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Birney Imes: An afternoon with beekeepers


Birney Imes



On a recent Saturday about 40 beekeepers stood in the twilight on a cement pad outside a metal farm building in south Noxubee County. 


The bay doors of the building were open revealing inside rows of white tables set for dinner. In a corner of the interior space about a dozen Mennonite men and women, the families of Clark Seiler and Wendal Giesbrecht, were scurrying about readying an all-you-can-eat meal of grilled chicken, white beans and broccoli casserole. Beyond the tables at the far end of the expansive interior, two towering pieces of farm equipment, a John Deere combine and a cotton picker, loomed over the proceedings looking like props for a science fiction movie. 


The beekeepers were hungry. Lunch -- alligator piquant, a savory Cajun dish prepared by Bruce "Schawee" Scharwath -- was a distant memory. 


They had traveled here from the nearby home of Bud Watt, a larger-than-life character, who for the past five years in early April has hosted a weekend gathering of beekeepers. (Bud 5, last year's event, was the subject of an article in the spring issue of Catfish Alley.) 


The gathering has become something of a reunion -- beekeepers come from Portland, Ore., North Carolina, Kentucky and Texas, as well as the Southeast. They talk, tell stories only beekeepers could understand and participate in exploits devised by their hosts, Watt, Schawee and J.P. Armstrong, a Cajun, who makes his living removing bees from New Orleans' homes. 


That afternoon a group of them had caravaned to a sagging two-story farmhouse on Deerbrook Road to remove a colony of bees that had been living in a kitchen wall for what looked to be since Nixon was president 


As the beekeepers arrived at the house, a cloud of bees happened to be swarming around a row of cedars in a neighboring field. One of the beekeepers retrieved a metal pot from his truck and began beating it with a metal hive tool as he walked toward the swirling funnel of bees. None of the eight or 10 beekeepers present wore protective gear. The bees seemed to hone in on the metal clanging, forming a tighter pattern before clustering on a branch of a cedar. 


Once settled, one of the beekeepers, wearing nothing more than a white oxford cloth shirt and jeans, shook the bees into a hive box. 


Meanwhile, a delegation had begun removing the siding on the house, a procedure that would take all afternoon and part of the next day. Unlike the swarming bees, the bees in the wall had home and treasure (stored honey) to protect, and as the afternoon wore on, they would force the intruders to don protective suits. 


To pass the time an idle beekeeper, who answers to the name Yap Yap, had undertaken the task of training an unruly puppy belonging to the owner of the house. First Yap Yap was on his stomach, eyeball to eyeball to the mesmerized puppy; then he held the dog upside down by his feet; then he stroked the dog's muzzle. By afternoon's end, the puppy was transformed, at least he was for Yap Yap. 


After a dessert of Oreo ice cream with chocolate sauce and a brief remembrance for a beekeeper who died this past year, a choir of Mennonites aged from young-adult to pre-teen, sang half a dozen songs for the beekeepers. Then as the evening's highlight, Valery Seiler, Clark's daughter, walked over to Watt, put her hand on the back of his chair and began yodeling to him. It was a show-stopper. 


The Mennonites, whose frequent good works offer tangible evidence of their faith, were friends of Watt's and simply wanted to host him and his friends. In doing so, they gave this group of beekeepers a memorable evening. 


There is something mystical about the relationship between bees and their keepers ... for that matter, there is some ambiguity about who keeps whom. In the wonderful film on the subject (You can see the trailer on the Internet and if you have the least interest in bees and beekeeping, I encourage you to stream it.), "Queen of the Sun," a French beekeeper says, "Beekeepers, they are chosen by the bees." 


That being the case, the bees picked a lovely, lively group of people to visit Noxubee in April.


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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