Winter Waiting

Late in December, as the snow came falling, it came home to me that I was a beekeeper.† For a brief moment the wind ceased its moan and I knocked against the hive wall.† An eternity passed before I heard it Ė the sound of a thousand wings inside roused from their winter rest.† I retreated to the safety of the house.† The warm buzzing inside of me was all the confirmation that I needed.† Now I face a question more daunting than finding the queen in an angry hive:† How does a beekeeper get through the winter?

The bees can only gather and wait as they have for millions of years, but for them patience bears no risk.† Their instinct is fixed and reliable.† No bee has ever come to the first day of spring and struggled to remember what to do.† Not so the beekeeper.† At least, not so me.† I have to work from one week to the next just to remember what ďnormalĒ looks like.† Through the summer I build momentum that peaks with the last inspections of fall.† This is how the colony looks.† This is what is right.† The bees keep no clock in the hive but they know the days.† With the turn and tilt of seasons they convert their zeal for growth to a fixation on survival.† Beekeepers are not so well tuned.†

The first cold week I miss inspection day and feel disappointment.† Two weeks later I am itching for a bee fix.† By the end of the month Iím suffering from full withdrawal.† I paint every box I own twice, glue, package, filter and fiddle.† On weekdays I flip through the catalog and consider the pages of possibilities.† On Saturdays I tap the window with my hive tool and press my fingers to the glass, cursing the rain.† Bees cluster together for warmth.† Beekeepers huddle in meetings, reliving the glory of past harvests.† I wonder at times if in the heart of the cluster the old bees boast, ďand then I hauled in five grams of pollen.† Yes, from one flower.Ē†† I doubt it.† Since they donít sleep they canít find solace in dreams of warm days and fresh blooms.† Instinct tells them to hold on, to wait for a spring that will come, that must come.

Itís been months now since I last saw them free flying, months since I opened the hive for a dose of wonder.† Each day I look at the soggy grass.† I know what Iím looking for canít be there yet - †the yellow blooms that bear the first pollen, the herald of days when warmer weather wakes the hive.† When we return to our patterns, our instincts.† When the bees resume their growing, gathering, and raising and I my study of them.† Last night the weather man said storms and cold, wind and snow stretched through the weeks to come.† I gave the catalog one last glance, one final flip, then turned off the light and burrowed down in my bed.† I canít swear that bees dream of spring to get through the winter, only that beekeepers do.