Yesterday, standing on top of a 10-foot ladder in full beekeeping gear in 90+ degree weather and corralling a swarm of bees that had formed at the entrance gate at a local global aircraft manufacturer (rather appropriate, in a way), I reached a small but significant epiphany. I was in the middle of a bee maelstrom and my jacket was liberally peppered with my winged lady friends. Like Kevin toward the end of Home Alone, I wanted to shout, “I’m not afraid, anymore!”
Why is this significant? Well, I am by nature an anxious person. I am also by nature someone who regularly – and passionately and genuinely – pursues new experiences. When I find myself at the confluence of these feelings, I tremble and shake with panic, fear and enthusiasm. What an odd thing to put myself through.
This has happened with experiences that others find mundane or ubiquitous. But the anxious among us understand. Several years ago, when I began expanding my photography skills, I began to shoot 4x5 sheet film. I ordered a box of the film, a size I had never used before, being a 35mm and 120 format shooter. I ordered some sheet film holders off the Bay. I watched some videos online on loading the film. The next several times, I was literally shaking with fear and excitement as I put the film into the holders.
Really? That seems silly now. It is routine and non-threatening, but I had to push through the fear to achieve this normal feeling. I am fond of the line by Robert Frost in his poem “Servant of Servants,” which goes, “He says the best way out is always through.” Nine Inch Nails also has a song that uses that phrase.
When I began my beekeeping journey four years ago, I did so with that tremble-inducing reaction. As I picked up my packages of bees and introduced them into my newly built (with my Dad’s help) Warré hives, my heart raced, my knees threatened to give way, and I suspect I exuded a bodily odor of Eau l' Terreur. I believe that like dogs and used car salesmen, they sensed my fearfulness.
This was the first year that I had the opportunity to rescue a swarm, which is another beekeeping milestone. I was envious of the cavalier way that some in my local beekeeping association spoke of capturing swarms, like it was nothing more than a trip to the grocery. I wanted that experience while also fearing it could happen. I volunteered my name and number for inclusion on the association’s online swarm list. I kept my gear in the trunk of the car. I answered calls from numbers I didn’t recognize. I was rewarded with not one but two swarms. I raced to the location, the fear rising. I met new people – another fear-inducing activity. I had to pretend that I knew what I was doing for these people freaked out by the swarm on their property.
Day by day, month by month, hive by hive, things have changed. But yesterday, even though I was overheated with knees wobbly from standing high on a ladder that wasn’t on level ground, I wasn’t afraid. I was present in the moment. Without getting all woo-woo about it, I was at peace. The way here had indeed to push through my anxiety. At this realization, I had a Buckaroo Banzai moment. “Wherever you go, there you are.”
That line may come from Confucius or even a Zen book by Jon Kabut-Zinn, but it was this pop culture reference that I clung to, like the honeybees crawling around my jacket. I know I am anthropomorphizing, but they seemed to be asking for me to take them home, which is where they are now.
I have a small tradition of giving each hive a name that reflects the origin of the bees. My first swarm is named the West End Girls because they came from a town near me called West Alton. The new hive is named the Bee 52’s.
Henceforth, I believe I will fear not as I engage in this beautiful, strange and humbling act of beekeeping.