Beekeepers know that bees get a bad rap, and they take it almost personally. Even Bray, who had to stop beekeeping after one particularly bad sting, won't badmouth the buzzing pollinators or discourage anyone from keeping a hive. "I'm sorry I had to give it up," says Bray, who now coordinates educational programs at the Lakeside Nature Center. "I actually went through a grieving process because I loved it so much. Everybody wants to tell you that story about being stung, but it's such a neat experience, working with bees."
Local beekeeper Roger McNeill keeps his precautions pretty basic. "The thing that kind of pisses 'em off is when you start squishin' 'em," he says. "You have to avoid that." This Saturday, McNeill pours three pounds of bees into a hive for Lakeside Nature Center visitors.
The matter of pouring seems a little baffling. Bees have wings, and thus a certain measure of free will. Could they not fly whichever way they chose upon being released? "You'd be surprised," McNeill says. "They're very liquid.
"Bees can look two different ways," McNeill continues. "Most of the time, they're really cute. I know it's weird to say an insect looks cute, but they almost look cuddly. But then, when they're mad at you? Man, that cute little bee looks like a long dart, and it'll just tear you up."
McNeill's infatuation with beekeeping stems from an interest in gardening, which has allowed him to observe them up close. One of the first things he does in the morning is look to see what kind of flowers are in bloom. His favorite honey is black locust, but in this area, the most popular honey is produced by bees' interaction with sweet clover.
Bray, on the other hand, enjoyed the sensory aspect of the work. Though she is a scientist, her beekeeping experiences seem also to have carried emotional weight. Instead of wearing an official beekeeping suit like the one McNeill is likely to sport this weekend, she padded up by wearing two pairs of jeans and two of her dad's big white work shirts. She wore rubber bands around her ankles and wrists so the bees couldn't get into her clothes.
"One of the most fun things," she recalls, "is when you're taking the honey out of the hive and all the different scents come together -- smoke, wax, honey. It's so cool."