Relay: Bee Bravery

“They’re more scared of you than you are of them” was simply not true when it came to me versus stinging, swarming, flying creatures. As a Woody Allen-esque city kid dragged to the Hamptons on weekends or for vacations, those insects — bees, wasps, hornets — were lumped into one scary interchangeable species.
    If I heard the dreaded, low-pitched buzzing noise, I would proceed into a series of swatting, hopping motions that came to be known by friends and family as Bridget’s “Izzitonmee” dance.
    But as I aged, I began to see the value of bees. At least of honeybees. They do, after all, make honey. They pollinate flowers and, more important, crops. And I felt the stirrings of compassion, mixed with growing alarm, when I heard the piece on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in 2006.
    “Wild bees across the country are in a state of decline,” said the show’s host, Steve Inskeep, introducing a story by John Nielsen. “And that could cause problems for anybody in the following categories . . . gardeners, farmers, people who like to eat.”
    “Hey, I like to eat,” I thought. Making one of many snap decisions I’ve been known to make — which have included, in the five years leading up to hearing that broadcast, quitting my job, leaving the Hamptons for New Hampshire, becoming a minister, leading women’s retreats, buying an inn and restaurant, and raising goats — I instantly went from stark raving bee terror to buying books on how to raise them.
    “We’re going to keep bees,” I told my family after doing about three hours of research and going to one beekeeping seminar.
    The word “bees” was still echoing in the air when the screaming started. It was apparent that I was faced with a choice: keep bees or keep my family together.
    My husband and kids have put up with a lot of Mom’s Krazy Adventures but there was no way, no way in hell! that they were okay with the notion of swarmy, buzzy things.
    “I will leave,” said my daughter, Georgia Warner, with a solemn face, saying each word distinctly while staring into my eyes. “And I will never, ever return.” The two smaller ones were actually on their knees, making those bothersome puppy eyes at me.
    And the truth is, I had no experience whatsoever with bees. I had never even been stung. In fact, I still did the “Izzitonmee” dance on occasion. So it was clear, in this case, that my concept was full of holes and my family was right on the money.
    But I kept beekeeping in my heart and respected, even revered, those who tended to the little critters and kept the farms of America running smoothly.
    When I was afforded a chance to interview Robin Blackley for a story in this week’s arts section, I donned the full hazmat uniform she provided so there wasn’t even the slightest chance of getting any bee on me. However, I chose, since I was a grown-up now, not to wear the gloves.
    Robin was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. And sandals.
    During the interview, she picked up a particularly heavy frame, covered with “her girls” and filled with honey. There was a tiny, half-inch space where one hexagonal section was not covered in little black-and-yellow bodies.
    “Stick your finger in there,” Robin said.
    “In where?” I asked, squinting to see the space between the crawling bodies. “In there?”
    “Yes. Stick your finger in there.”
    “In there?”
    “Yes, in there.”
    “In where? Where the bees are?”
    “Where the honey is.”
    Finally I surrendered. What the hell, I thought. Never been stung anyway. There’s a first time for everything.
    As is the case with most people in my life, the bees did not find me nearly as interesting as I thought they would. They just kept muddling about on the frame, doing bee things, and I got a luscious fingerful of warm, straight-from-the-comb liquid gold.
    How many other times in my life have I let fear and useless worry get in the way of having a good time? I shudder to think.
    Spending an afternoon with Robin Blackley and her girls, hanging out at the farm, and getting a taste of fresh nectar straight from the source was sweet indeed.
    But conquering a lifelong fear that day was the sweetest thing of all.

    Bridget LeRoy is a reporter at The Star.