The Sanctuary

By: Stephen Bishop

Why do you keep bees? Or, why do you continue to keep bees?

Early in life, by the time I was, say, 10, I had already learned celebrity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Beside the middle aisle on the second pew is where I grew up, with a congregation full of people looking on behind, with my mom enforcing stillness, and my dad behind the pulpit proclaiming the gospel to his flock. Sitting there I was close as anyone, save my dad up there preaching, could be to the center of attention. I guess somewhere along the line I began to associate the eyeballs behind me, and people in general, with pressure and expectations. 

By teenage years, my mom had relented and allowed me to sit on my own. I chose the balcony, safe from prying eyes. Perhaps that was the beginning of a lifetime of trying to avoid the notice of humans – and the pressure associated with it. Oh, to be John the Baptist (minus the head on a platter), a man of the wilderness who ate locust and honey. As a child I had perfected the art of catching locusts, or crickets and grasshoppers, not for my own consumption, but for the bass and bream I hoped to catch. Crawling, I would stalk, cup my hand, and pounce. Time spent alone catching crickets was time spent in the present, with no self-consciousness, no need to please people. Besides crickets I would hunt lizards and frogs and toads. I would upend rocks looking for bizarre centipedes and millipedes and carefully jar black widows. Eventually, I would enter forestry school, hoping to become that man of the wilderness, to lead a life dealing more with trees and creatures than people.

Why do you keep bees? Or, why do you continue to keep bees? I wonder if you can trace it back to something in childhood. Many people start beekeeping, like I eventually would, to help save them. But I don’t continue to keep bees because I want to save them. If that was the case, I would have given up long ago. Beekeeping, to me, is a more acceptable adult version of catching crickets. I can’t shake it, you see, trying to be acceptable. A grown man on his hands and knees stalking around tall grass trying to capture insects for fun is, I think, strange behavior for my in-laws who inhabit the land around us. Beekeeping, on the other hand, is a solitary pursuit with insects that is more acceptable, especially if tributes of honey jars earn good graces.

At church (on the back pew nowadays), I often find my mind drifting back to the beeyard where I work my hives every Sunday afternoon. Stinging insects in general scare people away, which is fine by me. Thus, the beeyard is a sanctuary with no expectations. It has humble pews made of 2 x 6s laid across concrete blocks. The other parishioners usually take no notice of me when I sit beside them, watching them come and go into the heavens. A field rat lives under one pew and scurries away into the blackberry thicket whenever I approach to have a sit. I suppose it, too, finds the gaze of man uncomfortable. When I don a white robe of sorts, I forget whatever I’m inwardly dwelling on and lose myself (and often my hive tool) while working bees. And sometimes I talk to myself, the bees, or Someone unseen.