Tonight, Ben and I ate dinner on our little deck.
We watched as a bumble bee lumbered past us, flying between us toward our back door. In one smooth arc, the big bee dropped down to the floor, and squeezed between the deck and the wall by our back door. About five minutes later, another bee came in, this one with legs bright orange and big with pollen.
One of the big bombus flew out of the hive then, and circled me three times: on the third pass he flew right past my face and I felt his hairy coat as he brushed past my upper lip. The beat of his wings—so small yet able to lift his nearly inch-long, bulbous body-- made a breeze I actually felt against my nose as he brushed by me. Ben laughed and pointed, and said, "Bee! Momma!"
I don’t mind sharing our house with the bees. They live sometimes in old abandoned mouse nests, and I like the idea of a succession of wild visitors of the diminutive variety sharing our back door.
And these guys: big and round, silly in their stripes and contrasting pollen, are like little clowns sent to amuse us. As the light wanes, they come in one after another, dropping right past us into their home. We count ten before bedtime sends us into our own hive. The fireflies begin to light the yard as Ben and I lie on his bed and talk about the bees living with us.
There’s a family story about me and a bee. Born in September, the following summer I was sitting out in our dirt driveway. There was a sandy area we all played in as kids, I must have crawled there following my bigger brother. My mother, seated not far away, heard me laughing deeply. As she walked over to see what was so amusing, she saw a huge bumble bee walking on my face. My eyes were closed, my face was raised skyward, and I was waving my arms and laughing, saying “Bee, bite me!”
As he flew away from this disappointing rendezvous with a pollenless flower, my mother scooped me up and examined me for stings. The bombus is said to learn by watching others from its hive: one bee will follow another even to an artificial flower. I have a fleeting thought that that bee tonight that brushed my lips, fifty generations removed from the bee who flew away from my face that summer morning, might have heard the echo of a little girl asking for a bite.