Story by Julia Steele
Photos by Jack Wolford
Garnett Puett has spent his entire life among the honeybees. He was born in Georgia, the fourth generation in a family of apiarists, and he had his first hive by the time he was five years old. From the bees, Puett began to learn some of the more delicate, beautiful aspects of life: the way community could lead to purpose and hard work to nectar. Away from the bees, life was not so magical. Civil rights battles were raging in the South, and Puett’s father, who supported desegregation, watched the family’s prized bee yards burned to the ground during the strife. He died a year later, done in, says his son, by the heartbreak of it all.
Puett’s mother moved her children north to Idaho and married another beekeeper, Jim Powers, one of the largest honey producers in the United States. Powers had beehives all over the country, and in 1972 he pulled a trick “out of thin air,” says his stepson, and expanded his honey harvesting operation to Hawai‘i. Puett, who by this time was a teenager, came to the Islands during the summers. Hawai‘i offered a less taxing experience than the “grueling, torturous” six-days-a-week, ten-hours-a-day harvesting schedule in Idaho, and it was in the Islands that Puett truly “got mesmerized by bees.” Foreshadowing what was to come, it was the bees’ physical creations that inspired him the most.
“I was fascinated by how the bees constructed their homes,” he recalls today. “I loved the tactile quality of the wax. I loved watching them create these beautiful structures: How do they know to do it? How do they do it so perfectly?”