On this unseasonably warm November afternoon I stood in awe of our tiny queens as we performed one last open check of our hives. The quiet hum of their winterization activities quickly grew to a much busier buzz as they began to gather in a protective stance and peer back at us, standing guard at the small opening of the hive top. We followed the usual steps the of novice beekeeper, beginning by checking bottom boards and then working our way into the hive frame by frame.
The first hive inspection seemed to run so smoothly I almost forgot I was literally inches away from hundreds of bees; or maybe that was the false sense of security given by my mask, gloves, and jacket. Next we migrated over to the next hive setup a few yards away and began to repeat the process.
In the second hive we hit a gold mine. Always our strongest hive, this colony’s two honey supers and deep chamber were packed full of bees and honey stores— an exciting but honestly unexpected sight for us this late in the year! The moments that followed taught me more than any “beekeeping 101” tutorial, as I experienced my first sting as a “beek”.
The sensations that radiated through my body were at first breathtaking, and then painful. Extremely painful. Cold sweat, heart racing, gasping for air and simultaneously screaming, painful! Though very small, the worker bee left a very visible injection hole in my leg (the one area not covered with any protective gear, but only by the jeans I wore). Call me a wimp, fine. But in that moment I gained a new level of respect for these tiny creatures who often perish protecting their precious honey, and for their part in the greater life cycle. A respect and reverence far beyond the common childhood fear of being stung, which I could thankfully only recall once or twice in my own childhood— a painful recollection still.
The experience called back to memory the voice of my former high school biology teacher, Mr. Tankersley, who before every experiment or dissection we performed, unfailingly reminded us to “respect the animals, for they have given their lives in order for us to learn”. Now that I have healed from the initial shock of the sting, I hope to continue learning from bees for as long as they will allow.
That sting tells us the bees have a good chance of surviving sharp winter winds, as they are still fierce, strong, and efficient as ever. After the winter, sweet victory should come in the spring.
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