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We ate honey through the winter and trusted that the bees were doing the same. But when April came, with birds and spring peepers singing in the pond, one sound was missing. Out in the meadow, where there should have been a hearty hum, there was silence. I was devastated. Had I done something wrong? Were they sick? No, they were all dead. A handful of dead bees littered the baseboards of each hive. There was plenty of honey left, so surely they hadn’t starved. I carried the lifeless bee boxes back to the house and wondered what had gone wrong. uring my mourning I repainted the hives. The colors cheered me, and I felt ready to try again. But first, I called Bill and Millie Hathaway. It took me a while to track them down. Turns out they were in transit, making their annual move north from Florida along with 500 beehives. I’d heard they were experienced beekeepers but that was about all I knew. When I finally did reach Bill on the phone, he spoke two words I would hear often in coming months: “four years.” He said it would take four years before I could even have an intelligent conversation about bees.
Four years!? I was willing to admit that I had a lot to learn, but hadn’t I already successfully moved bees and harvested honey? That had to make me at least an intermediate, I figured. But in the course of our first conversation, Bill used terms and phrases I didn’t know, like “spotty brood pattern” and “laying workers.” It sounded like another language, and I began to think I didn’t know the first thing about keeping bees.
Bill said other things that caught my attention as well. “Beekeepers are the longest lived of any group of people. They have the lowest incidence of cancer and they don’t have arthritis.” Wow! I wasn’t sure where this information came from, but it sure sounded good! He mentioned that he’d adopted many beekeeping beginners over the years. Apparently my phone call made me eligible for adoption because he offered to help me prepare for new bees.
I got directions to Bill’s place and loaded a few frames into the back of our truck. Bill wanted to inspect the equipment I’d been using to make sure it was disease-free. Once David and I reached the Hathaways’ road, it wasn’t hard to find their farm. Stacks of hive bodies in a crazy array of colors lined the driveway, watermelon pink, lime green, mustard yellow, unwanted custom color mixes from Florida paint stores.
For over 30 years the staff at Traverse Magazine has written about the history and natural world of our region. For the web series, Traverse Classics, we've reached into our archives to bring our favorites to our MyNorth.com audience.