Bee-ings. What do you refuse to destroy?

Posted by on Sep 20, 2012 in inspirations | 0 comments

As September trickles through our home, I decided today would be the day to harvest a bit of fall honey. These warm afternoons have seemed perfect; the bees should be fairly docile in the heat and I can use minimal smoking, which I hear is not altogether benign as some might imagine.

I have decided to harvest one bar from the Topbar hive, then plan to harvest the rest in the spring once they start foraging again, this ensures plenty of nourishment through the winter.

I don the closest thing I have to a “bee suit:” long sleeve button up shirt, pants (with pants tucked into socks), sun hat with a veil draped over it and my only “official” item; my elbow length bee gloves.

I start the smoker for the first time, choosing dried lavender for my fuel – I imagine a little smell-good sweetness with the hurt of the smoke, and I pause in this moment to think – how often I make myself feel better about a negative impact by glossing it with something “nice.”

I love these bees, and in just this moment, my eyes well. I know the smoke disorients them, confuses their tiny bodies…why am I taking their honey in the first place?

My two sons are dancing around my periphery as I start, I lift off the top and give 3 puffs from the smoker and I notice that the HUM grows louder from the hive, 3 more puffs and I see increased motion through the looking glass in the hive. I reconsider at this moment, Puffer set to the ground; if I can’t do it without the smoke, I won’t continue.

I loosen and remove a few blank bars from the back of the hive to give myself room and then work forward toward their rear-most still-in progress-comb. Through the hive window, I have already selected the chosen comb to be removed – pregnant and bulging with golden honey. Just slip it out the top and be done; that’s my plan.

As I carefully start to separate the back comb I quickly realize they have “crossed bars”.  As in, the sections of comb from each bar are also attached to the adjoining bars.  Pause. What to do?

I quickly realize I won’t be harvesting just one bar; and, this won’t be easy.

Bees are now everywhere: on my face netting, shirt, pants, shoes, around the back of my neck.


I start whispering sweet words of thanks to these lovely bee-ings as I start to make sense of the cross-bar comb. I’ve read that one should remove back to the point where they are straight, not crossed, let them start over with new comb. But who designates this “should?”

I shave off a huge hunk of honey laden comb and place it in my bowl, careful to brush each bee back into the hive.

Honey is starting to drip everywhere as my process is uncapping the comb, it’s all over the bars at the top of the hive, the ground, and me. Everywhere it lands it is immediately covered with bees – eating the honey to “clean up”.

I pull out yet another messed up comb as the realization settles that ALL of the bars are crossed-combed. In this moment I am starting to see bees stuck in the honey I have spilled, some drowning

Tears again spring to my eyes and I can’t believe how much damage I am inflicting on this beautiful hive that I have watched daily for the past 6 months.

I decide to stop; not try to fix the hive, but retreat from this moment, with as little impact as possible.

I use a little twig and gently lift off each honey-coated bee from the comb and place them on the top of the in-place bars on the hive. Honey still everywhere.

In humanity, where are we drowning in what we have created? My mind wanders to something I read recently framed in Carol Hasse’s sail loft in Port Townsend  “In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy” –John Sawhill

I look at the gorgeous comb filling the bowl at my side and I am filled with awe and gratitude and deep sadness at inflicting so much damage to the hive. I am now aware that I am humming to the bees, softly; and they to me.

I take note of my body, I have not a single sting

The bees are busy cleaning up their house, paying nearly no attention to me.

I give deep gratitude to their beauty and efficiency and start replacing the bars I have removed. Gently lifting each honey-coated bee I encounter back to the top of the hive.

There is so much spilled honey on the top, I decide to leave the lid off for a while and let them do what they KNOW to do. My heart feels heavy to see so many honey soaked bees struggling.

Several hours later, I suddenly realize I haven’t replaced the lid to the hive. I head out, flashlight in hand as it is now pitch dark.

I approach the hive and am shocked to see the top is completely clean. Licked clean, I presume. So clean, it’s not even sticky. AND…No bee bodies. My light floats down to the opening where I see masses of bees; clumped together in an organized, linear way. I lean in and as I look closely, I see they are cleaning one another. Tiny front legs combing through the honey on one another’s wings and for lack of a better descriptor; Licking it off!

I am floored, amazed, awed.

I head to the house and return with my husband and kids in tow – all wielding flashlights – and we STARE in unison. AMAZED.

I notice on the ground there are still honey covered bees around and I start lifting them to the hive with a twig. Once each is set down a team goes to work; as we would a trauma patient in the hospital. I see wing after wing, once cleaned; flutter again.

And again, I am so deeply grateful to have these bees touch my life.

Thank you, lovely bees – for all that you are teaching me   And thank you for the sweetest, most alluringly complex honey I have ever tasted!

*** Guest post by:  Olivia Ullrich















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