Bees — the answer to joy, responsibility and heartache?

13 05 2010

On Saturday our beloved orange boy, MacLeod passed away.  He had been failing for some time, but last week

Gwen and her beloved circa 2004

it seemed clear that he wouldn’t be with us for much longer.  In his heyday MacLeod was a big, fat, twenty-pound orange tabby.  He had been my companion for more than a third of my life.  He was the inspiration for Gwen’s first word (“dat” meaning “cat), and he was the best mother a dog could have hoped for.  In fact, it was all MacLeod’s doing that no dog would ever play with Hoover at the dog park.  Dogs would come up to make friends with Hoover and she would roll over on her back and start batting at them like a kitten.  The cool dogs would take one sniff, a quick glance and walk away in total disgust.  Hoover was a nerd dog, but at home she was well cared for and validated by her fuzzy orange surrogate.

MacLeod’s passing this week got me to thinking about the responsibility of caring for animals.  In the past 15 months or so we’ve gone from having five cats down to just one, and the one that is left has abandoned us for my sister’s family out in the guest house.  We lost one kitten to a raccoon, one to a car, one to an illness that left us $1000 poorer and with no diagnosis and one now to old age.  This doesn’t even take into consideration the kitten my sister and I picked up off the sidewalk one afternoon while out on a walk — it’s skin brittle from having baked to the pavement.  He lasted about an hour before passing away in my hands.  These animals come and go and we have to make sometimes rapid-fire decisions as to what we are willing to do in order to keep them with us.  Sometimes a dear pet warrants the spending of $1000 just to determine if there is anything that can be done, and sometimes, as with the found kitten, you just have to let an animal go.

I’m pretty sure MacLeod had diabetes when he died but, by the time we noticed that this might be the case, he was down to half the body weight of his heyday, he was deaf and blind and had lost much of the function of his back legs.  We were pretty sure that insulin shots would not restore him to the luster of his youth so we decided to keep him comfortable and let him die at home.  Since we’ve been planning on getting a goat, I have been thinking long and hard about what responsibilities that will bring.  A goat is a larger animal and carries with it health concerns with which we are completely unfamiliar.  Recently we saw an ad on Craigslist for goats that were CAE negative.  We hadn’t even considered learning about the health concerns surrounding goats before

Gwennie peers into the new fish tank

purchasing one — but now we know that we need to do more research about the things we want our goat to both have and not have when we get her.  When we find the right doe, we will know.  We certainly don’t want to make a reactionary purchase of an animal just to distract us from the pain of our loss — OK, the goldfish don’t count, do they?  And the hamsters the kids got while I was on a brief trip to Mexico?  And the bees…

OK, so I am no different from the kids.  While bees are not really “pets”, I have reserved a colony of swarm bees that we will be picking up from the keeper on Saturday.  A distraction from pain?  Maybe.  A nod toward our bright and happy farming future?  Definitely.  We are complete novices when it comes to beekeeping but the prospect of learning as we go excites me.  Even more, it excites me to imagine teaching the kids the values implicit in both making the food that you love and sharing it with those that you love.  Honey anyone?

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