Saturday, March 18, 2006

Beeing there

Ah! Thank you all for your comments on my previous post. There will be no photo of me in full beekeeping regalia at this time. Suffice to say it is even more gloriously geeky than the photo Ian linked to. For now, rent the excellent film Ulee's Gold if you are curious. Maybe I'll pose in my veil for you later on.

We had our first bee class today. (The other two are on Saturdays in April and May, respectively.) It started out a grey, unpromising morning, but by the time we met our group and hiked up a woodsy hill at the Botanical Garden, the sun began to warm our faces. Everything was in bloom, from the camellias to the squill.

When we were about 50 feet away from the hives, we all paused to suit up. Then the teacher lit some pine straw and stuffed it in his smoker, and away we went. He pried the top off a hive and started removing frame after frame full of waxy cells, covered with crawling, fuzzy, buzzing bees.

The first hive was mellow and didn't seem to mind our intrusion. Another hive seemed much more annoyed with us. But I found that inside the veil, I felt calm. Bees lit on me, inches from my face, and we looked into each other's eyes. The bees were wonders of nature--the endlessly complex curiosities of a Victorian hobby, like butterflies or fossils.

By the third hive, the bees were beginning to buzz around in earnest, yet I somehow got up the gumption to volunteer. I squeezed a few puffs of fragrant smoke into the hive entrance, then popped the top off. It seemed natural to address the bees as "ladies." "Don't mind me, ladies--oh, watch out, ladies." Yes, there were big, bumbling drones here and there, but they couldn't sting the way the workers could--so who do you think I was going to be the most polite to?

Gently and slowly, I used a hive tool to pry the wood frames out of the gluey propolis the bees had cemented them with. Then I carefully placed my gloved hands in the most beeless places I could find in order to lift them out. Before my eyes I saw the queen laying an egg. The smell was heady and sweet, and somehow the activity, though exhausting because of the steadiness and concentration it required, was meditative.

I think I have fallen in love with beekeeping...which is good, because our bees arrive the first or second week of April.