My beekeeper friend is like an old-fashioned milkman. On our front porch I put out the empties, and she quietly delivers two amber-toned jars of honey, leaving them in a little wooden carrier made by her dad with the name “Bee-i-e-i-o Honey Farm” burned into the wood. In an email she reports just finishing “a sticky four days of honey harvest.”
We eat a lot of honey. For my husband there has never been a doubt that honey is best. He’s been known to refer to bread as a “platform for honey” – not minding toast of stale or indifferent bread, as long as it’s slathered with honey.
People have incomplete glimmers of understanding about bee dances and bee illness in the self-contained, functioning, productive world of bees. There is something both otherworldly and lovable about bees – so busy, so focused, so sure of themselves and their jobs.
In a swell little book, “A Country Year: Living the Questions,” Sue Hubbell (librarian turned naturalist and beekeeper), describes being in one of her beeyards when an eerie feeling (the air “electric and full of excitement) led to the recognition of a swarm nearby: “They came flying in, swirling as they descended, spiraling around me and the post oak until I was enveloped by the swarm. The air moving gently from the beat of their wings.”
And one June day I stood in with a friend in her excellent garden full of flowers and vegetables and a pond, surrounded by woods. As we chatted, a humming sound caught our attention. I looked above my friend’s head toward the pond and saw a cloud of bees, familiar buzzing magnified, a trail of bees, a cloud stretching nearly across the pond and heading toward us.
I’d never seen such a thing but my friend calmly said: “We have a swarm!” (She’d never seen one either but is accepting of all things in the natural world.) The bees headed toward us, lighting on a nearby crocosmia, and then on the side of a perfect hollowed-out snag just a few feet from us. They turned the bark dark, covering it until they found the opening (we thought we saw the queen – larger and different) and disappeared inside. Twenty minutes later, the snag hummed. Only stragglers remained outside.
We were giddy, touched without being touched. Hubbell writes of the experience of being surrounded: “In another sense I was not remote from them at all, but was receiving all sorts of meaningful messages in the strongest way imaginable outside of human mental process and language.”
All that summer the snag was alive with bees, coming and going to flowers. This summer my friend told me that “our” bees still live in the snag, and that several swarms have emerged and moved on.
Stickers on my beekeeper’s jars say: “How do you know it’s real honey if you don’t know your beekeeper?” I’m glad to know these folks – gardener and beekeeper. And grateful for the work of bees.