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For Jake Hays '06, bee stings and dog bites are occupational hazards

Jake Hays ’06 wasn’t ready to join the traditional workforce after graduating from Connecticut College.

Instead, he set his sights on Alaska, where he became a professional sled dog handler, and then Hawaii, where he now works as a beekeeper. Both jobs kept him close to nature and helped him realize how passionate he is about the environment.

“I've always tried to get the most I can out of life and this usually entails going on adventures, both near and far,” he said. “I’m really just after true experience.”

He jokes that in his first job he avoided dog bites and now tries not to get stung.

Hays hopes to combine his interests in philosophy and nature by studying environmental philosophy in graduate school next year.

“Without my recent experiences, I may not have realized how important the environment actually is to me,” he said. “Certain things just take awhile to become apparent, even if they are right under your nose the entire time.”

A canine lover, Hays began working with Alaska Excursions after graduating and even convinced Nick Raffel ’05 to join him. Running and pulling a sled is instinctual for a husky, and their job was to harness this power.

The position took Hays on the adventure he’d been looking for. He found himself standing face-to-face with 800-pound bears and breaking up dog fights.

“While attempting to break up one bloody melee, which was only getting worse as more and more dogs joined, I took several good chomps to the arms and legs,” he said. “After getting stitches I learned not to be so diplomatic.”

When his seasonal position ended in September, Hays wanted another job that would keep him close to nature. He headed to Hawaii to work as a beekeeper.

At the College, he harvested honey with his uncle, a beekeeper in New Mexico, during a CELS internship. His uncle pointed him toward the position with Kona Queen Hawaii, Inc.

On a typical day, Hays’ duties include feeding and caring for the bees; checking the strength of hives; making sure a hive is “queen right” – meaning, it has a laying queen; and catching queens, which are then shipped to beekeepers all over the world.

“Our job is simply to sustain the hive and make it as productive as possible,” he said.

Hays said that majoring in philosophy enhanced his post-College experiences. Moral questions came up often, either when bees were inevitably killed after a hive was opened or dogs were harnessed to pull people around on a sled. Hays said that in graduate school, philosophy will be easier for him now that he has concrete examples to draw upon.

“I will be able to use my own experiences with dogs and bees to give weight to an argument or even inform my own theories on particular philosophical issues,” he said. “This will be a tremendous advantage for me.”

Careerwise, he hopes to return to the academic world one day, possibly as a philosophy teacher. Hays’ said that his time in Alaska and Hawaii has given him a renewed focus and direction in his educational pursuits.

“With no set plans, the entire world opens up to you,” he said. “That being said, the experiences I've had in the past few years have been priceless.”

-Rachel Harrington

February 5, 2009