BY DALE DOUGHERTY
Sharing the Adventure
In my conversations with makers, we often talk captured a swarm high up in a tree. On an extension
about our favorite books. Frequently it’s an out- ladder, with his sleeves rolled up to his shoulder,
of-print book, such as How to Make and Fly Paper our hero grabs the branch from which the swarm
Airplanes by retired Navy Capt. Ralph S. Barnaby, hangs with one hand, and with the other begins to
published in 1968. Saul Griffith told me about saw. The branch dips down.
Barnaby recently and said that his was the very best He writes: “This will cause a mass of bees to be
book on aerodynamics. Saul’s office, incidentally, is dislodged from the lower end of the swarm and they
located in the control tower overlooking a defunct will fall almost to the ground before taking wing. Up
Navy airbase, where he is building high-tech kites. they will come with a tremendous buzzing — but
At O’Reilly’s FOO Camp this year, I went to a they mean no harm.” I stop reading and contem-session titled “Beekeeping, Old Houses, and the plate the beautiful image of bees tumbling down
Art of Observation.” I started keeping two hives of and then rising.
bees this spring. Brian Fitzpatrick, an engineer with
Google in Chicago, started the session by introducing his favorite book: The Art and Adventure of
Beekeeping by Ormond and Harry Aebi. (Ormond,
the humble son of a beekeeper, credited his father
Brian is not a beekeeper, but he owns an old
house that needs work. This book spoke to him
about patience and the power of observation. Are
we too quick to think we understand something?
If it’s a problem we see, we jump in and try to fix it,
but maybe we create more problems. That’s true
for repairing old houses as well as writing software.
We don’t observe closely for very long.
However, that’s exactly what Ormond Aebi did
with his bees. Brian lent me a copy of the 1975
book, which is currently out of print. Good writing
of this kind doesn’t seem to age. Aebi’s book is a
fine example and belongs to a genre of instructional
manual that contains a deeply personal story. We
get to see bees the way Aebi sees bees, and perhaps
even see him the way bees do. He is devoted to
understanding their language. A beekeeper “cannot
readily change his bees,” he says. “It is he who must
make the required adjustments.”
Aebi’s observations and his detailed procedures
are invaluable to someone like me who’s trying to
learn how to work comfortably with bees, and who
doesn’t have nearly enough time to sit with his bees
as Aebi did. He says you can learn a lot about what
bees are doing to by getting up at night and putting
your ear up against the hive to listen.
I was mesmerized by Aebi’s story of how he
Our hero grabs the branch from
which the swarm of bees hangs
with one hand, and with the
other begins to saw.
Aebi continues: “This gets to be hard work, for one
is standing with one foot on a ladder rung and the
other leg hooked over the next higher rung to keep
in balance while sawing. I lay aside (sometimes have
to drop) the saw as soon as possible and grasp the
sawed-off branch with both hands.”
So our hero stands atop a tall ladder trying to
steady this swarm of bees before he can descend.
“The end of the limb with the bees is now hanging
lower than my hands. Bees always want to climb
upward so in a few minutes they start to cross the
few inches of bark between my hands and the
swarm. Moments later they begin to cross my bare
fingers and climb my bare arms. This is a bit scary.”
And I’m thinking, “Yeah.”
Aebi waits patiently for the bees to re-cluster,
descends the ladder very slowly, and puts the
swarm into a waiting hive box without ever being
stung. I was awfully glad he shared that adventure,
along with so much of his hard-won knowledge.
I’m also glad Brian shared a favorite book with me.
Dale Dougherty is the editor and publisher of MAKE and
12 Make: Volume 15