Both of my beehives are calm, they are like damp, abandoned buildings. Winter is a constant cycle of helpless worries for beekeepers. Several times a week I put on my coat, have a hot cup of coffee outside and watch until I finish my cup dry. If I’m lucky, I’ll see at least one bee return to a beehive. One bee is enough to assure me that a colony is still alive and that I will be happy with my life for a day or two. Sometimes when I don’t see any sign of bee life, I put my ear to the side of each beehive and try to hear the hopeful hum from the nests inside. But I only ever hear traffic noise from the street behind against the feeling of the damp wood in my ear. Then fear digs its sharp nails into my shoulder and I worry that they have all died, my precious bees.
It’s difficult to get positive out of these dark, wet, closed days. The daylight is short, the last blossoms have disappeared, trees are wooden skeletons, all bare branches without flesh. I think of the bulbs I planted in September, crouching in the cold, dark earth and gradually growing, waiting for spring. It helps, everyday life may look the same, but it isn’t. Nature never stops moving forward and it never looks back. I planted some leftover hyacinths in pots in the kitchen and they are already starting to bloom. It has to be the heat and there is a lot of light. Every day they get a little bigger. The star-shaped flowers are the paleest purple blue. They are a floral antidote to the heavy gray clouds outside that hold impending rain all day or let it go instantly. In a few weeks, the countdown to spring can really begin. The snowdrops that I planted can no longer feed my bees on a mild January day. The earth will spin and face the sun, and another winter will be behind us. It helps keep that thought alive on a dreich winter day.
I made my first candles last week. It takes eight times as much energy for a bee to make wax as honey, but the color of my candles is more like ear wax than beeswax! Secreted wax is pale vanilla in color, but once it contains brood, pollen, or nectar it changes color and turns to various shades of brown. The filtration process removes the residue but does not improve the color. I decided not to add anything to make them more palatable to the procuring eye. Like me, you are without hair dye. When they burn they remind me of a beehive; waxy, honey, flowery, clean and happy. Its scent puts me in my suit on a warm summer day, while my bees are flying around, the colony is strong and full of food, and everything in the world feels right. When I burn a candle, it keeps a pocket of it alive in me.
The light of a beeswax candle corresponds to the spectrum of the sun – who doesn’t need that on these darkest winter days? I wonder if my body unconsciously knows this because I am drawn to its flame. hypnotic in its light – more golden than the others. A beeswax candle emits negative ions that purify the air. There is no lingering odor, but maybe it’s the lack of odor that I notice. The air is rejuvenated without the aroma of food, family or dogs floating in it. I didn’t think it would be possible to catch my bees any more, but I was wrong, the joy of their candles has brightened for me every December day. No wonder the old man worshiped these tiny insects and considered them messengers of God. You are as magical as an elf at Christmas.
Everyone has the Christmas cheer earlier this year and hopes their cheers will be an antidote to frustration. Every December we buy a misshapen Christmas tree from our local greengrocer and it sits in the same corner window of our living room every year. When its limbs are particularly stubborn, it reaches into the seating arrangement and two armchairs are moved forward so as not to crush its bushy branches. It’s decked out with a mix of decorations taken from places we’ve been. A tour of the branches is a stroll through our family’s fifteen Christmases. A special addition last year was my Christmas bee. I found it in a bookstore in Belfast. An unusual item for a Christmas tree ornament. But there she was. A unique bee among the other “normal” Christmas items. Its heavy, stripped felt body is light yellow and black. Her wings are white, she has big, friendly cartoon eyes and a big, big smile with red lips. I’ve never planted a tree when the calendar is still in the single-digit December, but this year, as we know, nothing is “normal”. On December 5th our premature blocking tree went up. I hung my joyful Christmas bee front and the center of it. She welcomes the promise of another beekeeping for another year. She’s my talisman dangling between the twinkling lights. The thought gives me a sweet hexagonal glow inside.
Photo by PollyDot is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA
I am a nature lover, horseman, beekeeper, screenwriter and fiction writer. I’m working on my third novel – ‘The Beekeeper’.