38 C (100 F) is too hot. In addition to one of the sweatiest working days I have ever felt, my threshold for heat scaled up just by wearing the quintessential beekeeping garments; white cotton bee suit, black mesh veil, rubber boots and thick orange rubber gloves. In this heat the enclosed space of my sauna suit felt so claustrophobic, where everything felt slimy, my senses were dozing and I needed a cold shower or a double shot of espresso to wake me up.
Everything about this day was unforgettable. Heavy sweat through my clothes, the sound of millions of what seemed like angry honeybees, sloth-like body movements, deep lizard-like breaths, the thick foliage of Chilliwak BC and who could forget the unforgettable stench of cow shit. Truly one of the most beautiful places to visit in BC and just as true, one of the smelliest. Cow patties and burgers have been burned into my memory.
I’m an Alberta girl, which means acclimation is not in my vocabulary. Here in the dusty west, we get cloudy, dry, short summers and long, cold, sunny winters. Without the experience of living in humid heat and being cursed with over-active sweat glands, my initial hour of labour on a 7000 hive apiary was not spent managing bees but spent dealing with a fountain of salty sweat dripping from my red, swollen face and into my now burning eyes.
What do you do in a situation like this? I mean, you can’t take off your gloves due to a bracelet of bees trying to chew through your clothes to sting your wrists. And just as crucial, you can’t unzip the tiniest hole to sneak in a dab or wipe. So what did I do? Through my veil I dabbed the sweat with my shiny rubber gloves. This caught some sweat but not nearly enough as I probably lost a litre of fluid at that bee yard. 90% of it went into my eyes. What I didn’t realize was that some of the bees were actually stinging into the rubber meat of my gloves.
When a female honey bee stings, she sacrifices herself entirely. Losing her stinger means losing her insides. This altruistic act leaves a dangling sac that continuously injects venom into its target. If not removed, the venom won’t quit.
There must have been hundreds of venom sacs coating my gloves like a poisonous varnish. I continued the day dealing with sweat, chugging water in the truck between yards and getting to know my fellow co-workers who at the time were middle aged men from the Philippines and Nicaragua.
By the last yard, dusk grew over our laboured selves, we were exhausted. My new buddies inspected my face in the strangest way. The gaze was of partial concern, curiosity and bewilderment. The non-verbal miscues seemed too exhausting to unravel at that time.
We arrived back at the acreage and I slipped into a real bathroom even though I was already comfortable using natures toilette.
Immediately my reflection jumped back at me and boy was it lumpy and distorted. I was asymmetrical. My right eye squinted as if I was having a nightmare and my left eye somehow slanted both up and down. One cheek was higher than the other and my lips were inflated, Dolly style.
I drove back to my accommodation and tried to shower away the swelling, as if that would un-dent my face. I stood there absorbing every droplet of BC water, allowing my lumpy face to take in the therapeutic wash. Just then and there, in my nakedness, I realized my face wasn’t the only distortion.
My entire body was itchy, especially my shaven parts. Not only my legs and armpits but vagina too. I wasn’t panicked because I didn’t know through experience or through research how awful bee venom could be, nor how dangerous.
Why did this have to happen on my first day, was my only concern.
My boss Peter, a tall, slightly hunched man ( I call the beekeeper bump) with a kind heart and honest demeanour showed up to my abode with an assortment of antihistamines. I told him, “I’m itchy everywhere I shave” He looked at my face and replied, “Amber, I think you have an allergy to bees”.
Peter was concerned about me and gave me a few days off to heal my bruised ego and itchy parts.
Day one on Honey View Farm wasn’t really too embarrassing, it was just a little concerning... TBC