I was in the middle of my workday last week when I got a call. It wasn’t a particularly happy call. “One of your hives is down.” It was my friend Kathy calling from Bayfield School where she teaches 5th grade. A bus driver that drives by my beehives regularly had stopped in her classroom to tell her the news. He knew she would get the message to me. My heart sank. A “hive down” only means one thing. It means a black bear has paid a visit.

I keep eight strands of wire around my beehives with an alternating current that emits 8000 volts of juice. Innocent dogs have touched their noses to it and spent the entire afternoon recuperating. But that’s what it takes to keep – to keep, how should I put it? To keep “well padded” bears at bay. I hurriedly finished up the project I was working on and headed out to the bee yard. My mind was racing on the drive over. Which hive, I wondered? Please don’t let it be Freeda’s. She’s had enough set backs lately. I pulled into the bee yard to an empty silence. No tell-tale clicking from the electric fencer. The amount of bee traffic in the air seemed diminished.
It took me at least a full minute before I could look. Drats. Freeda’s hive was in shambles. Things could have been worse, really, but still it was a sad sight. I got straight to work getting her hive put back together. The girls were frantic, of course. My explanation for what had happened felt meager at best. After a bit of reassembling I realized that an entire frame was missing from one of the brood boxes. (The whole bear and honey thing? It’s a myth. What they’re really after is bee larvae. Though I’m sure they don’t mind their snack slathered in a bit of honey.)
This bear meant business and my dander was up. Dip your paw in, fine. But don’t wander off with an entire frame of bees. I headed off into the woods in a huff, following a flattened down trail behind the hives. At some point, instinct kicked in. It occurred to me that I might not actually want to find the bear in question. I wasn’t sure exactly how I would ask for my bees back. I reluctantly retreated.
Back at the hive, I did a quick search for Freeda’s recently hatched daughter. No luck. One thing I have learned after years of beekeeping is to accept that when I am actively looking for the queen, I probably won’t find her. But on the days when I’m not in a hurry and the weather is especially fine, I’m bound to see her long slender torso moving across a frame. I tried to take this to heart. As much as I wanted to keep looking, I resisted, knowing that what the girls needed most was some order and calm restored to their home.
With my main task completed, I turned my attention to the fencer for a little troubleshooting. Luckily it was fluke and a quick fix. The breaker to the outbuilding that supplies the power had been tripped. I reset it and the reassuring clicking resumed. All I could do was hope it would be enough to ward off a bear with a whetted appetite.
I drove back home, trying not to dwell on the fact that the new, young Ms. Freeda could have been on the missing frame. And that she very well might now be residing inside a black bear’s stomach. And that her hive just went through the arduous process of raising a new queen. And that winter is coming. Time is too short for them to do it all over again. I remembered how giddy I felt the other week when I discovered that Freeda’s daughter had hatched and survived the odds. And then I laughed. I was thinking of a little tale that I leaned from my Dad. I took it to heart. And I felt better. Because after all, embracing the concept of “not knowing” is what makes room for life’s potential.
There is an old Chinese tale about a farmer whose horse ran away. His neighbors gathered that night to bemoan his loss. ‘Too bad, too bad,’ they sighed. ‘Maybe,’ the farmer said.
The next day, the horse came back, leading seven wild horses behind him. ‘Oh, aren’t you lucky!’ the neighbors exclaimed. ‘Maybe,’ the farmer said.
The next day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses, but he was thrown and broke his leg. ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’ the neighbors agreed. ‘Maybe,’ the farmer said.
The next day the soldiers came to conscript young men for the army, but they didn’t take his son, because his leg was broken. ‘How wonderful for you!’ the neighbors cried. ‘Maybe,’ the farmer said.

3 Responses to “maybe”

  1. 1 Nancy S. September 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

    A wise farmer! Thank you, Jill!

  2. 2 Julie Buckles September 12, 2011 at 10:22 am

    A good tale to keep in mind for beekeeping or just about anything that relies on the elements and the good nature of a black bear. Let us know if you find Freeda.

  3. 3 littlebeanschwerin September 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    amazing, and I do hope all turns well for Freeda!

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