When I was about nine, one of the neighbouring farmers gave over part of his empty field to a beekeeper. One morning I was surprised to see stacks of wooden boxes in the neighbour’s field.
I didn’t know what they were, but my father kindly explained to me that they were beehives and that the bees would help make our trees bear better and more fruit and that, at the same time, the bees would make honey over there in those wooden hives and that probably the beekeeper would let us have some of it. Seeing the astonished look on my face, my wise father then added that I should stay the hell away from the hives because there were thousands of bees over there who would sting me to death.
Since I spent most of the summer barefoot, I’d had more than a few bee-stings in my life, and knew they hurt a lot and could imagine that thousands of them probably would kill me. So I stayed the hell away from the hives, but I spent a lot of time watching them from afar. If I went into the attic, I had a good view of the whole set-up from the little octagonal window at the front of the house.
Nothing much ever happened over there, however. I asked my dad how come nothing ever happened over there at the bee hives and he said the bees were out all day busy at work in the orchards and the beekeeper probably only came at night to tend to them.
So I snuck up to the attic at night a few times when I could remember to stay awake long enough. And then one day I saw him – the beekeeper. He had a strange hat on with what I know now to be a net over his face, but what just seemed like a dark mask at the time. He had a lot of contraptions and he made smoke and he moved really, really slowly. The whole thing was eerie and deliciously mysterious– especially to a little kid like me who spent way too much time alone lost in her own head.
The next time we had a composition assignment at school, I wrote about the beekeeper except that I embellished the story a bit. The bees were the backdrop, but I made the story about witnessing a large, dark man fighting with another large dark man and then killing him and burying the body in the field next to the bee hives.
My teacher called the police. She and the police came to the house.
This was the second time the police had been to the house because of me. The first time was when I was 6 and was riding my bike on the nice smooth road instead of on the gravelly shoulder like I was supposed to.
Anyway, the teacher showed my composition to my parents and said the assignment was to write something about our every day life (I must have missed that detail). My parents apologized to everyone and explained that I was nuts and dragged me downstairs to tell everyone exactly what the heck I was thinking.
I tried to explain about the mysterious beekeeper in the night, but then I got heck for sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night and then the police and the teacher figured they had better things to do with their evening and left.
I got some more heck and got sent to my room to re-write my composition.
The upshot of this whole post is that I like bees. (Fellow blogger, Robin, has taken some amazing photos of bees) Bees are becoming extinct because of genetically modified seeds and over-use of pesticides. Without bees our crops won’t grow. And without crops, people won’t have much to eat and we’ll have to resort to cannibalism.
Also, I love honey. Aside from maple syrup, honey is the only sweetener I keep in the house. There are so many varieties of honey that it’s worth a whole post on its own.
Once upon a time they made wine out of honey —mead. It was really, really sweet. I had some once during a party our Anglo Saxon literature teacher threw for us, so I guess you can still buy it now. I haven’t rushed out to do so.
One day, when I retire I’d like to keep a few beehives maybe. (I’d also like some goats, but that’s a whole other story.) Meantime, here are some interesting superstitions about bees to prove that I’m not the only one who thinks bees are mysterious.
- It is bad luck to give away a hive; the bees must be sold for a fair price commensurate with their worth.
- Beehives should never be moved from one place to another without the bees being told beforehand.
- If your bees suddenly become lazy it is said that there will be a disaster shortly.
- If bees suddenly swarm on a bush or tree there will be a death nearby.
- If a bee flies into the house it is a sign of great good luck, or of the arrival of a stranger; however, the luck will only hold if the bee is allowed to either stay or to fly out of the house of its own accord.
- It is unlucky to kill a bee.
- A bee landing on someone’s hand is believed to foretell money to come.
- If a bee lands on someone’s head it means that person will rise to greatness.
- It is a sure sign of a girl’s virginity if she can walk through a swarm of bees without being stung.
- There is believed to be a very strong link between bees and their keepers; bees cannot prosper in an atmosphere of anger or hatred, and will either pine away and die, or fly away.
- There is still a common belief that bees should be told about deaths that occur in the beekeeper’s family; in past times this was extended to include every birth, marriage or other notable event in the life of the family. It was especially important to inform the bees of the death of their owner; traditionally this was done by the eldest son or widow of the owner, who would strike each hive three times with the door key and say ‘The master is dead!’. If the procedure was not followed, the bees would die or fly away. In many districts the hives were put into mourning by having black crepe draped around them, and at the funeral feast sugar or small amounts of the food eaten by the mourners were brought out for the bees.
Tomorrow is the event all of Ottawa has been waiting for: the first ever annual Blog Out Loud!!! Raw Sugar Cafe at Somerset & Cambridge. 7:00 pm. All your favourite Ottawa Bloggers will be there. Will you?