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The books say to avoid cloudy days. Standing at my kitchen sink, I looked out the window into my backyard sky. Puffs of gray and white tumbled by, contrasting the pine-tree green and blooms of crepe-myrtle red.

I leaned over the sink to look straight up. No blue to be found. It had to be today.

My wife chuckled when she saw me. "That bee suit gets me every time. Hold on, let me get my phone. The college kids love this ..."

"Go ahead. I'm not embarrassed."

Click. "You should be. No, really, you look great. I'm sure the bees can't wait to see you."

Click. More chuckles.

"It's harvest time. If I don't harvest, we don't have Christmas presents to give," I said.

"Rationalizing the bee suit. Yes, honey, you're a hero. Thank you for saving Christmas."

I zipped on my hood.

Looking down at her phone as she tapped with both thumbs, she said, "I thought you weren't supposed to mess with the bees on cloudy days."

Pulling on my long, formal-dinner-like white gloves, I said, "You're not supposed to, but I'm going for it." I stepped outside. The wind picked up a bit. Standing on my back porch, I wondered why I had zipped on my hood already. The hive was in the farthest part of my backyard. My dog barked at me and I jumped to scare him, giving a little chase around the backyard.

I looked over my left shoulder toward the kitchen. My wife filmed from the window, still chuckling.

Harvesting honey is a beautiful operation. The idea is to disturb the bees as little as possible by cloaking the process in smoke. A few puffs here and there keep the bees from smelling pheromones released by the guard bees, the ones that instruct the entire colony of 100,000 to attack. When subdued, the bees allow the removal of frames, strays are gently scraped off, the frames are placed meticulously in a tub and covered. Once inside the house, we cut the honeycomb caps off each frame and the frames are placed in a centrifuge. Spinning the centrifuge releases the honey into a collection barrel and the frames can go back to the hive. Simple.

Unless someone ignores these easy instructions. Unless it's a cloudy day and all the bees are home and irritable.

Bees don't like cloudy days and that's easy to understand--imagine what a single raindrop feels like to a bee body. So they stay home. Wishing they were outside. Guarding the honey they do have. Becoming irritable.

I popped smoke. Actually, I squirted a few clouds into the front of the hive, then under it and jumped back. The whizzing dance of black and yellow began and the hive recognized something was up. I opened the lid.

Bam. A guard dove at my arm and managed to get her stinger through the heavy cotton bee suit. I didn't know that could happen. I smoked more of them and ignored the throbbing. As I pulled frames and gently ushered the workers off them, a few bees fell to the ground. I didn't know bees could crawl. Or would crawl.

As I loaded frames into the tub, I felt my foot catch fire. Then again. And again. Several bees undertook a suicide mission, crawling up my pants leg and down my boot onto the soft skin of my foot.

I hopped on one leg, holding a frame with hundreds of bees clinging to it, weighted by the brimming honeycombs inside. My hopping made the irritable bees agitated. Then downright angry. They head-butted my veil, diving fast into my face and body. Bam. Another one broke through the cotton defense. And another. Soon, my entire veil was blackened by squirming little bodies trying to sting. I headed for the back door.

My wife chuckled and filmed from the window.

After clearing my attackers, I got back to business. I smoked them, they stung me. I harvested frames, they stung me. I ran for the back door with 50 pounds of honeycomb, they gave chase.

Cutting corners rarely works. There's a reason you don't mess with bee hives on cloudy days. Just think, how often do we rationalize a bad idea into a good one? How often do we convince ourselves that a few cut corners really won't cause any harm?

That cartoon philosopher, Jiminy Cricket, explains that temptation is the wrong thing that seems right, that a conscience is that still small voice people won't listen to.

Harvesting honey on a cloudy day is not indicative of moral decline; it's just being stupid on purpose, as our old football coach used to say. Harvesting honey on a cloudy day is not cheating on taxes or sabotaging a competitor. But it made a simple process more difficult than it had to be; it shortchanged the rewards and added a little pain.

Once my swollen foot returned to normal size and the red eruptions on my arms stopped hurting, I did manage to jar some golden goo to be used as Christmas presents. But I found myself wishing I had waited for a sunny afternoon, wishing that I hadn't cut that corner. Because a truth in life materializes time and again for those who choose to cut corners and are ultimately harmed by their decisions.

The truth is that the best destinations generally lie at the end of the long road.


Steve Straessle, whose column appears every other Saturday, is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at

Editorial on 09/07/2019


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