bee stories miscellaneous musings

Messing about with beehives

In “The Wind in the Willows” author Kenneth Grahame writes, “Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing—about in boats.”

As a kid, I believed this with all my heart. I had a small wooden sailboat that I tinkered with every waking hour. After school, I dumped my textbooks in the kitchen, grabbed a peanut butter sandwich, and spent the rest of the afternoon simply messing. Boats, especially wooden ones, require constant attention. I would refinish the boom, adjust the blocks, scrape barnacles, or re-splice some part of the rigging. I didn’t have to sail the boat to be happy, I just had to be near it, touching it.

I loved the gentle cry of herring gulls, the dead-fish scent of low tide, and the tang of spray on my lips. I was always by myself but never alone. Squirrelly things make good company—horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, minnows, herring gulls—things that listen without belittling, things that share without dividing.

Although I haven’t had a boat in many years, it often occurs to me that beehives answer my desire to mess, to tinker, to adjust. Even more, they provide the solitude that is so precious to me. Alone in my shed, I refinish a box, cut a new entrance, or sketch plans for the next project. I wire frames, scrape propolis, or melt old comb. The sounds, the odors, the very woodenness of the hive draw me into a four-dimensional universe unfettered by schedules, cell phones, and e-mails. It’s a place where no one cares about dust or asks if we’re out of ketchup.

Yes, I love the bees and I miss them during the dreary northwest winters. But the stolen moment when I can pound nails or drill holes is a golden one. Messing makes beekeeping worth it. Even when the mites conquer, the bees die, and the moths feast, the thought of tinkering with hives pulls me into the next year . . . the beekeeping year that will be the very best ever.


By myself but not alone. Flickr photo by Dave Hosford.


  • RUSTY… Beekeeping is a mysterious thing that takes you into a third dimension where you create, plan, and develop … Your thought process is expanded into many directions… All in an effort to help nature’s wonderful creature to carry on what has been around a long time. I agree with you. Solitude is a wonderful thing!

  • I’ve read Wind in the Willows several times as a child, but I don’t think I ever understood that quote properly until today. Thanks Rusty.

  • I love the way you write and your conveyance of experience into word. Have you ever thought of writing a book about your beekeeping experience?

    • Yes, Julie, I do think about it sometimes, but I haven’t decided on an angle to take. I don’t want to repeat the zillion beekeeping books already out there.

  • Love messin’ about in boats…..and bees. Havn’t figured out how I can live aboard a boat and have bees too…guess I have to settle for a week or two at a time on the water and the rest of the time with the bees…and butterflies…add a few birds…what the heck….I want all God’s critters to live in my yard.

  • Re: writing a book —

    How about “The Beekeeping Journal” with the writings categorized as they are here on your blog? Sort of a modern day “Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.”

  • Love this! Messing with the “hardware” of beekeeping as well as the bees…that productive solitude…I find it in the garden too.

  • Thanks Rusty, I do my beekeeping in Vanuatu. There’s nothing I enjoymore than messing with my bees or equipment. This year all the neighbors got quarts of honey. It sweetens up almost everything.

  • Wow, I love this!! Maybe beekeepers are that type of person, the ones that like tinkering, messing, figuring out problems of a different world, with different dimensions. Yes, and the peacefulness, connectedness-to-nature. Bring that together with the dangerous excitement! I mean when you go to a hive you could literally be killed if they all got you at once! Messing with a lot of power there!

    All so interesting!

  • I must tell you that I am 50 now and have been sailing for 30 years. This is my first year keeping bees and everyone in my life is asking why bees? This quote from The Sea and The Wind That Blows, by E. B. White, hits the mark for both hobbies. “If a man must be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most. A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble.” Nothing rings truer for bees than strange promise and a hint of trouble!

    Grateful for your site, Lisa

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