Thanks Bee

Spending the morning trying to save the bees

It's six in the morning and I'm thumbing through the "experiences" tab on Airbnb, trying to find something to film for our YouTube channel while David sleeps next to me. I use this excuse - we’ll film it! for the channel! - whenever I want to do things we otherwise wouldn't; spending the day at a doggy daycare with galloping Great Danes or poking around a professional vegan chef's kitchen is a lot easier with a camera in hand, asking questions people feel compelled to answer because there's a microphone pointing in their direction.

"Honey Bee Therapy" are three words I didn't realize went together, but the listing shows smiling people in sparkling white beekeeper suits examining slots of honeycomb in what looks like a majestic backyard belonging to a man named Marvin. I click through to read more, wondering how much convincing David will need before he’ll get into one of those suits. There are more pictures of more smiling people alongside paragraphs describing how visitors will enter the "sacred realm where they'll transcend the facts about bees and discover how to connect with the complexity of nature."

David's awake for roughly three seconds before I ask if he wants to connect with the complexity of nature with me and my new friend Marvin. Placing my phone in his face, I quickly swipe through pictures as he clears the sleep from his eyes; I'm pitching this whole experience pretty hard but to my surprise he agrees before I've gotten through half of my Beyoncé jokes. I'll save the rest for Marvin.

The only thing I know about bees is they're vital to our survival and also we're killing them, like everything else that’s vital to our survival. That, and Jerry Seinfeld made a movie which I can't wait to hear Marvin's take on.

It’s not long before the Seinfeld movie comes up in Marvin's backyard, where we're joined by Isaac from Denver who hopes to start a hive of his own and Josh, who doesn't take his sunglasses off and tells the group he just wants to “get high and chill with some bees." Isaac mentions he has four kids who play The Bee Movie on an endless loop, and Marvin immediately dismisses it.

"First of all," he notes, "the main characters are male! Everyone knows worker bees are female." Of course Hollywood couldn't write a strong female lead in 2007.

We sit around a picnic table while Marvin answers our questions and explains the intricate and organized societies bees have formed for millennia, shaping the evolution of plants and helping to feed everything from dinosaurs to Donald Trump.

He tells us how bees collectively choose their queen at birth, selecting the most promising larvae and then bringing her "royal jelly,” a nutrient dense diet no one else in the hive touches. Feasting on this special sauce, she grows larger and lives longer than her worker sisters, who are busy doting on her while completing their assigned role. There are cleaners and foragers, undertakers and builders, temperature controllers and guards, without whom literally none of us would be here.

I'm so fascinated I do not get a single Beyoncé joke in.

Marvin tells us if we do anything to alarm the hive, we'll know because there will be bees flying up to make eye contact with us, the universal signal for "back off."

"Any animal that makes eye contact either wants to kiss you or kill you," he explains, "and bees don't do a lot of kissing."

In case we miss the message, Marvin says they'll fly around our ears buzzing another warning shot and if we are still threatening their space, they'll begin dive-bombing us, trying to find any way to get into our suits to deliver a sting.

"It would take about seven to eight hundred stings to send you to the hospital," Marvin says cheerily, "but that won't happen today." I forget all about Beyoncé because now all I can think about is Macaulay Culkin in My Girl.

We climb into our oversized jumpsuits and Marvin hands us each a netted hat while we tuck our pants and sleeves into our socks and gloves. Suited up and following his instructions to move slowly, we look like four astronauts lumbering past the garage to the area with the hives.

Isaac and Josh each sit by their own hive while David and I share one. Marvin counsels us to simply observe the bees while they observe us, landing on our sleeves and hats and shoes. He hands us a short stick with a drop of honey on the end and we hold them outside the opening of each hive as if to let them know we come in peace. I hope they don’t notice our slightly tacky regift. We brought a snack! Which we got from you! 

After we're all acclimated to each other, Marvin takes the lid off one of the hives, explaining it’s sealed with a special glue produced by the group of bees whose sole job is to produce this adhesive. He points to the ones wandering around the underside of the newly ruptured lid who will now have to start all over once we're done disturbing them. I wait for any to fly up to make eye contact, but thankfully they don’t seem angry, and I wonder if they're used to Marvin's classes. Stand down, I imagine them shouting to each other, they'll be gone as soon as they get their Instagram pictures.

Inside are four racks of honeycomb and as Marvin lifts each one out and passes them around, we search for the queen while he explains which part of the hive we're holding. I'm given the nursery, where the larvae are nestled in the tiny holes, fed by the slightly bigger workers crawling in and out. I see one of the bees in the middle of the honeycomb performing the "waggle dance," moves Marvin explained earlier meant she found a good source of pollen and is now spreading the word.

Once again I'm way too entranced by the hundreds of pulsing and vibrating bees I'm holding to make a Beyoncé reference, even as one twerks directly in my face. Am I even a fan?

Marvin asks how we're feeling, and we all respond with some variation of the word "calm," which is surprising for everyone except Josh, who arrived calm. Marvin asks us to observe the buzzing sound that he describes as meditative and he's right; the noise which would normally send me sprinting away is now somehow oddly soothing. The hum of steady, purposeful work from these tiny creatures who only want to spread life is reassuring and heartbreaking all at the same time; dressed in our spacesuits, it's clear who belongs here and who doesn't.

We still can’t find the queen but our time is almost up, so Marvin shrugs and says she’s probably well-protected, safe amongst her hive. He shows Isaac how to place each rack back in the box, happy to pass on his knowledge to a fledgling beekeeper, trying to do his part to keep the bees alive for just a little bit longer, so they can keep us alive for just a little bit longer. I imagine Isaac’s kids’ excitement when their Bee Movie obsession comes to life in the backyard and wonder how different the planet would be if we had all been taught how to care for these creatures instead of fearing them, if we heard their buzzing as therapeutic instead of threatening.

We take off our bee suits and thank Marvin profusely, walking out into the street while talking into our camera about how fun and informative the morning was. After we’re done and the camera is away we head home, marveling at the complexity of nature and realizing I went the entire day without making a single Beyoncé joke.

Photo by Beeing on Unsplash