Watching McKay Joice tend a beehive is unlike any vision of beekeeping you’ve seen before. The first thing you notice is the protective gear. Beyond a veiled hat, there is none. She wears a lightweight button-up shirt, sleeves rolled up to her elbows. No gloves. Sandaled feet. Plenty of jewelry. Long hair cascading under the edge of the veil. It’s a choice many would question and that she doesn’t recommend to others, but McKay has her reasons.
“If I’m fully suited up and there’s no way in the world a bee could sting me, I’m more aggressive with the hive. I’m just like, tearing things open, swatting bees away,” she says. “But if I’m not wearing a suit, I’m more vulnerable, I’m more engaged with what is happening in that moment. Honestly, it’s my favorite thing about beekeeping. To be in nature observing nature changes you. To be in nature being present makes you appreciate, it makes you contemplate...it’s always for the better. ”
The second thing you notice is the fear––or rather, the lack thereof. Where many would be trepidatious, McKay seems entirely at ease. Her exposed fingers work the hive in concert with the bees. Fear is the furthest thing from her mind. Instead, she brings full presence.
“The bees in every way can sense their surroundings. They communicate with scent, so they’re very aware of scent. And predators that come into the hive, they’re very aware of that. They’re very aware of everything. So as I approach the hive, to give them that in return, is just what I owe them.”
Before long, you notice the third thing: she loves this. A lot. Zoned in on what she’s doing, tiny smiles tweaking the corners of her mouth upward, calm radiating outward, intently focused on the insect community, she is in her element.
“The more I learn, the more I fall in love. The society, the hive, the way they harvest, the way they reproduce, the way they protect themselves. It’s all so intricate, and it’s all in such an order, and I love that so much. I love that they can be so small and so tiny but yet be doing these big, amazing, wonderful things and have a whole hive that’s working together,” McKay says. “There are so many things that fascinate me. The way that they make the honeycomb, the shape of the hexagon, mathematically how they’ve mastered this storage process before we’ve mastered it ourselves or understood that as humans. There’s just something so innately genius about the honeybee and it’s hard to put into words. The only way to appreciate it is to observe it.”
Learning about bees is not new to McKay. She has a biology degree with an emphasis in entomology. During college, she helped classify and pin the world’s fifth-largest bee collection. She has been keeping or assisting with hives for a decade. And yet, she tells us, “Even now I’m still learning. I’m learning that I’m not the boss. I’m learning that the hive needs to teach me.”
But as much as she loves it, McKay doesn’t think beekeeping is for everyone. “If somebody is truly wanting to open themselves up to the outside world, to connect with Mother Nature, beekeeping is totally, totally for you. If you are wanting to collect more honey because you love honey in your coffee or your tea or whatever, beekeeping is not for you. You shouldn’t be on the hunt for more honey. Sometimes I don’t harvest as much honey because it’s good to just leave it with the bees for the winter. It’s good for them to have their source of food.
“But if you are wanting to be a part of nature and be a part of a hive, be a part of a little tiny society that will love you and will welcome you in as I feel like my bees have done with me? They welcomed me into a society. They know that I’m their beekeeper. They don’t sting me and they appreciate me being there...there’s nothing more magical than that. It’s so fun to have a relationship with Mother Nature. A relationship with insects. So I think the benefits are...you can’t list them.”
Interested in beekeeping? Join us for a class with McKay. Interested in knowing more about McKay and her love of bees? Keep reading our blog–we’ll be featuring her again soon.