Words

The Honey Bus

Saved by bees

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Recent news stories have drawn attention to the plight of pollinators like the honeybee, and the potential for Colony Collapse Disorder and the endangered status of several bumble bee pollinators to impact our food supply. But how many people understand the world of the honeybee, with its complex and orderly society and absolute allegiance to a queen?

Meredith May, a fifth-generation beekeeper and former journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, gently illuminates this world in her recently published memoir, The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees.

May’s relationship with honeybees began when she moved from Rhode Island to Big Sur to live with her grandmother and step-grandfather. May’s parents had recently separated, and the 5-year-old was confused about why their father didn’t get on the plane with them, when they were going home, and why her mother stayed in bed all day, refusing to interact with anyone.

With her narcissistic mother sunk deeply into depression, neglectful at best and unpredictably abusive when present, Meredith and her younger brother, Matthew, found themselves mostly in the care of their step-grandfather, E. Franklin Peace. True to his name, Peace was a gentle man who kept more than 100 hives all up and down the Carmel Valley coastline.

Helping Peace work his hives invited a serenity from anxiety and worries, simply by focusing unwavering attention on the bees. It wasn’t long before May could not only pick out the queen bee in a hive, but also identify guard bees, field bees, and nurse bees by carefully observing their behavior.

The idea that each bee had a purpose to serve the greater good of the hive was comforting and reassuring. “Over time,” May writes, “the more I discovered about the inner world of honeybees, the more sense I was able to make of the outer world of people.”

The honey bus was an old school bus at the back of the property where Peace extracted honey from his hives. With all the windows closed to keep bees out, it was blazing hot in there, and the air was rich with the sweet and yeasty smell of honey. The honey bus was a safe zone for Meredith, where the volatility of her mother and absence of her father could be left behind, and she could spend time with an adult who was patient and caring, learning about creatures who were community-focused and predictable.

During their conversations in the honey bus, Peace provided a safe place for Meredith to talk about her confusions and fears, and also encouraged her to attend college and not allow her horizons to be defined by her mother’s weaknesses.

Among other lessons, The Honey Bus demonstrates the life-changing value of one adult who behaves consistently and provides a safe, supportive harbor to a troubled child. It is also a testament to nature’s healing properties and how time spent in the natural world can help restore hope and faith in the face of despair and darkness.

Lisa Gresham, formerly a beekeeper, is the Collection Services Manager for Whatcom County Library System. WCLS is celebrating its 75th year of sharing stories with the rural parts of Whatcom County. If you live outside the city limits of Bellingham, you can apply for a WCLS library card at http://www.wcls.org/get-a-card

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