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Pee-wee and the Swarm

Maybe they timed their flight from the hive to match my morning round of chores. Maybe they wanted me to see them go, majestic as glitter in the morning sky, to wish them a fond farewell.

But I didn't want them to leave.

I had opened the doors for the chickens, dodged Marshmallow the Rooster’s not-so-fierce daily attack, threw a few handfuls of scratch to the teenage hens, and filled the watering can on my way to the hives when I heard the roar of tens of thousands of bees.

My beehives stand at the edge of a tree line (to us, “the forest”) on the southwest corner of the farm. Though the apiary has grown to six-and-a-half hives, the half hive being a small colony that I have used as a learning tool and a way to boost other hives, this year’s honey harvest was smaller than either of the previous seasons.

Conscientious beekeepers manage their colonies through the season with the intention of harvesting only surplus honey that the bees will not need to sustain themselves through the winter. I’m trying to keep up with more than just the beehives. Even with all that had happened during the season, it was the hive that swarmed that gave us the most honey.

When I first met Dan in the late 1980’s, he had a habit of binge-watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I found this curious: the outrageous cast of characters, the talking armchair, the vibrancy of absolutely everything, and the way my future husband laughed out loud at what most would think nonsensical.

Downtown blurred before me as I filled the car with gas, picked up some donuts for later, and withdrew cash from the bank drive-thru. That’s when I pulled over along the streets where I once lived, decades before, when there was still music and coffee and books, but when they all had such different meanings. That summer afternoon was when I listened–really listened–to a radio show from nineteen years earlier where Terry Gross interviewed Paul Reubens, perhaps better known as Pee-wee Herman. I finally understood what the Playhouse was about.

It’s okay to be different.

That’s our biggest lesson to be learned from Pee-wee. As he expressed in the interview, it was hard to stand out in the playhouse. Everything was unique and magnificent. Everyone could feel right at home, no matter what.

That’s what I want our farm to be. We’re a lot over here: a lot of different faces, a lot of chaos, a lot of angst, a lot of weeds, a lot of bees, and a lot of a multitude of other things. I want everyone and everything to fit in, because they already do. Also, though, I want everyone–and everything–to stay. It doesn’t always go that way.

Swarming is the natural reproductive instinct of a colony of bees. A healthy hive grows and expands to the point that the queen is ready to move on to a new home with many of her worker bees. The swarm leaves the hive, often in a show of grandeur. This doesn’t mean, though, that it’s the end of the hive. In preparation for the split, the workers make a new queen who develops in a sealed cell until after the original queen has left. The new queen matures, and the colony begins to expand again.

It was all part of a greater plan.

Still, it was hard to see them go, those bees that have taught me to be a beekeeper. It’s hard to see my children move on, some before I have believed them to be ready. It shakes us when things don’t turn out as we had hoped. There is hard sadness in the endings, softened, certainly, by time and the realization that from what seems empty will likely come a harvest of gold.

Pee-wee’s gone now. He didn’t leave, though without teaching us a little about embracing who we are. Rest in peace, Paul Reubens. I think you would have fit in just fine at the farm.

Here's the link to the interview!

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26 sept. 2023

Pee Wee! 😍 Max and I were early fans, and each Saturday we would faithfully watch each new Playhouse episode in our apartment on Normal and Greenbriar. If, at the time, you had told me that your new beau Dan loved to watch Pee Wee, I would have assured you that he was a keeper! (but I guess you figured that out on your own soon enough)

Here's to the swarms, and here's to the ongoing lessons that our tiny human brains have to keep relearning. And here's to Pee Wee. Love you my friend.


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