After reading countless forum posts on a variety of forums, reading many articles and watching many videos, I am struck by two characters that I'll call "The Bee Whisperer" and "The Benevolent Bee". Here are a few of their characteristics:
• The Bee Whisperer is someone who moves with the bees as if in a gentle dance or mutual understanding.
• The Bee Whisperer does not wear any protective gear, as he or she feels that there is no need to fear these gentle creatures, and protective gear only gets in the way of an honest and pure relationship with the bees.
• The Bee Whisperer uses no smoke, as it only upsets them with noxious gas - and who would want to do that to a friend?
• The Bee Whisperer, when stung, welcomes the sting as a reminder to be more gentle in his or her ways with the bees. Plus, it helps with his or her arthritis. It's good to get stung.
• The Benevolent Bee is friendly.
• The Benevolent Bee has human-like emotions.
• The Benevolent Bee "knows" and "likes" The Bee Whisperer that tends to its hive and appreciates his or her efforts.
• The Benevolent Bee will only sting you if you don't know what you're doing as a beekeeper, or if you mean the bee harm.
• The Benevolent Bee's venom is good for you - which is why we have apitherapy. It's good to get stung.
Now, of course, these characters that I'm describing are somewhat unreal, but I believe that they are very real and present in our collective thinking, discussions and actions.
For The Bee Whisperer, there are few people who actually fit all of these descriptions together. But oddly, I think that there is a strange pressure - especially among newbees today - to be more like this Bee Whisperer. Many people share at least one or two of the traits, and maybe they're good traits to have... I know I find myself wishing sometimes that I had more of The Bee Whisperer's qualities...
I also think there is a pressure to see the bee as something "beyond" insect; something "good" and "pure". And to be honest, I share a lot of those feelings which I think are - to a certain extent - constructive and beneficial to have.
But I have mixed emotions sometimes and wonder about the presence of these characters and the negative effects they have or can have.
On the one hand, I'm all for "Natural" beekeeping in general, regardless of the misnomer. The idea that we should work as much with the bee as against her is solid by me. I'm happy to avoid chemicals and too much man-made interference if possible. And I also feel that it is important to educate the broader public about the truest nature of the bee - that she in not a Yellowjacket. She is not a bumble bee. She is not generally aggressive, and not to be feared irrationally.
On the other hand, I worry that The Bee Whisperer and The Benevolent Bee inadvertently encourage a lack of respect for the bee. And I think that can be dangerous.
I remember a thread here last year where a relatively new urban beekeeper was up in arms because his neighbors complained about his bees, and the community voted to ban them. But he had like, 10 hives in an urban yard. In the end, his over indulgence in his passion and his belief in the Benevolent Bee ended up scaring people to the point of increased restriction. Now no one there can enjoy the bees in their yard there.
Here in Halifax, a local bee group has gotten in the news promoting urban beekeeping. And the pictures show this young woman handling the bees while wearing a little cotton sun dress -- no veil, bare legs and bare arms; the curious onlookers unprotected as well. The Bee Whisperer showing that there is nothing to fear from these gentle, Benevolent Bees.
But the fear that people have is rooted in something real. Bees can kill a human being. They can put your kids in the hospital. They can kill a dog tied up too close to them. These are facts.
Allergies seem to be on the rise, and no one really knows why. People who have never had a reaction can suddenly have one. News stories tell of another beekeeper who is shockingly killed by his own bees. I know that these events are not statistically common, but they do happen.
So my questions are these:
Is The Bee Whisperer pressuring us to be less respectful of the bee? Is the effort to portray her as gentle and benevolent at times causing us to become too carefree? Can the effort to make the broader public more accepting, and the movement toward urban beekeeping and more bees in highly populated areas backfire, and cause more harm if someone is hurt and as more swarms come to rest in busy public spaces? And lastly, do The Bee Whisperer and Benevolent Bee characters pressure new, inexperienced beekeepers to act irresponsibly with bees - not taking proper precautions before they are knowledgeable enough to deal when things go wrong?
What are your thoughts?