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To Bee or Not to Bee

“The widder’s good to me, and friendly; but I can’t stand them ways. . She won’t let me sleep in the woodshed; I got to wear them blamed clothes that just smothers me, Tom; they don’t let any air git through `em. . I got to wear shoes all Sunday.” – Huckleberry Finn, in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

As dusk descends on the honeybee yard on Charles Ryden’s Main Elk Creek ranch, I hear the distant laughter and faint shouts of boys running through woods. I set down my smoker and listen.

Oh, those boys! They embody everything the rest of us lost long ago – openness, innocence, a sense of wonder.



Cody and Mark live in the old ranch house. They both love to talk.

When I asked 11-year-old Mark about the fishing in the creek, he allowed as how it was pretty good. I asked him what kind of trout. “Oh, browns, brookies, rainbows,” he said.



“How big?” I asked. I wanted to know.

Mark held out his hands and moved them slowly back and forth like an accordionist – or an honest angler.

“You sure they’re that big?” I asked.

“Oh, you bet,” he said.

I had only recently put bees on the ranch, and Mark wanted to know all about the little darlings.

Just then 10 frisky bulls came stomping, kicking and head-butting across the bridge. I gave a start, but Mark lounged casually against my pickup.

Mark knows a greenhorn when he sees one. He said, “I’d move my truck if I were you.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because those bulls could wreck it if they ran into it. That’s what happened to my dad’s truck.”

Jesus and Sergio and a bunch of the other Mexicans chased after the bulls, whooping and laughing as they herded them into a pen. Mark ran to join up.

When he came back, I said, “Aren’t you scared of those bulls?”

“Naw,” he said.

I said, “Wow, I’d be.”

That little philosopher looked at me and said, “Think of it this way. You’re scared of bulls. I’m scared of bees. Everybody’s scared of something.”

Mark doesn’t miss a trick. If he had a fence to whitewash, he’d let you help.

Mark’s 13-year-old brother Cody – a living, breathing reincarnation of Huckleberry Finn – wears shorts in the summer. Just shorts.

One day he said, “Your bees got in the shed, and I got stung eight times.”

“Uh oh,” I thought. “This doesn’t sound good.”

“Let’s have a look,” I said.

Just inside the shed he pointed to a nest by the door.

I said, “Let’s get out of here. Those are hornets.”

Safely outside, I said, “What happened, anyway?”

He said, “I was inside the shed, and Mark came over and said, `Mom wants you.’ Then he slammed the door and left. As soon as he slammed the door, those bees tore after me, and I went running as fast as I could, but they got me eight times.”

In my mind’s eye I watched him sprint barefoot down the lane, legs and arms pumping, yelling at the top of his lungs, while bald-faced hornets lit into his bare brown back. Why didn’t Mark Twain tell that story?

“Those were hornets,” I corrected. “Not bees.” I hate it when honeybees get a bad rap.

Youth vanishes like a dream. Rub your eyes, and it’s gone. The magic lies in remembrance, don’t you think?

Sadly, by mid-summer Mark and Cody had to wash behind their ears and . go back to school. I’m pretty sure they have to wear shoes.

Beekeeper/ski patroller Ed Colby’s column appears every other Sunday in the Post Independent. Ed’s e-mail: esc@sopris.net.


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