Me and the Bee – An Environmental Love Story
By Kelly Dean
I’m one of those people who are too oblivious to tell when I’m being served a lesson. I’m sure there’s an ever-present series of lessons to be learned in life, obvious to those who are tuned-in to such things.
I’m not such a person. I don’t do nuance well. I eat cereal out of a box.
Recently, however, something happened to me and slapped me square in the face with a lesson that I could easily understand, and from that, a moral.
It started with me — and a bee.
I have what I call a garden in a cluster of containers on my patio. People who do any kind of gardening know that it is a constant battle. The soil is acidic or too alkaline. Or there’s not enough nutrients, or too many, or the wrong kind. There’s too much sun, or not enough. There too much water, or not enough.
You fight myriad plant diseases day after day. Once you get control of one, along comes another. Tiny insects are eating your meager plants faster than you can get them in the kitchen to eat them yourself (the plants, not the bugs). Sun beats down on them. Or rain drowns them. Or wind beats at them, mercilessly turning them into stringy, naked sticks.
Gardening is like living in a green-colored hell. I don’t know why I do it.
Nevertheless, I do. And I get frustrated with pests, but I try to be cognizant of the little critters and bugs that are good on this planet. I resist temptation to sell my house to finance a flame thrower to kill these insects that are chomping on my herbs and driving me to madness.
So occasionally, I get a bit angry; I get a bit careless; and I get a bit too generous with my bug sprays. I use natural insecticides and repellants, such neem and peppermint and other essential oils. I’ll mix up some bug-specific bacteria and all the other low-impact organic things that are available. I do have one can of “break the glass before using” bug spray that’s a bit more potent than the others. But I rarely use it.
You see, the problem is that not all of them are as bug-specific as we would like, while some are too specific. And low-impact and no-impact are two different things. For that reason, one must be careful to not over-spray accidentally, due to wind gusts or natural proximity to good bugs: like pollinating honey bees and little wasps; kind fluttering butterflies and moths that can’t get to your plants inside the enclosure.
But when you go out to your sanctuary garden and your plants look like someone shot them with a shotgun, it can be frustrating. How can these little bugs do that?
I lose it.
Cussing a blue-streak, I grab the spray bottle and go to town on the plants like the last-man-standing in the last scene of an action movie after all his buddies and dog have been tortured and killed by the bad guys and he’s beaten up with three broken arms and choosing to get bloody, violent vengeance with his Uzi and a machete. I imagine a stadium cheering as I grit my teeth until the veins pop out of my jaw line.
Well, one morning I went nuts, angry that my plants that I had worked so to grow were midnight snacks for a bunch of caterpillars — army worms to be exact – who’d planted nary a seed nor pulled nary a weed to deserve such a magnanimous meal.
Oh, I sprayed the plants all right. Yes, I sprayed them all. I sprayed ones that didn’t need spraying. I sprayed their pots. I sprayed their sprays. I sprayed the freaking cat just to be sure (OK, not really).
I used at least four different concoctions on them all. I was out of breath when I was done, sweating and smug with only vengeance in the pit of my soul.
But then I met the bee.
I was walking back to the house after spraying the engine of my car. No, I’m not kidding. Anyway, I looked down at the sidewalk and there was a bee, barely moving. It caught my attention because I hadn’t seen any bees this summer here in southern Florida, so I was happy to see him. I wondered why he didn’t fly around to my tomato and pepper plant flowers and perpetuate the Circle of Life with some fruit-making love.
But he wasn’t moving and the sidewalk had to be hot. It was 92 degrees. So I reach down and lightly poked him with my finger to see if he’d take off. But he just kind of wiggled — in place – then fell over – then righted himself and fell off the sidewalk and into the grass.
I look over and realize this little bee was downwind of my vehicle while I was spraying — oh — very careless of me. I am immediately, and rightfully, consumed with guilt. Now, I know he could have been stunned by a bird or come across some other nasty nectar to make him act this way, but I can’t help but feel that I am the one responsible. The circumstantial evidence was compelling.
I scurry into the house and get a paper plate to put him on before a mockingbird spots him and mistakes him for bug tapas or something.
I give the birds the stink eye, scoop him up and bring the bee into the house. That’s going from 92 degrees to 73 degrees very quickly, so I know that could be a shock to the little fella. I remember reading that somewhere. So I want to work quickly to see if I can rehab him enough to get him back outside quickly.
For some reason, being stung or anything like that never really crossed my mind at all. But letting any bug crawl on me like Renfield isn’t something I relish.
Once in the kitchen, I notice that his front legs are completely paralyzed – like frozen stumps. When he walked on the paper plate, one front leg was straight and the other was slightly bent, so he went in circles. He couldn’t fly at all. He looked miserable and I felt he was near death. Of course, this made me feel like crap.
I’ve read about the plight of the honey bees and their battles with manmade insecticides. I’ve read how it puts our food supply in danger because bees help pollinate food plants. As much as one-third of the food supply could simply go away if bees went away.
That’s some seriously bad juju. I try to be progressively conscious of this when I garden, but I’ve evidently failed this day.
Now if your buddy has too much to drink, passes out, falls over with a lit bong and catches the house on fire, then becomes asphyxiated by the smoke — you can get on YouTube to see how to perform open heart surgery and save him — and how to conjure up a voodoo rainstorm to put the fire out.
But there ain’t nothing about rehabbing no bee.
So I had to wing it.
With some rainwater I’d collected to water my plants, I added some sugar to it and mixed a few drops for the bee. I figured that he would be thirsty. I don’t know why. But I remember reading that sugar attracts bees and that would get him to drink the water. Problem is, he wasn’t able to just saunter over to the drop of sugar-water and take a drink. He kept walking in circles – unpredictably — some small, some big. I had to try to figure out where he would end up so I could place the water drop accordingly. A paper plate is pretty big to a tiny bee.
When he came across the first drop attempt, he kind of trudged through it, seemingly annoyed. I began thinking I might be off track on the water thing but I tried again. This went on several times because I didn’t want to get too close and dump sugar-water on his head. After about 30 minutes of this, he came across a drop but stopped this time and took a long, long drink – I presume he was drinking — must have taken a whole minute. I remember saying, “not too much little guy,” kind of like they say to those injured guys in war movies.
I was pleased. I didn’t know if it was helping, but it wasn’t like I could massage his front legs or give him mouth to mouth — or mouth to – whatever a bee has – and make him well. I was out of ideas. So I decided to get him back outdoors. That’s what they do on TV.
As mentioned, I have a covered and screened-in patio. I thought this was the next best place for Buzz — and a way to see if he could get more mobile and perhaps fly. That’s what bees do best. So I took him outside on the patio. He was back in the 92 degree heat but in the shade. If he got a hankering to take flight, he could at least do some flying in there. Also, he wasn’t exposed to birds or bigger insects who would take advantage of his condition. I turned the ceiling fan off; I couldn’t imagine the horror of seeing that after what I’d already been through.
I put the paper plate on a patio chair and watch him a while. He just kept moving. He always kept moving. But he was going in circles with his front legs still paralyzed. I admired the fact that he never gave up.
Ever since the sidewalk, he never stopped moving. He wanted to live and kept going, never stop — he would not go “quietly into that good night.” He was going to “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” by gosh. Buzz is badass.
But I needed a break. Being a care-provider is stressful, you know.
So I went for a thirty-minute walk and reflected on what I had done. When you do a dumbass thing, you’re always reminded of the other dumbass things you’ve done. It’s sort of a personal confession time, which isn’t solving the problem with the bee, of course. But reflection made me want to do better. It put me back on track.
I wanted to just get home and just hang out with him, talk him through it, regardless of the outcome. I think if someone sprayed me with insecticide, I would want someone there to talk to — and a towel, of course. But more importantly, I had to get focused and think of some kind of way of doing CPR or the Heimlich maneuver or find some medical bug marijuana or something to save this bee and make him well again.
I know, I’m glib now, but I really wasn’t then.
When I got back to the house, I went straight back to the patio to check on him. But he was missing.
I looked all over the patio, all over my container garden, behind the barbecue, on the ceiling and floor. I could not find the little striped guy anywhere. But last, for some reason, I lifted up the plate and he was kind of hanging from the edge on the underside.
I’m thinking he’s close to being a goner or he just likes to do chin-ups or something. But I think it best that he stays on the topside as not to be expending too much energy. I sort of nudged his butt with the seat cushion to get him back onto the top of the plate. He wasn’t doing circles anymore. I didn’t hold out much hope for him, and I went back inside for a while.
It started to rain. I was getting pretty depressed.
Yet what I didn’t realize was that to do chin-ups, you have to use your front legs. I think the little dude was strengthening or stretching his paralyzed front legs or something by hanging there. Once this dawned on me, I bolted back outside — but he was gone again. And this time he wasn’t on the bottom of the plate. He was on the railing frame of my patio. He could fly! Well, he could fly at least that far.
There was no other way he could get from the paper plate to the railing without flying, not in that short amount of time. It would have taken him a week, walking in circles.
He wanted out of there, but he couldn’t get through the screen. He was as close as he could get without help. To say I was encouraged would be an understatement. It had stopped raining briefly. So I got the paper plate and tried to scoop him back onto it so I could take the next logical step and move him outside into the shade. Birds didn’t generally come that close to the patio, especially if I am out there.
But when I tried to scoop him up, Buzz sort of backed up against the screen. He wouldn’t climb on. He backed up so much at one point he was doing a sort of hand-stand on those formerly paralyzed legs, his back legs up on the screen. He was doing the acrobat thing wonderfully. I liked his rehab progress but I was kind of curious why he wouldn’t just get onto the plate like the Silver Surfer. I’d like to think it’s because he wanted to hang out with me longer, yet I began questioning whether this episode might be making me a little nuts.
Finally, he crawls onto the plate but doesn’t fly away. I wonder if I might be rushing things a bit, but I’m concerned about it getting dark and the rain starting again. I read where most bee activity happens during daylight hours. There must be a Mrs. Buzz wondering when he’ll home from work or a few little Buzz kids waiting for dad to bring home the nectar.
Once he’s on the plate, I carefully walk to the screen door and open it. Buzz is just standing there on the plate looking at me. Once I get through the door and to the shady area, I stoop to let him off the plate, but instead, he suddenly takes off flying. I kid you not.
Looking up, I see him doing this spiral flying pattern upward and zooms about thirty feet into the sky directly above me then disappears from sight. I am childishly happy about this and begin to cheer him on. It was a strange reaction for me. What a blessing to not only have the little guy in the air again but to unload all the guilt I was feeling. Nonetheless, I kind of wish he had landed on my shoulder and winked at me like in the Disney movies, but I was OK with it. That might have been too much to ask considering I made him a temporary cripple by poisoning him.
So in the end, I realized this episode had a lesson for me – a moral – something I have never been keenly aware enough to notice before.
I need to stop acting like I care about the natural world around me and actually start getting serious about it. It really starts with me. Imagine this on a grand scale and what damage it could do. The effect of my carelessness on this one insect had real ramifications, and I could actually see it and feel it for myself. I guess that’s what I needed: a kick in the gut.
I learned my lesson.
Oh, and I’m sure you were wondering why I was spraying my car engine. In my anger, I was spraying any nuisance insect around my house, even the outdoor bugs. So in this case, I was trying to spray a wasp that I thought had built a nest under my car hood.
I later learned that these wasps lay their eggs on the backs of caterpillars. The wasp larvae grow up and feed on the caterpillars. They are nature’s predator against the caterpillars and nature’s way of controlling this insect – the very insect that started my wrath from the beginning. And it’s just grisly enough to be strangely satisfying. How’s that for kismet?
And that part is the moral, folks – that permanently linked me and the bee.
Change starts small.
I will do better.