For 4 summers, I worked on a bee farm. Technically, they are called apiaries, but when you say that to someone they usually stare at you as though you're off your nut.
The first year, I worked for Dave, a retired bee farmer from Florida who summered in northern Saskatchewan. He and his wife thought it would be a good idea to run a small farm with 400 hives with a 19 year old rookie as their only help. I learned a lot that year -- about myself, about the joys of manual labour, and about the bee industry.
I was pretty sure I knew it all.
At the same time, my brother worked about an hour south on another bee farm belonging to a friend of the family. He started when he was young and worked every summer until he decided to get a real job. Although, truth be told, it was a real job. One year, he made more than I did as a crisis worker.
My second summer, I started up to my usual farm. However, they had a tough year with a lot of hive deaths and didn't need me. I was crushed. It had been my oasis and a place to regenerate after a year of classes, school, and practicum work. The family friends to the south offered me a place on their crew and I accepted.
Now I knew I would be working along side my brother, but the year before we had gotten along better than ever before in our entire lives. I figured it would be fine.
Oh, how I fooled myself.
The first day was a cloudy and dreary day. On my first farm, we were old school. Nothing but an old smoker and a dream. It was just me and a 65 year old man doddering around without agenda or too much worry if things took longer than you thought. That is what I was expecting when we went out.
Oh, how I fooled myself.
With a crew of 6, plus the boss, we headed out to the first field. The hives were taller, the boxes heavier. The cloudy, dreary day meant the bees wouldn't move of their own accord, so I expected we would gently smoke them out of their homes in order to collect the honey. Not so. One of the crew members slung a "blower" on his back and we went to work.
The blower looked like a mix between a jet pack and vacuum cleaner. It violently pushed the bees out of their cozy cracks and crannies so we could quickly steal the top layers of their hives and replace them with empty homes they can fill up again.
I started with a confidence that I knew what I was doing. It became quickly apparent that I had no idea. It was a different pace, a different philosophy, and a different world altogether. They ran thousands of hives compared to Dave's 400. I was out of my league. And it was in front of my little brother.
Like most of our arguments, I have no idea what the fight started about. But the next thing I knew, we were having a throw down in the middle of the bee yard. Dressed in full bee suit regalia, masks on, gloves to our elbows, my brother and I stood in front of our coworkers and boss and screamed bloody murder at each other. We were separated by our boss's stern words and sent to different corners of the yard. I stewed and steamed and fumed the rest of the day, all the while cursing my parents for continuing to procreate after me.
That evening, I retired to my room exhausted and mortified. I was sure this would be the longest and worst summer of my life.
The next day I was transferred from the yards to the honey house where I saw my brother once a day for mere moments. I had a great time and found my niche quite quickly.
My brother and I got along well that summer.