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Letter from an Apiarist
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I'm reading
Letter from an Apiarist
Pass it on
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I'm reading
Letter from an Apiarist
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Articles
16 August 2018

Letter from an Apiarist

Written by Tommy Spender

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Dear You,

I want to tell you a story about my love of the bees.

It’s a story that gets me into my grubby, hot suit on a 37-degree day to be amongst a fearsome and dangerous insect. To stand sweating and bathed in pine-needle smoke and the bristling, alarming stink of two-heptanone (an alarm pheromone given off by guarding bees). To be okay with the laser-like puncture of a sting, even through a pair of jeans and a suit, and the throbbing, itching ache sometimes days later.

People ask me if I do it because of honey, or if I’m trying to save the bees from extinction. They’re part of it, but it’s the story that soothes my wrists, bristling with stingers and bee guts, that I’m most passionate about. It’s a story that spans millions of years, to a time before dinosaurs, and it’s one I’m teaching to my two young sons.

You see, when you crack the wax seal of a beehive, you open a chapter to a large and very powerful book written by over 80,000 females that tell the tales of gardens, orchards and canopies from a five kilometre radius to where you stand. They speak of the seasons and rain, the temperatures and the sum total of wind, the perfumes and breath of the blossoms.

In summer, the book is large, groaning under the weight of abundance and drunken tails of golden pollen and nectar—of boughs of almond blossom, eucalyptus and jasmine. In winter it folds itself in and becomes quiet and subdued, pondering those heady warm days in subdued and melancholy quietude.

To the untrained eye, these chapters look like neatly stacked boxes sitting in a garden, field or rooftop. But within these boxes are eight to 10 double-sided pages. The pages are coded and printed in 3D and are a perfect work of dazzling non-fiction, written by 80,000 journalists and one royal editor. Each waxy word perfectly balanced, each broody sentence expertly structured. They speak of the queen and her children, her flight and the airborne orgy she has with multiple males. They speak of the birth of summer, the withering of the flowers. The health of water and orchards. And the best bit is, if you’re patient and respectful, you get to eat some of the pages.

I want to tell you another story. A story of fresh honey still warm from the ambient heat of the day—cooled from the beating of thousands of wings in unison. I want to tell you about the look on my boys’ faces as they deliriously gulp and guzzle fresh comb, laughing and proud at the sheer magic of it. I want to tell you about the sound of a beehive on a hot day in a backyard. You can put your ear to it and it sounds like a supercomputer, full of fans, gulping in the fresh air current, evenly circulating cool air through the hot frames.

As the day gets hotter, the pitch of their song climbs higher. I want to tell you about my poor son’s swollen hand, like a young bear cub howling to his mother as I guilty cursed myself for not giving him gloves. The pain of that sting perfectly twisted around the sweetness of the reward forever in his memory. Pleasure and pain. Respect and awe.

But the most important story I want to tell you is about the love my sons have for “our girls.” They proudly recite facts and figures they pick up. They share honey with their friends and teachers. They keenly watch as foraging girls land in our garden and wonder from which hive they belong. Who is their family? Where do they live? What is her story? They connect with these creatures with more reverence and respect than any trophy animal in a zoo. They know only to fear them when they are potentially threatening the boundary to a hive. They see the magic in nature through these divine and selfless girls. The story is there for them in vivid buzzing life. It is a story that I hope they too will be able to teach their children.

Love,

Me

This article is part of our wilding campaign at Dumbo Feather. For more stories, inspiration and ideas for re-connecting with the wild and protecting what you love, purchase Issue 56—”Embracing the Wild” or subscribe.

Tommy Spender

Tommy Spender is an apiarist for Mossy Willow Farm, and the other half Australian band, Mama Kin Spender. Mama Kin Spender’s debut LP Golden Magnetic is in store now via ABC Music.

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