They swirled around in a noisy, buzzing cloud right outside the window where I am writing this. A queen and her court were swarming, looking for a new home to settle down in. I was sure our neighbor could help. She is a beekeeper–a real estate agent for bees who gets paid in honey . I have never known exactly how she gets the bees to live in boxes, but now I do.

Bees from CApoppy on Vimeo.

What’s the Buzz?

A bee pollinating a flowerSuddenly the sunny silent April air began to vibrate. Something imperceptible commanded my attention. First a distant hum, then a distinct buzz broke the stillness. It became louder with overtones adding richness and depth to the sound. It was moving toward me. In a flash it became clear. A swarm of bees was headed my way.

On one other occasion I had experienced this phenomenon. Then, too, it was spring. I was out in the open as a swirling mass of hundreds–probably thousands–of bees headed directly for me tumbling over themselves like waves breaking on the shore. I had only time to take shelter behind a tree trunk before I found myself surrounded on all sides by a cloud of driven insects. The buzz of countless wings made a sound like no other. It happened so fast that I had neither time nor previous experience to consider what might happen to me.

I had only been stung once in my life and that was no wonder. Barefooted, I had stepped on a bee. But there I was in the midst of a whole hive of bees. Why, with no provocation, had they headed straight for me? What a bit of arrogance that thought turned out to be! These bees had no interest in me. Who did I think I was–their queen?

The tree bisected their headlong flight. In less than a minute the cloud passed, becoming only a faint shadow in the air as it vanished. Their queen was seeking new digs. These bees had no choice but to follow. More powerful than perfume, her chemistry bound these bees to her. They would follow her blindly until she found a new home. But to them I was nothing.

But to me they were something.

In the years since that time bees have come on hard times. A fungus has found them–at least the European bees that work so hard in our orchards and fields. Their numbers have shrunk. These migratory workers, often living in stacked boxes at the edges of farms, do more than we know to fill our plates with abundance. Their absence or presence can drive food prices up or down. The ceaseless labor of worker bees during their short lives ensures food on our tables and new generations of bees that work tirelessly for their queen–and for us.

So I have come to admire bees, in their many varieties, and to marvel at their skill to do things I cannot. I take an interest in their welfare and hope that they thrive. They have shown me respect, I will give them the same.

On that recent no-longer-silent April day I watched as the buzz in the air came alive. Well above the ground and off to the east, they passed like a billow of smoke. I wished them good luck in their search for a home.

I know I need them more than they need me.