Neighbors and Bees

Over the years, I've had lots of neighbors. Though I haven't seen some in a long time, many of these neighbors have turned into stories. From Shanmu Arun and I trying to dig a hole in our backyard to try to reach China at age six to Vernon and Margaret Touchstone welcoming our family when we moved into their neighborhood when I was eleven. But one of the most memorable neighbor stories I've ever experienced was just a few years ago, right here in Abilene. It was the early spring of 2011, and I was living in a house with a wide variety of great folks who were all interested in local missions and being good neighbors. Five were studying in the ACU Graduate School of Theology, another was married to one of those five and was working as a high school science teacher, and I was in the process of completing my undergraduate degree in Christian Ministry and Sociology. We were an odd bunch, to be sure, and our diverse interests were very wide-ranging. Some of fascinations included racial reconciliation, simple living, aquaponics, world history, and a myriad of other topics. But an interest in bee-keeping became the genesis for one of our best stories.

Our house was situated on a corner near ACU, where most of us attended school. Right next door to us, was the home of the Childers. Dr. Jeff Childers was one of the professors instructing our graduate students, and had always been kind and encouraging to us. He had even spoken to a few of our number about bee-keeping, since his father was very experienced in the art.

One morning at about ten, I was sitting at home, enjoying a morning without classes while my roommates were all stuck in a three hour lecture or off teaching in another city. Suddenly, I heard a knock at the door. This wasn't unusual because our house, full as it was, had become a hosting place for many travelers. Sometimes it was a potential graduate student visiting ACU, other times a friend wanting to catch up with us for a few days.

As I opened the door, I was surprised to see Dr. Childers. I was even more surprised when he asked if our house wanted a swarm of bees.

Apparently, it was swarming season, the time of year when a hive of bees decides to move to a more suitable home. A collection of the insects had roosted in a branch of Dr. Childers' backyard tree, and it was the perfect time to capture them before they fled. Dr. Childers offered to help corral them, but he said we needed at least one other person. My roomies were all unavailable. I had to think of someone who would be both available and crazy enough to help me catch wild bees.

Good thing I know Josh Love.

I called Love, and told him I needed to ask a favor of him. He agreed before he'd even heard the request, but I felt the need to let him know for what he was volunteering. "Meet at the house as soon as you can. We're catching a swarm of bees!"

He arrived shortly thereafter. We had no protective suits, but threw on some long-sleeved shirts, leather gloves, and hats. The plan seemed simple: climb a ladder to where the bees were swarming on a branch, place a large cardboard box underneath the branch, cut the branch down, catch the bee-branch in the box, close the box, transport the box to our house. It was a fool-proof plan. Or maybe the plan was proof we were fools. Either way, we set about our task.

As the receiver of said bees, my task was to climb the ladder and hold the box under the swarm. Love took position at the base of the ladder with a pole-mounted saw, and attempted to carefully cut the limb down without angering the legion of buzzing defenders of the hive. Dr. Childers stood back a few paces, pulling a rope we had cast over the branch as means to lower the limb to a sawable height, whilst overseeing the entire project and offering helpful advice.

It was nerve-wracking work. With every breeze, I feared the bees would shift towards me, giving me a bee-beard I would not likely forget. Each grind of the saw caused me to doubt my ability to catch the mass of insects as they fell, especially if I was cringing and looking the other direction with my eyes closed. The cracking of the branches reminded me of the sounds my bones could make if I flailed when the moment came and fell ten feet onto the hard ground, and I imagined trying to crawl away with broken legs from a swarm of enraged bees bent on my destruction.

Finally, the moment of truth was upon us. The branch had almost given way, and Love would need only one more strong saw to release the limb from the tree. We readied ourselves and steadied our hearts. We counted down from five...

With a sharp crack and a dull buzz, the branch fell into the wide open cardboard box. As swiftly as I could, I closed the top flaps of the box, thus ensuring that our new residents would remain inside. Love held the ladder as I descended, heart pounding, back onto the grass. Dr. Childers opened the gate, and within a minute of the branch falling, the bees were safely in our backyard. Amazingly, none of us were stung even once.

Before our story inspires you to begin calling your friends in Hollywood to make a documentary about our triumph, it should be mentioned that the bees were unhappy with the box, and flew away before we were able to secure them a new home. Though we were disappointed, the ordeal turned into a great story, and a great example of neighborliness.

Dr. Childers knew us. He knew us well enough to look at a potential problem in his backyard, and instead see an opportunity and a challenge for us. He felt comfortable inviting me to be a part of his story, even though I wasn't one of his students. I was simply a neighbor. He lent his expertise and his tools to me as a way of helping me succeed. He even put himself in a situation that could have been unpleasant. Dr. Childers proved himself to be a good neighbor.

Josh Love was available. He showed up when he was needed. He took time out of his day to join in something I thought was worthwhile. He got himself into a tough situation, but he cared enough about me to decide that the relationship was worth the cost. He put in work to make our mutual goal happen, and it would not have succeeded without him. Love is a good neighbor.

I'm certain there are a plethora of ways in which each of us can be a good neighbor, and I'd be willing to guess that many have nothing to do with bees. My hope is that we can all strive to be good neighbors like Dr. Childers and Josh Love, and that we don't get stung too often in the process.