We interrupt National Poetry Month blogs with an unexpected bit of wonder. I recently became a bee foster-mother.
I care about bees. In recent years, as they have been victims of pesticide and other carelessness, I may have become sort of a bee-zealot. Some of this is because our eco-system and our food supply depends mightily on them. Some of it is that I have a sort of Moomin-like affection for All Small Creatures, and some of it is purely Alison aesthetic—they’re cute; they buzz; they produce honey.
We know that honey lasts a long time because we have found edible honey in Egyptian tombs. We know that honey has particular medicinal traits because it has been listed in healing handbooks for millenia. My favorite story about honey is the Finnish Kalevala’s account of its role in the resurrection of Lemminkainen.
There is a scene in the Kalevala where Lemminkainen is killed and dismembered, his body parts tossed in to the river of the dead. I’m not one to advocate for that sort of behavior, but this kid, in epic terms, really had it coming. He ignored sage advice, disobeyed his parent, and went off half-cocked on a crazy, invasive, revenge-fueled spree.
The upshot is that his mother can heal him. When she gets the right honey, she fishes his parts out of the river with a copper rake commissioned for that job, and sticks him back together with the healing goodness of honey. Lemminkainen awakens, thanks his mom for her knowledge and actions, and vows not to be such a big jerk next time.
So the honey, man. The honey is liquid gold. A panacea An antiseptic, antibacterial, antioxidant, wound-healing magic. And the reason I’m so excited about it today is that I had 20,000 bees removed from my front yard yesterday.
I knew when we realized that we had a “bee problem” I didn’t want an exterminator, but to relocate them. Through a friend, I found a hobbyist bee keeper and a professional bee handler, and they came to my house, sawed through the stucco on my front porch, and removed by hand (and by bee-vacuum) somewhere around 20,000 adult bees, eight 8” x 12” frames of eggs and larvae, and three buckets of honeycomb.
There are people who work with bees, and someday I may be one, but this was my first encounter, really. For them, this was just another day at work. For me, it was something of a revelation.
The bees were relocated, along with their queen, and will be re-homed on land away from city zoning and nervous neighbors. But they were nice bees, and I was delighted to have hosted them temporarily.
I was left with a sizable chunk of honeycomb to do with as I please. Today it pleases me to fish through internet videos and watch people employ different methods of honey extraction and wax rendering—to filter out some fresh honey made by bees in my yard, from flowers in my neighborhood, and eat it with all the atavistic delight of some pioneer woman living off the land, grateful for the bounty of the earth and the magic of bees.
I’ll make some toast and as I drizzle fresh, super-local honey on it, I’ll toast the bees who gave it to me. I’ll make some lip balm for sure, and maybe a candle or a stick of sealing wax. And I’ll make a poem about bees—probably a short one, but an earnest one. But I’ll leave you tonight with the image of the noble, little bee getting its quest from Lemminkainen’s mom:
“Honeybee,” she said once more,
“Bird of air, fly a third time,
Fly up to the highest heaven,
To the very ninth of heavens.
There the honey is overflowing
To the height of your desire,
With which once the great Creator,
Jumala himself made magic
For the healing of his children
Injured by an evil power.
Dip your wings into the honey,
Pinions in the liquid nectar.
Bring the honey on your wings,
Fetch the nectar in your mantle
As a medicine for the wounded,
An infusion for the injured.”
Words of magic worthy of the bees–and today’s piece of a poem for National Poetry Month.