This afternoon I was grumpy about deciding not to walk in the woods on this, the-height-of-spring day. I’ve taken the walk I had in mind for so many years, so I told myself I could skip one year, and instead tend to the chores that were insistently calling my name. I’ve seen that stunning creek valley of bluebells many times before I muttered to myself. And without a doubt, the ferns had to be planted today. I would be happy, I argued, when I saw the ferns change over the seasons, the coppery pink and yellow spring unfurling fronds, turning green in summer, then rusty brown in autumn with bright red spore cases on the underside of the fronds. When I harvested the potatoes next fall and when the slugs no longer ate holes in the chard leaves. And everything needed to be done before tomorrow’s promised rain.
I considered just popping in the ferns and then leaving everything else to chance. The dogs agreed. “Who gives a tiddlywink about gardens when there’s a good walk to be had,” they wheedled, tails wagging. I could throw away the sprouting potatoes that were in my bin instead of planting them, really a few potato plants in the fall are hardly worth it.
But abandoning my chores just felt out of kilter. I was rooted in the tasks of the day, not only gardening, but getting ready to go to Russia in a few days and trying to get my new book’s story in the right place for me to think about while I was gone. So I set out to the vegetable garden that is a couple blocks away behind Steve’s rental house.
I was still shaking my head with regret over my lost woods-walk as I pulled the truck up the alley and opened the door, with potatoes and a bag of diatomaceous earth in hand. Then I heard a loud hum. Electrical I thought, but no that was wrong somehow. I got out and looked toward the hum. It was hundreds of honey bees, swarming. The sky was full and moving. Birds were darting through the mass of bees taking quick, dangerous bites.
Last summer honey bees had made themselves at home under the roof and siding of the house next door. They happily pollinated my vegetable garden while I worried the neighbors would find them a pest and kill the hive. I guess the queen bee and most of her pals decided it was crowded and time to move on, breaking with the under-the-roof gang and heading off to new horizons. I jumped back into the truck, not wanting to be stung and started to drive away, thinking I would forget the gardening. But I stopped. I wanted to see what the bees were up to.
I backed down the alley to get a better look. The bees were thick as a whirlwind around a big old lilac bush. I noticed that there were no bees on the vegetable garden side of the alley at all. So I got out, and went about the business of burying the cut potatoes in straw, keeping my eye on the bees as I went. This spectacle was my reward for doing what needed to be done. I missed the bluebell valley, but I got my first wild bee swarm.
By the time I had finished sprinkling the abrasive diatomaceous earth to keep those persistent slugs from chewing holes in the chard leaves and plump, ripe strawberries, the hum was gone and the bees had settled into the lilac—in a large dark, vibrating oval. I wanted to walk over and gather the swarm and take it home. I imagined myself walking through the neighborhood, crossing busy Kirkwood with my arms full of bees. But I knew that the bees wanted to find their own next place.
Meanwhile my daughter was texting me about trying to find the right place to live. About arranging her life so that it works for and nurtures her. I was trying to be useful to her with support and advice, but with restraint, because it is her life.
Where we land is so important. Finding the spot that’s comfortable, that’s safe, and that’s sustainable. It’s not an easy thing to do. I have lived in fourteen houses in Bloomington and surrounds alone. That’s not counting living in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Oakland, Corvallis, Fort Wayne, Fort Worth, Albuquerque, or Summertown. The house where I live now is the first one that felt just right.
I want my daughter to land well, to do more than survive, to be able to create her reserves for cold winters and be content with her life. To feel just right. It took me sixty years to get to this perfect house on Maple Street, so I guess she’s got another twenty years to go before I should worry. And besides, even if you are in a make-do spot, you are where you need to be in order to move on to the next place in your life.
In about an hour the black swarm was gone. The scouts had found a new right spot and they all had flown off to busily make baby bees and build new combs for the coming winter. And under the roof in the front of the house, the bees who stayed home hummed hope as a sexy young queen emerged from her cell into her new home. Like the bees, I had chores to do, but I knew I was where I needed to be.
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