Dad and I went out to inspect our bees this morning, for the last time – at least for a while. Russ and I will carry on with the beekeeping this summer, but my dad is pretty busy for the next several weeks. My dad has cancer. This is new for us and while I am getting pretty good at typing it, I am still not okay with saying it out loud. My dad has oral cancer, and he spent months trying to get his various doctors to help him. They failed him and they failed us, and they said that it was just a sore and that he would just have to live with the chronic pain. It finally took a dentist to take him seriously and we are so very grateful because that dentist did his job and did it well. The dentist said ‘this is cancer’, said ‘come back tomorrow and I will biopsy it’, said ‘we will have the results in five days’, said ‘we will have you into Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in a few days after that’ and he was right. The gulf between negligence and excellence is so very, very wide and deep. The professionals at Princess Margaret have also been mind-blowingly kind and brilliant and efficient and optimistic. They first met him last week and his surgery is scheduled for this week. These people don’t mess around or just wait and see. Dad is scheduled for a big 8-hour surgery this Friday. The surgeon will remove the cancerous tumour at the back of his tongue and he will finally be free of the constant pain in his throat and ear that came from having cancer eating away at the nerve at the back of his mouth. The other surgeon will rebuild his tongue with muscle from his arm and arteries and veins from his leg. It’s a pretty big deal. Throw in dad’s heart condition and this surgery seems pretty scary right now. But my dad is so at peace that his calm courage tends to help the rest of us face this scary thing with a little more faith and a little less fear.
So, what do you talk about on a beautiful summer morning when it’s just the two of you and you don’t want to ruin it by talking about cancer? We talked about honeybees and hazelnuts, Grammie’s doughnuts and flyfishing. We talked about the stock market and ventured just a little bit into what to do with his portfolio should anything happen. But mostly, we didn’t talk. Dad and I never really need to talk. We love our comfortable silence. Today he even let me hold his hand a bit while I was driving, until he reminded me that my hands should be at ten and two. Safety Bob is always on the job.
The bee inspections went off without a hitch. Our homemade hive feeders worked brilliantly. A few naysayers on the beekeeping forums had heckled me for my McGivered hive feeders and told me that many bees would drown trying to get at the syrup. We figured it was worth a try and that we would just wait and see if it worked. Well, the verdict is in and I call it a win. Nineteen hive inspections revealed that only a couple of dozen bees had drowned, and mainly in just a couple of hives. I have no idea why certain hives would have more trouble than others, but so few bee deaths was a relief. Feeding the bees was important to us because the drought has really limited the availability of nectar for our bees this summer. Now, all our hives are growing quickly with gorgeous honeycomb filling up the boxes, frame by frame. For those who have been asking, we will likely start harvesting our first batch of Bishop Family Bees honey by the end of the month.
Pleased with our healthy hives and our own efficiency, we packed up our gear at the last beeyard and were heading home for lunch when I heard from Robyn at Devon Acres. He said that shortly after we had left his farm, they had observed a large black cloud of bees hover over our hives and then head for the woods. A swarm!!! Now, I have been waiting to hear from someone, anyone, about a swarm because this year I think we are equipped to capture one. And if I capture a swarm, it will replace the hive that died. I have the perfect, pretty hive in St George, just waiting for a swarm. But I never wanted one of our own hives to swarm! And that is exactly what appeared to have happened. We raced back over to Devon Acres and located the swarm on a low-hanging branch of a tree at the edge of the woods. It was an ideal scenario for a swarm capture and we quickly gathered the necessary tools for removing the branch and nabbing the bees. But first, we wanted to check and see what was happening at our hives and determine which hive had swarmed. It didn’t really make sense that any of our hives would have swarmed because they aren’t crowded, having started as such small colonies to begin with. And we couldn’t identify any change in behavior for any of the hives, except for one hive that had many bees out front, vigourously ventilating the hive with their wings. Other than that, there didn’t seem to be any bees missing. We trudged back through the long grass to the tree at the edge of the woods where we soon discovered that the swarm had disappeared. It was gone. A few stragglers buzzed around, as if to say ‘Wait a sec, this is the spot, where is everyone?’ But the swarm was gone. After fifteen or so minutes of searching through the woods for the missing swarm (I may have been distracted by some yummy blackcaps), we gave up. There’s no way to know if the bees that swarmed were ours. Some things just don’t make sense and all you can do is wait and see.
When you are a doer and a fixer like I am, the wait and see situations in life are pretty hard to sit through but I am learning to take it as it comes! We Raymers embrace most challenges pretty enthusiastically. As a family, we are ready for this next big challenge and certainly have a great team cheering us on. My parents have always shown up for people, offering support, service, sympathy, and, more often than not, salmon. So their support network is pretty extensive and we are so grateful for all the offers of help and well wishes and prayers. For all those who sent up so many prayers on behalf of Baby Henry three summers ago, I am asking again for your prayers as Dad heads into surgery this Friday morning and as he endures a fairly tricky recovery. He will have a tracheotomy and a feeding tube since the swelling will make breathing and eating impossible for a couple of weeks. Mom will spend the next couple of weeks in Toronto with him, and then he will recuperate at home in Elmira. Henry and I will visit as much as possible, although I’m not sure a hospital can withstand Hurricane Henry. I guess we will find out. So much remains to be seen.
Kari Raymer Bishop
Lover of Jesus, cheeses and tropical breezes... seeking balance in life, even as I embrace new challenges and chase new dreams. I am wife, mother, daughter and friend, as well as teacher, entrepreneur, activist, writer, beekeeper and hostess. Come along on the journey through my long-awaited midlife crisis!