Although she could barely see over the leafy branches she carried, Willa knew she was near the bees because of the low humming sound. She dropped the branches and pushed her sunbonnet back off her head.
“Come, Willa,” her grandfather called. “I want to show you something.”
Willa hesitated to join Grandfather, who was standing by several straw hives fastened onto a four-wheeled cart.
“Come, Willa, the bees are too busy to think of you today. There is much honey for them to gather.”
Willa walked carefully to where Grandfather stood and looked where he pointed. She could see a cluster of bees hanging on the outside of one of the hives.
“They are so crowded in there that they will soon swarm,” he explained. “Then when the queen flies out, many will follow her. After they are gone, a new queen will hatch to lay eggs for those who remain.”
“Where will they go?” asked Willa. She stifled the urge to swat at the bees humming past her face.
“Probably to a nearby tree. They’ll gather there and send out scouts to find a new home. I’ll make a new hive for them so we can catch them and bring them back to the cart.”
“How will you get them into the new hive?” asked Willa. She was edging away from the cart, hoping Grandfather would follow.
“If they gather on a small branch, we can cut it off and bring it down to the hive. Then we’ll turn the hive upside down and shake them in.”
Being anywhere near those thousands of swarming bees frightens me, thought Willa. She knew her grandfather wasn’t spry enough to climb trees, and by the way he kept saying “we” she knew she would be asked to help.
She looked to where the covered wagons were gathered.
“Maybe my friend Kurt will help you hive the swarm,” she said hopefully.
“The bees will fill themselves full of honey before they fly off, and it’s hard for a full bee to bend her tail to sting,” Grandfather encouraged, patting Willa on the shoulder.
He gathered up the branches and began to place them on the hickory pole framework built over the cart. The branches would provide shade for the hives.
“It’s still a long way to the Salt Lake Valley,” he said. “I was told that no bees had been seen there. We must take our own to pollinate our fruit trees.
“I want you to learn to help with the bees, Willa. I won’t always be able to do the work,” Grandfather said, putting his arm around her waist as they walked to their wagon. “I’d like you to gather lots of long dry grass to make the new hive. I’ll go down to the river to find something to use for the binding.”
That afternoon Willa sat with Grandfather in the shade of the wagon to watch him make the hive. Kurt came from his wagon to watch too.
“This kind of hive is called a skep,” explained Grandfather. “My father taught me how to make them. He gave me this bone needle that I use to pull the binding through the straw. When he came from Holland on a sailing ship, he brought his bees with him.”
“Like the Jaredites!” said Kurt.
“Yes, like the Jaredites,” agreed Grandfather.
“They carried their bees in barges across the ocean to the promised land,” said Kurt. “I read about it in the book of Ether.”
“‘And they did also carry with them deseret,’” quoted Grandfather, “‘which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees. …’” (Ether 2:3.)
Willa sat on the seat of the wagon the next morning while Mother combed her long, honey-colored hair. “Mother, I’m afraid of the bees,” she confessed. “I’ll never forget how it hurt that time when I was stung.”
“Your grandfather knows a great deal about bees,” encouraged Mother. “If you do as he says, they probably won’t sting you.”
“But I’ll still be afraid,” murmured Willa.
“Sometimes it’s good to be afraid,” said Mother. “Only the foolish are never afraid. The brave are those who keep trying even when they are afraid.”
Willa sat in silence as her mother wrapped her braided hair in a golden crown around her head.
Suddenly Mother said, “Listen! The bees are swarming.”
Willa jumped down from the wagon and saw a cloud of bees gathering about the cart. “Call Grandfather,” she cried. “I’ll follow them.”
The bees flew to a large tree by the river with Willa in hot pursuit. She watched as they collected into a mass of crawling bodies on a branch above her head. When she caught her breath, she began to call out so Grandfather could find her.
He arrived carrying the new hive and a wooden plank. Inside the hive were a pair of gloves and a wide-brimmed hat covered with cotton netting.
“You’re a plucky girl, Willa,” said Grandfather as he squinted up at the swarm. “Do you think you can climb that high?”
Willa looked at the tree. She knew she could, but the sight of those thousands of bees gave her a cold feeling in her stomach.
“I’ll go get Kurt,” she called as she ran back to the wagons. However, a few minutes later she returned wearing a pair of britches. “Kurt is sick,” she explained, still breathless from running. “He can’t come, so I borrowed these pants from him. I’ll climb the tree.”
Grandfather helped her put on the hat. He made sure the netting fit closely about her shoulders and neck. Willa put on the gloves and took the knife Grandfather pulled from his pocket.
“Remember, child,” cautioned Grandfather, “the bees are happy, and they’re full of honey. But you must be careful not to shake them loose from the branch or they’ll fly away again.”
Willa was able to sit on a branch and reach the limb where the bees hung like a living Christmas stocking.
As she cut the branch, bees walked over her gloves and down the long sleeves of her blouse. They hummed about her head and settled on the netting hung from her hat.
She had the branch free and was climbing down when she felt a bee crawling into her glove. A hot, stabbing pain shot through her hand. She lost her grip on the branch and it fell with the swarm. But Grandfather caught it handily in the upturned hive. Then he turned the hive over with the bees inside and set it on the plank.
“We’ll leave them there,” said Grandfather as he helped remove the bees from Willa’s clothes. “By evening they will all go inside and we can carry them back to the cart.”
Later that night as she helped Grandfather carry the hive back, Willa thought, What Mother said about being brave is true. It helped a lot. Aloud she mused, “Grandfather, do you remember that line from Shakespeare that says: ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.’ I think I died at least a thousand times in that tree this afternoon.”
“But you were brave, Willa, and for your effort I want to give you this hive of bees.”
After the hive was fastened to the cart, Willa said excitedly, “Grandfather! Why don’t we call this new colony Deseret, after the Jaredites’ bees?”
“That’s it, Willa!” Grandfather said, taking off his hat and rubbing his head. “I think it’s a perfect name. Honeybees are a true symbol of industry and harmony,” he added, “and the name will just suit them.”
Willa watched while Grandfather put screen on the hive entrances and hitched the cart to their wagon so they’d be ready to leave early in the morning. When he was done, he gazed at the hives a moment before turning to go. “Deseret,” she heard him murmur contentedly as he walked away.
Willa touched the sting on her hand. It felt better already.