Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beekeeping from Beyond the Grave

          When we visited the Napa Valley last week, we had the great good luck to see something I've never seen before—two wild bee colonies. The first one we saw was in a hollow tree, near Jack London's grave on a wild hillside on his ranch.

Those little golden blobs in the trees cavity are bees.

Detail of the Jack London colony. Isn't the comb beautiful?
           Now, I know about the custom of notifying bees in the event of a death in the beekeeper's family (in some places, the hives are also draped in black), but I was not aware that bees followed their keepers to the grave. This, however, appears to have been the case with the second wild colony we saw, in the Yountville Cemetery.

Giacomo DeBenedetti (1871-1948) and Emelia DeBenedetti (1876-1958)
          This is easily the most impressive mausoleum in the cemetery. And—it hummed.

          I've spent my fair share of time in cemeteries, and generally the residents are silent as—well, as the tomb*. I followed the humming around to the back of the tomb, where it got louder.

          Then I noticed bees flying out of the small grilles on the back of the mausoleum. Closer examination showed honeycomb—and lots of bees—just inside both grilles.

          I can only conclude that the DeBenedettis were exceptional beekeepers, well-loved by their hives, who followed them to the grave.

*Yes, I know it's a terrible pun. I blame my father for passing the Terrible Pun Gene on to me and my sister. Mom is, as usual, blameless.


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