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Nice, calm, sleeping bees

July 21, 2008

by Jen Bakken

One never knows what a small town newspaper reporter will be asked to write about. Part of the day could be spent following a road construction crew, another covering a city council or school board meeting, and yet another standing in a six-acre field of peonies.

Though there is a wide variety of things I may be asked to do for my job, I never envisioned having to do something that scared me.

When a story was recommended to us about Watertown honey producer Brian Federicksen, of Ames Farm. My first thought was that I really don’t like bees.

My children have always been afraid of bees, as I suppose most are. I’ve tried to show them they don’t need to be scared. Surely many parents have offered their children words of encouragement to help them through moments of bee frenzy, such as;

“It’s okay if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.” Or, “Just walk away from them.”

Once my son refused to go outside because he was horrified about getting stung by bees. After trying everything I could think of to reassure him he’d be safe, he still was in what I call, “freak out mode.”

When I told him the bees wouldn’t bother him, he asked how I knew this for sure. I actually told him the bees were all sleeping. It was the first thing that popped into my head, (luckily, my nose did not grow like Pinnochio), And it worked, he went outside and didn’t get stung.

Since I expect my children to handle bee encounters, I knew I’d never live it down if I didn’t tackle this story.

When I arrived at Ames Farm, it was a nice sunny day, but I was much more afraid than I originally thought I’d be. Immediately, I informed Brian that I was a bit nervous and to excuse me for being silly about this.

Knowing there were bees all around was unnerving, but initially, we spent time sampling different kinds of honey. In fact, the best I’ve ever tasted.

When it was time to show me a new breeder queen bee, which meant getting very close to bees, I asked if I should wear a bee suit.

“Well, you’ll probably be okay without,” was the answer Ames Farm employee Dan Vanwinkel gave me.

Probably? Probably? No, this was not convincing enough for me! And no matter how many times he told me they only had ‘nice bees’, the smirk on his face made me well aware this was no different than when I told my son the bees were sleeping.

I put the bee suit on. Following him down a path, I took a deep breath and told myself I could do this and facing my fear was a good thing.

Literally shaking, I decided keeping a safe distance was possible because I could use the zoom on my camera to give the illusion of being closer.

Peeking from around a bush, I watched him use the smoker to calm the bees as he took them out of the box. Though these were now supposed to be ‘calm’ bees, my feet would not move one step closer.

The buzzing from all those bees was a sound I can live the rest of my life without hearing again. He asked me if I was ok, and no sooner did I tell him there weren’t bees near me. . . . it seemed as though they were everywhere. All I could hear was, “buzz, buzz, buzz.”

One bee was repeatedly dive- bombing the thin mesh in front of my face, and he didn’t seem nice or calm. At first I froze, telling myself not to be such a baby, but before I knew it, I was running down the path and back to the safety of my van.

Driving away from the bee farm, it took a few miles before I, somewhat, regained my composure. Feeling like an idiot, I shook my head, thinking of the laughs the honey farmers were surely sharing at my expense.

There’s some irony to this. You see, I have three children whose names all begin with the letter ‘B’, and so does my last name. Family and friends have nicknamed me, “Mama B.” I sign our Christmas cards, “Jen and the Beez.”

Throughout my home, there is a collection of knick-knacks and things with yellow bees on them. Hanging near our front door is a sign, in the shape of a beehive, that reads, “Blessed bee our hive.”

Little did I know that I would literally be with the bees or that I would go into complete, “freak out mode.”

I was stung once, but didn’t reveal this to the fearless bee farmers. And I think one of the bees left the farm, with me because later, at my sons baseball game, I was stung again.

Maybe the nice, calm bee just had to prove he wasn’t sleeping.