Bees. Makers of honey. Protectors of royalty (queens). Workers extraordinaire.
I admire bees these days, but that wasn't always the case.
My earliest childhood experiences with bees were unpleasant. My brother was stung as a little kid on a weekend visit we took to my dad's, and his eye swelled up like a baseball. He was allergic. As his big sister, I felt like a failure and vowed to become more vigilant about the stinger-reared creatures.
As per usual, I took it to the extreme.
"There's a bee over there," I would announce to everyone at recess, pointing to a slide on the opposite end of the playground.
"Watch out, there are bees around here," I would mention to someone as they sat down on a picnic bench next to a patch of clovers known to attract bees.
"BEE!" I would scream whenever one came near me (well into adulthood).
I knew nothing of pollination. I knew little of honey (except that you could find it in a plastic bear). I knew zilch of the dangerous decline in bee populations that had been occurring for decades.
I only knew that a couple of my Dunkerton Elementary School classmates were allergic to bees and had to keep Epi-pens in the teacher's desk. That was enough information for me. Bees represented danger.
In recent years, I've gained new insights into the importance of bees. They play a vital role in our food system. They are fascinating, self-sufficient communities. They make a sweet treat that can be harvested.
The first time I ever intentionally stood near bees was a few years ago when I spent an afternoon observing the honey extraction process at the home of a congregational member. It was the first time I interacted closely with a real beekeeper.
What I've learned since: Beekeepers and bees have a lot to teach us the rest of us.
My husband's parents, Jerry and Nancy, are now keepers of bees. They are wrapping up their first season, and they've learned so much along the way with their first hive.
A young couple of fellow beekeepers, Noah and Lindsay, recently extracted the hive's honey for Jerry and Nancy. When Justin's parents went to pick up their honey, we were in Iowa, too, so we got to go along.
Lindsay was home at the time, and in addition to heading home with a few gallons of golden delight, we also had the chance to learn from a pro. Most fascinating to me was what she shared about uniting hives.
First of all, I had no idea that a person could unite two colonies of bees! It takes thoughtfulness and a plan (so consult an expert before you try it).
Two emotional responses by the bees get in the way of a smooth beehive uniting process: anxiety and defensiveness. If the bees of either hive become apprehensive, they will flip out and the unifying will be disrupted. If they've lost the scent of their queen, they can become particularly aggressive.
However, if the beekeeper is able to create a sense of calm for the two hives, then the bees will become one big, buzzing family.
The unifying method Lindsay prefers involves sweeping the bees from both colonies onto a large white sheet right beside the entrance of the hive. By following a series of specific steps, the bees of both hives will end up all walking in line together through the entrance.
It seems a fitting analogy for what healthy change looks in our human communities, too. Anxiety and defensiveness are significant impediments to unifying. But when we can nurture a sense of calm, we're all capable of connecting. We're then willing to enter into new possibilities together.
Thanks, bees, for the lesson. Calm is key.
I wouldn't say I'm quite ready to encourage Justin's dreams of urban beekeeping at our home in Rochester. But I would say that I've come a long way from my role as a self-elected bee safety playground patrol officer.
A change in perspective takes time. Savor the sweet nectar of lessons learned along the way.