The Bee Tree
“Just grab a hunk of honeycomb and pop it in your mouth,” said Anthony, a grinning beekeeper with a long piece of oak in his hands, “Go on now! It doesn’t get fresher than that!” When you find yourself knee deep in pond plants at the far corner of a wooded property and someone hands you honeycomb, well, you eat it. So I peeled a chunk off the oak and chewed down on the wax, the golden little honey comb cells popped and oozed with the sweetest stuff I’ve ever tasted. By now, Anthony was covered in honey and my two guardian puppies, smart enough to follow us into the woods for a treat, were licking both his hands, tails wagging wildly. We were all in a honey stupor. Let me back up.
More than a month ago, we walked the fence that outlines the forest behind our house. Since those 5 acres are meant for the goats, we wanted to check fences and identify which spots require reinforcement. It’s been awhile since we took a walk like that, in fact, it had been months. There was no telling about the state of things after several strong storms had come through, possibly downing trees already dying from the drought. Sure enough, along the edge of a creek, one enormous post oak had fallen over a fence, knocking it clear down to the ground. The tree would have to be chopped to pieces before any repair could start. As we climbed around the tree inspecting the damage, a quiet hum got louder until we both looked at each other and said, over the buzz of bee song, “Bees! In the tree!” And sure enough, on closer inspection, thousands of bees filed into and out of a hole in the tree, busily marching in lines and then flying around our heads to see if we were trouble. Obviously, the bees had to be relocated. As much as we both want to keep bees eventually, starting with a wild hive seemed stupid, even for us. After getting a quote to have it professionally removed (about $300), I turned to my trusty companion that solves all dilemmas, always: craigslist. Within one hour of posting an ad that I had a free hive for relocation, I received about 6 calls and emails (and have gotten almost 20 inquiries since it’s been posted, weeks ago). People want bees, that much is clear.
I ended up working with a novice beekeeper, Anthony, and his more experienced beekeeping friend, Bobby. Both work on a ranch where they hoped to establish a large hive for honey cultivation, and they thought the docile bees swirling around the tree on my fence might be just the hive they were looking for. Yesterday they arrived with bee suits, hive boxes, and all the other fancy doo-dads required to calm the bees so they could surgically remove the hive from the tree. None of us knew what to expect once the tree was open but Anthony promised me one thing, in his thick southern drawl, “If there’s honey in that tree, I’ll get it out for ya.” There’s something about hearing the word “honey” said repeatedly with a slow southern drawl that makes me feel delightfully sleepy, and as if I should fan myself on a porch, sipping a cocktail. “Anthony, if you find honey in that tree, then I’d be glad to take it.”
Within an hour, Anthony came walking out of the woods slowly, drenched in sweat and without his bee suit. Not only had they discovered one of the largest wild hives they’d seen, but the little bees were so docile, you could (as Anthony reported) “Pat their fuzzy lil’ backs if you want to. Come on over and see your bees.” Off we trooped through the trees and down into creekbeds, followed by puppies and holding onto cold beers we were drinking after a long afternoon of barn building. Within minutes, Anthony served up warm honeycomb, the puppies alternately licking it off hands, off the tree, and then jumping into the small pond that sits above the creek in the woods. In every sense, yesterday was a golden afternoon. We opened a tree and found pools of honey. 5pm western sunlight dripped through bright green leaves, a neigbor’s cow mood lazily somewhere in the distance, the remaining bees buzzzzed by our ears, and our hands were sticky with pure, rich, bee nectar. Finding something this good in the backyard is a treasure; is at least as magical as a pot of gold at the end of rainbows. Maybe that pot of gold is just an unexpected pot of honey. Chewing wild honeycomb along the banks of our creek, underneath the wooded canopy – we felt just as rich.