what i learned from bees.

I was in no mood for adventure.

An email that morning – informing me that my application for a university scholarship was unsuccessful – had set the tone for the day, namely, a poor one. Customers seemed grumpier than normal. The coffee pots seemed to always need refilling. The future, and all its ensuing financial obligations, even more overwhelming.

I knew what I needed to do. A recently opened Starbucks a mere five-minute walk from my house would be the perfect setting for a little bad-day recovery, a chance to catch up on writing in anonymous bliss with an Iced-Mocha-Frappe-Make-Me-Feel-a-Latte-Better-Cino by my side. My mother had other ideas.

As I changed out of the all-black affair of my uniform, she called upstairs. “Feel like clearing your brain and coming to see a beehive with me?”

Not exactly, Mom. In fact, the last thing I felt like doing was putting on protective long pants and boots – with the outside temperature pushing the mid-90s – and trudging through an overgrown field, all to what? Put myself at risk of being stung a thousand times over?

But I did, of course.

My mother, you see, is currently knee-deep in a book about bees. She’s drawing on several of their characteristics – the waggle dance, in particular – to talk about the topic of unity and how women relate to each other. I, however, am up to my waist in the mire that is financial aid, having to fill out scary-sounding things like Master Promissory Notes and Entrance Counseling. Committing oneself to repaying a large sum of money is not for the faint of heart, I’m learning.

And so when a friend of my mother’s called this afternoon, saying that her husband, who has recently taken up beekeeping, would be visiting his new hive, Mom jumped at the chance to tag along – “This is an adventure!” she said excitedly on our way there. We pull up a gravel drive, three miles from our house, and deep, green cornfields grow on either side. I get out of the car and stare down the lane, only a telephone line to muss up the ruralness of it all. Three miles yet a world apart from the development of suburbia that surrounds the farm. I’m feeling better already.

Greg is there to meet us, a retired pastor wearing old jeans and duck boots, and we load into the minivan he’s parked on the side of the road. He steers through tall grass and over a small knoll, saying, “Billy [his beekeeping mentor] did this in a pick-up truck, but we’ll see how we do. I like adventure.” Not him, too, I thought. We reach the hive and Greg directs us to stand to the left, out of the bees’ flight path. Air traffic controller, apiculture-style.

As he pulls a long-sleeved t-shirt over his head and dons a hat and veil, Greg talks of how he built the hive, purchasing a box of 5,000 bees to get his colony going. When it came to placing them in the hive, he said it felt like pouring thick molasses. “You literally just dump them in, but they’d all clung together. They get scared in an unsure environment.”

I know the feeling well. He tells us, too, of another hive he’d started at the same time, yet this one wasn’t so lucky. When wax moths got to it, the hive was decimated. “I opened the top one day and all you could see were the moths’ cocoons they’d spun everywhere. They’d eaten through all the honeycomb. There were maybe three bees left, they were just gone.

“Billy told me there’s not a beekeeper who hasn’t seen that sight at least once. He said not to let it keep me up at night.” With each new wooden frame he lowers into the top box, Greg’s actions speak of tenderness and his emotional investment in this undertaking.

And understandably so. It was remarkable to see, really. I was given a chance to wear the veil and sneak up close. On the underside of the hive’s lid, little pieces of honeycomb had begun to form, their six-sided cells visible even among the swarms of bees moving as one. I can do nothing but stare, marvelling as always at the sight of something that has come from nothing. It’s the same beauty found in icicles, in pearls, in stalactites and stalagmites. It’s the aggregate of the process, the way each small step builds on the last.

Greg slips the last of the frames in and then prepares another safeguard. This time it’s the hive beetles he’s after and he fills small black trays called beetle eaters with vegetable oil. These go in between two frames and ward off another potentially detrimental pest.

I watch with interest, thinking that just like those bees, I’ll be taken care of, too.

Battling the pesky hive beetle.



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4 responses to “what i learned from bees.

  1. WOW. Love how God spoke to your precious heart. It was a tough day. The load you were bearing on your shoulders quite evident. Sorry to call you away from your Starbuck retreat — I owe you a Mocha-whatever-you-call-that (smile). The next one is on me. Thank you for coming on my little adventure—even though it was only right around the corner. You see, you and I have been taking little adventures since the day you were born. Actually, you have been one of my greatest adventures. How blessed I have been to share life’s journey with such an amazing daughter. I know that Master Promissory (sp?) note seems daunting, but God will be faithful. HE ALWAYS IS. Right now you are smack dab in the “aggregate of the process–with each step building on the last.” The honey of your life is going to be so so so sweet. You just have to be patient with each step. And we all know that is the hardest part.

  2. Frank Cunningham

    Your mom’s post says it all about you, your character. I can just add how impressed I am with your writing. You have the talent for writing beautifully, with substance and grace. This talent will earn you scholarship aid now, and will underpin your success in life.

  3. I don’t know what you mean when you indicate my comment is awaiting moderation. I thought you wanted me to fill in the Website entry, which I have done. Should I moderate it? If so, how? Or will you moderate it? Please explain.

  4. Hi Frank! Thank you so much for reading my post and for your kind words…they mean a lot! Sorry about the confusion with comments – “awaiting moderation” is simply how WordPress sets up their comment system. Once you leave a comment, I receive an email notification to go and approve it – just a small step they place in between you posting and it showing up on my blog! Once again, thank you 🙂

    Mom – thank you too! I look forward to the mocha 😉

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