A Lesson from the Bees
It was a warm sunny day. The bees were extremely active. Their pollen baskets were loaded. The outsides of the hives were speckled yellow from the pollen the busy bees were carrying into the hives. I added a super to one hive. The bees seemed fairly calm and weren’t threatening, though they were flying around me. I also removed the queen cage. I was able to work without gloves and not get stung. They had started to make comb and fill it with honey; some of which was attached to the queen cage. I licked this off, it was really delicious.
The next day was another fairly warm, sunny day. I wanted to add supers to the remaining three hives. Regrettably, I didn’t do this in the middle of the day. At 6:30 pm, most of the bees were home and no longer out foraging. I put the first super on. The bees were bumping into me and not necessarily happy but not yet threatening. But by the time I had two more supers ready, it was 8:00 pm – I suppose the bees wanted to go to “bed” and were a bit edgy. I was stung on the finger while I was taking the feeder off; it hurt, like being poked with a thorn only worse. There was a warm throbbing sensation. Quickly, I drew the edge of my hive tool along my finger to remove the stinger. I kept working, but was almost immediately stung again on the same finger. My whole finger was throbbing. Promptly, I closed up the hive. Before opening the last hive, I pulled on a pair of gloves. This hive was very angry as soon as I opened them up. They were swarming around me, furiously. I was stung twice more on the arm. I went as quickly but carefully as I could to close up the hive after sliding on the super. Even so, as I walked away, there seemed to be a cloud of bees following me for a long ways. Finally, I was far from the apiary and hadn’t heard the buzz of a bee for several hundred feet. I was on the deck in front of the house; I thought it was safe to take my veil off. Then, out of nowhere, a bee stung me above the eye. I think it had been waiting on my back for the opportunity! Shortly after, I started to break out with hives –first a red, itchiness slowly began to spread across the trunk of my body, and then bumps that got extremely huge – it continued to spread for another hour. I was freaking out at first, since hives were a new thing to me – mom reassured me I was fine. My eye and finger began to swell. I became frustrated and discouraged in my discomfort, doubting my ability to be a beekeeper. Being stung wasn’t in itself so bad, after all bee venom has health benefits, it was the other struggles I had earlier with the new bees, the swelling and hives just pushed me over the edge.
The whole incident with the bees last week triggered some reflections, some of which were deep and removed from bees altogether, but most were about the bees. Saturday morning when I woke up my left eye was so swollen my vision was affected. Looking in the mirror was unpleasant, half my face looked deformed, I looked and felt like characters in movies that were born with facial deformities and treated like freaks and outcasts. I instantly tried to hide the left side of my face; I didn’t want people staring or asking questions. My hand was puffy and swollen; it was slightly tingly and only somewhat useful. My hand bothered me far less than my face however. I didn’t even want Jesse to see my eye. I became angry with that bee; after all, I had been far from her hive when she stung me. The reflection in the mirror wasn’t me and I hated it. With the swollen half of my face covered, I stared at my good eye – I realized how beautiful it was, how bright it shined with an attractive sparkle. Suddenly I was appreciating the way I look without a swollen eye, finding that I liked my face and I so wanted it restored to me. I also had a deeper appreciation for my hands.
Many doubts about being a beekeeper filled my mind, as my eye and finger ached. I tried convincing myself that I was terrible at it – this is only my second year though, so I’m still learning. I even asked Jesse if he wanted to be one- I’d give him my bees. I was focusing on myself not the bees. Days later, with my body restored, I have a less selfish perspective. I began to reflect on how and why I became a beekeeper, what had brought me to this point in my life. The search took me back to childhood, though I had never seen a honeybee until I was in college. I was most familiar with bumblebees, though I didn’t know their names. We had bumblebees on the farm. At first, I would react when they were flying around me, but gradually I learned to remain calm and still, the bumblebee would leave me alone. Slowly, I became more and more comfortable being around bumblebees. I was taught the value and importance of bees to pollinate our food crops. Over the years my appreciation for the bees grew as I learned they were declining. Spotting a bumblebee became exciting and still is thrilling. Then my last semester of college, I chose to take an entomology class. I learned more about the plight of the bees through a book on the recent collapse of the honeybee populations which was assigned to the class. My interest in beekeeping was sparked; at the time however I thought it was a distant dream. I became a beekeeper for the bees and for the environment – almost all creatures benefit even if indirectly from bees, and not just honeybees but the native bees as well. Keeping bees would teach me to be more mindful of insects, see the world at their level. It would also help to gauge the state of native bees. Providing a healthy, diverse micro-ecosystem for honeybees would help native bees too since they utilize a similar habitat. This is my goal as a beekeeper, to provide a home for all bees to thrive. Honey and any other rewards I gather from the bees is just a bonus. For a moment last weekend, I lost sight of why I’m a beekeeper. The bees not so gently reminded me.