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Sunday, September 22, 2013

The sting in the tail and the tale in the sting

Bees, as we all know, like to do nothing better than to bustle to and fro in the fields providing appropriate parables for industriousness and hard work for philosophers, alight on flowers here and there in order to facilitate poets with images of suitable meaningfulness and delight, and perform balletic dances on the front of their hive in order to make boffins and scientists scratch their beards and frown and go 'hmmm'. (Since this is a Non-Sexist blog, of course I include all the lady scientists in that description as well, though where they get their beards from I do not know. Perhaps they borrow someone else's beard when they want to frown and go 'hmmm'.)

The same is true of our bees, who have been doing all three of the above with laudable vigour and enthusiasm, although it's true that they don't have many philosophers or scientists to observe their activity, and as for poets, they've only got me. Still, for the past few weeks I've been frequently observing them in front of their hive going back and forth on their daily work. In the morning, when the day gets warm enough, they like to shoot forth from their hive to wherever it is they feel like (maybe somewhere where they can find a philosopher or scientist). By noon they keep on doing this, only more so - they'll seem to erupt from their hive entrance. In the afternoon they arrive back, in dribs and drabs, circling slowly back into their hive: they are usually rather tardy in coming back because, I think, they are so easily distracted. I never seem to see a bee go back in a perfect straight line; instead they bob and weave and occasionally alight on a nearby twig. Even when they get to the hive, they can take their time, walking back and forth a few times, doing that weird 'walking up the side of a wall' act that insects perform so insouciantly in front of us. And in the evening they still loiter about on the hive entrance, taking the air and bumping into one another and chatting with one another by dancing. Just exactly what they say, I'm not sure  (unlike the character in that Primo Levi short story who learns how to dance back to the bees and thus has long discussions with them) but I like to think they exchange ribald puns and salacious gossip about the queen,  pick one another up on minor grammatical errors and items of punctuations ('posed as an apostrophe the other day') and maybe discuss awkward parenting moments they've had with the larvae.

Anyway, it's been all very amicable and comradely in the past few weeks, though things have rather changed as of this morning. We took the hive apart to give them another box on the bottom, room for them to lay more brood and put in more honeycomb as spring and summer flowers really came into bloom. We'd done a little work on the hive a bit over a month ago and the bees had been quite compliant, even complacent about us being there - mostly they just buzzed around us. Today, however, they really seemed cranky; the Baron was stung three times and I was stung once. And this afternoon, instead of idly meandering back to their hive to take in the sights and perhaps engage in a spot of gossip on a nearby blossom, a small cadre of cantankerous bees have been insistently hovering around outside our kitchen window and front door.

At least they've got their new box. However, for the next few weeks I probably won't be hanging around their hive and stroking my beard and saying 'hmmm'. I know for a fact that when they're angry they like nothing more than to fling themselves amidst a beard, make furious noises to scare that beard off, and (if you are so foolish to) reach up to brush them out of said beard, sting you instantly on the tip of your finger, which for some reason hurts like buggery.

Hopefully in a few weeks they will have resumed their normal amicable ways around us. 

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