Dance of the Honey Bees
Honeybees perform a dance in the hive. They move in circles or figure eights to communicate the location of nectar or water. Vertical lines indicate the direction of the sun and relate obstacles in the way of a target. Zigzags tell of danger. Sometimes they wag their abdomens vigorously, much like a cha-cha. “I see them do the dance,” says beekeeper Steve Wall. “Sometimes they hang on the hive with all six legs vibrating.” Much like that of the bees, Steve’s own life is focused on the one true matrix of these creatures: a flourishing hive.
In the early morning, near the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Santa Fe, he goes about his ritual. Before him stand boxes painted in vibrant hues—turquoise, mango, and plum. Using a hive tool—a long, metal piece flattened on one end—he reaches into a box and loosens a frame. “Working with bees at first is a bit terrifying,” he says. “You open the hive, and you’re staring in the face of fifty thousand bees, with fifty thousand stingers, and you’re toying with their home.” He lifts one frame, its sticky surface covered with milling insects. “But after you’ve done it for awhile, you learn to think like a bee, moving methodically among them, working with them. It makes me feel calm and connected.” At this moment, he’s searching for the center of this intricately connected world—the queen.
Once a mere hobby, his beekeeping has metamorphosed into a viable business. “I’ve been able to make a living at it,” he says with some surprise. Part of his success comes from the care he takes with the insects. Besides the homemade boxes, he has provided safe and verdant settings for them in various places in northern New Mexico—a dozen in a farming town called Mesilla along the Rio Grande, another dozen in sunflower fields near the village of Santa Cruz, and still another here near his home. The biggest bonus is that his new vocation allows him more time at home with his wife, Meneese, and their adopted daughter, Coco. There, he builds nichos in the walls to hold family treasures, puts radiant-heat pipe into the floors, and makes doors from sugar pine. Outside, he, Meneese, and Coco tend a garden of onions, garlic, and squash, doing their best to keep the rabbits and gophers at bay and at times finding treasures, such as a nest of quail eggs embedded in the mulch.
The Buckin’ Bee Honey that comes from his efforts—its logo depicting a cowboy riding a bee—is coveted at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. Steve is a small grower, so he can customize the honey. He bottles it by season, and each produces a distinct flavor. Spring honey is fruity, compliments of the apple and apricot blossoms in the area. “You can sometimes smell the apples in it,” he says. That cooler season can also bring black locust nectar, which is a little darker with a bittersweet richness. Summer offers clover honey, light and purely sweet. With fall comes honey from chamisa and purple aster. It’s dark and heavy. “Like a stout beer or single malt scotch—it’s intense,” says Steve, who used to brew beer. “People develop their favorites,” he adds.
Back at the hives, he pulls out one more frame; the bees wander about on it, forming a mosaic of gold and black. Suddenly, through the middle of them marches the queen, her body longer and more golden than that of her counterparts, thanks to the extra royal jelly her workers have fed her. She moves at a stately pace, not busy and frantic like the others, though she is a busy bee, laying up to 2,000 eggs a day. Like the rest, she remains focused on her task. While the workers dance and the drones mill around her, she seems to understand a basic truth: the honey of life comes from the heart of the hive.