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“I can hear how the bees are behaving — if they’re agitated, if there are other bees trying to get in the hive, or if it’s too crowded or too hot or too cold,” said Aerial Gilbert, an avid beekeeper in Petaluma.
What you want to hear, she said, is a calm steady buzz. That indicates that everything in the hive is going smoothly. Gilbert tends to three beehives on her back patio.
When Gilbert went blind in 1988, beekeeping was one of the hobbies she figured she’d have to give up. But in the years since, she has found ways to do the things she used to before losing her sight. And that has meant relying a lot more on the power of sound.
“When I worked with my bees, the information I was paying attention to was visual,” Gilbert said. “Now it’s the other senses.”
The Bees Came in the Mail — With the Hive
Gilbert is in her early 60s, but looks younger. She has a crop of black hair and an athletic frame. She used to be a nurse, and with the decisive yet gentle way she moves her hands, you sense she was good at it.
Gilbert doesn’t hesitate to open the hives in her backyard and reach down into the humming mass of thousands of bees. Her fingers softly brush against their bodies, and they don’t seem to mind. She calls the bees her “girls.”
When Gilbert was 10, a swarm of bees flew into her backyard looking for a new home. Hundreds of thousands of bees coalesced in a big buzzing ball on a tree. And they stayed, humming in a giant mass.