Bee in Winter

January 7, 2008

There I was, not even a full week into the New Year, staring at a honeybee.

Unusually warm weather for south-central Pennsylvania had brought her out to bump and buzz, bewildered, looking for blooms that are still months away.

I wonder where her hive is, though I doubt I’d spot it even if it were nearby. But bees typically forage up to two miles from their hives if food is plentiful, and up to six if it is not.

It is just barely warm enough, at 55, for her to be out.

Her abdomen pumps in and out like an accordion as she breathes. She’s breathing so hard I can almost imagine I hear her puffing as she rests there on the table by the creek, her wings tattered lace. I expect she is near the end of her short life.

There is no pollen held between her back legs. There is no pollen to be had. I prop my head on my hand and watch as she catches her breath and try not to be overwhelmed by the futility of the whole exercise. Poor little clockwork, spending herself for nothing. I doubt she will see the spring. It is possible she could live her entire life without ever seeing a flower.

I take note of her stinger, poised over the glass surface of the table. A marvel that such a small thing, that sting, can bring a much larger creature – me, for instance – to such singular attention. She won’t use it, the experts say, unless provoked or threatened. I intend to do neither, and so am not very worried. But then, only the female bees have stingers, and that’s all I will say about that.

Suddenly, her accordion still playing a polka, she lifts off from the table, angles sharply up to the roofline, then weaves her way through the tangle of winter-bare branches, steadily in search of something bright and sweet and life-renewing, something that is not there and she will not live to see.

I go back to my chores, trying to figure out the sense of it, try to see some purpose or design in the whole dance. In that way, I suppose, I am at that moment very much like the bee.



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