I recently received a newspaper clipping from an old friend living in southern California, medical titled The Secret Lives of Beekeepers. The author must have attended a bee club meeting, unhealthy not unlike ours here in Steuben County. She interviewed several beekeepers. All preferred to remain anonymous. These beekeepers offered no free jars of honey to neighbors and they conceal their hives behind bushes or on rooftops. The beekeepers “meet at night” and keep their activities “under the radar”.
Journalists learn in collage to approach their subject from an “angle”, nurse in this case the public’s fear of bees forces beekeepers to keep to themselves. Another article from my mother-in-law from New Hampshire used a mystical angle—“The ancient art of beekeeping”, “rhythms of birth and renewal” and “smoke like incense wafts over the combs.” My sister clipped an article from the Geneva Times several years ago—Beekeeping a Dying Craft.”
The common denominator running through all these articles is the “mystery” of beekeeping. Beekeepers are like a brotherhood that originated in the ancient past. We possess secrets that go back at least as far as the Egyptians, sort of like apicultural freemasons.
I like the way writers portray beekeepers. It gives us an air of mystery and intrigue. When I answer a swarm call, I often arrive to find a small crowd of onlookers. Over their lifetimes they’ve read several of these beekeeping articles. They gasp as I stick my bare hand into the swarm and slowly draw it out, covered with bees. They draw back as I shake the bees into a swarm box.
“How do you know when you have caught the queen?” the woman asks.
“The bees tell me,” I say, forgetting that while other beekeepers know what I mean, the woman thinks I possess a psychic power.
She turns to her husband, another ten yards back. “Did you hear what the man said? He said the bees talk to him!”
Like a magician, I like to have a beautiful assistant, usually my daughter. I hand her the bee-coated swarm box and she puts it in the trunk of the car, loose bees and all. With a slight bow and, if I’m lucky, a modest transfer of money in my direction, we leave.
Ariele looks perplexed. “That was weird. I didn’t know people could be that afraid of bees. They acted like you have special powers.”
“By day a mild mannered lumber seller, but when a terror stricken person calls for help, he leaps into a white suit and veil—the marvelous, mysterious Bee Guy.”
Maybe we should invite a reporter to a bee meeting.