Friday, August 7, 2009

The Truth About Bees

Have you ever watched a honeybee die? It's the saddest, most logical, sensical thing in the world.
Yesterday, I sat in an Adirondack chair, overlooking a gorgeous glacier-made lake, and watched a beautiful bumblebee die. Or, I can only imagine it was dying, it was acting strangely enough for anyone to misinterpret it as dying.. or crying, or possibly praying.

My family spends the summers on Cayuga Lake, in the Finger Lakes of upstate NY. This area has been described many ways by many people, but it is definitely gorgeous (to reference the bumper sticker.) So, sitting here with a good book during the Toddler's nap is actually a difficult venture.. do you watch the lake? Or stare at your book, thinking of watching the lake?

In this case, I watched the bumblebee, fully aware of the sheer luxury that is sitting in a chair and watching something for any amount of time. Trust me, I'm savoring it. I've had several Zen-moments on our trip up here, and this was one of them.

The most curious thing he (or she) did, as he was dying, was pause. S/He would stumble around, the very tip of the bee tail would slowly lift up, then down. Pause. Then quickly up and down. The wings would spread out, gather, spread out, as if searching for something; and just when he saw it, and was about to take flight after it, fatigue would set in and the search would begin anew.

For half an hour, I watched this dance. The invariable Dance with Death. Life as he knew it was ending, and it seemed a welcome change from the busy duties of beedom. But it made me immeasurably sad, to witness this slow demise, the creeping around, the slower flicks of the tail. At one point, I looked down, and I could see both giant bumblebee eyes, staring straight into mine. I know this seems a bit alliterative, because of the obvious: bees have no conscience thought, or wisdom, or ability to look us in the eye. Do they?

He crawled, wiggled, spread wings, danced, flicked tail, turned in circles, raised his antennae dutifully in attention, and I played his witness. The whole process seemed tragic, yes, very sad, but also redemptive. Logical. He had accomplished what he'd set out (let's assume), he had played his role in the great Universe with grace (let's presume) and - once the World was without this particular bee, life would resume.

Such a sadness, I felt, in watching him die slowly. To have the knowledge that this made sense, of course he was dying, that was bitter sweetness in its truth. I think we both came to the realization gradually, over time (since thirty minutes is quite a lot in bee-time.)

I found myself staring at the lake again. Thinking about the length of time we're here, about the life cycle of a bee. How much ground had he covered in his short time? My mind, wandering, immediately drew several connections. I'll share those another time. The lake was still a deep blue, the sky mirroring the color.

I looked back and he was gone.


mielikki August 7, 2009 at 11:41 PM  

That was a very, very well written post, one of the best I think I may possibly have ever read. Thank you.

Anonymous,  August 8, 2009 at 5:53 AM  

I remember watching something similar as a kid. It is the saddest thing ever.

I'm a big believer in quality, not quantity when it comes to life. No matter how much time we have it's never enough so we just have to make the most of it.

Jeanne August 8, 2009 at 12:46 PM  

C, this may be the most beautiful post you've ever written. It was a sad, sweet pleasure to read.

buffalodick August 9, 2009 at 2:38 PM  

Well written! I don't know a lot about winged insects, but a number of males(drones) get to die after mating...

Ashley Saenz,  August 14, 2009 at 6:38 PM  

You really have a gift for writing! I always enjoy your posts. Reading this really made me think.....

septembermom August 19, 2009 at 4:52 AM  

Very beautifully written. Sad for that little guy.

Sabrina August 19, 2009 at 2:34 PM  

Wow--this gave me chills! You are an excellent writer. One thing you said in particuar resonated with me. The luxury to sit and look at something for a minute, to think. I absolutely treasure those moments. My kids are still quite young, so I don't get them often. Great blog!



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