15 May 2015
I had thought I would be able to write about the return of our bees with pleasure, triumph even. I had thought I could quote from Sylvia Plath’s poem, ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’, making comparisons between her funereal imagery (she sees the bee box as ‘the coffin of a midget’) and my own happy experience. But no. Plath’s words are wildly prophetic. Once she has described the box, and the din that comes from it, she calls it ‘dangerous’, with the inhabitants ‘angrily clambering’. She is appalled by the noise (‘It is like a Roman mob’) and declares, ‘I have simply ordered a box of maniacs’. And then, like the Delphic oracle herself (to switch classics) she says, ‘I am no source of honey / So why should they turn on me?’
The thing that had actually been concerning me in moving the hive was its weight. We had to lift it from its temporary home of the last few months – where the bees had disgraced themselves by stinging their lovely host Tom not once but five times on the face – onto the back of the ute. Last time we looked, the two boxes of this hive were pretty full. The bottom box filling up with brood, the top box filling up with honey. Honey that we couldn’t extract because it wasn’t capped yet. But, as ever, our mentor Alwyn carried the load. Literally this time. The bees had managed to find a way out of the barrier across their doorway that was meant to keep them in overnight, so Alwyn lifted the hive while we slipped a piece of shadecloth underneath, then lifted it up the sides and tied it on, trapping most of the bees that were leaving to forage – some were inevitably left behind in this manoeuvre. Then he took one end of the hive while the two of us took the other, up to the tailgate of the ute and sliding it along to the back of the cabin. We tied it on, put the canopy down over it and drove it home. It was equally straightforward when we got home, sliding it off the ute, positioning it on its platform, removing the shadecloth and letting the bees go. They were cranky bees. They’d been trapped inside for most of the morning then bumped around to reach this new and unfamiliar place. And some of their group was missing. They bombed us, their little bodies crashing heavily into our helmets. They followed us up the hill to the cars, clambering on our suits, looking for a way in. But they didn’t get their chance. Alwyn drove away in his suit, an alien in a ute. We went inside and watched them from the window, crazy-flying around the entrance to the hive. ‘We’ll leave them alone,’ we said.
I thought I was leaving them alone by finishing a job I’d started earlier today – planting some bean seeds. I had a little patch all dug over – up near the house, a long way from the hive – and I popped the bean seeds in, put a cloche over them to stop any passing wallabies from walking on them / nibbling them, and watered them. I saw a blue-banded bee buzzing around some late tomato flowers. I congratulated myself on my confidence around bees, on how easily we had moved our hive, on how wonderful it was being a beekeeper. The next moment, I realised that the nearby buzzing wasn’t the blue-banded bee any more, but one possibly two bees caught in my hair. I stood still. Ha ha, bees in my hair. No worries. If I don’t panic they’ll just fly off. But they didn’t fly off. I bent down to brush them against a big bunch of parsley. Poor bees, can’t get out my hair. But they didn’t take the hint and kept up their angry buzzing until the burning pain of the sting hit me. Martin to the rescue, brushing the kamikaze bees out of my hair and getting me inside. Then the bees are in Martin’s hair, entangling themselves. Not by accident, but design. Even though we are no source of honey they have turned on us, the devils who disrupted them and stole them away.
Plath’s poem ends, ‘Tomorrow I will be sweet God, I will set them free. / The box is only temporary.’ I hope, in Plath’s case, they recognised her as their saviour, not their tormentor.