Last night I had a small group of lovely lady beekeepers over to talk out beekeeping and some related projects in the works. We drank wine, ate rabbit sausages, broiled escarole and homegrown potatoes and caper berries. We talked about how our bees were doing, plans to have babies and what we planned to do for the winter. We talked at length about bees, of course. The conversation eventually turned to a commonality in the room–that we had all come to see beekeeping as something that has helped us to cope with hardship in our lives and has given us a sense of empowerment and connection to the world. Beekeeping had inadvertently become our religion…the open hive being the church in which we pray. If that makes us heathens…well, I guess we’ll see some of you in Hell because we’re not changing. At least we won’t be alone.
(Amazing bee imagery from the website of Q. Cassetti)
I think about beekeepers relationship with their bees all the time. I specifically take note of the differences between male and female beekeepers. There’s something different about each gender’s approach. Men often radiate a sense of mastery over some perceived danger (“Watch in amazement while I stick my head in this lion’s mouth!”) and an interest in processing information within the hive (which has merit, absolutely), where women are far more intuitive, sensitive and often approach and work within the hive as if they were going to visit a temperamental friend. There’s perhaps more sentimentality with women, but I think with bees a little bit of preciousness goes a long way. The bees don’t seem to mind it.
Sometimes there is an in-between, as demonstrated by Yvon Achard in Queen of the Sun.
As for me, I started beekeeping during the darkest time in my life. I had just had my heart broken and felt anxious, unsure and fragmented. My family life was in turmoil and I was adjusting to a lifestyle in a new city that I was certain was not for me. I felt very alone. Then the bees came and they quieted me, opened me up. I felt plugged into the world again. I think most beekeepers will understand what I mean. To non-beekeepers I can only say, in more specific terms that beekeeping is meditative and the act of inspecting a hive, for most beekeepers, clears one’s head and calms the random thoughts whirling around in the mind. I’ve heard similar things out of other mouths, so I know it’s not just me.
(Artwork by Q. Cassetti)
But there’s more to it than that. Beekeeping, to me, offers something to the human heart that I cannot easily articulate. It just needs to be experienced. As a beekeeper, you get to witness the a miniaturized human experience on a small scale; life-growth-community-creation-death. It’s amazing that a creature as small as a bee can teach you such a tremendous amount if you are open. They unknowingly give so much to us. I regret that I can’t explain it better. I’m just not there yet. I’m only just beginning to understand my relationship to these things.
So, enough rambling from me. Beekeepers—tell me about your experience with your bees. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter. What do your bees mean to you? Have they changed you or your perspective in any way?