I have long been proud of my sense of direction. It is probably a guy thing but I am confident that I can find my way most anywhere, especially if I have had a chance to glance at a map beforehand. Having to stop and ask someone for directions
feels like a personal failure; Mary is the one who has to get out of the car and ask the appropriate questions. The only exception, or so I thought until recently, was riding the underground, or subway, or tube. Here I lose all sense of direction
and, emerging at the surface after a couple of stops, I struggle mightily to get reoriented, which had led me to believe that, ike a honey bee, my sense of direction is tied to the sun. Once above ground I will look for clues to figure out for
myself the next step forward.
In August Mary and I were in England for a family wedding and took the opportunity to visit Buckfast Abbey, home of Brother Adam and the Buckfast bee. I hadn’t realized until recently that
my father’s village of origin (now almost a city) is less than half an hour’s drive from the abbey. After a wonderful visit (more of that in a later column, especially why there are no Buckfast bees at Buckfast Abbey) we made our way cross-county
via Glastonbury, planning to stay overnight in Oxford so that Mary could visit, for the first time, some of the famous colleges.
England has a major traffic and parking problem and as we approached Oxford the traffic slowed up significantly.
I was driving, concentrating on staying on the right (ie. left) side of the road. Mary was navigating, using a large AAA atlas and finding a route to take us away from the worst of the back-ups. Eventually we crawled into the outskirts, found
a hotel, parked our bags and set off to walk into the town center to find somewhere suitable to eat.
I began walking the wrong way. Totally the wrong way. Going west when I needed to go east. I could not get myself
oriented. Something was wrong. I contested Mary’s gentle coercion but sure enough, she was right - the town center appeared exactly where I least expected it.
Looking at a map in a store window the reason became
apparent. We had planned to enter Oxford from the south, which was the route I had looked at on the map beforehand, but in our attempts to avoid the traffic we had entered from the west. Mary knew this because she had the atlas on her lap as we twisted
That one factor, that one unknown, had thrown me completely.
The question therefore is, when we start beekeeping, what is the route map we have in our heads? What gets us disoriented, and
what leads to that sudden realization when we can distinguish ‘west’ from ‘east,’ when the center appears suddenly but gratifingly in front of us?
The emphasis of the Buckfast Abbey apiary has moved from queen
breeding to education, and the head beekeeper, Clare Densely, who offers a number of classes, suggests that a nu-bee maintains his or her hives for five years before taking a more advanced level class. In part this is so that the beekeeper understands
the many inter-relationships and nuances of the amazing lives and behaviors of honey bees. But it also provides the time and space in which one can find a definite direction, a route map with a clear goal in mind, amid what initially appears as a chaotic
bevy of bees.
No doubt everyone has a different story but for me it was three years into my beekeeping career when someone, and I can no longer recall who or where, said that honey bees, unlike wasps, are passive not aggressive. That
they will defend their home and their kids if they feel threatened, but in most instances they are too busy, too focused, to worry about the likes of me.
It was the proverbial light bulb, a paradigm shift, a turning around in the
right direction. The way I managed bees shifted, any residues of fear dropped away, and I like to think that the girls know that, even as they feel the need to remind me when I get over-confident.
What was that moment
for you? Or to ask it another way, what did you have to find out for yourself which, if someone had told you early in your career, might have made the art and skill of beekeeping a whole lot more rational a whole lot earlier?
was your Oxford moment? Because having become reoriented, knowing again where I was going, I was relaxed, ready to explore, ready for another adventure, and this city in particular, like beekeeping, was well worth the journey.