Wednesday, May 20, 2015
One Day You are Reading a Book and Before You Know It You Are Hiving a Swarm
Sometimes when I tell people I'm a beekeeper they ask "How in the world did you ever get into that?" The answer, quite simply, is I'm not really sure.
But I know this--reading books is a dangerous thing. If you didn't know this already then you have probably never read anything so troubling or spectacular that it changed your life. For me, that has sometimes been a book on politics or history and other times a novel with characters hauntingly real in compelling situations. Lots of books have been keys to unlocking doors in my evolution.
Then there is Sue Hubbell and her Book of Bees. Sometimes you read something that gets under your skin and won't let go. I can't even remember why I picked up that book so many years ago, maybe I was secretly interested in bees though I can't remember why. I don't recall what possessed me to pull the book from the shelf at the library except that I'll usually read anything about anything and that the world in general interests me. Whatever the reason I found myself reading Ms. Hubbell's charming account of beekeeping in Missouri and I never got over it.
The thought of beekeeping kept buzzing around in my head.
My first memory of encountering bees took place in a white clover covered yard in rural Indiana. I would have been about five years old the summer that I was stung by bees eleven times on the bottoms of my tough little feet. I was a sort of a wild child and took my shoes off on the last day of school and except for church on Sunday and trips to town I refused to put them back on until school started again. That summer my mother and I spent a lot of time on a gold velour sofa, my dirty feet in her lap.
She'd scrape the bottom of my foot with the tweezers and remind me that this wouldn't happen if I would wear shoes. I got the same lecture the day my foot and the back wheel of my sister's bike had an fight and my foot lost. I landed dramatically on the gravel of the driveway with a twisted ankle and a sister who was sure to get in trouble for giving me a ride with my gangly feet flying everywhere.
Long before any talk of the danger of bees going extinct from the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder I had been to a friend's house and she'd had an artist paint some insects on the walls of her daughter's room. Dragon flies and ladybugs were sweet additions to the decor. I was enchanted. On a snowy Tennessee night while talking on the phone with my sister I painted a bee on the wall above my kitchen counter. It's still there and my husband is sandbagging my plan to put glass tile on the wall because he doesn't want me to cover up the prophetic bee even though now through the window next to the painted bee we can now see three busy beehives in our garden.
Beekeeping is the perfect occupation for anyone who appreciates wonder. The bees are mesmerizing to watch and a joy to listen to, hard working females who buzz alongside me as I work in the garden. I talk kindly to them as they go about their business. I've tried lots of things and actually make a habit of trying to learn something new every year. But a colony of bees is a mysterious thing. Science has answered many of the questions people had for thousands of years but I still sit on my backporch on summer evenings and watch them in the setting sunlight wondering where they've been and where they are going. I enjoy participating in something I won't get to the end of understanding. Any beekeeper will tell you that the hobby is a mixture of science and art. There are the ways things should work generally if you do this or that, or the ways bees normally behave--then there are the things the bees actually do. The bees haven't read all the books written about them.
You can manipulate them but in the end they are wild things, a collection of highly organized untamed females that cannot be fenced in or tied up. They will be free within their own set of rules. Something about that is extremely appealing. I wonder that there are not more women who find the keeping of bees a satisfying undertaking.