The suspense of the sting
Bee stings are not so bad: a sharp jab, poker-hot pain, the urge to swear, throbbing pressure, gradual dissipation. Before you know it, it’s all gone but the itch. Why, then, is the anticipation so much worse?
Two weeks ago I met with a beekeeper who had been working all winter to design and build a comb honey super to my exacting specifications. I wanted square wooden section boxes that would tuck neatly into a standard shallow super fitted with standard shallow frames. Miraculously, Nickthe beekeeper/woodworkerhad finished six supers in time for the blackberry flow.
Once I heard that all was ready, I made arrangements to drive north and collect three supers worth of the new fittings. Coming face-to-face with someone you’ve met on the internet is weird enough, but what if the work was god-awful and I still had to beor actgrateful? Stress city.
But all my worry was for naught: my fears were replaced at the front door by a dog that could have swallowed me without chewing. Although I outweighed him by a pound or two, he romped toward me as if I were the best thing he had seen since breakfast.
Introductions out of the way, I was immediately lost in the woodenware. Awesome is the only word that comes to mind. The perfect fit, the silky smooth wood, the scent of basswood and beeswaxit was all more than I could hope for. There was no measuring the time that must have gone into this creation, let alone materials, equipment, and patience. It was impossible not to be impressed.
Nick explained how all the pieces fit together, where he had run into problems, and how some things could be done differently. He finished by testing my ability to assemble frames and bend section boxes without breaking them. It’s a good thing I passed because I got the feeling if I didn’t pass, I wouldn’t get to play.
Everything was fine until I asked to see his hives. We walked through a fenced area and into a small but colorful apiary that contained seven hives. We were peeking inside one to see if the new super was being accepted when Nick pointed to his head, “There’s a bee in my hair. Can you get her?”
I flicked the creature away just as another entered my shirt. Instantly, alarm pheromone arose from my collar. I tugged the opening away from my neck and walked briskly (fled) from the apiary.
I don’t know what it is about me, but bees always go for my bra; this one was no exception. By now I was prancing across the yard, pulling at my clothing, and squinting down my shirt in a most undignified manner. This was not a quid pro quo situation: I could not ask Nick to get her for me. Instead, I twisted a handful of shirt into a knot hoping to snuff her out, but it didn’t work.
What to do? I was in a suburban backyard surrounded by similar backyards, with a guy I just met, dancing from foot to foot, grappling with my shirt, and seriously thinking of stripping. The scent, the reverberating buzz, and six tickly feet were making me stupid. A sting is ephemeral, but the suspense can last forever. “Sting me!” I coaxed. “Just do it and be done!”
I was about to do the Lady Godiva thing (with hair too short for the purpose) when the bee suddenly moved to where I could see her. Pulling my shirt up from the bottom, I was able to send her away.
Once free, I wriggled in my clothes until they laid flat and smoothed the wrinkles with my hands. Pretending nothing was amiss, I sauntered back into the bee yard and picked up the conversation where we left offjust another brief moment of terror in the everyday life of a beekeeper.