For the coffee cups and sippies and champagne flutes that delineate our days, I am most thankful of all.


And also, although I write because I love to write, and not to convince you, Gentle Reader, to buy our honey, we’re thankful for you, too, and would like to offer you 25% off your purchase, Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday.  Not valid on 12# or 35# buckets, 12 packs/Super Sweet Savers, 20# blocks of wax, or shipping.  EARLYBIRDHONEY is the magic code you need.  Happy Thanksgiving!


2014. Glacier County Honey Co.  Some photo credits to Lindsey Jane Gardner.  All Rights Reserved.

By Layla Dunlap

Chris passed away from a rare cancer that stemmed from a long battle with Crohn’s disease. We met on May 13, 2007. I think we were both a little unsure of each other at first, but by July that summer we were connected at the hip. I was madly in love with him and he was the man I was going to be with forever, hands down, no question about it. We weren’t that gushy with each other but I think it’s safe to say that he felt the same way.


I am not one who cries often or easily. When the most important person (besides my parents) in my life died I didn’t go through what counselors, therapists, etc. call the “stages of grief.” Instead, I did what was right, I pushed on and talked about Chris’ death with the most positivity I could muster. Only my mama and very close friends would’ve seen or heard how devastated I was after Chris died, and that didn’t happen very often.

A couple of years after Chris’ death, a friend asked me if I ever still thought of Chris.  Was she crazy? Hell yes, I still thought about him. It bothered me that someone would think that I could forget him. It made me feel like I came off as a cold person, someone who could easily blow off the memories as easily as they were made. This has stuck with me ever since the visit with my friend. So, here it is, five years after his death and I am speaking out on what it’s like to lose someone that your truly love with every muscle in your body. Someone who made me a better person.

The scientist in me likes numbers. Chris has been gone for five years.

5 years = 260 weeks

260 weeks = 1820 days

1820 days = 43,680 hours and

43,680 hours = 2,620,800 minutes

2,620,800 minutes too long without him. One minute is too long without him. Time is a tricky thing. People say time has a way of making a death easier to cope with. Some days it’s true. Other days, time slaps you in the face, “Wake up! He’s gone.” Chris’ death is my go-to timeline for which I remember significant events, meeting people, vacations,etc. that I was apart of. It is always before or after Chris died. I wish it were a different event that I reference my life around.

Some days it feels as if five years has flown by. I stop and wonder how time has slipped away so suddenly. “What if I forget him, or all the little details,” I wonder, knowing that’s absolutely never going to happen. Other days time drags on and on. I relive every moment that occurred from the time he found out about the cancer until he passed away comfortably in his childhood home. I need to know that it was real and that he will not be coming back. Those days I like being sad, laying in my bed crying my eyes out, going into a deep morbid hole. This sadness is so heart wrenching that after it passes I feel relief and strangely enough, even a little enlightened.


I’ve dreamed of Chris occasionally. In each one Chris has come back to life. Just like that, he is back as if nothing happened. And in each one I am always searching for Sandy, Chris’ mom, to tell her he’s alive. The nights I dream of him I don’t want to wake up.  And when I do wake there is the split moment when I think he really is back. When I realize he isn’t I always think to myself, “wouldn’t it be cool if he could come back to life?” And for a second I think that he actually could. Chris would think I had lost my mind if he heard this idea.

Five years later, and I remember more about Chris and our relationship now than I did a couple of years ago. I miss him. He had a way of making everyone around him feel good. He had a great smile and laugh. And watching him in the outdoors, whether it was hiking, kayaking, climbing, or birding, you wanted that same experience because he was having so much fun. He made me feel like I could do anything. I trusted him with my entire being and he made me feel safe. There have been a couple of hikes that I could swear he was on the trail with me. These were beautiful hikes, where he and I would have stopped and talked about how lucky we were to experience these wild places. From now until the day I die I will always think of C. Street leaning over my shoulder, viewing the world through my eyes. This keeps me going many days, especially these two years of grad school. He would be so proud of me. He would give me so many high fives and do a crazy little dance.

If there is one positive thing that I’ve gained from losing this amazing, good-hearted man, it is the family he left behind. I am so incredibly lucky to have Dave, Sandy, Lizzie, Jeff, and Brian in my life. Only we can know what going through that tragic experience was like, and we will have that bond forever. I am glad I have them to lean on and I’m absolutely positive they feel the same way. They are stuck with me and I am stuck with them. Chris would be so happy to know that we have remained close.

My sweet 91 year-old Mamaw and I were talking the other day and she said something that really touched me. We were talking about dying, as she is very forthcoming on the topic, and she said, ‘we don’t know what’s on the other side after we die. There are lots of theories, but no one can really say for sure. But one thing is for sure: how could any place be as beautiful as the world we live in?’ and then quickly added, ‘minus the people.’ Chris would have agreed with her. He enjoyed this earth more than anyone I’ve ever known and lived every day to the absolute fullest.

It feels good to get this out on paper.

What do the next five years hold? Where would Chris and I be if he were still here? One thing is certain: I will still think about Chris every day and share memories with my friends and family. Yes, there will be sad days but the next five years will hold more adventure and happiness for Chris’ family and me in this big beautiful world.

C.Street, always with us!


2014.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved to Layla Dunlap.

The smoke detector chirped during nap time last week.  I snatched it from the wall and pried out the batteries, silencing the shrill shriek that for ten years now has caused me to break out in a cold sweat that stinks of fear and rotting nightmares.  I shook the chill off and congratulated myself that Maggie Rose, 3, and Howard, 1, were still sleeping, and proceeded to my desk to root around for fresh AAA batteries.

And then the phone rang, and the UPS man had a question, and a group of lovely Texan tourists stopped by for a tour of the honey extracting plant, and nap time was over, and I was elbow deep in honey and wax, plugging a plug out of the pump, and two days later I scurried over to my desk to print an invoice and there it was, two out of three batteries missing from its innards: the smoke detector.

The breath caught sharply in my throat and I thought to myself: Howard, what have I done?  Am I starting to forget you?  Am I not being careful enough with the lives of my children and my husband and myself?

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The next day, down at Hillhouse, I caught a pan filled with vegetable oil on fire, and I couldn’t find the fire extinguisher, and Honeydew and I tried to calmly discuss the fire-smothering-merits of baking soda versus baking powder, and as the panicked bile in my throat rose along with the flames he finally wrapped his arm in a wet towel and flung the flaming pan out of the front door into the rain soaked yard.

And I again thought of my brother Howard, who died in a house fire just shy of his 20th birthday, on August 27, 2004, and berated myself for my carelessness.

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Earlier this month, Maggie Rose had occasion to attend her first funeral service, for the inspirational matriarch of the St. Mary Valley, Mrs. Ruth Johnson, who employed Howard in the summer of 2004.  Maggie Rose asked me why Miss Ruth, who lived to be 95, had died, and I told Maggie that all living things age every day, and eventually, everything and everyone dies, except the rocks, Chuck always says that only the rocks live forever.  As a three year old will, she persisted in this line of questioning, and I tried to to explain that although Miss Ruth’s family and friends were sad she had died, and would miss her, she had been lucky to live such a long life, and to become old.  I laughed a little at myself as I said this, as I was rubbing anti-aging glycolic acid into my neck as I talked to Maggie, who wanted to know if she would get old, and if I would, and Nan and Chuck, and her dog, and her doll, and so on and so forth until she asked about my brother Howard, if he would get old and die.

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Ten years in, my grief for my brother Howard can still t-bone my heart without warning – I just know I’ve been hit so hard I can’t breathe and Maggie’s innocent question sent silent tears streaming into my open, speechless mouth.  Luckily for me, Honeydew took over, and as we do every so often, tried to explain all of the different Howards in Maggie’s life to her — my uncle How/her uncle How, my brother Howard/her uncle Howard, her brother Howard/my son Howard.  Honeydew told her that Mama’s brother, Howard, hadn’t been lucky enough to get old and die, that he had died young, and that Mama missed him so much and would always be sad without him in her life.


I’m gonna do better, Howard, about the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and eating steamed broccoli and losing the last of the baby weight.  I’m gonna live just as hard and well as I can, and raise children who won’t know you but will, and climb every peak in Glacier that I’ve got the nerve to, and sit on their rotten tops and revel under the impossible blue tilt to the sky and miss the hell out of you.

And I’m starting to think, ten years in, that it won’t matter if it’s been ten years or ten decades, missing you won’t ever hurt any less.


2014.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Glacier County Honey Co. will be presenting at the WAS meeting next month in Missoula, as well as selling one of the prettiest crops of honey we’ve seen in recent years on the Oval at the University of Montana on Saturday, September 20, as part of the festivities.  For the agenda and other info on the conference, check this out:

Western Apiculture Society meeting in Missoula! September 17-20.

We have much to report: the 1st birthday of our youngest beekeeper, the opening of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the arrival of July … but first, an announcement:

2014 FYOB Flyer jpg

We hope you’ll stop by and see us!  Please call Courtney at 406-544-2818 or email with any questions.

2014.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Falling in love with Honeydew was unexpected. Our paths had crisscrossed for years before we officially met at a 2007 party in the Tack Barn —- although to be fair, he claims he’d tried to chat me up at Charlie’s in a previous summer and was cooly rebuffed.

All things in due time.

When Honeydew appeared at Hillhouse five months later, swathed in layers of long underwear and the first shadows of the beard he can now grow proudly, to invite me icefishing I thought it simply an afternoon’s adventure.

I did not know that the early winter light would illuminate my path to marriage, motherhood, and business ownership – and our relationship is hewn out of the endless challenges of all three.

Tonight, we popped a cork in celebration of five years of business partnership: Glacier County Honey Co. incorporated June 1, 2009, not quite two months before we married.

We have, of course, baptized our endeavor in gallons of sweat, at least a pint of blood, and an ocean of tears. These truths are not surprising, but I am daily surprised by just how hard it has been, and also by how much I love being in business with my husband, despite the fact that our marriage, our family, would be less tried if we spent the bulk of our days engaged in the passionate pursuit of … different pursuits.

There are hot words I would un-say, cold actions I would undo, but on the cusp of five years, I simply choose to celebrate our mutual commitment to challenging work that matters, a life hard fought and deeply lived, a legacy that our children may pass on – or not.

Here’s to another five, fifteen, fifty years and beyond of life and love inextricably bound to Glacier County Honey Co. – through the wracking sobs and the triumphant glasses of champagne, owning it has taught me more about life, and myself, than all the previous experiences of my days put together. Salute!





Thanks to Natalee Rowe for our beautiful GCHC wine glasses!

2014. Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

Winter and spring continue to battle it out in the heart of Many Glacier, but as I walked to Red Rock Falls yesterday with my husband, my three year old, my baby, my mom, my brother, and my dear friend, the brave Glacier lillies were thrusting their heads above the icy mud, always the first to add color to a still snow strewn landscape.  We also saw several munching moose – no big surprise in the Swiftcurrent Valley, but always a fun one, from a good distance.



The falls themselves were thundering, and sobering in their icy power:



And of course we enjoyed gazing at the incomparable mountains of Many Glacier, where we posed for a few family shots.  It’s never too early to think about the Christmas card, right?




And how I love hiking with this bunch.


What a difference a year makes – three miles was about a mile and a half too far for Maggie last summer, but it was just right this year, and she had a blast, as did we all.


Howard was an excellent rider, too.  No hair pulling and screaming —- yet.


He even napped:




This Memorial Day weekend, we reveled, as always, in our freedom to start our businesses, make our own rules, and live our lives on an international border in peace.


Thanks are certainly not enough to offer to the families of our veterans who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for our many freedoms, but we’ll say them, always, and remember.

2014.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

Maggie and Howard, you are one month shy of 3 and 1, and these are the busiest but best days of my life. Still no time for blogging, but here’s a placeholder of recent Easter snapshots for Mother’s Day 2014:





Raising the two of you makes me daily shake with laughter and fear, though becoming your mother made me entirely fearless in some ways, and utterly vulnerable in others. Y’all are the greatest adventure of my life.

2014. Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.


As ever, Northern California in April does not disappoint.  The flora is so similar to the springs of my youth, in the South, that I walk the varying lengths of our Palo Cedro driveway, the Sacramento River Trail, and the upscale neighborhoods of Redding under brilliantly blue 80F skies in a fog of nostalgia.

The fluffy redbuds and rust tipped dogwood blossoms — both the state flower and tree of my Virginia birthplace — remind me of Palm Sundays and Easters in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches I grew up in.  There is a oval bush bursting with white, powdery flowers whose scent takes me to the Big Farm, but whose name I forgot somewhere along a trail that taught me about the aspen, larch, and white bark pines of Montana. At night, the tall yellow roses, which remind me of first lessons from my mother as I learned to say “Tropicana,” drift in on the the breeze, and I dream about walking through Grandma Betty’s magical yard with my children.





There’s been much bee work to be done in California, and I’ve written a lot about it over the years.  In this first spring of Howard’s life, I’ve been an absentee blogger, but I’ll write about all that bee work again, in a different season of my life.  After all 1,500 hives of bees do not magically re-queen themselves.  But as the work has wound down, we’ve found time to play, too.

Over the weekend, we traveled south and met up with with very dear friends in Inverness, at Point Reyes National Seashore, literally on the San Andreas Fault just north of San Francisco.  This landscape was wholly new to both Honeydew and I.  A rollercoaster of a highway winds through hills rocky one moment and grassy the next.  We saw acres of fat dairy cows.  We also saw a bobcat, numerous deer, and kept our eyes sharp for Tule elk on these ever changing landscapes, which end abruptly in enormous cliffs at the edge of the continent.  Easing our toes into the frigid Pacific, we passed the time looking for whales, sea lions, and seals, while our little girls played with all of their hearts, as only small children can, and baby Howard looked on in longing as he stuffed fistfuls of sand down his diaper.



The area’s arresting beauty was a sensory treat, but even better was the reconnection with friends that I’ve called mine since we all slung drinks and steaks at Charlie’s and the Babb Bar/Cattle Baron in the early 2000s.  During one season of our enduring summer friendship, I lived with them in the A-frame at Chief Mountain Junction, where I slept the deep sleep of the night shift, and my future husband drove past the A-frame in those same pre-dawn hours, on his way to his senior year of high school in Cardston, Alberta, Canada.


Since that time, we’ve been in each other’s weddings but been parted by the professional and personal goals that required accomplishment outside of our beloved Babb.  Holding each other’s children’s hands down precarious lighthouse stairs, in the whirling currents of the mighty Pacific, and in lukewarm hot tubs, we talked-talked-talked, and we learned that time had not dimmed our appreciation for each other.  It was though we had picked up a conversation begun the night before, as we sipped Grateful Deads and twirled along Charlie’s sticky stage, and happily Honeydew, though he did not know them very well before, came away equally contented in a new friendship.


All year I write and think obsessively of July, and I am always surprised by how soothing spring’s cycle of renewal is, in the flora, fauna, and friendships of our lives.


2014.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.