I wrote In the Trees, Honey Bees, because of my late beekeeper father-in-law, Eugene Mortensen. Whenever I visited his home in Tracy, California, he was always doing something with his honey bees—and he had a lot of bees! At one time he had 300 hives. If he wasn’t scraping the wax off stacks of wooden frames, he’d be moving hives from one field to another, “extracting” honey in his garage, or going out on calls to catch menacing swarms. One day, my husband and I jumped in his bee truck with him and watched as he captured a buzzing clump of bees that had swarmed on the front gate of the Altamont Raceway.
The honey bees were so fascinating, I decided to do a little research even though I figured I knew all of the bee basics—bees gathered pollen and nectar, performed a mysterious dance, and made honey, right? To my surprise, I discovered honey bees were more fascinating than I ever imagined. For example, who knew that bees did different chores as they matured in the hive? I didn’t. Who knew that bees gathered water and tree sap in addition to the familiar nectar and pollen? I didn’t. Who knew that honey bees used tree sap to seal cracks in their hive? I didn’t. And I was sure most people didn’t know either even though there were lots of books about honeybees on the shelves.
So I wrote something for children in rhyme that would capture the fascinating facets of these familiar insects in a new way. I coupled each rhyme with more complex text when I realized the rhyming text couldn’t say everything I wanted to say. I felt as if I was opening a window to a world most people didn’t even know was there.
When Dawn Publications bought the manuscript and I learned photographs would be part of the backmatter, photography became part of my research as well. I grabbed my digital camera and visited my friends who had two hives on five acres of land. It was gratifying to see with my own eyes some of the things I’d learned through my research.
For example, could I catch a bee getting a drink of water? When I saw a puddle of water on their pebbly driveway after a recent rain, I stretched on the ground with my camera and waited. Within minutes, the first thirsty customer arrived. After that one left, another one arrived about a minute later. The puddle—at least until it dried up—was part of the bees’ routine although I doubt my friends had stopped to notice. The result was this picture of a bee drinking water among the pebbly rocks.
Over the next two hours, I took pictures of bees zooming in and out of the hive, guard bees wrestling with intruders, and bees gathering nectar and pollen from small yellow flowers. Although it would have been impossible to include all of the pictures I took that day, one of the best is there—this photograph of the bee with yellow pollen packed on its leg.
As I writer, I don’t always know what I will work on next, but whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll discover things I never imagined—just as I did with the honey bees. Writing is a great adventure and through my words I take my readers on the incredible journey with me.