Austin, United States

I have spent most of my career as a French professor and a research librarian, and have been reinventing myself as a writer. I’m...

About Bees

I love bees, and I’m going to tell you why. For one thing, despite their bad rap, bees are very gentle creatures. You probably didn’t know this. I became aware of it when some little worker bees decided they could harvest something from my patio. Once I noticed this, I realized there was only old soda cans there to be recycled, and I felt sorry for the little guys. So I began putting out a bit of soda for them. At first I would pour a bit into a shallow dish or some such, but they would always fall in and start to drown. So I switched to plastic lids, the kind that fit over a thin rim. These have a very narrow little ditch with purchase on both sides. The bees loved this delivery system, because they could perch on the rim and take their fill of the sweet liquid without falling in. They didn’t like all my sodas. But they would definitely go nuts over the vanilla cream sodas. I also tried spice tea, and they liked that even more. It became a habit, and every day they would show up and cruise my patio for their treat. That was last summer.

The bees became so familiar with me that they would sometimes brush up against me or my hand, and I was never stung once by them. I was so charmed, finding that their little fur was very, very soft. So things went along this way, very companionably. Then one day, I was sitting on my patio reading, and drinking a cup of tea. I reached down for the cup, and when I looked at it, I saw a little bee floating in the warm liquid. For me this was a serious emergency. I put my finger in the cup, and the little bee crawled right up on it gratefully. I then placed the little one on the patio wall and ran into the house to get something I could use to wash him off. He sat on the wall for a while, and finally flew off, never having stung me once. As I said, bees have a bad rap. I found them to be the sweetest, softest little creatures, and very diligent.

Another expression we often use is “honey bee”. The practical, fantastic honey bee makes that sweet syrupy concoction so many of us love. And there are many health benefits to honey. I have an acquaintance who is a bee keeper, and he frequently brings in jars of honey to sell, sometimes with a bit of the hive in the jar. Asked about this, he said, “Oh, the bees will just make more hive.” I’m certain a lot of effort goes into that. It’s hard on a bee to do all that gathering. In fact, in the busy warm months, a bee will wear out its wings in about 4 weeks. And that is their lifespan. Sounds sad, doesn’t it? But in winter, when there is less nectar to gather, they may live several months. Beekeepers protect the hive, but the little creatures do all the work.

Yet it is also true that bees can sting. I remember Mohammed Ali’s singsong expression rhyming his name with “sting like a bee”. So we’re surprised to find that bees are really gentle little guys. But they do sting, though not senselessly or for no reason. No. A bee only stings when faced with an aggressor, a predator who is attempting to kill them. THEN they will sting. They may give their lives doing it, but you won’t swat them dead without receiving a bit of the poison yourself. And this would be just, after all, when you think about it.

When I consider these things, I can see that the bee is actually a very noble little creature. So I find them wonderful, and I enjoy watching them and photographing them. But they don’t like being photographed either. They just quietly move out of the way of your lens. When you keep pointing it at them, they will eventually fly away to a more hidden spot. But one day a few weeks ago, when I was photographing some Ground Mimosa, I instinctively captured a quick view of a bee on one of the Mimosa blooms. When I downloaded the photos, in that shot, the little guy looked just like a little person wearing a short-sleeved shirt! It was truly remarkable, and though it was blurred, I couldn’t resist posting it to my gallery. I also love capturing them in flight, as they are hovering over the flower, or coming in for a landing. I love their wings in the sun. If you catch it just right, the colors of the rainbow are in them. And those pollen sacs on their legs are interesting too. What do they do with it? How do bees use polleen?

There are many mysteries of the gentle bee, that tiny, extraordinary little life. They are gloriously dressed. Some of them are irridescent green. And there are many varieties of bee. Some are very tiny, so that you need a magnifier or a zoom in order to tell that the bit of bug is a bee. But one thing is certain. They are evidence of something greater than ourselves at work in the universe, something marvelous. And for such a tiny creature, wihtout bees, how would we have pollination, and thus vegetables? The humble little bee is actually a powerful presence in our world, a little presence which does so many wonderful things for us. So the next time you’re tempted to swat a bee, just be still, and let the little one go by. I have allowed them to crawl on my feet, legs and arms, and was never stung. They won’t harm you. Just be calm. But don’t try to swat them or you’ll get a bee punch, and the sting does last a while.

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