September 16, 2020
First off, let me say “hi!” to all you bee-loving folks out there who have been following us in this amazing, stressful journey to help save the bees.
Unlike most weeks where Robin is recounting the twists and turns of our journey with her characteristic wit and well-written copy, the team asked if I could write this one because I was the closest person to the (literal) explosion. But more on that later.
For now, this is hello from Joe, with an apology for the shift in voice and the inevitable drop in the quality of the writing and wit. [ed: Bah. You’ll put me to shame.]
To say that we were anxious about blending the powder would be an understatement. Steve assured us that this would be a “breeze.” All we needed was an industrial blender, a 200-micron filter, compressed air, dark glass containers (since essential oils are photosensitive) and some dry ice pellets. Did any of you know that dry ice came in anything other than big blocks? We didn’t. All these things were “easy”! Why would we be anxious?
The wax arrived in a large box, each sample individually wrapped and professionally labeled. There were a lot of them. The screen arrived a day later. So far, so good.
Of course, then there were problems, because….COVID. And reasons. The glass jars were supposed to arrive on Saturday so that my conscripted friend Madeleine and I would have all of Sunday to work. When I called to reserve the dry ice pellets I was told there was a shortage. Hospitals had priority (as they should), and were ordering a lot of dry ice for the influx of COVID cases.
The suppliers would do their best. Fingers crossed.
Then Amazon started in with the jars, and last I checked Amazon wasn’t operating any field hospitals. They moved the delivery date from Saturday to Monday and then on Monday they moved it to Tuesday.
All of this was hard because, as you know, we are racing against the clock to get these tests in before the end of the season. Literally every day counts. And every time the jars were rescheduled, I had to reschedule the dry ice (dry ice will evaporate overnight).
Did I mention why we needed dry ice? No? Oh, you’ll enjoy this.
During the grinding process the blades will heat up the wax, causing it to liquify rather than powder. So unless we wanted to make essential oil candles we needed to keep the temperature very low during grinding.
But why not use regular ice, you ask? Dry ice is carbon dioxide. Since CO2 is inert and goes directly from solid to gas it won’t contaminate the samples during blending. But dry ice evaporates pretty fast, so it has to be delivered the day of grinding.
Fast forward to Tuesday. As soon as the dry ice and the last shipment of jars arrived, I was off to Madeleine’s house in Burbank. I checked the relative humidity (another thing we found out was an important requirement) and we were in the clear.
Now the really, really hard and very dirty work began.
Madeleine and I set up an assembly line with blending, sifting, and packaging stations. After several dry runs we felt like we had the process down, careful to ensure there was no cross-contamination of samples.
We started at 2:30. The process was grueling and filthy. When the dry ice was blended it instantly turned into a gas, which caused a lot of it to fly out of the blender and go absolutely everywhere. The entire process of blending, sifting, packaging, and resetting took 17 minutes per sample. We had 26 samples...we were going to be at this for at least seven and a half hours.
About six hours in, the blender started making really weird noises (“kill… me”) and I could feel a noticeable loss of power. By 9:00, it wouldn’t turn off, so we had to attach it to a surge protector to control the power. By 10:45, we were covered in the powders of 5 different essential oils, exhausted, thirsty, and hungry. I loaded up the last sample and flipped the switch.
Nothing. The blender didn’t move.
Let me be clear: we had one more sample left. We had worked months to get to this spot and the blender died. (Possible suicide.) Desperate, I took out the compressed air and unloaded on this blender, hoping to clear hours of 200-micron dust from its inner workings. Just one more cycle. Damn it, man. Don’t you quit on us now! After cleaning with about a bottle of compressed air (and prayer), I turned on the power.
Did I mention that compressed air is highly flammable?
It exploded. Let me be clear what I mean by “exploded.” I mean that when I turned on the blender, a fireball burst from the bottom of the machine, shooting outward and hitting both Madeleine and me.
“Did the blender just explode, Madeleine?”
(Deadpan) “Yeah, it exploded.”
“...Can they do that?”
Now this might be the time when we should have called it quits and been happy with the 25 finished samples. It was now 11 at night; we were tired, smelled like an incense factory, and had just survived an assassination attempt by our blender. But we had spent months (years, really) getting to this point. We weren’t going to be deterred by a little fireball rocketing out of the bottom of an industrial blender. No, it just needed a little 10-minute break. To calm down and rest!
So, 10 minutes later we loaded it up with the last sample and waited. When I flicked the power, the blades spun to life one final, heroic time, and ground our last sample into spectacular, 200-micron dust. That blender was my hero.
30 minutes later I packed the precious samples into a cart. As I wheeled them down the driveway, I could not believe our luck. Despite all the setbacks, we had done it. And that’s when the cart hit a rock, causing several of the precious cargo to fly out.
As I heard the glass containers hit the concrete I felt my heart stop. They can’t break. Not after all this. I rushed over to them expecting the worst, but to my astonishment all three jars were intact.
As I literally seatbelted the box of samples into my car I realized that despite how challenging this project is, we’ve always been charmed. Or maybe just really, really (like really) lucky. Whatever the crazy problem or the impossible setback it has always worked out in the end. And as I drove our precious cargo home at midnight covered in dust and sweat and 200-micron wax particles, I was incredibly grateful and absolutely desperate for a shower.