The Lessons of the Bees

Summer has finally broken through our stunted spring, and the lawn is growing as I write.  By the time my lawn mower was oiled and tuned for this season, the grass had grown so long it had started to go to seed. So, for the first cutting this year, I had to collect the clippings, rather than leave them on the lawn as a nutrient. One evening last week, I fastened the bag to the lawn mower, poured gas into the tank, and steered the wheelbarrow out of the garage.

Before starting, I walked the property, looking for large twigs, stones and other debris that might get caught in the blades and dull them. When I came to the hole next to the tree stump, I froze and stared, frightened at the sudden memory of the bees that had colonized that hole last year, the bees that turned on me simply because I’d approached their home too closely.

Last year, a large branch succumbed to high winds, fell from a tree, and gouged out a hole in the grass. The bees moved right into that hole. I’ve never liked bees; I tolerate them as members of the natural order, giving benefits and having the rights of living spaces just like us. Last summer, I mowed the lawn carefully near the hole, lowering the speed of the engine as I passed back and forth.  At first, the bees and I ignored each other. I kept an eye on them, however, not wanting to antagonize them, but just to mow the grass, without evicting them.

As last summer progressed, Mom and I noticed more and more bees floating around the area. Then we noticed bees actively flying in and out of the hole. I began to wonder whether I could continue mowing the grass safely, but my trusting nature said yes. The bees would know that I wished them no harm, that I simply wanted to keep the lawn trimmed.

One day, having lowered the speed of the engine and slowed my rate of approach, a bee erupted from the hole before I got there, zoomed in on my lower leg, and stung me immediately.

Bee stings do not injure severely– unless one is allergic– but they hurt like hell. I iced the wound, cursed, and returned to the lawn mower, determined to trim the grass tufts adjacent to their nest. I pulled the lawnmower handle, the engine resumed its rotations, and before I could advance another foot, two bees shot up from the hole like a flame from Hell. I dropped the handle and ran, bees chasing me. One of them veered off, but the other grabbed hold of my trouser leg. I pulled the fabric away from my flesh, as it’s abdomen thrust in and out of the fabric trying to reach its target. I continued to hobble away from the scene, screaming for help, not knowing whether other bees had followed, but no one heard me.

I reached the front of the house, where some stiff bushes provided a surface upon which to scrape off the bee. It fell to the ground, dying, leaving its stinger to continue probing the fabric of my trousers. “You stupid bee!” I said to myself. “I meant you no harm.”

The lawn mower continued to run, standing next to the bee’s nest, but I had to return, if only to turn it off and withdraw. I did so gingerly, without further incident. I told Mom I would no longer mow the grass in that area of the lawn. The bees had extinguished my desire to approach.


Recently, I was flamed on a blog I’d been reading and commenting on for years:

I feel sad that I became the target of people who think differently than I do, and are so narrow-minded they thought I was attacking them. They do not know that polite engagement of those who think differently usually expands the perspectives of everyone. Like the bees that felt threatened when I approached their ground dwelling, those participants reacted instinctively.

Last year’s bees taught me something about the nature of instinct, and about group dynamics, but especially about my own naïve trust, my tendency to assume that I will be accepted as readily as I accept others, that my maturity, intellect, and open-mindedness will be matched.  My mistake— this year — was to ignore the possibility that my willingness to probe someone’s precious assumptions would  be perceived as a direct threat to that person’s sense of integrity.

This post is my salute to the incident, the “last word”, if you will, a good-bye of sorts to a blog I used to respect, a blog that claimed more of my time than my own blog.  Well, perhaps I’ll yet find a satisfying depth of communication somewhere on-line, or even right here, in my own back yard.  

Marahm, welcome back!

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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