Nearly a year ago I was reacquainted with a high school friend who had taken up beekeeping. I had a visceral desire to keep bees but lacked the where-with-all to empower myself to take up beekeeping. Suddenly the world had possibility and Kathy agreed to mentor me. I didn't realize that one of the most important lessons of this endeavor was underway. I come to the beekeeping with lofty hopes, hopes to be tamed, with the idea that somehow the art of beekeeping and the bees will empower me to be more mindful, more deliberate, more contemplative and allow me to slow down. My work life is intense, managing critically ill children in the hospital. I am the person families turn to in their most intimate and vulnerable moments. While I love my work it spends me in a way I can articulate. I am also exceptionally good at what I do, an expert and the mentor. It has been a very long time since I was the novice. The lesson of the novice have gotten lost in my life. This past year, I have been in the throws of that lesson, humbled by the simplicity of learning how to ask for help and navigate this journey with others. None of my usual tactics worked to avoid having to ask for help. Three comprehensive beekeeping classes, reading book after book, and still, I needed help. I say all the time, no question is without merit but still, it is hard for me to ask. You see I don't like to appear as though I have not done my homework or am unprepared. But this beekeeping business, well it is beyond academics, it is all learning in the field and not fit for a solo journey. In order to master this I have to ask questions and I have to have help. It is not easy to ask someone to take three hours out of their day to join me at my apiary , to help me with my hive inspections, to point out the difference between the workers and the drones. I am overwhelmed with the graciousness of my mentor, not just for the time and the assistance but for the process of this lesson, for helping me understand that it is also a gift to be the mentor.
The bees, they are lessons in themselves. We have two colonies, a hive of Italian honey bees and a hive of Carniolan honey bees. The Italian honey bees are thriving, building comb, full of brood, bringing in nectar and pollen, doing exactly what they should be doing. I get very jazzed up when I open the hive and see the wonder of collective work unfolding in front of me, revealing another lesson I hope to learn about, collaboration.
The Carniolan hive, well that is a different story and perhaps we will learn more about beekeeping from this hive and it's struggles than the Italian hive will teach us. It is difficult to know exactly what is going on with these bees. They have struggled from the get go. When we picked up the packages there were a fair amount of dead bees in the bottom of the Carniolan package, way way more than the Italian package. In retrospect I wish I had noticed this at the pick up and requested a different package. We had trouble getting our Queen in this hive and we are having trouble determining if she is there or not, or if maybe the hive has already requeened itself, all very complicated issues. We have had good but different input about what to do about the hive. Opinions vary. I have struggled with making decision about how to manage the hive. I want to be a responsible beekeeper and do what ever I can to help manage the hive. I want to make good, informed decisions. I think I have finally settled on an approach that is comfortable for me. Last evening during my field beekeeping class at the U of M the professor, Dr. Marla Spivak, a bee geek to be sure, made the following statement, "If you don't know what to do, don't do anything. The bees have a remarkable way of sorting themselves out and can make themselves right. Just let them be, they will figure things out." Another lesson since I like to meddle!