For as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrified of bees.
Perhaps it’s true that I swallowed one once at Lake Tahoe, straight out of a bottle of Coke. It’s a faint but distinct memory. Did I make that up?
I definitely remember my sister putting her foot down on a honeybee that was, for whatever ill-fated reason, on the floor beneath our kitchen table. Her screams were awful and piercing; my mom raced to get something out of the pantry to help (flour?).
But the most indelible memory was also one of the most fantastic, it was the day my friend Barbie and I found ourselves standing 5 feet away from a tight cone of bees precariously hanging from the limb of my favorite climbing tree. “Stop, now! Do not move. Do not talk. Stay still,” came the stern, unusually sharp voice of my father.
I’d just found Barbie hiding behind a rhododendron bush and she was racing and screaming her way to home base so as to avoid being tagged “it.” My dad’s tone could have stopped an elephant. “Now. Slowly. Into the house.”
A few hours later, an apiarist placed what looked like a white, windowless dollhouse in the yard perhaps 20 feet from the terrifying Cone of Bees. Now safe behind our dining room windows, this bee-phobic gal cautiously but curiously watched as a small number of bees flew to the dollhouse, entered the elongated front door, and flew back to The Cone. The apiarist explained, they are scouts, checking out the old hive in that box to see whether it’s appropriate for The Queen.
After an indeterminate period, the magic began. Rather than a here and there bee starting toward that dollhouse, which I now understood to contain a beehive inside, a three inch thick, several feet wide carpet of bees descended upon that box in a single, slow movement, piling in on top of one another as they entered their new home.
The apiarist shortly thereafter explained that we had a hive of honeybees in one of our inactive chimneys and that it seemed the hive had been split by the arrival of a second Queen. He estimated there were 21,000 honeybees in that cone, the one that had been 5 feet from my tag-flushed face just a few hours ago.
With some luck, I was able to sleep that night, knowing there was a similar sized, frightening colony of bees still inside the walls of my home. Some weeks later, the bees left our chimney for good, in search of new flowers, I do not know. What I do wish is that at the time, I’d understood how important those honeybees were to the world in which I lived and the food that I ate.
If I could do it again, would I cultivate the bees that so profoundly scared my 10-year old mind? Would I be as brave, insightful, and thoughtful as a person named Orren Fox? It’s hard to say, but thank you, Orren, for bringing the plight of the honeybee and the wonderful things they add to our lives to our attention.
And to my sister, I hope the memory of that honeybee sting long ago faded for you. It’s still with me, but it’s in a different place, now in my heart for you.
Carrie C. Oliver
Founder & CEO
The Oliver Ranch Company & The Artisan Beef Institute