When the first sprig of green finally arrives and the world opens its greedy arms to springtime, I clap my hands in joy and wait for bees. They will come. My bees always do, planting their little nest in a safe harbor between my windows and storm screens. I do not know what draws them here, to my humble place in the world.
“The bees are back,” I tell Todd excitedly.
“This year I’m going to take that damn nest down.”
“If you do that, I will divorce you.”
He doesn’t understand. How could I explain in any simple way how much it means to me that they let me into their strange, little world? Liv and I sit, side by side, watching these creatures at their miniature labors, listening to the constant hum of their wings beating in the new air. They are fresh with possibility. It is the beginning of a lifetime that is equal to a human summer. But a long, hot summer is all they need.
When I was little I would devote entire summer afternoons to the capture and release of bees. Butterflies bored me. Ladybugs were over-rated. Caterpillars made my hands stink. So, in the backyard of my childhood home I became a hunter of bees.
“Mom, I need some jars with lids.”
“What for, Gwenny Pooh?”
“I’m catching bees.”
“Again? Honey, beeee careful. They sting.”
But that was sort of the point. It’s not that I wanted to get stung. But I instinctively knew in my little girl heart that anything worth having wouldn’t come easy. Those bees were a worthwhile opponent. And I had something to learn from them. Bees could fuck you up. How could I not respect a thing that would rather die than be in pain any longer? How could I not understand them? Bees will sacrifice their lives for the opportunity to sting, to punish the source of their pain. How awesome is that?
Little Gwen tip toed through the grass prowling for those bees. My de-labeled mayonnaise jar in hand, I spotted my prey extracting nectar from a buttercup. Once I placed the jar overhead, the bee doesn’t know he is my prisoner, not right away. It is for this moment I do my work. I sit cross-legged on the ground next to my captive; my skinny legs itched by the sharp blades of grass, watching a private moment, intimate as a dance between lovers.
“You have a sweet tooth, little bee. Guess what? So does me!” And I laughed at my own silly, ungrammatical rhyme. My giggle a music harmonizing with the cackle of a distant locust.
We had a talk, the bee and I. He always listened. Then came the moment where the bee realized the jig was up. There was my bee hurling his little body against the glass. Ping. Ping. Ping. That is a sad sound. It was time to let my bee go.
That is a tricky game: Release. The bee was pissed off at me. He was ready to lay down his last stinger, his only life to make me suffer his wrath. I pulled off the jar right quick and ran as quick as my little legs could take me to the safety of my own jar. And therein I stood looking out the back door. My little finger pressed against the coldness of that glass. Ping. Ping. Ping. It was just another prison.
Now that I am grown the bees come to me. I watch their workings at my leisure. And work they do. They never stop. Ceaseless humming. Coming and going. Moving and spinning, covering and uncovering. Busy bees. I could learn from them. I could learn how to live from these bees in their wild state, satiated with nectar and purpose and all that is right in the whole wide world.
The first chill of September brings stillness to the hive. You can see the beginning of the end in their movements. The bees move slow and stilted, but their queen is safe and fat. She is full of the next generation. And for the first time in the whole of their short bee lives, they will rest, satisfied with the work of their bee hands.
This is when I stop watching. Maybe it’s not fair of me to abandon them at this, the end. Is that wrong? Some people don’t know how to deal with death. Soon the hum is gone, as are the bee shadows on my blinds in the late afternoon. When I peer out of my jar, I see their lonely hive, beautiful and haunted, long remiss of the buzz of bees. Beneath these intricate catacombs lay the bodies of its occupants, drying in the cool, autumn winds.
When I see those dead bee bodies, something awakens inside of me. Something hot and uncomfortable. These bees are done. I want to know if they regret never stinging somebody in the ass. I want to know if they died with the sweetness of nectar in their mouths. I want to know if their bee lives flashed before their eyes.
“Did you bee all you could bee?” The grass is itchy. I scratch at my legs. Ping. Ping. Ping.
Capture and release. A wild thing won’t be taken alive. But freedom has its own price. That is the agony of life. Maybe you don’t know this, but we pick our own deaths. I’m not saying we choose the way we lose our living breaths. That is not the death I’m talking about. I’m talking about the slow, aching death of the soul. I’m talking about the captured heart of a wild thing, hurling all its energy against the glass walls of its prison. Ping. Ping. Ping. That is the saddest sound. Sometimes we don’t know we’re captured until it’s too late.
7 hours ago