Gumption Trap

The Beekeep approaches the removal while all of his companions, fainting from hunger, looked on. The hum from the hive intensifies slightly, as the guard bees go on alert. The hot sun beats down on the unshaded heads of the travelers standing in the field. The beekeep sets his shoulders to the task, and begins to march forward.

Roll for gumption.

Crorey rolls a three. The Beekeep turns back around and rejoins his companions, stalling. He asks his friends to help him go through the preparatory steps. He consults his phone. He drinks a little more water. Maybe he will harvest the honey tomorrow.

Speed Street Comb. Photo by Renee Adcock Irons

Some days, it is just hard to get up the energy to do the work. The job this week was dead simple, with a removal that was pretty “open and shut”.

Well, OK. I don’t really shut when I am done. It was “open and remove”.

The house was empty, and the bees were in the wall. A single entrance allowed the bees access, and the interior walls were covered with thin paneling. The infrared camera pointed to a hive that was directly above the window. It was going to be an easy removal.

I just couldn’t get up the energy to do it.

Maybe it was the long-distance driving vacation to visit mom the week before. 28 hours of driving will take the starch out of you, that’s for sure. Maybe it was the every-weekend-is-another-removal pace – never getting a break from work or work or work….. Maybe it was covid brain, that makes even small tasks seem unsurmountable. (Maybe it was the colonoscopy. I seem to have lost a couple of days this week.)

I don’t care what the real cause is. The story I am telling myself is that I am caught in a gumption trap.

Robert Pirsig, in his amazing book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance explains the gumption trap thus:

“Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in the whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption. “

Pirsig 1974.

I don’t think that I ever used the word gumption before reading Pirsig’s Zen. It has that old-time feel of almost archaic words that have fallen from favor but still evoke specific force. But I was feeling it this weekend.

Gumption traps, according to his explanation, are the things that sap your desire to do the task, drain your energy, and make it more difficult to complete a project. They can happen before or during the job, and they can stop you dead in your tracks (my dissertation was one gumption trap after another, but that is a different blog). External gumption traps are ‘set-backs’.

I have had these pretty regularly this year while in the middle of a job: when my ladder is not tall enough, or I can’t reach the hive behind the wall or the ladder buckles and falls while I am on it or the bees fight me tooth and nail. This week, however, it was not the external traps I was falling for.

The internal gumption traps were the ones I was fighting. Simple truth: I did not want to get started.

Going through my lists sometimes helps. Will I need the corded sawzall? Load it up. Need the bee brush, the ammonia, the jab saw to cut out comb, the power tools to get into the wall. Smoker? Probably not – it is an inside job, but take it anyway.

And then go sit down on the couch for a bit and stare at my phone. Essentially rolled a two on my Gumption throw. By the time I got out of the house, it was almost too late to start the job. Classic hang-up gumption trap.

Usually, once I get started, the work itself is interesting enough and the bees have my full focus. And yet this time, something strange happened. The bees didn’t care that I was there. I cut open the wall with a jigsaw (bees normally HATE power tools). They looked the other way. I cut into the honey. They ignored me.

Something about the pain of being stung is a great motivator to pay attention to the job at hand. It reminds me – very directly – that I have a task very much at hand. In the words of my 11th-grade history teacher STOP DAYDREAMING, CROREY!

These girls were simply uninterested. And their lackadaisical attitude fed my own.

And then, suddenly, I was more engaged. Two friends of mine, Renee Adcock Irons and Jack Burns came by to see what I was doing. Suddenly, I am explaining and showing and providing samples and giving context. The exposed comb was enormous – huge quantities of honey that was ready to be explained. Renee took pictures and asked questions, and tested the honey and marveled at the wonder of what the bees had made.

Maybe I just needed an audience.

After they left – with a small tupperware of honeycomb as a parting gift – I finished up the work of exposing the hive, but one of the external gumption traps reared its head.

I had brought the beevac, but the unoccupied residence… had no electricity. Fine, I can work around that. The corded sawzall was replaced by the battery jigsaw. But the part I couldn’t get around was the light. As light fails, the bees come home, but it is harder to see what you are doing without light.

So the next step is to close up shop and go home. The bees are stable, with little chance of being disturbed. Lock up, go home, take off the sweaty suit, and shower. Long shower. With gin and tonic in hand…

Heat of the day, Sunday afternoon

Sunday’s Gumption roll was almost no better, but the job needed to be done. Armed with a large batch of tupperware, I began the process of cutting away the honey and brood comb. Each of the sections of brood got banded onto the top bar frame and hung them in preparation of the new occupation.

The sheer amount of comb was astonishing. Watch the time lapse video, and see how much honeycomb goes into the bucket. (And this was after having filled all of the tupperware).

I ended up coming back twice more to clean and apply permethrin to discourage future occupants. But the bees ended up successfully (so far!) relocated to the backyard, the honey was cleaned up and tupperwared and filtered and jarred and distributed, and I grab the dice for next gumption roll. Three more jobs pending.

Published by Company Bee

Novice beekeeper trying to help out.

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