Thursday, June 16, 2011

Swarm étude

Just when you think you have your day organized and that you are well situated to accomplish all your allotted tasks, something happens. Sometimes it’s a volcano that fills the airspace with resplendent ash or a tornado that sends you scurrying to the dank cellar. Another time it’s a surprise communication from a man you knew forty years ago, and with whom you behaved badly. Regrettably. Yesterday it was a swarm.
The call came as I was reading and making notes about the fractious friendship between Henry James and H.G. Wells. I kept seeing the two men as “the unsexed and the oversexed”, though that is not how the literary rivalry was discussed in the critical context. Esther in Tarrytown said that the bees were swarming, this very minute, and gathering on the crabapple right next to their stone terrace. CSB was not answering his phone. I told her that I could keep trying his phone and that one of us would get there momentarily. I found him, and we did.
The bees were indeed collecting on the crabapple. Often a swarm will alight on a branch and then hang down in a teardrop shape; when this happens all we have to do is snip off the branch and shake the bees into the awaiting hive box. But these bees were wrapped around the tree trunk, so there was no snipping to be done. How could we encourage them to relocate to the hive box we placed atop a white sheet at the base of the tree? We had not brought our bee brush with us, but luckily I was able to borrow a basting brush from Esther. Kneeling beneath the tree I gently brushed the bees downward, and they came. Initially I wasn’t wearing my bee veil, but then I got stung right between the eyes. (This was unfortunate since I generally assert to anyone who will listen that when bees swarm they are not at all defensive and so you will never get stung. The bees that stung me missed that directive.) So I put on my bee veil and the netting kept getting snagged on the crabapple branches, making it harder to see than it is anyway when wearing a veil. And glasses.
The afternoon was waning, and certain tasks could not be ignored, not even for a swarm. So Imogene slipped back inside through the French doors and started practicing her oboe, an elegiac piece, and the bees streamed down towards the hive box, creating a shimmering and undulating new kind of bark. Some bees stood outside the box, upraised their tails and fanned outward the queen’s delicious pheromones, to lure in any stray sister. Would a clarinet have pleased them just as well? A fiddle?

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