UC Berkeley News


The beekeeper
Mara Hancock

| 13 September 2006

Beekeeping isn't the first thing that Mara Hancock has tackled that might make other people squirm. For several years Hancock, an associate director in Educational Technology Systems, rock-climbed because she was afraid of heights. "I think the things that scare you are the ones you should go into, so that you know you can get through them," she explains.

Mara Hancock (inset by Wendy Edelstein; large photo courtesy Mara Hancock)

With bees, Hancock says, "there's nothing to be afraid of." In the five years that she's kept the insects in her Berkeley backyard, Hancock has been stung, but not very often. "You can tell when they start to get mad," she says. "The buzz in the hive goes up." The bees also tend to fly aggressively at nearby humans before plunging stingers into their flesh, sending a message to back off, says Hancock. However, it's often easy to avoid getting to that point. "It's a lesson in awareness. You always have to pay attention to your surrounding environment — whether it involves bees or people!"

Keeping bees requires space — "bees need a launching space like planes do" — as well as a water source. Other necessities: a bee suit, a hat that zips securely into the garment, a pair of gloves, and a smoker. When the latter is ignited, bees think there's a fire and begin eating honey to have the energy to leave the threatened hive and find (or create) a new one. Because the bees are in emergency mode, they leave the beekeeper alone, explains Hancock.

For Hancock, the appeal of beekeeping is simple. "It takes me out of my mind and brings me into the physical world." And then there's the fear factor: "Putting your hand in a swarm of bees is not something you would normally do, but when you do it and don't get hurt, you can feel the buzz of life pulsating in these creatures. They're just doing what their genes tell them to do. That's an amazing thing."

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