Photo credit: Keatley Garvey

I heard a fly buzz when I died;

The stillness round my form

Was like the stillness in the air

Between the heaves of storm.

 

In high school, when first introduced to Emily Dickenson, I remember thinking how sad that the end-sum of an entire life, no matter how graceful or fulfilled, was a solitary, annoying fly.

But teenagers, like Emily, are prone to bouts of melancholia (and these profound depths of angst and sorrow are important to explore before the full brunt of life’s responsibilities really hit you)

As much as young adulthood is about finding direction, the 30’s are about finding purpose.

I know.  I know.

Oprah and Eckhart having been trying to explain this idea for  years, but I was always WORKING at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and never had the chance to watch those particular episodes.

This is why it took me to the age of 38 and a truckload of new arrivals at Beekman Farm to truly understand a purpose-driven life.

In the spring, approximately 40 honeybee hives are delivered to the farm. Within minutes of being settled at the foot of Slate Hill, their inhabitants can be seen exploring the clover blossoms scattered throughout the pasture.

Bees are single-minded.  They venture out to find flowers as far away as 8 miles, gather their nectar and pollen and then beeline it home. The life span of the worker bee is short—from birth to death in about 6 weeks, so there’s not much time to gather ye rose buds.  However, the brevity of their natural existence does not deter them from their responsibilities.

 

The bee population at Beekman 1802 peaks in mid-July when a queen can lay thousands of eggs a day–which is how a colony of a few hundred can swell to over 10,000 in a couple of weeks.

 

Honey is the distilled nectar of flowers.  To make a pound of it, the 50,000 bees in a typical hive will travel over 55,000 miles and visit more than 2 million flowers (as many as a hundred flowers a day), and with each visit, they are spreading bits of pollen carried on their bodies, legs and wings, inadvertently contributing to the future.

Honeybees are attracted by the fragrance of the nectar that the blossoms emit. The nectar lies deep at the base of the petals. Each trip out for foraging, she (yes, the women do all the work) returns with nectar and by ingesting and regurgitating the nectar multiple times uses her digestive enzymes to break down the complex sugars into simple sugars.  The sugars are then placed in the cells of the honeycomb where other worker bees (in the purest example of teamwork) fan their wings until the excess water has evaporated and honey is the result. The average honeybee will produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of this amber elixir in its lifetime.

The best time to view the hives is at the hottest point of a sunny day.  The bees are so focused on the tasks at hand that they cannot be bothered by my voyeurism.

It’s amazing to watch their determination and their efficiency, and it makes me think how wonderful it would be to live in a community in which everyone is working together with purpose.  To have an endless supply of delicious food that you created yourself.  And to be able to sit in something as all together beautiful as the base of a flower petal.

Wait a second.

I already have all of those things.

 

One clover, and a bee

And Revery.

The Revery alone will do

If bees are few

 

But Emily was wrong.

What a fitting final thought:  a bee buzzing by on the way to her next blossom.

Purpose, promise and perpetuity.

 

R.I.B.

Rest in Bees


by Dr. Brent

Reader Comments

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Helen Hartman

RIB – perfect. So many people go through life chasing the wrong things when sustenance comes from things within their grasp – purpose and productivity and taking time to appreciate the good stuff around them. Just found your blog and counting it now as one of the things to appreciate.

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Wanda

Dr. Brent,

Hello. Thank you for this beautiful post. It made my day, really. Remember, when I by chance found a large volume of Emily Dickenson poems my first semester at Occidental. When I started reading it, I really thought her words her beautiful but with a welcoming style. Later, I was able to teach some of her poems to my students. It is American Literature at its finest. She is a gem.

I really admire you for your love of nature and your honesty.

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Ryan

Hey B. Boys im trying to purchase a few of the Landreth Seed catalogs but im having trouble! It says database cannot connect? is there another link or another way?

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lynda david

As I read your blog about the bees I found my eyes began to sting with tears. I have read a lot about bees these past few years. I am familiar now with everything they endure to produce honey. What I had not realized was this; honey is the food to sustain the colony during the winter months when there are no flowers and no nectar. Each bee works so hard to contribute her tiny portion. But with a 6 week lifespan, nearly all the bees that made the honey will never, ever taste the honey. That nourishment and experience will be there for bees that are not yet part of the hive and who have not helped make it. This is what we've lost track of as humans. That deep-in-the-soul feeling of sacrafice and contribution for generations yet to come, for the good of our colony. I feel sad for the bees who never get to taste the honey they made and I am humbled by the evolved and beautiful way they live. There is so much that nature can teach us and so little time to learn.

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lynda wilkie hemond

Love your writing, I've had bees before ( last years died) there is a wonderful solitude when you work the bee's . No one bothers you, no visitors, no cell phones, just a very natural hummmm…

I also avoided excessive (sting swelling) by getting stung every day for 2 weeks.People with breathing difficulty after stings should NOT try this.Our very survival depends on the bees ,they need our HELP and respect. lynda

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L.L.Coleman

Dr. Brent–the Reverie is the life you have with Josh, and what Josh has with you…secondly,it's the life you both have at Beekman. Your output, purpose, drive and work ethic are very similar to that of the honeybee. You are kindred souls.

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Leslie

Thank you for the wonderful words, so happy to hear about your bees and please keep us posted on the progress. we don't have space in our suburban yard for a hive, but we purposely planted IL native plants for bees, birds and butterflies. no chemicals used at our place. our gardens are tidy but look more 'natural' than others – full of wildlife and bees. the buzzing little ladies don't bother us at all, but are busy at work – going from blossom to blossom. amazing!

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Kate

1/12 teaspoon of honey? For a honeybee's entire life? So when I take one spoonful of honey for my tea, I am taking the equivalent of about 48 bees' entire lives' work? Oh dear.

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Linda Lan

Hi Dr. Brent – my husband loves bees – I got him a bee book for one of his birthday gifts last year – he says, one day, when we have an appropriate property, he wants to be a beekeeper!

Best wishes with your bees! Hugs to all the animals on your gentlemen's farm – hi to Josh – hope you both are well and summer is going nicely for the two of you!

Best Wishes,

Linda in South Florida

PS-Are you near Bedlam Farm at all?

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Melissa

Hey Brent and Josh,

I just received my wheel of Beekman Blaak, what a marvelous cheese, earthy, woodsy, flavors that marry on your palate. How wonderful! Thank you both for such a wonderful addition to our table.

We wish you a long productive life.

Ross and Melissa

Cherry Hill Forge/ King George, Va.

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Felicia

Lovely piece, Brent. I should've gotten a beehive when we lived on two acres in Connecticut and I had the space. I have a feeling the city of Omaha has an ordinance about this!

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centralia heart

I was watering my garden the other day when I heard a buzz right near my shoulder. I quickly turned around expecting the see a bumble bee or honey bee.What a wonderful surprise, it was a hummingbird hovering over my shoulder watching me water the flowers. This was one of those moments of beauty, bliss and joy that you can find in a garden. love, Centralia

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graceupongrace

I'm waiting for the cocktail that goes along with this bee theme. I will never make "Michelle's Pink Stuff", (did you actually drink that?) But, tell Garth's mom…..we're having Christmas in July over here!!! We love her recipe!!

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Kit Mitchell

Love your message! You have the gift of having crafted a purpose driven life and enjoying it as much as the bees seemingly enjoy their work too.

'Bee' well,

kit

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Susie Milligan

Great Article. A friend raised bees and collected the honey. Mary Allison from Huddersfield UK. She was a caring person who left the Earth a better place while giving so much to those around her. Her bees collected what was growing nearby, and the honey tasted differently each year. Excellent. At 85 she finally bought an extractor….. she had always collected by hand.

Her coffee recipe: Coffee simmered in a saucepan of water. Drain and filter the grounds from the coffee. Add whole organic milk and Mary's honey and warm (do not boil) in the same saucepan. Drink from a pretty cup. It was heaven.

Other friend just started 4 years ago. Sells honey at Farmers Markets. Excellent. He decided to have an apiary? and he bought books and learned by trying. Chutzpah! Just do it. They make lip balm and candles now also. All American honey Bees need some TLC right now. Keep them pesticide free if you are able.

We need more people like you – – – – you Beekman Boys! Discovered about 20 years ago (a bit at a time) that a life without purpose isn't much of a life. So happy you found a great life that you love. Thanks for keeping bees!

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Chris

What a beautiful article. It made me think of all the bees I see everyday as I am watering or pruning in my flower gardens. I'll think of of this article the next time I see them all buzzing around.

Now I hope we will see some of that honey at the fall harvest festival?

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Kathy

Wonderful words. I'm so glad you have the honey bees, they are hardly seen here. I use a teaspoon of local honey a day to build up an immunity to seasonal allergies.

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jean

Beautifully written. I am mesmerized by honey bees and wild bees. In early Spring, when I stand under my crab apple tree in full bloom, I am transfixed by the sound. Then there is dill…I can watch their dance and never grow tired of it.

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Jill

I must say, I love your blog. You speak poetry throughout all of your entries, so much that you inspire me, an amateur writer, to work a little harder in achieving my own dreams on my own terms. I don't usually feel inspiration from who I consider to be "celebrities". You and Josh have the best of both worlds in my eyes. It seems as if you're able to make your voice heard throughout our nation, especially to those like me who desperately need to hear it, while still maintaining a life free of the public's giant eye. I hope to visit your farm someday and try a bit of Blaak cheese (which I've been longing to do since I first saw it in Fab Beekman Boys). I hope that you and Josh feel extremely accomplished right now and hopefully even more in sixty years because of the amazing work you have put into everything you both do and because of all the lives you have touched, simply just by living your dreams.

~ Jill <3

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Sherry Timmerman

How beautifully written. The bees made me want to cry, and I wasn't even stung.

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necee

Beautifully written and I can totally relate to missing those 4 o'clock afternoon programs I would hear people talking about. It was always my task to teach the life cycle. We are supposed to also learn by teaching. Now in my retirement, I realize it is time to be the learner again.

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Erica H

Well written! Be mindful of how much chlorine you are putting in your pool though. We had a bee keeper bring bee hives to our farm one year and couldn't figure out for the life of us why the colony kept dying. We had an expert come in and lo and behold, bee's also drink water…and they were attracted to the pool and the chlorine (and various other chemicals) in the pool is bad for the bee's. We lowered our levels, but sadly the bee keeper decided to move his stock to another farm. Hopefully we can try again in the future and I hope you have a successful colony!

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Jennifer Rizzo

I wish we could have bee's in our 'burbs. I love watching them on our Monarda and cone flowers. It makes me sad though that it's mostly bumble bees and not honey bees. I might see a few when the mint blossoms, but they are getting less and less. Loved this essay.

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Roger

I am aware that we are in the midst of a "bee crisis" and that a LOT of hives have perished. Farmers in my region (Oregon) have turned to our state's land-grant state university (OSU) to help figure out what's causing the bee population to drop. I'm worried about all of the consequential damage to agriculture here if we don't have enough active thriving bees.

I applaud not only your decision to add bees to the Beekman farm but also the large number of hives you are beginning with. I wish you guys much success with this and urge others to follow your example! I want to have bees on my property but alas, there is a local ordinance which stands in the way.

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Patti Linder

We have our first hive set up and love to watch the bees. I enjoyed your piece very much. Today, however, I was mesmerized by the hummingbirds that have come to feed on the Silkwood Mimosa which burst into bloom today. Simple pleasures are the best.

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Dorie

If not for the bees,

the flowers and trees,

I don't know,

what happiness and presence,

would be!

Well done, Brent, well done!

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Sarah Melling

So lovely, Brent. I have long had a fondness for bees (even drew one for my blog). Not long ago, you and Josh recommended Margaret Roach's wonderful book, "And I Shall Have Some Peace There". She explained that the title comes from Yeats' poem "Innisfree", which I had never read, but now love. And I think that the most beautiful part is where he mentions wanting to live in a "bee loud glade". Isn't that just the most beautiful way of saying it? Good ol' Yeats, what a guy:

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,

I hear it in the deep heart's core.

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Nancy S-W in China G

You never cease to amaze me at all your talents – you are such an excellent writer and now you'll be a bee keeper extraordinaire as well!!

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Donna Ulbricht

Since Brent is from North Carolina, hopefully he is familiar with the BEST honey in America – made from the floers of the Sour Wood (or Sorrell) Tree. This honey has the most unique aroma and taste. I used to spend my summers in Winston-Salem, NC and Stuart, VA with grandparents (500 acre farm in Stuart) and the best part of the year was when the hives were harvested for honey. I still have it sent to me from the south to New Hampshire. Yum.

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Suz4

We meet the gentleman who built your hives when we were at the Garden Festival. We learned so much from him, even though I thought I knew a lot about bees there was so much I didn't know. I knew they are the hardest working insect, I did not know that one of the reasons they are is because during their brief lifetime they never, ever, stop flying. Amazing!!

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Derick

They are amazing creatures. It is scary to think where the ecosystem would be without them. Thanks again for a worth while posting. Peace…

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Sue Wimble

You have rekindled my interest in getting a hive. I took a series of classes for 2 years in a row at a nearby 4H but I never got a hive because the more I learned, the more my confidence shrank. I felt that I wouldn't have the time and expertise to take care of the bees the way I felt I should, especially getting them through the winter. (And then there's the added scare of CCD, varroa mites, etc.) I just really need to DO IT and stop TALKING about it. I don't really care about harvesting the honey, I care about helping mother nature and learning something while I'm at it! Thanks for the inspiration, Brent! (check back with me in March to see if I chickened out again)

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Heather Jean

That was the "bees knees" (who could resist?)…I absolutely cannot wait for my time to devote to the farm, and now, with your musings in mind, I begin to research bee-hiving!!

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Nancy B in Huntingto

BTW, the rosemary infused honey you sell is AWESOME. Thank you for getting those hardworking bees up and running so quickly!!! I just finished my first jar with the BLAACK cheese and Onion Jam…ordered 4 more jars of honey…(also ordered the caramel with a kick too). Keep it all coming! I'm in heaven…..

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Harbor Hen

Our bees are off to a late start with what seemed to be an endless wet spring in CNY. That doesn't seem to deter the gals…they are busy as ever.

Sometimes, I watch them coming and going from the hive and realize an hour has gone by. Seems to make me realize there are enormous things in this world that happen everyday…even in the smallest capacity.

bee happy.

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Lori

What a lovely post Brent! Bees are so important to our future in so many ways. I have a journal on my desk that has a field of flowers with a little bee flitting around it and the quote "Just living is not enough" said the bumblebee. You are living such a life and sharing the joy. Just like a bumblebee :). Have a delightfully fragrant and full day. ~ xox Lori

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Ken

Just beautiful. Thanks.

I can't wait to get my hives next spring. One can never stop learning.

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Karen Hartley

Wonderful, Thank You.Next time I use honey in my tea. I will know what it took to have it. Karen

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teri tighe

that really was an amazing post. so heart felt. I have such an appreciate for bees, even though the thought of getting stung, scares me for whatever reason. So many things would collapse without the bee population and their work ethic is unbelievable.

I hope they have many hours of enjoyment on the farm and in the valley, with the many flowers that they find. Here's to many years of honey production.

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Lorraine

Beautifully written! Brent you truly are creatively alive whether in your writing or the work you've done on beekman farms.

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