Two days ago, I was wandering around my squash plants, happily lifting the leaves to see if any new vegetables were ready for harvest. Lazily moving from flower to flower were bees, not many, not nearly as many as I would have expected.
At the edge of my vegetable gardens, I have planted a lovely pink bush that is supposed to act as a lure to the bees, a “pollinator” (I think I am using the right word here) that will encourage the bees to move from the pink pretty blossoms to the golden blossoms that are under the umbrella-like squash leaves. And if they don’t get too drunk off of those blooms, maybe the bees will slip over to the tomato, eggplant, cucumber, or green bean plants.
Come on little friends…I have so much to entice you to come and visit me, to sing to me your sweet songs that are one sustained note–a deep, electric thrum that is evocative of life.
Or, in some instances…death.
When I was a little girl, I was diagnosed with a bee-sting allergy. Apparently, I was stung by a bee, went into anaphylaxis shock or something. I don’t know. I was two. I’m forty-three now. I have no memories. Naturally, I was tested and I reacted on the second pin prick. The doctors told my mom something about me being deathly allergic to bees. Maybe, they didn’t say anything like that to my mom and she came up with this hypothesis herself. All I know is that when I was a child, I carried a bee sting kit with me everywhere which included a tourniquet and a shot. Yup, a hypodermic needle filled with medicine that would keep me from dying.
Ironically, I was never taught how to give myself the shot. Fortunately, I was never stung so I never had to give myself the shot that might have killed me anyhow because I didn’t know what in the world I was going to do. Oh, and I was terrified of needles as well so I really didn’t plan on giving myself a shot, even if it was going to save my life. Because it was a needle.
I spent my life terrified of bees. They were a living, buzzing death sentence. And, irony of ironies, my mother loves to garden. She loves plants and putting in different flowers and bushes and nurturing them and watching her world transform from something blasé into something beautiful and lush. Maybe, she was trying to make it up to God for Eve’s mistake. I don’t know. What I know is that I loved Mom’s gardens because they really were beautiful. And I was even encouraged to love being in her gardens. Except that I had a terminal allergy to the flying toxins that inhabited her gardens.
Eden was still poisonous to me.
I spent my childhood wanting to run around barefoot like all of my friends but not able to because I might step on a bee and die.
And I did step on a dead bee and I was stung and my foot got swollen. I remember that. I didn’t have to give myself a shot. And I didn’t die.
My mother loved dressing me in brightly colored clothing. Guess what bees are attracted to? Yup, bright colors. That was fun..hiking with my arms perfectly straight to keep the sweat bees from landing in my elbow joints and stinging me. So I wouldn’t die.
I really didn’t grow up morbid. I am a fairly happy person. I just recognize that this was a bit of a screwed up situation.
As I migrated into adulthood, I overcame most of my fear of bees. I started gardening. I realized that I really did love the feel of the dirt in my hands, the warm soil between my toes because as soon as I could, I shed my shoes and ran around my backyard barefoot. Really. I did. Twenty-eight years old and I was running around my backyard with my dog and laughing like a child. And I loved it. I loved feeling the grass between my toes. I loved stepping in mud.
I just had to watch every step I took. Because of the bees. And the fact that this was my backyard where my dog pooped. And that’s not fun to step in barefoot. I know.
But I still had to remain cautious. Even though I graduated from bee sting kit to epi-pen, I still felt this incredible obligation not to put myself into unnecessary danger. Gardening became an escape from reality; gardening was a dash into reality.
About seven years ago, I was mowing a friends’ lawn and I swear it felt like someone punched me with a needle-tipped knife. Turns out, I found a yellow-jacket’s nest and one found me quite distasteful.
I didn’t have my epi-pen. I had nothing and my friend was bed-ridden due to a massive hernia (we’re talking basketball sized and I’m not exaggerating). We were in the middle of the country and the closest ambulance was….well…it was far enough away that I knew I was in serious trouble. On top of that, my two children were playing with her two children….this was not going to be good.
We had no alternative but Benadryl and prayer. So I popped a couple of Benadryl pills and sat on her couch and waited. I waited for my throat to close up. I waited for my heart to start beating like hammers breaking through balsa wood. I waited for something.
And in my waiting, I succumbed to the drowsiness courtesy of two Benadryl pills and became a lopsided statue on my friend’s couch. Periodically, she would call out to me and I would shout, instantly (and drunkenly), “I’m awake!” Or “I’m breathing!” I can’t remember which. I know that I was telling her that I was alive and okay, that we could abstain from our fears for a little longer.
Obviously, I’m fine. I didn’t die. I don’t know that I have fully grown out of my allergy. I don’t feel like testing it which is stupid because I love gardening even more.
I am still cautious when I garden or do yard work. Not out of fear of dying but out of fear of pain because yellow-jacket stings hurt! But I feel a certain level of freedom now when I step into my raised bed and gently pull back on the leaves to see the Eden growing beneath. When I stoop over and gently tug a weed out of its place beside my squash plant and a bee rumbles at me, I don’t find my heart shattering in anxiety.
I don’t walk around with perfectly straight arms.
And I swat at buzzing insects.
I have found my place. I have found where I belong in this little world that I have constructed. I have wiggled out those fears and toxic anxieties that needled under my skin and held me back.
I am distressed over the news that honeybees are dying, so much so that I have thought about taking up bee-keeping. Maybe, in doing so, I am declaring my own state of independence. I am taking on more and more of caring for my home, my world, my garden, myself. I don’t like honey. I really can’t stand it. But I love the idea of this tiny microcosm nestled in my back yard, living for itself while nourishing the Eden thirty steps away.