Our friend Jacques died today. I hadn’t seen him in a few months – I had been recovering from back surgery gone seriously wrong and Jacques was in poor very health himself. So our repeated plans to meet up, to smell the grass in front of his urban beehive, just couldn’t be arranged. However, last week, Jacques was feeling quite a bit better, so he and his wife decided they could come visit us at our house. They would visit on Sunday afternoon for an hour or two of coffee, cakes, and bee-talk. It didn’t happen. A few days before we could commune, Jacques died. Peacefully, at home, at night. A sleep that never ended. In spite of his long and serious illness, he had been making plans to visit the Quebec cottage, to travel a bit, to have a couple more bee hives.
I learned much from this smart, calm gentleman. Jacques was a friend, and his passing was tragic news. Although sick, he sounded upbeat when I spoke with him a few days before his death. He was just in his early 60s – middle-aged by today’s reckoning. We connected through the honey bees when Jacques contacted my brother Don a few years ago. Jacques drove out to the farm – an hour from Calgary – and hung out, lent a hand with the bees. He was new to beekeeping and brought the zeal and enthusiasm of a convert. I learn a lot from new beekeepers. They ask the sort of questions that make us old grizzled life-long professionals think about our habits and revise our routines. With newbies, I’m forced to think through my procedures. I am compelled to reduce my apiculture nomenclature to clear and concise phrases that help me understand what I do. Have you ever noticed this yourself? Whatever it is you do well and do frequently, teaching it to someone new helps you get a better sense for it yourself. I try to spend an hour each year at an elementary school, exciting kids about bees. I try to answer some of my frequent mail from beginners, exciting adults about bees. Having a friend like Jacques was a joy.
Jacques kept a few hives next to his house where he tried to watch them work every day. It was a new passion for him. Jacques had spent his life as a respected teacher and a counselor. He was wise and generous to his friends, to his seven children, and to anyone he encountered. In his early years, he had stowed away on a ship sailing the coast of Africa. A little later, he was watching the streets of Tehran from a roof top when the Shah of Iran was deposed. He was an acquaintance of Prime Minister Trudeau’s son, and he was a political activist. He was a French-Canadian who had lived most of his life in English-speaking western Canada, but he had a house on a lake near Montreal. He had squeezed a lot of living into his limited years. Jacques found a special passion working with us on the farm, where – through his eyes – he would subtly remind us of the wonder of nature; he encouraged us to look at the world with fresh eyes. We will miss this wonderful man.