bee stories

The Zen of bees

I sit perched on the hive stand, leaning back against number one. It vibrates like a refrigerator, low and steady. Scent oozes thickly from the entrance. Moist and earthy and sweet, it reminds me of raw meat. I close my eyes and recall the other constant sounds of nature:

  • The waves pound the soft sands of Nauset Beach, coughing up little pieces of green, a shell, a triangle of glass. The roar is constant and deafening. In the dark, we shout to be heard but soon give up. The five of us—sailing instructors with a night off—are content to pass the baguette, the cheddar, the reed-wrapped bottle of Chianti. Somewhere offshore, the clank of metal against metal and the slippery scent of sea life pickled in brine remind me that we are not alone.
  • In the Anza-Borrego desert, the incessant wind shreds itself against prickly saguaros and jagged rocks. This whistle of air rending itself to bits is high-pitched and baleful. I hunch in the shade of one of those rocks, yanking the spines of a cholla cactus from my palm. One drop of blood seeps from each wound and dries in an instant. I wrap my hand in a bandana smelling of fresh cotton and swear. I could keep my sanity, I think, if the wailing wind would stop for one minute. Just one minute.
  • On Route 36 somewhere in Kansas, I can’t hear myself think. Billions of ears of wheat rub together, whispering against themselves like the folds of a million nylon flags. But the tiny noise is amplified—acres and acres of little sounds rising to the blue in an ever-rising crescendo. I look for a tree, a hedge, a sheltered place for my tent, but the place is empty of everything but wind and wheat and sound.
  • The Elwha River flows north through the Olympic Mountains. Stars prick holes through the night sky but the noise doesn’t seep out. The river sorts its way through riffles, around stones, over logs, and under the arching branches of vine maple and red alder. The darkness and the cacophony is a handicap. When I boil some snowmelt for tea and pasta, the scent of the match and the whiff of Coleman fuel overwhelm my remaining senses, but food never tasted so good.

And so it is with bees. Unlike wind and water, bees are living things. But they share a keep-going-ness, a stick-to-it-ness, with the strongest forces of nature. This time of year, I can hear the thrum before I get close to the hive. It is exciting, life-affirming, a testament to Earth. To live your life without experiencing the force we call honey bees would be to come up short. I never miss a chance to just be with the bees. To bee is to be.


The Zen of bees.


  • Hey Rusty,
    Cool post. I was wandering, are those your hives in the photo? That’s a nice hive stand setup.

    Also its cool you mentioned Nauset Beach, my family and I are going to the cape this July. At first I thought maybe you might be from there, but than read your About Me and saw that no, you’re close to where we are. We live just a drive away in Missoula, MT. Now I feel your advice is even more pertinent to me. We’re in similar climate zones.

    I do hope your girls are doing well. It’s been a good spring here, I’ve already got capped honey on my old hives!

    Don John

    • Yup, those are my hives, what I call my second hive stand. I’ve got one every so often as I go up the hill. They’re all different.

      I’ve lived in every corner of the country and a few places in between. I’ve got fond memories of Nauset Beach . . . back in the day!

  • I have a Muskoka chair placed next to my hives. When I feel the stress of the day , I make for the chair and my “girls”. I have fallen asleep in the chair many-a-times. There is something truly soothing watching the bees going about their activities.

  • We have a picnic setting close to one of our hives and I sit there every morning for breakfast while watching the bees. They are so used to us that several always fly over for a look and I have found if I am walking past, sometimes I feel a soft brush on my hand as one will land on my hand, have a look and then fly off again. I am always followed around the garden by several inquisitive bees, who hover close by just looking! I have a favourite term for them, “inquizabees”!

  • Hi Rusty, I love reading your stories. They are food for thought and they gladden the heart.

    You mentioned Kansas . . . After spending a year in Thailand (Vietnam War), I debarked off the plane in Wichita, Ks and the first thing I noticed was the fragrant smell of wheat. They say you never forget a smell and I can attest to that. It was good to be home.

    • Steve,

      I’ve heard that smell is the strongest memory trigger, and I believe that is true. Thanks for the story, and thanks for serving!

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