> 'I am a beekeeper.' July 22 2011

On a flight to Atlanta yesterday, I sat next to a talker.

That's OK, because, even though I took a book, chatting keeps my mind off feeling queasy. After nonsense talk about his dual residency in Kentucky and Florida, and his daughter's harried life as a "traveling RN," he said the inevitable:

"So, what do you do?"

His question stopped me. I haven't been asked that in a while. In fact, I haven't been asked that since Jeff and I decided to go "all in" and give this beekeeping thing a full-time chance.

The weird thing was, I had to choke back the automatic response:  "I work in newspapers." This has been my easy answer to such questions — at schmoozy chamber functions, at parties, on planes — since starting at a McClatchy paper in 1997. This answer has cozily covered all the bases, since I've done everything from writing obituaries to laying out and editing page 1A.

When I opened my mouth to respond, I was thinking. Beekeepers don't find themselves at things like chamber functions, so I didn't have a pat response. Also, how would I explain the leap from newspapers to bees? From news and words to bees and honey?

The man on the plane looked at me, waiting for my response, but I was still hesitating. Did I really want to get in to what might be a long and self-centered explanation? I don't like the sound of my own voice, and I didn't want to be That Person — the one whose voice carries over the roar of the jet engines, annoying everyone on the plane.

Still, I owed my new buddy a response, so out with it:

"I am a beekeeper," I said, feeling as if I'd said something like, "I make horseless carriages."

I watched his face change from confusion to recognition ... to something looking like admiration.

"Is that right?" he said. "I think that's neat! You know, my grandfather kept bees."

"Oh, really?" I said.

"Yeah, he had about 40 hives," he said, remembering. "He did it after he retired. He worked all his life in newspapers."