Honey bees dance. It’s magic, really — they dance and hum to each other, and that’s communication. They tell each other stories about nectar, about flowers a mile or more away ~ follow the contrail above you east; turn north at the giant dogwood and head on to the mimosa. Lifting their wings, and fluttering their antennae, they share fragrance and colour and distance and a complete journey there and back again. A dance that becomes a story, becomes a journey. And they do this in the dark.
I want to know that dance. I want someone to tell me how to get there, wherever that is. I want to know how long it will take, and what I will find, and even what it will taste like. Although I might not believe them.. .And at the same time? I want to strike out all alone, little baggage, and discover something… momentous. Transcendent. I want that, too. Maybe I’m a more solitary bumble bee?
There’s a song my sister sent me, when I was going through a really rough patch, that seemed for many years a kind of mantra for me. It’s Mary Chapin Carpenter, one of my favourites, and there’s a line that says: pens that won’t run out of ink/ and cool quiet/ and time to think…Shouldn’t I have this?/ Shouldn’t I have this?/ Shouldn’t I have all of this and… she asks. I remember thinking — me too. Me too.
A teacher years ago — a professor, a famous writer — told me I always want more. The implication, from this nice, aescetic writer, was that ‘more’ is not a good thing. And certainly the Buddhist in me recognises that greed is one of the three mind poisons. But I don’t think of myself as greedy, but more like Chapin Carpenter’s label ~ passionate.
What does this have to do w/ bees, and the way they dance to tell stories, and how they lift on wings ragged from the weeks it takes them to learn how to forage flowers and scout the wind…? It may well be why I became a writer ~ the only skill I have that comes close to flying. I never did dance well enough to fly through the air — voted ‘most improved’ in my ballet class Mais, Britton: what an interesting grand jeté ~ I have never seen one executed quite like that. Nor could I draw, even well enough to create a cartoon, an attempt at line drawings that might be a kind of Braille. Music might have saved me, had I realised that women could become classical composers. I never wanted to be a rock’n’roll heroine, but études and sonatas and the singing hum of bees ~ these have certainly seduced me.
No, words are the only wings I have. And they are the wings for the stories I bring back, from wherever it is that bees fly to on the last hours of daylight, when the sun is already just below the horizon. They’re map & journey, flower & nectar, wings & home, all messily entangled. It would take a very sure-footed bee to dance this mystery. In the meantime, I’ll watch as they work the black-eyed susans in the garden, landing sometimes — when I’m lucky — on my arm. Feather light dancers, who always know their way home.