I was the beekeeper’s boy. I learned early on to weave the willow, to keep the skeps in good order, to keep us queenright during the years of colony collapse, after the beekeeper was conscripted in the war.
My mother is the mistress of the house; the keys on her chatelaine control the locks and secret doors. She keeps the inside; I keep the outside. The house is her hive, but she, in turn, must tell the bees her secrets, her sorrows; tell the news when the letters arrive. She was taught by our ancient mother to tap, three times, on the hive with her door key; to drape black crepe on dark days, when the carriage climbs the gated hill; she was taught to place white cake on wedding days, when the carriage winds its way past the Queen Anne’s Lace on the churchouse road. Just as we share the sunflower, the bees share the capped cell; we are family, we share joy; we share sorrow. We keep together. Home and skep, kept together.
From the bankbarn, I see her in the garden, on the path to the hives, leading a swarm by ringing the handbell, tanging the bees through the cornflower and bramble blossom, past the honeysuckle, towards the hickory tree and the swarm trap. She is the mother bringing them home, keeping them calm; home and skep, kept together. Pollen peppers the black dress, the mourning dress her mother wore, in the war before this war. She could not bring the beekeeper home; he is buried, an unknown soldier in a Cold Harbor field.
I was the beekeeper’s boy. I am the beekeeper now.
~ Michael Douglas Jones
A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.’ ~ 17th Century saying