"I could spend all day in this store!" declared a 12-year-old boy one morning this week. He'd been trying to solve one of our wooden brain-teaser puzzles, and had just taken part in our second annual Sweet 16 honey-tasting tournament, placing his paper ballot in an antique jar with MAINE CORN on the label. Kids flock to the honey-tasting corner, with its big yellow scoreboard showing the tournament brackets. Adults do too—each picking up an ice cream stick, dipping (but not double-dipping) into the day's two competing honeys and often describing their reaction aloud while pondering their vote: "Oh...mmmm....wow....that's different...oh...mmm...that's a tough choice...very interesting...."
Whether the voters are nine-year-olds heading to an art class in our downstairs workshop, or vacationing microbiologists, or retirees from Georgia, or Acadia National Park rangers taking a break between group hikes, they like having their brains and taste buds stimulated by two distinctly different honeys—say, Texas guajillo and Illinois buckwheat, or Washington State pumpkin blossom and California wild black sage.
Then there's Fritz.
He is a black standard poodle who's been spending most of his time on the back deck at the Notebook. He lies in the shade of a white ash tree that grows up through the deck. While his mom, Kathy Coe, teaches our kids' art classes, Fritz stares in through the French doors at our honey tasters. He wants to be one of them.
And Fritz has, in fact, become a honey-tasting judge. Kathy's 11-year-old daughter, Lily, and her friend Claire have been sneaking honey to him to see which one he licks more enthusiastically. Had he not chosen Florida orange blossom over Colorado sweet yellow clover, that match would have ended in a tie and gone to overtime (in which I control the rules and Colorado likely would have won, since I liked that better).
Nevertheless, because I have never taken the time to write a honey tournament rule book, we're going to let Florida's quarterfinal victory stand. Truth is, I can't come down too hard on Fritz. He licks my face more often than he does a honey-covered ice-cream stick.
This year's Sweet 16 has a been a tournament for both dogs and underdogs. No. 1 seed New York basswood—last year's runner-up—was upended by Maine wild raspberry, which exited in the first round a year ago. A couple of unheralded honeys, Pennsylvania alfalfa and Washington pumpkin blossom, have joined Maine raspberry in the Final Four along with perennial powerhouse Florida orange blossom. At this moment, the first semifinal is underway (alfalfa vs. orange blossom) and from the comments I've overheard, alfalfa may have jumped out to an early lead.
If you haven't set foot in the Notebook, you may wonder what a honey tournament has to do with nature, science, art and curiosity, the four thematic strands we have double-helixed together into our shop's DNA. Well, honey comes from bees, who rely on flowers, which grow thanks to sunlight and water and minerals drawn from the earth (biology plus chemistry). The colors, scents and flavors of honeys could fill an artist's palette. To sample an unusual honey is to stretch the mind, enrich the day and appreciate a tiny pleasure. Artist Anne Woodman makes beautiful jewelry for us based on bees and flowers (and other natural forms), and a section of the Notebook is devoted to the importance of pollinators.
We tend to see connections all over the place—in disparate fields of study, in sea and space, in honeycombs and basketball-tournament brackets. (Take a look at those last two sometime and you'll see.) Mostly we think it's fun to learn and discover, and quite often the dogs around here agree.