The Wild Bees

The bees have arrived.

Seated at the small desk in the office of our Hawaii house, I was working at the computer and every so often looking up to gaze distractedly at the sea of lush greenery outside. A bit of quiet music played through the desktop speakers, accompanied by notes of birdsong through the wide open windows, along with the ever-present whir of the ceiling fan to circulate the humid air.

I don’t know if I first heard them or simply felt them intuitively, but suddenly I was aware of the distinctive humming of bees in great number, a sound I’m well acquainted with. I looked out the large window above the desk and saw a great cloud of golden bees swarming around the gnarled sentinel of the poinciana tree. Thrilled with delight, I jumped up from my seat, hurried down the hall to the living room, and walked excitedly outdoors to stand next to the wizened, picturesque tree and share in the bees arrival.

prayertree

The Prayer Tree

The morning was warm, sunny and bright, and the air around the tree had transformed into a sparkling cloud of golden bees arriving at their new home. I smiled from ear to ear, like a happy child on Christmas morning. The scouts had chosen a bore in the main trunk of the old tree where three great branches emerge and spread in opposing directions, an opening that apparently led to a sufficient space inside the core.

I moved to within a couple feet of the tree, wanting to get as close as possible to ‘the girls’. Wearing a light colored shirt and khaki shorts, I knew I wasn’t a threat to the bees who tend to dislike dark clothing and get more defensive around it. (There is a very practical reason that beekeepers wear white suits and hats.) I also know that bees are at their most docile when swarming, and there was little danger of being stung while simply standing quietly near.

The sonic wave of their excited collective buzz vibrated through my own bones and breath in a primordial chant, and my bodysoul resonated in a much missed somatic resonance… and joy. For a minute, I wondered what it must feel like for the tree to now host a great swarming body of life in its very heart, and I found my thoughts running away with familiar, metaphysical thoughts on the underlying nature of reality as sonic frequency, harmony and sound.

Honey in the heart

How I have missed them, these winged alchemists of nature. When I moved to urban Oahu two years ago, I gave away the bees I had stewarded high on the slopes of Haleakalā on Maui, and I mourned their absence for a very long time. Previous to that, I had waited almost fourteen years in my nomadic life to finally tend a hive of bees, and when I sadly gave them up, I felt like something utterly dear had vanished from my life. Some precious part of my heart had swarmed away, leaving behind only empty chambers, silence, and a faintly lingering taste of sweetness.

When I started making forays to Carmel Valley, my dear friends with whom I stayed are also beekeepers, and the profound sadness I felt over relinquishing the bees was soothed somewhat. I would frequently sit at the bottom of their lovely garden in a sunny spot, perched a few feet from the hives, listening to their hum and feeling it in my own body whilst watching ‘the girls’ come and go like zooming, golden missiles of love.

From an entry when I first started the Soul Artist Journal more than two years ago:

The creation of honey is a staggeringly labor-intensive process. As outlined in the award-winning travel narrative, Honey and Dust, by Piers Moore Ede:

‘Considering that the average bee will produce only about 1.5 teaspoons of honey in its lifetime, it takes about 5,300 bees to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey. One jar of honey is also the result of about 80,000 trips between flower and hive, the result of about 55,000 miles of flight, and the nectar from about 2 million flowers.’

Not only does this insight put the actual value of honey into perspective (more valuable than gold, I say), the endless work of these amazing creatures to produce a relatively small output gives me a sense of encouragement. Inspiration.  There have been countless times—particularly when struggling with writing my recent book manuscript—when I felt that my daily efforts didn’t add up to much.  And yet I haven’t worked nearly so hard nor so constantly as an average honeybee in a day. I can only trust that by the end of my lifetime, I will have written and accumulated enough words and pages to equal that precious teaspoon and a half of honey from a worker bee. If I am very lucky, I too will have transformed some of nature’s nectar into a bit of golden sweetness to offer the world through words, insight, and authentic action.

Almost daily I sit in a folding beach chair that I place two or three feet from the white bee box hive; barefoot, doing a bit of writing in a notebook, enfolded by the sonic hum, and observing the activity as ‘the girls’ come and go. Being around the bees is always a sort of meditation for me and I learn a great deal from simply observing them. They will each move through and serve many roles within the colony during their lifetime—nurse bee, builder, guard, gatherer—and each of one of them is completely attuned to purpose and totally dedicated to the welfare and survival of the colony. In our modern world, this is something that we’ve lost; very few of us have any tangible sense of meaning, nor an inkling of what our authentic roles or gifts might be, or how those talents might serve our community at large. Little of our work in the world seems meaningful… which makes it all the more likely to feel that our efforts and actions don’t count overly much. 

Even if we have found a project or purpose that offers a soulful framework to build our days upon, there will still be times when the journey is decidedly difficult and uphill, where it appears that we’re not accomplishing much, or that we’re simply spinning our wheels. Though it has largely become the measure of our days, ‘productivity’ isn’t the key value of a life well-lived. Yes, creating and offering something of merit certainly adds to our sense of meaning, but there is also tremendous value in surrendering to the mysterious currents that pull us in unexpected directions, along with simply learning to enjoy life—not through entertainment or distraction, but through the pleasure of our open senses and the vessel of the bodysoul.  

The bees inspire me to keep working and they simultaneously offer a bit of solace that my modest efforts may still add up to something worthwhile. Life is always a dance between doing and being (or ‘bee-ing,’ perhaps). Some days I’m better at the ‘doing’ aspect and some days I’m better at the ‘being’; occasionally I strike the elusive balance between the two, and I find myself in perfect alignment, a sense of openness, vitality, and ‘flow’ in body and breath. I treasure those days… they are surely part of the priceless gift of being human.”

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While I do not yet have a hive at my little cottage at the sea, I’m able to visit my friends nearby and get a ‘bee fix’. And I trust that before too much longer, I will finally have a ‘top bar’ or a Warré hive somewhere near that I can sit beside… watching, listening and feeling. For me, the honey, while always a sweet delight, is truly secondary to the pleasure of tending bees and the sonic meditation they generate in my core being. An apprenticeship and communion, both.

So, it was with utter delight that I watched and welcomed this swarm of feral honey bees settle into the gnarled and graceful Prayer Tree, as I call it, perched at the edge of the ravine behind our house. Unlooked for, something dearly missed had come home to me as a gift of wild grace… an empty room once again filled with sound, light, and life.

I woke last night in the darkness to the roar of a tropical monsoon pouring down outside, pummeling the broad green leaves like timpani to a crowd of thunderous applause. In my still dreaming state I thought, I hope the bees’ new home isn’t filling up with water. This morning, standing next to the Prayer Tree in early sunlight, as water still dripped from gutters and eaves, branches, leaves and coconut fronds, I watched bees emerge in ones and twos from the crux of great branches, zooming off to their daily work. I smiled. Welcome home, my lovelies.

As I sit and type this now, through the window I see them flashing like amber points of light, darting to and from the great tree, and my heart opens wide.

Gentle reader, here’s hoping that an unexpected gift of wild grace manifests in your own life, something that brings you pure, simple joy. You don’t have to own it. In fact, most often, the very best things in life are those that we do not possess but are simply given to us as shared experiences, whether a brilliantly illuminated sunset, a lover’s tender kiss, the crisp snap of a tartly sweet fresh apple, the chorus of birds twittering in the garden or trees… the possibilities are endless. You need only open your senses, pay attention, and appreciate the moment.

May you always find honey in the heart.

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