Moving bees

The appointed hour arrived at 7:45pm on Saturday night.  The storm clouds were cropping up in the western sky, warning us of the late night thunderstorms of the monsoon season. My friend Sarah arrived in her huge yellow GMC truck, ready to haul bees from near the base of the mountains, down to the valley, along the Rio Grande.

Darren Jewel, whom I introduced you to last week, (the bee cutout expert) had gathered a few hives of bees from his travels.  He was hosting them in his backyard until we could come pick them up and take them to their permanent home.

Just a little inside scoop. It is best to move bees after dark, to ensure that all the field bees have come home for the night and no one is left behind. Even so, there were still bees flying around and as night encroached, I began to feel like I was in the twilight zone.  It was creepy moving a pulsing, vibrating mass of insects trapped inside a box from one side of the city to another, at night. I had fleeting glimpses in my head of that newsclip about an overturned semi-truck of bees migrating from North to South to pollinate the fruit there.  I can’t imagine the horror, both for the driver and the bees.

One hive was particularly cranky. As we smoked them, trying to urge them inside in order to tape the door shut, they continued to fly around and chase us. When one stung Sarah on the cheek, we got our veils.  It was time to get down to business. They were feeling jittery, just as we were.

Finally, everyone was loaded up…three hives in all.  Sarah began to carefully wind her way down to the river even as the clouds gave up their goods and the rain fell.  I wasn’t hauling a bunch of live bees, but my stomach was churning, just thinking about trying to move them to a new location in the dark. I had gained permission from friends to put one hive on their property, but they weren’t home and I had ended up with not one, but two feral hives. I felt anxious going into someone else’s backyard at night.  I hoped that the neighbors and their dogs would extend us some grace.

At the other end, the rain had abated enough to let us unload. When Sarah’s truckdoor opened, the classical music poured out.  I asked my friend if she felt anxiety about driving the bees in the rain and thunder and lightning.  “Oh no.” she laughed,  “If you’d seen some of the other situations I’ve had to move bees in, you’d see this is a piece of cake”!  Sarah is a can-do woman.  She is of slight build, spunky and smart.  In her professional life, she appears to be an East Coast bred, genteel woman who wears pearls.  But down in the beeyard, she is fierce and strong and knows her stuff. I was grateful for Sarah’s unabashed confidence that night.

We unloaded the hives and left them at their new home until tomorrow, when we would come back and do a thorough hive check and see what was going on.

With our headlamps, Sarah and I were able to move everything without much ado.

The next day, though, was wild and wooly as we checked the hives, particularly the cranky hive. I’ll spare you the details, but I ended up being chased, suffering stings in my private parts. A day in the life of a beekeeper.

Why do I do this?

My friend Sarah helped me answer this question as we grabbed a Red Stuff drink at Flying Star and shot the breeze about bees, poring over catalogues and swapping bee equipment ideas.  Yes, we are geeks.. beeks as it were.

She said it was her small way of giving back to the planet.  I thought about that.  There are hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who give back to our earth and support the food system by daily caring for their “girls”. The bees.

This is especially relevant because of a recent unfortunate and misguided, sensationalistic local Albuquerque t.v. news piece on “Blood Thirsty Bees”—-chronicling a community trying to bring attention to a bunch of very cranky bees. I wish the t.v. station had chosen to balance their story with some investigative journaling—-educational facts, real stories of beekeepers and the uniquely difficult and joyful job they perform—–of contributing to our planet’s health and food security. Who knows what happened to the beekeeper on the West Side. Was he in over his head?  I’m not going to sit in judgement. I’d need to hear his story.

Yes, it does happen that bees can have “hot” or partly Africanized DNA, which can become a hazard in communities.  They need to be taken care of—-either placed far away from people, requeened or put down.

The lion’s share of beekeepers are responsible, ethical, deeply respectful of all life. They care that bees are disappearing and colonies collapsing.  They worry about life without pollinators—-responsible for at least 70% of all the foods we eat. They love what they do and they do it well and with all their heart—for the bees and for all critters, including people.

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