To bee or not to bee (hint: it’s the first one)

UPDATE: Our bees got us in The New York Times! Happy to have gotten my 15 minutes of fame with a box of bees on my back.

Man and woman on bicycles with box of honeybees


The trouble began three years ago this June, when I wrote a blog post for a client about a couple of fun-loving guys from Pennsylvania who’d endeavored to disrupt beekeeping.

This was not a joke! They built a modular honeybee hive called BEEcosystem that combined the visibility of a classic observation hive (the kind you might see at a science fair) with the workability of a classic Langstroth hive (the kind you see dotting the idyllic, sheep-fuzzy farm in your dreams).

Langstroth beehives in a field of lavendar

Thanks for the idyll, Homesteading.com!

It was cool. I enjoyed the fact that the hive’s inventors wanted people to know about and care about and see bees—these excellent creatures who are responsible for producing much of our food, and who offer us interesting ideas about our own behavior and habits. I also just liked that it was a wooden hexagon that hangs on the wall. That’s a good look.

But if you had told me that in the winter of 2018, my husband and I would make the nutty late-night decision to order a BEEcosystem and start shelling out hundreds of dollars for beekeeping classes, specialty accoutrement with names like “veils” and “smokers,” and (yes, this is how they do it) a three-pound package of LIVE BEES, well.

I would totally have believed you.

There is a LOT to know about keeping bees. (Did I think there wouldn’t be?!) We rushed out and got our copy of Beekeeping for Dummies, enrolled in a daylong beekeeping primer, and have been checking hourly to see when the UPS man is going to pull up with our booty so we can start officially freaking out.

The class was very informative, and enjoyable, led as it was by Andrew Coté, who I have come to understand is something of a giant in this world. He’s one of the main humans behind Andrew’s Honey, the New York City Beekeepers Association, and Bees Without Borders. This is him last Saturday, with the first slide he presented:

Andrew Cote beekeeping class slide projection

At least he was honest about what we’re in for!

Other highlights of the day included this slide that features his father next to a swarm of bees engulfing a statue’s head in the sculpture garden at MoMA:

Bee swarm engulfing head of statue

And the live smoker demo fellow beekeeper Flynn gave us in Columbus Circle:

Man with bee smoker

In reality, the class was much more substantive than these photos suggest. I suppose it’s just that nothing can prepare you a hundred percent for taking on a hardcore hobby like keeping bees. You just have to leap in—preferably veil on.

Ow!

I laughed, I cried: The Holidays 2015

Lots of laughs and a few tears—of happiness!—this holiday season.

We started off in the Pocono Mountains, on a tour of its famed, fading Honeymoon Hotels.

Initially, we’d picked this particular excursion for its renowned tackiness and kitsch—and there was plenty of that!—but we did also find ourselves drinking a bit of the kool-aid. These are “couples-only” resorts, so there are no kids around; it’s also not a desperation-dusted singles scene. We’d never participated in this exact type of scenario before, but by day two, we were feeling its effects, mostly characterized by an intoxicating influx of relaxation.

Evidently, the air was so thick with romance that we lost our senses and (ready?) got engaged! Mr. Sock Monkey is holding the place of honor until further notice.

Sock Monkey

Dramatic reenactment

Before departing, we were able to see some of Pennsylvania’s many other points of interest:

Then it was off to Charleston, where we met Arthur’s family and our friends Danielle and Ryan for a festive few days of swamp-traipsing, firework-exploding, and remembering to mash the garage door button.

Oh, to make this writing-related (and because it’s so cool), I’ll add here that the aforementioned Danielle is a fabulous writer and writing teacher; we met as fellow students in Emerson College’s creative writing program. Last year, Danielle was anthologized in The Best American Poetry 2015, edited by huge-wigs David Lehman and Sherman Alexie. Holla!! She was also just today published in the wonderful On Being blog. Love you, Dani!

I’m quite sure I’ll be writing about more of Danielle’s superhuman accomplishments in the year ahead, as well as about regional travel, cool families, notable signage, and mycelium. Looking forward to all.

Here’s looking at you, 2015! You will live long on my Flickr page and in my spiral-bound journal. And a big hello to 2016 and all the opportunities for obsessive documentation you are sure to bring.

What Trisha Brown calls the “bees going into your face” part

In June, I had the pleasure of writing for one of my clients about BEEcosystem, a modular honeybee hive made for today’s urban lifestyles. It sits inside your apartment!! You let the bees out to frolic and pollinate through a tube. You have to see it; it’s great.

BEE

BEEcosystems at work in State College, PA

I interviewed the invention’s founders, awesome Pennsylvania dudes Mike Zaengle and Dustin Betz (I really do love Pennsylvania), and they had lots of interesting and important things to say about reestablishing our connection to the origins of our food, Colony Collapse Disorder, and how one in every three bites we eat was probably produced by a pollinator.

But what’s stuck in my mind most since then was Mike saying, “I had thought being outside in the yard with the BEEcosystem tube coming through the window might make me nervous, but after I worked with honeybees for a while, I realized they’re much friendlier than I thought. You can definitely walk around doing yard work all afternoon and they won’t bother you!”

Hot damn.

BEEcosystem is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to get this shizz off the ground. Throw a little dough their way, honey, and help grow the buzz!

Oh, and what was that about Trisha Brown at the beginning? It’s an all-but-unrelated quote (especially now that Mike’s weighed in about the bees not going into your face) from a wonderful interview with her by the inimitable M.J. Thompson—titled “Dancing? ‘It’s Awesome’ “—in one of my erstwhile stomping grounds, The Brooklyn Rail. I read it in 2009 and haven’t forgotten it. An excerpt:

Bob [Rauschenberg] and I were very close. I had the best dialogues with him. Bob had a fix on me like no one else. He called me at least once a week, especially when he was in New York, and said, “I’ve got an idea for you.” And I’d say, “Wait, I’m already working on the piece. Write it down, save it for me. And if you have another urge to talk to me call my office, it’s four in the morning.” He had a sterling vision [Thinking for a moment, then demonstrating: hands and arms cutting downwards quickly, away from her face]. Do you remember that part? What I call the “bees going into your face” part? I was working the edges of what was acceptable but at the same time the piece was a study in structuralism and scale and bees going into face.

Trisha

Love you, Trisha! (photo from artsalive.ca)