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.”
Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In December, we’re exploring the theme Night.