How to Become a Better Writer: Apiary Artist Date

The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. What will the bees tell us on our trip to an apiary?


When the goldenrod bend their heads low in the meadow behind my house, I visit the apiary.

“That’s how you know the goldenrod is nectaring,” the beekeeper tells me on the telephone. “The tops fall over.” I’ve been trying to visit the honeybees for weeks now, but each morning when I call, the bee man tells me he’s too busy or the conditions aren’t right. “This isn’t a good day for working bees,” he says. “Let’s keep our eyes to the sky and see what Mother Nature throws us.”

Every day I check the weather. I stand out on the porch in the early morning and feel storms brewing in the air. In the night, I dream of honey. When I awaken, I carry a memory of amber—a dewy sweetness on my tongue.

The harvest moon waxes and wanes and still…those fickle bees are not receiving. I watch videos of bees on YouTube. I read articles about how the honeybees choose their queen and about how they dance to communicate the location of food sources.

So on an afternoon of September blue sky when he calls to say he’s checking a couple hives, do I want to come? I drop everything. He calls his honey farm the Killer Bee Apiary—a name he and a friend thought up together when they were fourteen and he first started keeping bees. He’s seventy now, seasoned; but still in love with bees. When I drive through the gate of his property, my eyes are hungry for the hives.

I’m glad to meet the bee man in person after all those rainy-day telephone conversations. After the introductions, he gets his smoker and tools, helps me don a protective suit over my clothes, and we head out to the apiary.

I hear the steady thrum of thousands of beating bee wings rise into that familiar buzz while we are still within a hundred yards of the colonies. The sound thrills me but I feel my heart begin to slow with the low resonance that emanates from the hives. There are two colonies in particular that he wants to check on today, and he aims his smoker at the bees flying about the first hive. I watch him open the tall box-like structures and use his tools to remove one frame at a time. He shows me the waxy deposits they’ve made to seal in the honey. He points out the brood. He tells me about worker bees and drones and robber bees.

The bees light haphazardly on my arms and midsection and on the veil I am wearing—they seem as curious about me as I am of them. I close my eyes and let the sound of their greeting fill—that low buzz pressing down around me. I know the smoke has made them docile, triggering them to consume as much honey as they can and slowing them down with the weight of it. They are afraid we have come to steal their golden treasure, and so they hide it the best way they know: inside their bulging abdomens.

“I was out late yesterday watching the bees come in,” my new friend tells me. “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you can recognize when the bees are bringing nectar to the nest. They go out looking like a jet fighter and come back in like a B52. They are so tired from carrying the nectar that they don’t fly into the hive—they walk.”

I watch as they cluster together on the doorstep of their hive. “Hello, hunny,” I say to one clumsy traveler as she stumbles over her co-workers. I think about the way the bees care for their own—how they feed and protect each other. Each one has its own special role in the colony.

The beekeeper talks easy as he works amidst the steady buzzing. He tells me about a devastating business failure in which he lost everything, about the loss of a daughter, and how he’s teaching his grandson to tend the bees.

“But I’ve always kept bees,” he says. “Bees are one of my great loves. I love the message they send you every time you watch them. You can look at them one week and think, ‘Gosh, they’re not going to make it.’ Then something happens in nature and you look at them again and they have completely replenished everything that was lost. I love the message they give to the world.”

He is quiet for a moment and the silence is pregnant.

“Kind of like you,” I say.

“Yes,” he laughs, breaking the spell. “I am resilient, just like the bees.”

Image by Jenny Downing. Used with permission. Post by Laura Boggess of The Wellspring.

How to become a better writer? Browse Artist Dates for inspiration, then head out on your own. 


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  1. says

    Oh Laura, this is heavy-laden with goodness. Just exquisite. Your telling? Your writing? I am there with you. What a gift. You, your writing, your noticing, and these precious honey bees. This leaves me numbed by goodness.

    Love to you this Christmas season, friend. I miss your baby blues. :)

    • says

      It was a fascinating experience, Maureen. I actually visited two apiaries and the beekeepers were remarkably different. That could be an entirely different story :). But both kind, hard-working, and very generous.

      I’m still learning from the bees and all that I saw while visiting.

  2. says

    Wowzer. He can recognize when the bees are bringing nectar?! That’s amazing.

    Sorta like God recognizing when we are making sweet of His truth, aye?

    As always, what a beautyFull read, miss Laura.


  3. says

    I remember listening to you tell a version of this story in Texas. The only thing I don’t love about this post is that readers can’t hear it in your sweet voice.

    Maybe you should add an audio clip? :)

  4. says

    That Steady Buzz

    The memory of amber
    waxes and wanes on my tongue.

    The sound of seasoned bees
    working the sweetness thrills,

    their thum familiar as the feel
    of early morning storms. Colonies of hives

    in the meadow, receiving calls to dance
    with their queen,

    begin to slow the beating
    of their wings. I watch the brood

    pressing to tend their golden treasure.
    Something happens on the walk

    into the heart of the hive, and I recall
    how I am hungry for the message,

    that steady buzz
    rising to fill the blue September sky.

  5. says

    I’m so glad Nancy shared this with me, Laura. It’s beautiful and rings true. I’ve always felt that keeping bees was a heart’s desire, and gift from God. I never feel so calm as when I’m working with my bees. And the color of pollen? Oh my gosh. It’s indescribable. Orange, yellow, blue. God’s orderly design found in the humble honeybee, and the reward of eating gold.

    • says

      And I’ve been wondering how something so wonderful could have been right under my nose all along and I’m just now discovering it. One of the beekeepers I went to see told me he’d like to see me get a hive. I laughed and told him I thought my husband might leave me if I get any more hobbies. And it would be irresponsible of me at this place in my life. But still…I can’t stop thinking about it.

  6. says

    Laura – This is beautiful and sensual and mystical – from the moment you find the goldenrods laying over, to the bees “walking” toward the hive. And that low hum of buzzing – I feel it in my chest.

    This also reminds me of my Papaw, who kept bees for years. He knew them, just like your friend.

    And boy do I love honey.

    Thanks for this moment of beauty. Can’t wait to read more in your book.

    • says

      It makes me smile–thinking of your Papaw, Charity. It was the taste of the honey from a friend’s hives that got me interested. The flavor was so different than the honey I’ve bought at the grocery–lighter somehow…clovery. I could not stop thinking about it. So…I accepted that as invitation. Thanks for your kind words :)

  7. says

    This is so beautiful, Laura!

    I hope and pray your friend is right when he said, “You can look at them one week and think, ‘Gosh, they’re not going to make it.’ Then something happens in nature and you look at them again and they have completely replenished everything that was lost. “

  8. says

    This is exquisite Laura. I get carried by your words right into the story. What a precious gift you have. What a wondrous miracle every bit of creation is.

  9. says

    As I was reading, I imagined you talking to me with your sweet W. Virginia lilt…

    I always enjoy the beauty in your writing and how you notice others, such as Paul, the beekeeper…I love the message you gave through Paul and the bees …Thank you :)

  10. says

    Oh Laura, just when I think I can’t love you more . . . this. That ending speaks so much to your character. My uncle and nephew have ventured into beekeeping in Canada and it is so marvelous. The honey in the mason jar from the their efforts we have in our pantry is precious. Love this artist date and your writing. Sigh.

  11. Marcy Terwilliger says

    I just want you to know this is written so well that it all played out perfectly before my eyes. Especially how fast they zoom out but slow is their landing with bellies full of honey. To me, they were drunk on honey. I’m smiling.


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