Christine Combs feels herself flying smoothly above a field of delicious, plump flowers. Each is just waiting to have its nectar sucked out and its pollen attached to her fuzzy little feet. She flies above the field in two tall loops, and then plots a trajectory toward a particularly aromatic and particularly blue flower towering above its neighbors. She—
The phone startles her awake. So ends her night as a bee, and so begins her day as a beekeeper.
Christine looks at the time. It's 5:00AM. Her husband grabs her pillow from under her head and stuffs it over his own face and ears as the phone rings again. If she can catch it before it manages a third, perhaps she can win back her pillow.
The voice on the other end is unfamiliar. She sounds beleaguered and cranky—like the sort of person who has like, so much to do that she just has to start making calls before the sun comes up. "Wow," she says dismissively, "I was almost sure you weren't going to answer."
"It's five o'clock in the—"
The woman cuts her off. "I was told by animal control that you're the sort of person who'll come remove this...this...disgusting ball of bees from my silver maple? I called pest control but apparently it's illegal for them to kill swarms of bees. Have you ever heard something so ridiculous?"
"Actually it's not ridiculous. The reason—"
"So can you come or what?"
Besides her typical daily work of maintaining hives and collecting honey, Christine is sometimes (though, infrequently) called to gather swarms. Often, when bees are displaced or looking for a new home, they'll bunch up together in a nearby tree in the thousands and hold a meeting about it.
Well, she doubts it's as formal as all that, but she likes to imagine them lining up for their turn to speak at a tiny little bee podium, holding their tiny little bee briefcases, and then discussing the pros and cons of potential hives.
"Well, yes, I suppose," Christine says. "Are you a beekeeper? Did you want that swarm for a hive of your own?"
"My own? The idea is to get these 15,000 bees away from my front door, okay? My complexion is like a delicate eco system. One sting, and the whole thing falls to pieces, you understand?"
Whoever this lady is—Christine has just realized she hasn't been given so much as a name—she's pretty much the last person in the world she feels like helping. Then again, this swarm sounds like the precise size she's been looking for to kick-start that royal jelly hive. Looks like a win-win. Whether she likes it or not.
Christine takes down the address and rolls out of bed. She apologizes profusely to her husband for the racket as she clips on her clunky bee suit in the closet.
She finds her swarm box in the garage. It looks sort of like a wooden vase, maybe something you'd pot a plant in. She coats the bottom of the inside with a special blend of sugar and water, then packs up the lid and loads everything into the car.
It's an hour's drive out to the property and (un?)surprisingly, the woman who called her there is standing in the driveway, looking as noticeably impatient and put-upon as possible. Her brow furrows when she sees Christine leave her car and don the helmet of her suit.
"What are you supposed to be, some kind of astronaut or something?"
"Just point me to the bees, please."
The lady whose name Christine still somehow doesn't know marches her over to the branch. Silently, she points a finger at the swarm as if Christine couldn't already hear it. With that, the woman buzzes off, finally leaving Christine and what are soon to be her new bees in peace.
Christine's task is fairly straightforward. She opens the box, and shakes the branch. Because these bees prefer to stay bunched, the group (more or less) falls as a solid piece. Fifty or so bees climb around Christine's body, though she pays them no attention—in this getup she's sting-proof. After a few moments, she watches as every single bee leaves her box and flies back to the branch. It's a strange sight, but one she's familiar with. She must have missed the queen, and bees aren't about to go anywhere without her.
She tries again, and waits patiently for everyone to collect together in the box and settle down before slowly applying the lid, a series of slats that must be installed one at a time. The whole thing takes about three hours.
It's only 11:00AM when she gets home, but she already feels like she's worked a full day. After lunch (yogurt with honey, a salad with honey, apple with honey, and tea with, well, nothing—she takes that black), she heads out to the hives and works rigorously to construct a new structure capable of handling her new wards.
Normally, she'd have had some notice, but sometimes this is how it shakes out. She doesn't even bother collecting honey until 6:00 PM, just after the latest hive is operational.
By 9:00PM, her husband finds her in bed, already dreaming, and making soft buzzing noises in her sleep—just as she always does when she's had a good day at work.