Bees

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It’s a riot of flowers. Fourteen years ago, with our house freshly purchased, we tore out the front garden. A massive juniper cluster, appearing like one bush—three feet high and twelve feet wide—hunkered against our front porch. The giant splotch, one color—pale green—didn’t match our vision, our esthetic. We wanted to make a statement. Not a boring, juniper statement. Something Van Gogh: color, confusion, insanity.

We started slowly, cheaply. A dozen coneflowers, yellow and pink, some sedum and hostas moved from the side yard, daisies and black-eyed susans from WalMart, plus a couple of ground covers so we wouldn’t need to mulch. All this jumbled into that space within the curve of our sidewalk that used to be a bush.

Hostas and sedum grow and spread and soon overwhelm themselves. They need to be maintained, trimmed back—best done by cutting away some of the roots. Roots that can be replanted and grown into new plants. Yellow finches spend the autumn months camped out on dried-up coneflowers, snacking on seeds, agitating the cats. They’re messy eaters, each spring a dozen extra coneflowers sprout. Some, even in our back yard.

Our garden grew, it hopped our walkway like a wildfire and spread down to the street. It expanded east around the maple tree and joined up with the bushes planted along the side of the house. It took over our front yard. Our neighbors had comments.

Joan: You call that a ‘cottage garden?’ I’ve never heard of that. You know, Bobbi spent an awful lot of money on that garden plan you cut down.

Dorothy: Wow, what a garden. I’m sure the faeries love that.

George: Looking good. Hey, I’ve got these flowers that spread quickly on their own. Do you want some?

We took six flowers from George. They’re yellow. They grow in shoots and sprout flowers up and down and all around the stalk. George didn’t know what they are called. Neither do we. They’ve taken over the garden. We achieved what we wanted. We’re channeling Van Gogh.

This story isn’t about our garden, it’s about the environment.

When my kids were younger, when they were still little kids, they spent hours in the garden catching bumblebees dusted in the yellow pollen from George’s plants. They did this with their hands. A popular myth is that bumblebees don’t sting, but my quick read of Wikipedia tells me this is wrong. Queens and workers sting, but they are more likely to be found in the nest.  Catching bumblebees is something I couldn’t bring myself to do. Even though my kids were never stung, I was certain I would be.

I did, however, once catch a bumblebee in a Tupperware container. Reading that when temperatures plummet into the freezing range, bees will go into hibernation. I caught my bumblebee and popped him into the freezer. I wrote out a tiny note that said “Please call me!” and I included my phone number. Using a piece of Susan’s hair, I tied the note to my hibernating bee’s leg and left him in the sun to thaw. He woke up slowly, stumbling around like a drunk. When he sobered up enough, he flew off over the trees with my note dangling behind him.

In addition to bumblebees, our garden was filled with honey bees. One of the primary industries in my county is fruit growing. Square mile after square mile is dedicated to apple and peach orchards. And centrally located within these orchards are processing plants. Many of the fruit products Americans are familiar with are created just up the road. Motts apple sauce and Snapple drinks being the most well know. Honey bees are an important piece of the food processing chain. Without pollinators, there is no fruit.

This year, I haven’t seen any bees. Not one. Yes, it’s still early, not even summer yet, but George’s flowers are in full bloom. My garden is dead of any bug life whatsoever. There are no bees, no flies, none of those tiny sweat bees that may or may not sting. A smorgasbord of pollen is going to waste. No pollinators are dropping by. There are no mosquitoes yet either. Usually, we start seeing them in March. By June, we can’t go outside without being swarmed.

I have a tendency to look for catastrophe. Annually, I review global temperature charts, certain that the tipping point—that event where global warming escalates exponentially without any more input from humans—has already passed. For two decades, almost every year is a top-ten hottest year. My bug-free spring is just more evidence that as a species, we’re already screwed.

12 thoughts on “Bees

    • The growers here have been wringing their hands about the bee population for a while. I stopped getting the local paper so I don’t know if this has been a big topic this year It’s weird being in the garden on a warm sunny day and see no insects at all. The mosquito thing is the weirdest though. They’ve been getting worse and showing up earlier every year for a decade. I’ve seen one (and I’m outside all the time). Thousands of fireflies though.

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  1. What does one do about a situation like this? Where to Start? Nice writing that you got us hooked before dropping that bomb. That’s what gets people interested. Well I’ll speak for myself. It gets me interested.

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    • Andrea, nice to see you here, and thanks for that compliment. I’m probably being unnecessarily melodramatic, but about 10 days ago I was sitting with my wife on the front porch and noticed the absence of life. I’ve been keeping watch ever since. It seems really weird to me.

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      • I don’t think anything you wrote was weird. My husband and I have those same fears over other things. (Ironically right after I left that comment we got a manic text from the teenagers. “Papa! Mama! Come home! There is a GINORMOUS beehive at the front door. It’s FREAKING US OUT!” 2 thoughts: 1) God always shows up for me in synchronicities. So thank you for being the first. 2) Maybe your bees are at our home outside Los Angeles? 🙂

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  2. I have a friend–a doctor–who bee-keeps and I bless her every darn day. I planted bee balm and some other bee- and hummingbird-friendly flowers this year–but the bunnies are fighting me on them. Keep eating the sprouts. I hope enough of us keep at it and that we get wiser about our world and how to protect the creatures we share it with . . .

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  3. I don’t tend to go outside, unless absolutely necessary, by May ‘cos it’s generally too hot here (Houston, TX). I can’t imagine how creepy it would be to go out and there not be any insects, especially mosquitoes.

    I admit I’m ignorant about the full ramifications of the loss of pollinators, but I know if we lose them we’re in a world of hurt. I hope you’re right (that you’re being “unnecessarily melodramatic”) because if your not we’re in trouble.

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  4. I used to catch bees in my hands when I was a kid too. The trick is to find the bumblebees with a white dot in the middle of their foreheads. I think they may be carpenter bees and they don’t have stingers. If their heads are all black, they will sting you. I love a van Gogh type of garden myself. I don’t like anything too manicured-looking. Love those coneflowers and the yellow flowers from your photo are gorgeous!

    I worry about the pollinators too. I think the fact that everyone now sprays their lawn with pesticides and herbicides is killing the bees. There used to be clover in everyone’s lawn and honeybees in the clover. Now it’s just grass. A monoculture.

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  5. I am horticulturally impaired. I know, shame on the country girl. I have a variety of beautiful plants and flowers around my house because some owner before me green thumbed it up. As long as I don’t touch them, they return every year. Luckily, I’m still seeing a lot of bees darting around them. Unfortunately, I think this past winter is on record as the worst bee disappearance season to date in the country.

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