I was just starting my sophomore year and was in the process of moving to a new off-campus apartment. My best friend had just moved to a different state, my heart was aching from a summer situationship, and I really needed something to occupy my homesick mind. I was sad, honestly. I was determined to make my sophomore year a time where I pursue things purely because they bring me joy. Joining the beekeeping society at my university started as a mere offhand comment from one of my friends– and what’s more joyful than bees and honey?
On a whim, I decided to look into the club. I soon realized I knew nothing about bees besides the consensus that we should save them.
So, I started doing a lot of research. I remember this day so clearly, pacing around moving boxes while staring at my phone trying to absorb all the information I was learning. Did you know that there are over 20,000 species of bees? Did you also know that bees have five eyes? I was quickly fascinated by these little winged creatures. Seriously, Google what a “waggle dance” is. In hindsight, I think I was in the middle of an ADHD hyperfixation episode. Nevertheless, by the time I was filling out my application, I realized I really wanted to get accepted. A few weeks and an interview later, I was!
There’s little that can prepare you for being face-to-face with thousands of bees. At first, your mind goes to the extreme– getting stung, spontaneously going into anaphylactic shock, being rushed to the E.R., etc… I already had armed myself with an arsenal of knowledge, as though that might keep the bees from stinging me (spoiler alert: the bee movie isn’t actually accurate).
I learned about the ins and outs of the life cycle of bees. I was familiar with buzzwords (pun intended) like “brood” and “royal jelly.” I read about honey bee temperament, how the heck honey is even made, and how bees create that iconic honeycomb shape. I felt ready for my first hive check.
I didn’t anticipate how cool I would feel slipping into my bee suit (the stereotypical kind that is all white and has a net around the face). There’s a running joke about “bee-suit swagger” in the club, but seriously, it’s real.
Another thing I didn’t anticipate was the buzzing. Obviously, bees buzz. But you don’t realize how loud thousands of bees truly can be until you are standing in front of their home. Even so, I wasn’t the slightest bit scared. If anything, I had an overwhelming amount of excitement. I remember wondering if bees could sense it. Could they feel my heart racing? Could they tell my hands were sweating underneath my gloves?
They are so much more gentle than they appear. If a giant in all white clothes was shaking up my home, and stealing little bits of it, I would be way more upset. Instead, they curiously fly around my visor and get as close to my face as possible. I have yet to be stung, and I hope to keep it that way.
My favorite day in the beekeeping society happened a few weeks ago. It was time to harvest honey from two of our top bar hives, which is essentially a wooden box on stilts carrying frames of honeycomb and bees. We had received a warning that one of the hives was on the verge of being honey-bound, or when a hive gets so full of honey that the queen can no longer comfortably lay eggs and a portion of the hive relocates. I was nervous about getting stung, but also so excited. About an hour into the hive check, my gloves were sticky and stained from grabbing honeycomb with my hands. We were chucking pounds of honeycomb saturated with honey into buckets, where a few members would later begin the extracting process so we could sell the honey at our school’s farmstand. Hundreds of bees were flying all around, growing more and more agitated by the second. It was chaos, each person trying to do their part quickly (scoop the comb, throw it in a bucket, scrape the frame, wash hands, repeat). It’s an experience I could take another 5 pages writing about, but in short, I’ll probably remember that day forever.
And though I know you’re probably reading because you want to hear my experience with the hives and bees themselves, I can’t write about my experience in this beekeeping society without mentioning the people in the organization. I consider myself an introvert. In new settings, I don’t talk to anyone unless spoken to. I’m awkward and sometimes standoffish. I find myself trying to mold to whatever would appeal best to the people I am around. But with the beekeeping society, I don’t do that. Even though I’m not particularly close to a majority of the people in the organization, I do consider each of them a kind and familiar face. Though it’s a mixed bag of majors and personalities and interests between members; each person is so genuine, warm, and welcoming. So many go out of their way to talk about sustainability– with a bunch of members even declaring minors in sustainability after joining! We have events to promote living “green,” nature walks throughout the semester, and garden workdays to beautify the campus.
It is awing how tiny little insects can have such an impact on someone’s life. During my time in the beekeeping society, I have met so many people who are truly passionate about saving the bees. It’s a rare, beautiful, and infectious kind of excitement. And through them, I have fallen in love with bees too. To me, bees have a tie to every bit of the world around them– they help plants thrive, need water to survive, and also have a place in the hearts of so many people around the world. They have taught me that sometimes the world is a beautiful and miraculous place, and I think that is something every person needs to be reminded of.