Today, for the shortest of times, I was a bee keeper. Or rather, a bee keeper’s apprentice. Maybe even lower than an apprentice. More like an aide. Or an intern. Or just the person who shows up hoping not to get stung.
As part of my #year60goals, I wanted to harvest honey and was having a difficult time getting anyone to say yes. It almost happened with the friend of a friend who works for the USDA, but as my request climbed up the ladder of supervisors, someone put the kibosh on it.
Luckily, I discovered that a generous soul I know with a variety of amazing hobbies is also, in her spare time, a backyard beekeeper. She invited me to help her out and gave me a few bee lessons to boot. For instance, I learned that the reason we were working at noon, when most people in the desert come inside, is because you don’t want to cast a shadow on a bee hive; it can upset the bees. Thus, you work when sun is directly overhead.
“Julie” did most of the work, while I acted similar to a surgical nurse – taking sharp implements out of her hands to drop in a bucket of water and offering something similar to sedation to the bees when called for.
I’ve been interested in beekeeping ever since I read The Secret Life of Bees in the early 2000s and then learned about colony collapse disorder a few years ago. Plus, when you realize what bees do just in constructing the hive, it is like looking at God. Hives are so complicated, and the comb has to be constructed just so and work done exactly right that, to me, it is hard not to see a Creator in that mix. Just the hexagon shape of honeycomb makes one pause. I mean, look at that perfection:
After Julie suited me up in protective gear, she gave me my instructions: Be quiet, don’t wave my arms, observe closely, stay out of the bee line (the path the bees were taking over Julie’s fence and back to the hive) and “smoke” the bees when she requested.
She had told the bees I was coming, which may sound goofy, but when you realize hives have died after their beekeeper did, you begin to respect the connection between beekeeper and hive. Plus, what do I know about bees? Very little. Which is obvious from this smiling photo of me holding the smoker and a brush that would be used to gently sweep bees off the honeycomb we’d be harvesting.
I held the smoker and followed Julie to the hive. She demonstrated how and where to puff the smoke at the bees and I set to work. The smoke confuses the bees in some way that makes them less likely to send messages to each other to swarm an intruder. Or something like that. I was a little distracted by bees buzzing all around me and one determined girl trying her level best to find a way past my face netting, so I may be mistaken about how the smoke works.
Regardless, I followed directions pretty well overall, and I was only nervous a few times. I tried to remember to thank the bees for all their hard work and kept myself from moving too quickly from one spot to the other. I held honeycomb in my massive gloved hands, brushed the bees gently from it with my giant yellow bee brush, and transferred the comb into a white bucket.
I learned about wax moths and drones (males) versus worker bees (females – naturally), the brood nest and something called hive glue. I sort of understand how a colony raises a queen. And I held one of the hive slats while dozens of bees stayed put on it as Julie explained that we couldn’t harvest the honeycomb because the cells weren’t yet “capped.”
Best of all, I got to taste some of the honey we harvested and bring some of the honey-filled comb home for show-and-tell.
Driving away from Julie’s, I was really happy, and that reaction made me think that maybe people like me – the worriers and save-the-world types – need little adventures throughout life to tap into the general sense of well-being other people seem to have naturally. Maybe some of us have to consistently try new things to connect with the feel-good mojo.
I know lots of happy folks who fully enjoy a mid-day nap and are perfectly content with what one friend calls “the same ol’ same ol’.” Some days – more often than not, if I’m honest – I wish I could be them.
But today, sweating in a bee suit, gloves dripping with honey, telling the buzzing ladies around my head that I appreciated the great job they’d done so they could go back in the hive, I was glad I was me.