I won’t lie: It’s been really hard starting this spring with no bees. This is only the second time in the past eight years that my yard has been without the wonder of honeybees. And I have not felt the sorrow of the loss of all five of my hives in a really obvious way. I tell myself that I understand: bees come, bees go. More will come. And more will go.
I go about my business and tell myself, “it is okay, this is just how it is…” But there is a heaviness in my heart. On a few clear days about a week ago, many scout bees came to explore my hives, so many swirling about the entrances I could almost convince myself that a colony had moved in.
Until nightfall, I could court this hope, and then with the dark, they would all melt away into the evening. Then the clouds and rain returned and the hives have not had a single visitor…
But I tell myself that that is okay.
Yesterday, after noontime, unexpected sunshine arrived. The mason bees in my pollinator hotel became happily active again buzzing about on all the flowers, checking out the buds on the apple and pear trees. On the other side of the yard, I watched delighted as a black and yellow bumble bee queen searched for a good home, and I prayed she would find one here.
“Go check on the library bees,” my mind whispered. Downtown at our public library, in a fine, stout tree, hangs a habitat hive PBC hung for the library two years ago. Their bees made it through winter strong and even sent out their prime swarm the first sunny day about 10 days ago.
I was to be informed when the hive swarmed, but with Corona, the library is closed, downtown empty, and the bees swarmed and left. I heard about it from a passerby a day later.
Right about now, the library colony should be ready for secondary or “daughter” swarms. The weather was still quite cool, but after a couple hours of that little thought finding its way into my head several more times, I grabbed my purse and headed out to the car. “I’m going to check on the library bees,” I said to my husband, John, as I headed to the door.
“Why?” he said, “Did someone call you?”
“Nope. I’m just getting the message I should check on them.” So off I went Driving to the library, I have to admit I was feeling a bit sheepish. Many many times I’ve had a “premonition” that was simply nothing. Most times, that is how it is, yet I always respond to the call, the whisper, whenever it comes.
At times like this, my ego frequently starts spitting poison into my ear: Who do you think you are that the bees would ‘call’ to you? You are so full of it. Sure. The bees called you.
I pulled up to the silent library, and parked on a street with nary a car in sight. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I started looking, looking for a ball of bees hanging anywhere. There were—of course—none hanging anywhere. The entrance of the hive was happily busy with a small platoon of bees coming and going swiftly in the afternoon light, their bodies in the sun shimmering with the amber nectar in their translucent tummies.
Clearly, they had no need of my service, no need to “call.” I watched them come and go for a moment, my heart tugging at the familiar sight of spring bees in all their healthy glory. My own yard seemed so painfully silent.
I walked quietly behind the hive over to the library wall and settled myself down with my back against the cold, damp bricks. Tilting my head up to look at the colony, I said, humbly, “I heard you. So I came. I heard you.”
There was a sort of a pause right then, a hush after my words. But how can I describe what happened next? Describe it in a way that can bring you right there with me? The instant I finished my silly proclamation—the very instant—the sound in the hive shifted. Suddenly, where there had been twenty bees, there were two hundred, three hundred, four hundred.
On the outside of the hive, a cluster of bees began gathering, pouring swiftly from the hive’s smooth bamboo entrance. The sound ramped up, and I recognized the sweet sweet sound of a colony beginning to sing it swarm song. Like cannon shot, the bees were in the air, many hundreds, orbiting the hive as though it were a planet and the bees, a billion stars.
The blessed bees found me there, my back to the cold bricks, my face flushed with tears, and they came to me in small groups, landing on my face and cheeks.
Above me, a thunder cloud the size of Texas was barreling toward us. It would stop them in their tracks, I knew. Still, they swirled. Still, they took their slow time to visit me, their tickling feet on my face and hands, the softness of their fuzzy warm bodies on my fingers.
Now, I was embarrassed to have ever doubted myself. “I heard you call, and I came,” I called out, “And you heard me call, and you came…”
Raindrops began splashing on the ground around me. “We heard each other. We did,” I whispered to myself between weeping fits.
I’m not a churchy person. But I know what it feels like to be anointed by the holy. That was what I knew was happening to me there on the swiftly dampening ground: an anointing by life in the form of droplets of amber bees falling out of the sky to touch me and bless me.
I bowed my head and reached my hands up to my face. With trembling, salty lips, I kissed the one soft bee on my palm as she wiped her wet antenna with her tiny feet. “Thank you for this. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for welcoming me, and for blessing me.”
The bee in my palm lifted off back to her nest where the swirling bees were spiraling back inside. Had the black cloud not blanketed us, I knew the bees would have swarmed, and I would have been there to gather them.
In my lost moments of uncertainty and confusion, I tell myself such things can’t happen. But when I am in my truth, I know that these moments of connection between me and the others—all the nonhuman others—ARE my truth.
Back at home, my yard seems even more painfully quiet now. Grief hits me in the body. It makes my muscles ache, my back bend low, and my very bones feel frail. At night, I revisit the feel of the library colony fluttering by my face, singing in my ears. And I live for the day the honeybees will return to me in some way: a swarm call? A gift from a bee friend? Perhaps some will just simply move into one of my empty hives.
However they come, I need them to come. Until they left, I had no sense of how deeply intertwined with bees I had become. There are certain creatures who come into your life and become your life, and your way of life. Horses are like that, and working dogs, and farm animals, and bees. They are not just our buddies, friends, and family. Being with them becomes a lifestyle. Our lives are lived in close relationship with them, and they mold in great part who we become.
I pray each night for their return so I can continue to be molded and forged and bettered by bees. And I pray the library bees will call to me again on some sunny day. May it bee soon!