The Bee Mitzvah

Written By: Raun  Norquist


Another farm sold. The modest house and smattering of out buildings were now in the sights of a demolition crew. Another piece of the pastoral landscape, slated to bear yet another huge home, likely a second or third, and in the process what was, will be erased. In the place of an open farm with once sweeping horizons over seemingly endless potato fields, another privet hedge, trained to become a wall, will most probably be planted, trimmed into a barrier, slicing up fields and sky. It is ironic that the desire to be here, close to the ocean and the once endless vistas of fields, soil so rich it’s nicknamed Bridgehampton Black Gold, stretching between the earth and sky, gets cut again, walled off, again, open fields, yielding, becoming ever smaller parcels, while houses get larger.


On this farm was a small shed, clad with gray weathered shingles, and windows with small divided lights, made of wood with rippled glass. It is a wonder how the charm and intrinsic value of this little shed could have escaped the professional eye of the new owner’s architect. Luckily though, it did not elude the eyes of Silas, savior of many charming little sheds. But this particular little shed had something else, an amazing internal life.


Inside this shed there were two massive cast iron printing presses. The walls were lined with those wooden boxes sometimes found in flea markets, with all of those little compartments, but these were still filled with the type letters. Everything was still there, amazing as if it was used yesterday. These presses print without electricity. A printed page would be set up one letter at a time, the antithesis of our digital world. One can only imagine how carefully words might be chosen when the task was so deliberate and painstaking.


But the salvation of this shed and its presses became a point of contention. The demo man saw profits either in the tons of scrap metal, or perhaps a sale to an imaginative artifact dealer who could repurpose them as furniture. They were not only massive cast iron but had beautiful curved forms. The value of this shed went from something to be flattened and removed into something to fight over. Many negotiations later, salvation was finally secured and plans for relocation began.


Yes, relocation. In these parts there is a long history of moving buildings that continues today, and moving some modest shed would not be a particularly arduous task, except for the many tons of presses. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that the presses were not in the middle of the building, complicating the balance, and much too heavy to move, even an inch, without compromising what questionable strength remained in this little old shed. In fact, these presses were so massive, one had to wonder how they even got there in the first place. The off-center enormous load and the fragility of this small wooden shed began to loom toward the ominous, perhaps even dangerous and ill advised.


Yet fears and trepidation aside, work moved ahead. The shed had to be liberated from lilacs grown up and around, their removal being necessary to free the shed and allow inspection of the structure. But their removal revealed another in the series of kerflooey factors, a very busy hive of feral honeybees, who were using a window ledge as their terminal. Their grace, organization and cooperation makes a busy airport seem mockish, at best. The bees were given a respectful wide berth and a 911 call was sent out to Mary, the Bee Lady, but she wasn’t answering. Perhaps a bee or two could be sent to fetch her?


Work began near the end of the day and light was waning, the Bee Lady was still MIA, but the lilacs had been removed so at least inspection could proceed. This shed, which appeared to be standing mostly by habit, indeed had a good hefty, closely spaced solid structure. It was determined the floor should hold but picking up this shed, with all of that asymmetrical weight, caused a little head scratching. If it was just a little empty shed, a large front loader could pick it up tipping back toward the machine, allowing the weight to secure it during the move. But there were printing presses and beehive to consider. The first attempt at sunset was deemed ill prepared. The crew agreed to regroup early the next morning, with Mary and more equipment.


Bees spend the night in the hive and go out to forage with the first light. The plan was to arrive in the morning twilight and seal the bees in before the day’s work began. That way most of the hive could be restrained and transported along with the shed.


Mary was there before everyone and had begun to stop up the entrances and exists, gradually narrowing options to one, gently encouraging the bees to stay in their colony. She had smudge pots, looking like smoking coffee pots, used to calm the bees while directing them into their window frame colony. She had most of the hive under control with a few early risers that had already been out foraging and were returning with legs full of pollen. You could tell they knew something was up but Mary’s calm seemed to calm them. As early morning sunrays came up and around the shed, lighting up their wings, bees surrounding Mary’s head, made a sort of illuminated golden halo. No menace or no fear. It was as if these gentle creatures knew somehow she was there to help. Maybe she could get all of the bees to beat their wings at once, picking up the shed and fly it to safety. Maybe.


But life being contrary and messy, the beehive had to be on the side of the shed where the to-heavy-to-move, presses were, so picking it up on the heavy side, allowing it to naturally tip the weight toward a loader had to be reconsidered. It would have to be picked straight up, absolutely no tipping. If it tipped one way it could fall, coming apart under the shift of the weight of the presses or if it tipped the other way it might squash the hive. Most others would never have bothered with the shed in the first place let alone attempting to save the bees. Bug spray, kill them all and get on with it. But these people understood that bees are under a lot of pressure these days. Severe colony collapse is worldwide and a thriving feral hive is a real asset integrated into an existing colony of domestic bees upgrading their strength as a hive.


By now Mary had sealed most of the bees within the hive, although there were a few stragglers. The entire crew had gained a new understanding of the bees and the value of saving this hive. It is an amazing scale that can balance a little old shed containing of tons of outmoded machinery with these tiny, gentle, hard working wild bees.


It took a ballet of bulldozers and front loaders, a huge flat bed truck, a Bee Lady, several men, a lot of skill, and a little smoke and patience. The shed was blocked up allowing forks under, from opposite sides to lift the shed, keeping everything straight and balanced. They lifted the entire shed high enough to allow a flatbed to back under their raised forks, slowly syncopated, lowering each side in unison, onto the truck bed.


There was a collective sigh of relief as the loading was accomplished. There was still strapping and securing to do. The plan was to get the bees secured, the shed loaded on the truck and on the truck on the road before traffic got too busy. Altogether, the caravan was finally ready to roll around 11:00. The driver started out needing to bob and weaved his way through low hanging traffic lights, telephone and power lines, slowly making the journey between the farm and the new home, a nursery, not so far away.


The nursery had a spot waiting among Japanese maples. Several trees had to be moved and rearranged in order to set the shed just right. The bees needed the same orientation toward the sun as they had been at the farm, facing south, providing solar power warmth to their hive, especially important during the winter months. After another ballet of huge equipment and men, the shed was finally placed. Mary released the openings the for the bees. They showed some confusion but everything was as good as could be. Mary even took a small hive back to the farm to capture stragglers, providing a place to go for those returning after the shed had been moved. The bees are now safe and thriving in the shed within the maple grove of the nursery amid the refuge of other charming little sheds.