Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Swarm

It started small, little more than a pancake-sized stain in the parking lot where Duncan and I walked this morning after a good game of fetch in the park. In fact, I didn't notice it until an hour later when I made a quick run to the market for milk for the blueberry pancakes I wanted to make for breakfast. By that time four big orange cones had been set up around it, which a small group of groundskeepers were redirecting traffic around. By then the pancake had grown bigger than a short-stack––beyond even a tall-stack. It no longer even resembled anything you could find on a breakfast plate. No, this was a tire-sized, undulating mass, brown and gold, and the air outside my window was filled with hovering bees, their gossamer wings translucent in the sun. By the time I returned ten minutes later there were two more equal-sized mounds on the pavement and the grounds crew had vanished entirely, leaving the bees and whomever happened by to fend for themselves.

With the exception of the swarms I saw on Creature Feature on Friday nights in my childhood, I have never seen so many bees in my life. I quickly rolled up my windows and slowed as I drove past, marveling at the size and sound and weight of the things. Like clouds the mounds continually changed shape, elongating into strange ovals, then growing taller, like an ant hill, then flattening back out into a thin, oil-stain shape. The air was thick with them and I could hear them bumping gently against the window and bouncing away.

Duncan and I stayed away for the remainder of the morning, but hours later, on our afternoon stroll down through The Wrangle, I paused, well out of the way, to investigate. There were no bees to be seen at all. The air was clear of those yellow-diamond wings, silent and still, and I worried that perhaps someone had called pest control and had them gassed. When I stopped by the leasing office to inquire, I was told they were honey bees which appeared out of nowhere and left as suddenly as they'd come. They'd been spotted down on the east end of the property last week and had vanished again. No exterminator had been summoned. Protected by law they'd been left alone, free to do as they wished. And this morning the only thing they wished to do was interrupt the flow of traffic out of our complex.

While many might see this as alarming, I take great comfort in it. On all my summer and spring walks with Duncan for the past two years I have seen hardy a bee, except for the wasps which sometimes lurk around my patio. This morning's display more than made up for it. It is a good thing that the bees have reappeared or recovered or returned or whatever it is they have done. They are a vital part of this world we live in and the disappearance of their colonies has been deeply troubling, not just to myself and the poets, but to scientists and farmers as well.

Their drone, muffled as it was behind the safety of my window, was music to my ears. This surely means there will be more flowers and fruit for our future walks, and magical yellow and black zeppelins whose work is a marvel and a mystery.

His labor is a chant,
his idleness a tune;
Oh, for a bee's experience
Of clovers and of noon!
(Emily Dickinson)

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