To Bee or Not to Bee
Fact truly is stranger than fiction, and I can prove it.
A month ago we were getting Paul’s bees ready to go to California to pollinate the almonds come February.
Here’s how we do it: Lean a hive over, pry off the pollen trap, check for bees top and bottom of the hive, sniff for foulbrood disease (it reeks), maybe remove a frame or two of bees for a quick look.
If the hive makes my back ache, it’s got sufficient honey. If it doesn’t, put on a corn syrup feeder or add some honey.
Mark weak or diseased hives with a rock on top. Stack the traps on a pallet. This whole procedure might take a minute or two per hive, start to finish. We roll.
We generally don’t bother smoking the bees to calm them down. Sometimes Paul will say, “We’d better get a smoker going,” but we hardly ever end up using it. It’s just another step, and although nobody talks about who works the fastest, I will say Paul is hard to keep up with.
The bees do get upset, some of them. Sometimes the little darlings get inside our protective head veils. You get enough angry honeybees bumping against your veil, and sooner or later one is going to find her way in.
They like to sting my ankles, too, but high rubber boots put a stop to that. Anyhow, what’s the big deal here? Beekeepers get stung. That’s the way it is.
In an odd way, I pride myself on having gotten stung in some unusual places. That way, when folks say, “You’re a beekeeper? Do you ever get stung?” I can tell them about the bee that flew up my nose.
But I don’t push my luck. I wear bee gloves, a canvas shirt, jeans, and long johns if it’s cold enough. There was, however, this one particular place I had never gotten stung. …
I like to drink too much coffee. One blustery morning, the bees were up in arms about something. In the midst of the chaos, I said, “I wonder if I can irrigate some rabbit brush without getting stung.”
Mark said, “Probably not.”
I don’t know why I even said that, although I do like to keep the conversation moving. But there’s a lesson here: Life is nothing if not ironic.
I walked a ways away. Then I walked a little farther. Sure, a few bees buzzed around me, but I’d done this a time or two before. Mortals that we are, we all have to relieve ourselves sometimes, even in a bee yard.
Suddenly my world lit up. “Ow!” I yelled. “Doggone it, you won’t believe this, Mark, but I just got nailed.”
“Doggone it”? OK, maybe I did say a bad word.
Mark said, “Oh, that’s a likely story.”
I said, “I could show you, but it’d cost you a lobster dinner if I’m not a liar.”
Mark said, “I couldn’t bear to look.”
I still wasn’t finished, so I walked ten yards farther away from the hives. Maybe now it’s you who won’t believe me, but cross my heart and hope to die, I got stung again. I cried out for mercy.
Mark shouted, “Did you ever hear the story of the little boy who cried ‘wolf?'”
I said, “Come over and look, you doubting Thomas.”
“I don’t have a magnifying glass,” he chortled. “But why would I believe you, anyway?”
As I removed the second stinger, I double-checked for the first one, too. It was still there, doggone it.
We chuckled about this all day, but deep down I wondered if Mark really believed me. It doesn’t matter. I’m here to tell you that the strangest stories aren’t made up ” they really happened.
Beekeeper/ski patroller Ed Colby thinks the skiing is pretty good for November. Ed’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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