Bees are fascinating creatures, with their queen-centered social structure and their seemingly endless industriousness. They’re sort of like ants that way, only useful.
I like bees a lot and am happy to be featuring them on the front pages of both sections of today’s edition. Their pollination function plays a vital role in agriculture, and their story is an interesting one to tell, especially in light of the continuing saga of the mysterious colony collapse disorder that poses a lingering threat toward bees and, in a larger sense, all the plants that rely on their services to prosper.
I hope you enjoy the story about bees, and I especially hope you enjoy the photographs that go with them. I also hope you enjoy the following story about taking those photographs.
Late in August, I was driving one of the company’s vehicles – yes, the one with the warning light that cries wolf all the time – in search of several things. First, I wanted a photo of farmers chopping corn. Second, I wanted a photo of a field of sunflowers. Third, I wanted a photo of anything else interesting along the way.
Now, sunflowers don’t grow on trees in the Sioux Falls area – OK, OK, they don’t grow on trees anywhere, do they? But you know what I mean. So I was aware it would be a longish drive to find a field, and I knew it would be really hot because every day was really hot last summer. But off I went.
I headed toward the Huron, S.D., area, where sunflowers are a tad more commonly grown, and along the way I saw much evidence of farmers chopping corn. Fields of freshly chopped corn were everywhere, but no one was out in the fields doing it, possibly because it was 257 degrees in the shade and the fire danger was off the charts. So my first goal went unmet.
I searched for sunflower fields forever, or so it seemed, and finally found some around Wolsey. You might recall seeing the resulting photos and an accompanying story a few issues back. So goal No. 2 was realized.
Now we come to goal No. 3, which actually landed on my lap even before the sunflower fields had been found. Along U.S. Highway 281 near Bonilla, north of Wolsey, I saw a couple of men out in a pasture working with beehives.
“Voila!” I said to myself, showing off my vast knowledge of French. I had taken some photos of hives on an earlier outing and had been trying to contact people in the bee industry for a story on the topic, but to no avail. Now the trail was freshened.
Off I drove down a gravel road, grabbed the digital camera, climbed over a barbed-wire fence and introduced myself to Gage Squires and Roderic Harris, two friendly college-age employees of Swift Apiaries of Balaton, Minn. They explained that they were collecting pollen that day, and that sometimes they also collect honey, and that thousands and thousands of bees were present in the stacks of hives in the field.
Gage and Roderic were clad in beekeepers’ protective garments, so they looked a bit like astronauts on the moon. No, they wouldn’t mind at all, they said, if I took photos of them in action, and so I did.
I want you to know now that I’m no fool – I realized I probably would get stung on this adventure, but it was worth it to me. I’ve been stung by bees before, and I’m not allergic, and I really wanted some good photos.
So when Gage said, “Sometimes they get a little mad at us when we disturb them,” it wasn’t exactly news to me. But that didn’t help much when a cloud of angry bees headed straight for me, stingers at the ready.
I tried to stay calm. I tried not to swat at them. I tried to explain to them that it wasn’t me they should be angry at, but the guys in the moon suits. They were having none of it.
I could do nothing but retreat, again climbing over the barbed-wire fence, except that this time, of course, I got snagged on it. I finally reached my vehicle, climbed in and realized with relief that no bees had flown inside. Taking stock of my stings, I counted three. I pulled stingers out of my left ear, the left side of my face and the left side of my scalp.
I ran my fingers through my hair and found two more stings. Next, I clicked through the memory display of the images I had taken and found, with great satisfaction, some nice ones.
Then I noticed that the guys were still working on the hives. I saw them use a fogger and thought about what an interesting picture that would make, and I thought about going back for more photos. So now I have to take back one part I wrote earlier, the “I’m no fool” part, because I ACTUALLY GOT OUT OF THE VEHICLE TO GET MORE PHOTOS.
This is something only a fool would do, and I did it. I learned instantly that bees have great memories. They were still there right outside the vehicle, waiting to apply more stings. Even a fool would realize the futility of more photographic efforts, so I gave up and drove away with five hot, red, swollen welts on my head and a slight feeling of humiliation inside it.
A fool, yes, but I got the photos.