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On Honey, Friendship, and the Art of Being Human

Today was just the sort of day I like. It was, for the most part, quiet, and easy, yet full. It involved things like making applesauce, a slow, laborious, but totally worth it in the end kind of food-making endeavor. It involved gathering tomatillos from the garden with Huxley, and discovering a toad in the process, and watching him turn the spent plants I’d pulled from the soil into “rocket ships, mama!”, zooming around the garden on their gangly stems. It involved tidying, and sweeping, and making simple meals, and otherwise what I sometimes call (in my mind, at least), the “gentle stuff of life.” Nothing colossal, or particularly significant, or even all that noteworthy, just good, and calm, and straightforward, and yet, somehow, completely satisfying.

Which is kind of how I feel about harvesting honey. Sure, it’s got its own definite reward. And I absolutely applaud the bees for their tireless devotion to their task, and for being able to reap some of that labor myself. The thing about harvesting honey, though, is that doing so really is about much more than the sum of its parts. It so far surpasses the act of simply collecting ambrosial jars of viscous nectar. It considerably exceeds the end product. So very much.

Each year, I gather honey just once, in autumn. Historically, I’ve done this on Labor Day weekend, with the same group of bee-loving friends. This year, the holiday weekend came and went in a flurry of activity, none of it bee-related. I knew I’d get around to it, but the whole of September passed before I was able to carve out time to rent the extracting equipment (Natalie at Villagers has all you need to get your honey off your hives, and very affordably at that!) and gather up my crew.

Last Tuesday, I removed the supers (boxes holding frames, for the uninitiated), sticking with two mediums (for now, at least; I may remove another in the next few weeks). Wednesday, my friends Jenny and Kristina came over and we assumed our stations of removing frames from the supers (me), uncapping the beeswax (Jenny), and cranking the extractor (Kristina, and all of us, in the end). While we pried and scraped and cranked, we talked. We caught up on each other’s lives. We shared our concerns, our triumphs, our travails. We laughed, we encouraged each other, we talked some smack.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweet reward that comes from both the bee’s labor and that of myself and my friends in getting it off the frames and into glass jars. I really do. What I love more, though, truth be told, are the human connections the entire process engenders. I think that something really magical happens when people come together to collectively process, prepare, sow, glean, harvest, or otherwise work with food.

All of us have to eat. All of us need our physical needs to be met, and we can do that on our own, sure. But when we come together and commune with others, we’re tending to our souls, too. We’re taking care of our emotional needs. We’re recognizing that we’re much more than skin and bones, we’re thinking, feeling creatures, too, and, we’re social beings, as well.

It’s so very easy to disconnect ourselves from others, ironically at a time in the history of humanity that involves more immediate, direct contact than ever. Most of it occurs digitally, though. When you’re in front of someone, and you’re making eye contact, and you’re laying a hand on their forearm to show concern or giving them a hug when they enter or depart, or otherwise completely being human in front of each other, invisible yet highly significant connections are formed. We need each other, on so very many levels. The bees themselves bear silent testament to that. Sure, I got some honey (right around 5 gallons!), but I gained a good deal more. Life certainly is sweet.

9 Responses to On Honey, Friendship, and the Art of Being Human

  • Christa Hamilton says:

    Such a lovely read! Thanks Ashley!

  • This is living. xoxo

  • Eliza Twist says:

    Your words reminded me of Jessica Prentice’s comparison of various sugars in her brilliant book, “Full Moon Feast”. Sweet in more ways than one makes for the very best sort of sweeteners. Thanks for sharing.

  • Five gallons of honey is amazing (we only got 7 pounds), but the joy of reconnecting with friends is so much more. We had our first honey harvest party about a week and 1/2 ago – we offered for any/all of our friends to come and experience it with us. We had about 20 takers! It was fun to see the faces sitting around our table, listening to us talk what we learned about beekeeping, this first year of ours – they were asking questions…it was just wonderful. Everyone got to take a tiny honey bear home with them and we got some for us. LOVE.

  • I like this post- “completely being human in front of each other”, with as many people in our lives as possible, is indeed so important and worthwhile and so much more. A honey harvest party sounds perfect, as does the rocket ship flinging of old plants while gathering summer’s last bounty from the garden. We, too, are putting up our tomatillos and processing apples. I figure if the tomatoes are so unpredictable for me, at least I can always get some good salsa verde, so tomatillos have been a garden mainstay for a couple years now. We rented Natalie’s extractor the end of August and harvested honey for our first time (we have two hives here in Black Mt)- just shy of 2 gallons. Sorry I missed the True Nature Country Fair last weekend- it would have been nice to come meet you and ‘be human in front of you’ 😉 By the way- speaking of sweet harvests~ have you ever (I’m sure you have) done a tree inventory on your property? Any sugar maples? We tap trees in town here, they are few and far between, but they are here, and what a fun harvesting “party” (albeit a long, drawn out, ongoing sort of party) that is!


  • KC says:

    I gained a lot of human connection this past week too. Going home meeting up with old friends and new bloggie friends. Talking in person and on the phone. It’s so different. And i like. I hope we never totally loose that as a society.

  • Robin says:

    Beautifully said. Wish I was your neighbor.

  • Hi! this was a wonderful post; not only do I love honey, but I love talking “smack”. (: just kidding. Actually having some light hearted fun is top of my list. Been living fairly removed in the Oregon country for 7 years now and my boys are no longer babies. I am seeing that it is time for me to reach out and establish some chatty community. Babies are no longer making me feel exhausted, I don’t have to go to bed at 9:00 anymore to keep up, time to have some fun! take care, Sarah

  • Hi Ashley, (or anyone who would like to respond…)
    I would love to get some bees and harvest honey. While I happily work among the honey bees in my gardens, I am a bit fearful of messing with a hive. Do you still mange to get stung in the protective clothing or is that really not a concern if you know what you are doing?