Latest uncomfortable experience: being with bees. I’ve never been stung by a bee, and the thought of touching a whole hive full of them was a tad disturbing to me. Hell, I didn’t even know if I’d have an allergic reaction if I were stung, so that was another consideration of this uncomfortable experience. Long story short of this post: I get stung, I’m fine, and bees are incredible.
I found an adorable bee keeping business in National City, Girl Next Store Beekeeping, that helped me with this experience. Hilary, the owner, removes bees from properties, teaches classes, harvests honey, and promotes the magic of bees to anyone who will listen. She also has several hives in her backyard that literally buzz with the sound of tens of thousands of bees bustling about in the coffers of the honeycomb. We did a tour of her hives and checked the status of the queen bees which are often marked with a colored dot on their bodies. (Like cattle or dogs, there are queen bee breeders who tag/mark their prized animals.)
I told Hilary I didn’t want to get stung per say (physical harm on purpose is not the objective of practicing uncomfortable experiences, at least in how I practice) but in order for this to be uncomfortable, I’m going to need some real exposure. Just a little. She did say I was the only one who has requested this, ha. We suited up in the bee keeper suits and zipped, Velcroed, and padded ourselves in from head to toe. Hilary said she gets stung often enough, particularly if she’s removing or transporting hives. Bees can get fairly agitated and scared-even waving your hand swiftly across a palate of honeycomb makes many of them jolt a bit. Similar to a school of fish or flock of birds, bees can move as a mass unit, connected by communication humans can’t even fathom. They typically get feisty when threatened and sense a source of danger, and a few female bees will buzz aggressively around the source of agitation, resorting to stinging if all else fails. Hilary and I had a brief philosophical conversation around this: do bees know they’ll die if they sting? Or is this just programed biology? Bees only live 42 days with the exception of the queens that can live 2 to 7 years so perhaps some of those bee fighters just figure a Kamikaze mission doesn’t matter, minus a couple days of life.
Once we looked at the palates for a bit, I took off my gloves. Stupidly, I thought I’d notice a bee buzzing by my hand if there was an issue at all, particularly if we were being calm and gentle. I could easily hold and even pet the bees on the honeycomb palates, for instance. Those bees are so busy building, they don’t mind a human pinkie poking around. The bees on the honeycomb are oddly calming. Although I knew all of them could sting (these combs didn’t have any of the male “drones” which lack stingers), I didn’t get a sense any of them wanted to attack me though my first couple of minutes, I was dripping with dread inside kinda like the honey on the combs I was looking at. It wasn’t the happy worker bees that got me, though. At one hive while standing next to Hilary, I felt the immediate puncture of a push pin in my thumb and knew it had happened. Hilary had warned me it was possible with the swarm that had stirred to life with our sudden presence at their doorstep, so this was completely my fault. She took the stinger right out within three seconds of me flailing and cussing about (I was surprised!) and then we just continued our review of the honey combs. The sting hurt. like. Hell. I now have a good appreciation for the power of a little sword from a bee’s butt.
Hilary told me a ton about bees, and there’s so much I could write here. Honey is completely sterile; it’s the only food that doesn’t go bad; it takes 12 bees an entire working life to get a single teaspoon of honey. One must-do, if you get the chance, is to smell the insides of a hive. It’s an odd aroma of warm bread and ripe banana with a hint of, say, yeast. We tasted a bunch of honey after getting out of our suits, and I told Hilary honey tasting could easily be the new wine tasting. There is so much variety to the color and taste of honey depending on the pollen bees collect. In Southern California, for instance, there’s an essence of eucalyptus in many varieties.
Overall, I’m rather glad I got stung. It was uncomfortable enough having my hands on honeycomb crawling with bees, and I got the freebie of a relatively harmless sting to reinforce who’s house I was intruding on. Good reminder for life overall.