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rookie beekeeper


How to describe the indescribable—an exercise outside of the corpus.  This week I jumped right into the deep end of the honey bowl and there’s no looking back.  About fifty thousand bees live outside my front door now, and I am their keeper.  that happened kind of quickly.  I’ll back up. 

You see, a few months ago, we found ourselves embedded deeply, as we still currently are, into the thick regulatory stew of efforts required to develop and open up Be Here Now (a budding retreat, farm, and nature sanctuary at our home here in Sonoma).  As winter’s work tinkered on—projects of every imaginable caste and order—we had the increasing itch to get our hands out of these here computers and put them back into this here earth.   All the architecting, engineering, planning, designing, redesigning, consulting—etc—it all became a little rote.    With that in mind, I thought a “pure joy” side endeavor might round out the schedule nicely and picked up the phone to contact the Napa Valley Bee Co—a guy I had read a thing or two about online.  He raises (and teaches people how to raise) bees all around the area using strong, local, healthy genetics.  His bees are not propped up by chemicals and medicine, but rather live simply and naturally (which turns out to be quite the struggle for bees nowadays).  Two months later he called and said my colonies were ready.  That was five days ago, and now here I find myself in a whole new way.   

Jumping off the deep end into the honey bowl, as stated earlier, is actually a perfect analogy for how this feels.  Put yourself there, into a bowl full of honey.  The thick goopy resistance warps your every effort into slow moving, ineffective gestures.  This is how my first day interacting alone with the bees plays back in my memory.  Opening up that hive on that first day by myself stacks up there against all of the most extreme out-of-body experiences I have had in my lifetime—professional and recreational.  I couldn’t control my hands.  I could think about what I wanted them to do, I just couldn’t make them do exactly whatever it was that I had originally wanted.  Certainly not with any grace or expedience anyways—two qualities I was literally praying for inside my head during the moment in question.   

The only thing I could think of was johnny depp’s character in fear and loathing describing the onsets of an ether high:  “Total loss of all basic motor skills. Blurred vision, no balance, numb tongue. The mind recoils in horror, unable to communicate with the spinal column. Which is interesting because you can actually watch yourself behaving in this terrible way, but you can't control it.”

“Yea, that’s about right,” I thought.  So I opened the box, and there’s yesterday’s upside down mason jar—emptied of syrup.  “Just pick it up,” I thought.  Just pick up that mason jar covered in bees, open the top, feed the bees, and leave. 

“Just do it”, my brain seemed to be saying to my hands.    

I can’t really compare this to any other human moment in my experience.  Don’t get me wrong; I have fronted bravado in my lifetime.  I’ve taken on a multitude of new trades over the last three years, and I have tackled them all with confidence, intention, and open mindedness, but something about this just feels a little different (and I’m thinking it’s the terror).  Meanwhile, Rob, my bee guru, just sort of chuckled as I described the cocktail of horror, confusion, and adrenaline that coursed through me as I engaged the bees on my maiden voyage.   His advice was to just stay calm and confident—“you’re the boss,” he said. 

“Okay,” I thought.  But only, okay.  

So Picture this—day one, scene one—napa valley bee company arrives at my home.  The beekeeper and his wife step out of their car dressed finely for what appears to be a dinner party, with their son and a dog asleep across the back seat, a colony of bees sitting in the open cabin trunk, and a small handful of “escaped” bees humming busily around all four of their heads—everything is totally normal. 

This is the procedure that followed:  carry the hive to its’ new stand, pull the screen off the front of the hive, and—wait foooor iiiiit…sprint like a motherfucker.  Yes, that’s right, I said “sprint like a motherfucker.”  Plan A. 

These are your bees now.  Every day, for the next week straight, prepare a simple syrup of 2x sugar and 1x water, open up the top of these boxes (both of which have twenty or thirty thousand bees inside them), and feed the syrup to the bees in an upside down mason jar whose top is punctured with tiny holes.  While we don’t normally feed our bees anything, by practice, we will feed them this week while they orient themselves to their new food shed.   Oh, and no gloves—you’ll need the dexterity. 

“Okay,” is all my brain could come up with—and i’m not sure if it was meant as a statement or a question. 

presently, as I sit hear recalling this week’s new beginning, I can already appreciate the fading newness fondly as a seasoned five-day-old beekeeper.  the terror has been replaced by curiosity, while the confusion and adrenaline remain fully intact.  This process has already been filled with such wonder and amazement, I can’t wait to see what the bees have to teach us next. 

The bee is the reminder to extract the honey of life and to make our lives fertile when the sun shines.  The bee reminds us that no matter how great the dream there is the promise of fulfillment if we pursue it.” from Animal Speak , by Ted Andrews

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