By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
In our part of Southwest Florida, the best known beeman is Keith Councell, a fourth generation beekeeper and licensed bee remover. We called on Keith when someone dropped off a sofa in the middle of the backwoods shell road where we live on Pine Island. My wife and I were out walking and there in the middle of the empty road was a great big, couch.
I sat down on it and, in a few seconds, I was surrounded by honeybees. It took me no time at all to get away from there. Obviously, the hive was underneath the cushions, which was why someone dumped the couch, probably at midnight the way they dump other things out here in the boonies.
Not surprisingly many homes in the region are vacant due to the recession. Vacant but not unoccupied. Between the squatters, robbers, rats, bats, carpetbaggers, monitor lizards, pythons, meth-makers, muscovy ducks, stray dogs, cats, there are colonies of bees. One hive might contain as many 60,000 of them.
A few months ago we had a cold front and in the morning our porch was littered with dead - but also numb - honey bees that were droopy and dazed, yet still alive. I spent a couple of hours awakening them with miniscule droplets of honey. When the warm sun and honey worked its charm, the bee flew off to join the hive.
Interestingly, each bee came back, flew around my head a couple of times, as if to memorize me. I like to think they were saying thank you.
We don't know that much about ourselves as humans; but we know even less about the animal world. The secret world of bees is a passion of mine. Living with them is wonderful. But I'm not the warrior-healer Mr. Councell is. He handles thousands of bees every day without a net or gloves.
“Mostly I live in my truck,” he said in a NYT interview. “This is all I do. I don’t have a family, I don’t have a girlfriend. My mom is after me to have a wife and kids. It’d be nice to have a house to come home to, but I’m fine with what I am.” A good man with an eye for bees who tells time by watching them.
He and I are alike in that - the other day, while sitting under an oak tree, I watched the last of the bees load up and head home. Home is the corner of our porch where a fairly large colony has taken up residence. The sun went down and in the twilight, the tired pollinators came back. The trouble was, it was now dark, and the night shift was wiped, and couldn't seem to find the entrance. (Bees tell time and place by solar sense.)
I watched in the pale moonlight as the trouble-shooters came from within the hive to shepherd the late comers. There was a sweetness about it, a sense of - if not love - devotion. Just like Mr. Councell.