A few years ago, for Christmas gifts I got bees. Two, to be precise: a small, dainty gold one from my husband (banded in white & black diamonds, just to be decadent 🙂 ), and a similarly dainty sterling bee pin from my younger son, with antennae crooked so lifelike it looks as if it were a victim of a silver Midas touch. In other words, not real bees. Those would follow, a couple of years later.
I often write about bees. I’d like to work up a collection — use them as metaphor, possibly, but mostly just observe them, writing down what they do, look like, are. Haiku, tanka and renga are good for that. Perhaps it’s the Zen influence: watch, reflect, learn. Kind of the Zen mantra, that.
I’m not good at mindfulness. But I do like watching bees. They ground me, ironically — their tiny wings, their fuzzy bodies. How they make work into honey. Even their short life spans, spent working — it’s almost mystical, to me. In the past few years, I’ve read more than 20 books on bees. I don’t really even know how many — 20 is how many I have on the book shelf w/ the gardening books, and I know I checked out several from the library. And there are still a few on my wish list!
I love reading about bees. There’s something so soothing about the idea of the hive, the soft hum that fills my head even as I read, so that I have to go in and get a teaspoon of honey. I used to buy my local honey at my local bakery, but the beekeeper ‘aged out’: he gave his bees to a new keeper. I wished at the time I was ready to keep honey bees, but I wasn’t. Now, I buy my local honey at the farmer’s market, or the supermarket.
Recently, a friend’s brother was giving away a hive. I wanted it like I sometimes want a new book — desperately, as if it might somehow impart magic and wisdom and order to my crazy life. In my city you have to go through a bee-keeping seminar (several weeks long, put on the by City-County health dept) to get a license to keep ‘urban bees.’ I even took it — well, most of it. Life got in the way, as I recall (it was a few years ago), and I didn’t quite finish. But I still have the notes — a notebook of info from local beekeeps about bees.
Ironically — but so like real life — what I found as I talked to local beekeepers is that I’m not going to keep honey bees. They require FAR more work than the beautiful books detail. I’d always thought of keeping bees as a symbol of the coming quiet, the time when there would actually be time. To read, to write, to learn to speak to bees. Endless Saturdays … to walk outside, to sit in the sun, to watch the bees… What I learned is that bees have their needs — think of bees as livestock, in a way: they need things done according to their schedule, not necessarily yours. Kind of like kids.
When I was a young child, I would follow bees. The way I would stick my nose in the grass to follow ants (really). I would try to find the hive. I didn’t know then that bees could fly a two-mile radius from the hive. Or maybe I did — I read omniverously, Fabre on bees & moths when I was 10, for instance. Insects and birds and animals fascinated me. I was horse crazy, dog crazy, fish and bird and outside crazy. A goofy, leggy, elbow-y girl who believed what the servants told her — that everything had a spirit. That the very bees could speak to you, if you would listen.
Just last fall, sitting at a café in the warm autumn light, I watched as a bee flew over the table. I sat out a small drop of sugar dissolved in water for her. She touched her body to it, and then turned to land on my arm, as light as dust. I could feel her tiny feet crawling over my arm, see her antennae feeling her way. It was as if she was saying thank you. I am learning to speak bee, even if I don’t keep honey bees. I do keep native bees. More on that next post ~