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.