bee stories

A Christmas Tale: the fantasy of flight

It was the night before Christmas. Although the chill wind brought shivers, the two sisters peered through the shallow doorway and into the dark. The frigid scene snatched their breath away, causing them to huddle close, stealing each other’s warmth. The glistening snow, glazed with a crunchy top, twinkled reflections from a decorated pine, and the piquant scent of wood smoke was eerily familiar.

Annie reflected on the faint odor. “They won’t bring it here tonight,” she said.

“How do you know?” asked Beth. Her eyes widened, wondering how Annie knew such things.

“It’s dark and they’re eating, drinking.”

Beth was still assimilating this tidbit when they were joined by Carrie. Carrie pointed to the twin planets. “Jupiter and Saturn haven’t aligned like this in 800 years! They call it the Christmas Star because it’s so bright.”

“Bunk,” Annie said, not believing. “They weren’t here 800 years ago, so how could they know? Anyway, they can’t see anything, always wearing screen doors over their heads.”

Beth nodded, considering the truth of it. “Let’s go in. I’m cold.”

Back inside, it was ghost-story dark with just a hint of light. They found Darlene, Edith, and Francine cleaning and polishing. Ginny and Harriet were eating protein bars and honey, and Imelda was grooming. Everyone else bunched around Queenie who was craving attention as usual. They all loved Queenie, though she never went out and sometimes had an attitude.

After a few moments, the steady hum of busyness was interrupted by Imelda who, in a matter-of-fact voice, declared, “They’re obsessed with flying. It’s all they think about.”

“Flying?” asked Jill, puzzled. She’d never seen one fly.

“Truth,” Katya agreed. “Since they can’t do it, they fantasize about it.”

Liesel broke into song, buzzing through the lyrics of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly:”

I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Then Katya chimed in with “Fly Like an Eagle” from the Steve Miller Band:               

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me

They all giggled, arousing Mary, who’d been secretly listening all along. She said: “Yesterday I heard about a white dog who wears a scarf and flies a biplane.”

“Not just dogs, but reindeer!” Nancy added. “They’re always looking for ways to fly, but reindeer?”

Ollie, always nervous, glanced at the door. “Do you think we should watch for reindeer?”

“Don’t be stupid,” Polly snapped, rolling her enormous black eyes. “That’s like looking for a house blowing in from Oz and landing on a witch.”

Averting her gaze, Ollie wondered if it was houses they should fear.

At that moment Queenie piped up, tooting her opinion, and sounding like a duck. “Imagine them wasting their time with flying dogs and does and domiciles! Quack! It’s the smoke that befuddles their brains.”

“Mine too,” Rachael whined.

“It’s true,” Mary agreed. “Everything about them screams, ‘I want to fly!’ They love Star Wars and storks, eagles and egrets, missiles and moon rockets, shooting stars and comets, witches and wizards, and balloons filled with helium.”

“And dirigibles filled with hydrogen?” Queenie asked with a smirk.

In deference to Queenie, the room went silent until Rachel whispered. “The smoke is to keep us from flying. They’re jealous because we can do something they can’t.”

“So unfair!”


“Just plain impolite.”

And so the conversation continued, their voices rising and falling in waves, eventually subsiding into a muffled hum. Sarah, Trish, and Uma trashed Santa for flying a sled without self-correcting flight controls, even though they don’t always work. Victoria asked why they were all so clumsy, and Wanda and Xyla wondered how they ate through the screen door thingy.

Yumi kept looking up, worried about what happens when the reindeer, you know, need to take a break. As usual, Zola was late to the conversation.

Long into the night they parsed questions about human behavior. Why did they have one arm with fingers and one with a metal blade? Why did they wear extra clothes in hot weather? Why did they believe in things that could never happen?

One by one, the sisters dozed off, dreaming of flowers yellow and blue until a horrible noise broke through the night. A trampling. A thunderous crashing.

“It’s the smoke!” one cried. “They’re bringing the smoke!” But no smoke came. No trees fell. No wind blew. No bear rattled the fence.

Timidly, they gathered in the doorway, huddled close, trying to see. And finally, they did.

Up there, way up, silhouetted by the intense light of the double planets, was a sled. A fat man in red. Reindeer aplenty. They passed directly overhead, which caused Yumi to put on her hat.

Because the cold air sharpened the sound, they could hear him laughing from afar. They could hear bells jingle and jangle, and they could see the reindeer shaking ice crystals from their fur, which fell like hail and tinkled against the metal roof.

Then they heard him call out in a low husky voice: “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas to all!” Before they could comprehend, the fat man was gone and nothing remained but frozen clouds of reindeer breath that floated to earth, frosting the trees, glistening in the starlight.

Quiet descended upon the landscape, surrounding the sisters in silence, leaving them awestruck. All across the forest and fields, the lake and meadows, the city and the suburbs, it was once again a curiously silent night.

And to you, my readers, Merry Christmas. Peace on Earth. And to all a good night.

Honey Bee Suite

                I could fly higher than an eagle
                For you are the wind beneath my wings.

                                                                -Jeff Silvar and Larry Henley 1982

Fastasy of flight: Image of a conifer tree covered in snow and tracks leading away from it.
Merry Christmas from Honey Bee Suite

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  • Whenever I see my bees conducting orientation flights, it reminds me of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly.”

  • As a farmboy turned surgeon turned beekeeper, I can honestly say that your beekeeping ability is surpassed only by your eloquence… Love it!

  • Hi Rusty,

    I sent a donation this weekend as a small token of appreciation for all that you do for the beekeeping community. From your writings in the American Bee Journal, as well as other publications, and your wonderful website, you are an incredible resource. And the fact that newbies like me can even get questions answered directly from you – well, that is priceless.

    This has been my first year with two top bars in Portland and while I don’t know if the colonies will make it to spring, I know that you have helped launch me on a fun and engaging hobby. I have learned so much this first year and you and your site have been a big part of that education.

    Thanks, and best wishes for a safe and healthy holiday season.


  • Floyd’s “Learning to Fly” still gives me the shivers! The girls will be getting their candy boards this Christmas and to them a good night! Merry Christmas to you and your family Rusty. May next year be just as wonderful as this year has been for the little brats. Best of wishes to your readers.

  • All right, that was adorable! So cute, I want to illustrate this vignette! I’m picturing little bright-eyed bees in scarves…

  • Happy Winter Solstice and all the best Rusty for a wonderful and safe holiday season. Couldn’t have managed my first years of beekeeping without your informative posts and the great community of beekeepers from all places and backgrounds that you bring together to chat, debate, and share their passion and ideas.

    Bee-merry always!

  • Love your posts. Now you know why we called our 27 Touring “The beast”. Hard to start, hard to drive, hard to steer, hard to stop, slow, but lots of fun. Hit 62 F yesterday with sun, here in Western Oregon. The girls were flying like crazy. Next warm spell, we have 3 frames of scraped off honey frames and one full frame in the freezer to be placed in an added super. We will never again take too much honey from the ladies. Still may find ways to kill them but we are still trying!

  • Very nice story, Rusty. I liked the way you named the bees, too. It’s too late to wish you Merry Christmas, but I hope it was enjoyable.

  • Thank you Rusty!
    Sending you blessings for health and wellbeing to you, your family and the bees!

  • Computer crash in mid December brings me to the party late… what a great story!!… I hope the beeple associated with these girls were safely tucked in bed.. Legend has it that the (farm) animals talk at midnight on Christmas eve but if the farmer eves drops s/he will not live to see sunrise…Best wishes ALL for a beeootiful and fulfilling New Year.