Bees, Part 2

A few people contacted me about my first blog post with a common refrain, which went something along the lines of:  “but you’re an animal lover, so it’s easy for you to show compassion toward invading bees.  Not everyone can do that.”  While I am an unabashed friend of the animals, in light of these comments I thought I should share an event in my background that I wasn’t going to mention.  Here it is: 

When I was a little girl of about 5 or 6, my family was vacationing one summer with relatives up in the Oregon countryside.  It was a beautiful day, and I was happily running around bare-footed in the gardens.  At one point, I trampled across the nest of some kind of ground-dwelling stinging creature (hornet?  yellow jacket?) and they attacked my foot with a vengeance.  It was shockingly painful and quite frightening as they chased me around while I screamed.  My foot swelled to the size of a grapefruit and my whole body felt inflamed and disoriented.  It was awful.

From that moment, I had a deep fear of any and all bees, including honey bees.  When any kind of bee came anywhere near me, I’d panic, running around, flapping my hands and making small shrieking noises.  It was embarrassing but I couldn’t stop myself.

Until I did.  After 30 years of bee-related terror, I made peace with them.  I still have a healthy respect for the yellow jacket variety, but I absolutely love honey bees and am happy to see them, very much enjoying their company.  They have become a very significant animal in my life – a positive force.

I made that shift almost 10 years ago.  I’m not going to go into how I went from there to here.  The point of this post isn’t to delve into my process, as it may not be yours.  I just want you to know that you CAN make that leap.  You CAN release the terror or anger or whatever it is that clinches your insides up.  You CAN throw your arms wide open to all that is around us.  You can.  And there’s always an opportunity to do so.  My current opportunity:  opening my heart to the neighbors that killed the bees.  Now there’s some hard work. 

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Hello world!

I wasn’t sure I’d even write a blog.  It seems that there are already a zillion blogs out there, surely covering everything I might think of to write.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  What pushed me over the decision ledge was a bunch of bees and what happened to them a few doors down from me.

One recent day, a swarm of bees apparently decided to rest in one of my neighbor’s trees en route to a new hive location.  If you know anything about bees, you know that from time to time, they need to move hives, which is a major undertaking for them.  They have to figure out where to go next, which involves scouting locations and getting consensus among the bee decision-makers.  Once this occurs, the entire hive’s occupants travel en masse toward the hive-to-be.  They do this in a highly organized way designed to protect the queen.  After a lengthy journey, they land in a big swarm on a temporary resting spot, where they recuperate for a couple of days before embarking on the next leg of their journey.  They do this until they arrive at their new permanent hive spot, where they set up housekeeping.

I know this because a couple of years ago, I was in my home office with the door open when I heard a sound I couldn’t quite place.  It reminded me of a toy airplane, maybe a bunch of toy airplanes, but not quite.  A loud buzzing.  I went to the door and the sky was dark.  It took me a moment to realize that it was dark with bees.  It looked like a wild, dancing cloud.  I’ll admit to being a bit nervous at first.  I closed the door and watched through the glass.  Over the next few minutes, the cloud of bees began to thin as they started landing in the corner of one of our bougainvillea trees.  Eventually, they formed a huge, writhing ball of bees, with just a few stragglers flying here and there.

I promptly hopped on the internet to see what was going on, where I learned of the phenomenon of swarming traveling bee tribes (not the scientific term).  The articles all confirmed that they were resting, would likely do so for one to three days and would then move on.  They also promised that the bees had no interest in me – if I left them alone, they’d leave me alone.

I opened the door.  I could hear them, but it was a calmer buzzing now, a restful murmur as they settled in for their nap.  I got closer until I was just a few feet away from them, with my jaw hanging open.  They were amazing.  First, the sheer number of them and the size of the bundle they formed when piled on top of one another was stunning.  Second, the fact that this bundle never seemed to completely stop moving made it seem to be a breathing, living organism comprised of the individual bees.  I was honored that they’d chosen our cozy space as a resting spot and vowed to leave them in peace and keep them safe.  When Queenie got home from school that day, she was thrilled to meet them, too.  Each day, Queenie and I checked on them and admired them.  Then, on the third day, I started hearing that toy airplane sound again and I rushed out to the back.  They were on their way, darkening my patch of sky one last time and then fading away.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago…  Knowing that I’m an animal lover, one of my neighbors emailed one night to ask if I happened to know anything about bees.  A big swarm had landed in another neighbor’s front tree and they were freaked out and needed advice.  I was thrilled to be able to offer assurance and promptly emailed information about this phenomenon, including helpful links with lots of details, and I went to bed happy knowing that I’d helped another little bee tribe.

The next morning, I awoke to a shock… the neighbor with the bee visitors hadn’t waited to hear if anyone had any suggestions.  They hadn’t even bothered to check the internet, where they would have learned the same things I found out.  No, instead they called an exterminator and had the swarm eliminated.  Not relocated (another possibility that existed), but killed.  And lest you think they had some kind of pressing reason to do so, no one in the neighbor family has a bee allergy.

I find this hard to fathom and incredibly sad.  First, in this specific instance, these bees were not causing any trouble.  This was in no way an act of self-defense.  The planet, very much including its human inhabitants, needs bees.  They are a vital part of the ecosystem and they are facing Colony Collapse Disorder, a serious situation to say the least.  As stewards of this planet, we humans should do everything we can to assist our fellow earthlings to thrive, including leaving bees alone.

But what propelled me to launch this blog isn’t “just” the bees in this story.  It’s the underlying motivation behind their demise:  FEAR.  Specifically, in this case, fear of the unknown.  These neighbors didn’t know what would happen, they feared the worst (what if they sting us) and they reacted from that place of fear and needlessly killed a huge number of benevolent beings.

I share this story as a cautionary tale… when you have a new, possibly disconcerting encounter with a new situation, whether it be a swarm of bees, a human or anything else, please try not to react from a place of fear.  Take the time to try to understand the situation.  Get your mind around it.  And then, try to get your heart around it, too.  Is there a way to help?  or at least to do no harm?  Every time you respond from this perspective of compassion, the world will be a better place.