Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In the Company of Bees

The past few mornings have been kind of chilly (in the 40's). The bees must think it's getting cold, too, because they're getting a bit sloppy with the housekeeping. Over the summer, I never saw any dead bees on the ground in front of the hive. I used to wonder why until I saw a few bees carrying out the dead. They always flew far, far away, up over the trees and out of sight with the bodies. Now that it's getting colder, I think they make it to the door and say, "To heck with that! No way I'm going out in this weather!"

Dead bee on ground near entrance.

The girls have also been ravenous lately.1 Yesterday morning, I put out another gallon of 2-1 syrup for them. Within a couple of hours, they had drained approximately a third of it and were scrambling all over each other to get the rest of it. I think they may have picked up the odor of leftover sugar syrup wafting from the kitchen, too, because they mobbed the door, trying to get in. A few of them actually slipped inside, so I spent a good deal of time on our honeybee catch & release program as well.

A very makeshift operation going on here.

Within minutes, the new feeder was mobbed.

Anyway, I wasn't keen on seeing them fight, so I whipped up a couple other feeders for them and sat down to watch for awhile.2 Maybe they liked my purplish top, or maybe they were attracted by the scent of sugar syrup that had splashed onto me, but a number of the girls appeared just as interested in me as in the feeders this morning. I gladly bared my hands and arms for them to land on, which reminded me of a beautiful (albeit sad) passage from one of Sylvia Plath's bee poems.
Bare-handed, I hand the combs.
The man in white smiles, bare-handed,
Our cheesecloth gauntlets neat and sweet,
The throats of our wrists brave lilies. 
Look at her proboscis. Adorable.

Unlike Sylvia, though, I didn't have the sense of anything frightening or dangerous. This was no suicide. Instead, it felt more of a moment of communion, an intersection of different lives sharing the same space and time for a second. And unlike the poor beekeeper in that poem, the bees did not sting me. Instead, they only explored my skin with their ticklish little bee feet.

I'm so sad that winter is almost here. I'm going to miss their company.

1 Yes, I've been using outdoor feeders, so it's quite possible that not all the bees are mine, but there are very few non-honeybee visitors.
2 In case you were curious, by yesterday evening, nearly the entire white bucket (1 gallon) was empty. The tall clear plastic container (about 2 gallons) was half empty. And somewhere between 1/3 to 1/2 of the 1/2 gallon glass jar had been drained as well. I have some very thirsty girls.

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