“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
They resemble small airplanes, container jets, small compact aircrafts that arrive and depart in a business-like way. They fly with intention and they know what they want. They know their job, and they do it with panache.
Their small wings are invisible when they make the jump into the air from their home. Just a hint of miniscule, impossibly fast movement as they fly in and out. There’s always a purposeful cloud of them around the entrance, hovering there, waiting their turn to land. Some crawl up and down the outside, patrolling, holding down the fort, making sure all is well. They let each other know in their own insect way that everything will be OK.
They amaze me with their goings and comings, how they flit in and out so fast that I can hardly perceive each individuals’ movement. On warm mornings, when I come to sit in the orchard, craving peace and quiet and solitude on a constantly bustling, buzzing campus, the sun hits the white paint of their box home, making it shine. It is warm and inviting, calling them to go out and forage. Flowers await! they’re not that different from the rest of us Portlanders- we all come out with our bikes and our feet and our running shoes and our picnic baskets and our beers and our grills when it’s sunny. Only these ladies differ in that they’re all work, all the time, and we crave sun for leisure.
I try to look at the hive as it would be in slow motion. To see each insect in its complex beauty. A head, a thorax, an abdomen, six legs, two antennae, a stinger, black and white stripes, complex eyes, small miniscule mandibles, translucent, glistening wings, so fragile. I try to slow them down, to see each leg as it lands then then takes off again, each of thousands crawling in and out, with work to do.
I try to slow them down, but stop myself at a point and step back. I look at the dozens of them collected outside the entrance, listen to the steady chatter and vibration of wings, a sound of busyness and purpose. I know that if I opened the top, I would only hear this sound magnified, insistent, and that I would be surrounded by a cloud of buzzing, stinging insects. Exhilarating, no? I step back and marvel them from afar, thousands of creatures coming together for a common goal. I wish we could do this, humans, bickering and debating over nothing. These ladies use consensus to even find their homes and we can’t even come to consensus on what breakfast cereal to buy. Though they have tiny brains, these insects use them, arguably, better than we do. They use what they do have for the good of those they live with. They pass down knowledge of how to build the perfect hexagon, they readily dispense knowledge of where to find the best food without any selfishness or sense of ownership. They are fiercely loyal (some may say viciously loyal) and are nurturing caretakers. I may be anthropomorphizing but when I think about all the human debates over religious differences, political polarizing, and world war, I can’t help but think that maybe these bees have a system down that we could learn from.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fly, to push off, to jump into nothingness, to float, to propel myself through air and over trees. To land lightly on my feet, to inhabit Earth and sky. I have dreams sometimes that I am flying. Seeing buildings laid out below me, rivers winding their way between mountains, sharing the sky with birds and insects…If I actually had wings, I would imagine that sky would be a place of absolute freedom. To look at my new favorite creatures flying in slow motion, I realize that flight is a miracle- suspension in air, projection of a body into space, an intentional act to defy gravity. To take our awareness down to the minutiae of the smallest creatures around us, to acknowledge them as genius miracle-makers and political intellectuals, not just insects we flap away with our hands and fly-swatters, is the first step towards acknowledging our place in Nature, as co-creators sharing this magnificent world.
Bees preserve life as we know it. Bill McKibben narrates this video beautifully!
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