News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Uncle Moult and the bees

Somewhere along life’s trail, one of my ancestors told me that my wonderful old Great Uncle Moulton Alexander Rockefeller, my grandfather’s brother, was a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in journalism.

I knew him as a quiet, peaceable old drunk who leaned on a shovel for the City of West Haven, Connecticut Public Works. More importantly, I got to know him as a beekeeper who introduced me to the magnificent world of the honey bee and our native pollinators.

Uncle Moult ate with us, lived in the tiny hired-man’s house, and just kept to himself. One beautiful, warm spring day he suddenly became real to me when he asked me if I would help him gather a swarm of bees.

The term “swarm of bees” sent chills up and down my spine, especially because of the tall tales I grew up with in Colonial Park School, hearing how a swarm of bees (wasps) could sting you to death instantly. When I said I’d help my dear old Uncle Moult (which he became to me from that time on) I really did think I was putting my life in jeopardy.

However, from the moment he started to describe what was entailed in “capturing a swarm of bees,” I realized (through faith) that everything I had been told about the danger of bees was a fraud, and this event would become a great adventure for me that would last a lifetime. And it has.

We placed a Langstroth bee box in a wheelbarrow, and I trundled it out to the apple orchard, where the swarm was gathered in the upper branches of one our Macintosh apple trees, while Uncle Moult carried the ladder and handsaw. No bee suits and no smoker; no fear.

After instructing me how to be polite to bees, the technique of sawing off the branch the swarm was on, how to place the swarm in the box — and promising how and why I would not be stung if I followed his instructions — I took the saw and box and went up the ladder to face my fate.

Everything went off exactly as he promised me it would. I was not stung. I placed the swarm in the collecting box and slowly went back down the ladder and handed the box to Uncle Moult.

With bees buzzing all around us, he slowly began digging into thousands of bees — barehanded — talking softly to them.

“Well, hello little ladies,” he said, gently pushing them aside until he found the queen and her guards. “Oh, there you are, Your Majesty,” he said, carefully picking them up and placing her and her entourage in his hand.

After I had a good look and a good, deep sniff (from the moment I arrived at the top of the ladder and began to saw off the limb, the strong, sweet aroma of honey bees was so beautiful, it captured me for life), he removed five of the frames in the Langstroth bee box, and then, after placing the queen and her entourage in the side of a frame, he began shaking the swarm into the box — sometimes so violently I was worried the bees would retaliate.

When the branch was almost empty of bees, he placed the other frames into the box, being very careful not to harm any bees. Then he placed the inner and outside covers back on the box, placed the limb — with bees all around it — on top of the box and said, “Now, Catsfur, watch the opening to the bees’ new home.”

“Look,” he whispered, “see how the workers are fanning the air out of the box? They’re sending the queen’s perfume outside, so the others milling around will smell the new queen and know how to get into to their new home.”

I’d stop here, but I have to tell you how my dear Uncle Moult impacted my life from that day on. I discovered he was a keen intellectual with a huge library, and he invited me to share his books, among which was an edition of the 1906 American Birds. It featured the lives of two men who became my heroes, Oregon bird conservationists and photographers, Herman T. Bohlman and William L. Finely.

The adventures of those two wonderful men, and a sister volume, “Where Rolls the Oregon,” by Dallas Lore Sharp, became the beginning of my quest to become the Oregonian I am today.


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