Tuesday, May 7, 2013

honey bee, not honey bee

A few years ago, I heard the children's book author Jane Yolen speak.  She was lovely, in all the ways you would want a person who is able to get inside the heads of your children through her stories to be.

She told the story of how she and her husband had taught all of their children to be able to identify birds.  Of her now adult children and their significant others who had not been raised by bird watchers.  And how this new batch of bird novices had needed to be taught the bird world as well.

To keep things simple for one new family member, she had started, with this person's urban environment in mind, with the crow.  And then crow, not crow, as their first binomial categorization.  Once this was mastered they had moved on to crow, pigeon, not crow or pigeon.  And so on.  I loved this description of her still gently teaching something she loves, and of the reminder to me as a parent of youngish children.  That this parenting thing?  It is a lifetime endeavor.  Hard to imagine, but someday I will need to welcome newcomers into the fold.  I wonder what wisdom I will have to impart, if any, and I hope for the kind of relationships with these newcomers that Jane Yolen seems to have, so warm and funny.

This crow, not crow distinction has become an often used expression between Jonathan and I when we are referring to our ignorance about something we are struggling our way through and have really no idea what we are doing.  Say, for example, entomology.

All week I have been enjoying the forsythia bushes outside our picture window.  They have bloomed in our yard and I am noticing them all over the city as well as I drive about.  I had decided, as I wait for bees of my own, that the insects I could see zipping back and forth between the bushes and that have our cat Battie transfixed in the window as though she is watching TV, were honey bees.  I have spent a good deal of time trying to capture these flying insects with my camera...but they are fast moving and do not seem to be landing.  And they are very, very small.  And the more I watched them and chased them with my camera lens, the more I began to question whether these were in fact honey bees. Oops!  I don't think they actually were.

When I picked Elliott up from school at lunchtime he asked me what I had been doing while he was at school.  Mocking myself a bit, I told him I had been chasing bees with my camera for a bit during the morning.  He listened, and probably because he is used to hearing of some unusual activity I have been engaged in, he did not ask questions.  I told him I wasn't sure that the buzzy flyers I had told him about were in fact honey bees.  He was not surprised.  He does not, thanks to my habit of being frequently wrong about things, suffer from any delusions of my omniscience.

I then told him how I had moved from the forsythia on to another blooming plant in our yard that I knew, from my handy dandy beekeeping class, to be a solid honey bee friendly plant: the underappreciated dandelion.  I was quite pleased to find another reason to put off mowing our lawn when I learned this, and honey bee forageable dandelions have officially been added to the list of reasons to leave the lawn mower in the barn.

And I told him about how I had watched these bees, bees that for a bit I thought, now these here are honey bees, roll about in the dandelions the way that our dogs roll about in the grass and wiggle and scratch.  Taking dandelion baths.  I snapped some pictures and was able to show Elliott some when we got home.

But after I told him about the dandelions and their bees, he said quietly from the back seat: You know all the other yellow flowers?  They had bees on them too.

What other yellow flowers?  Other dandelions?
No, I don't know what they are.
Where are they?
Everywhere in the woods.   Where Julia and I were building a fort.  
Will you show me?

So when we got home, we hopped out of the car, passed across the lawn dotted with bright yellow polka dots, toward the river, said hello to the chickens, and went into the woods that cover the river bank.  And I gasped.  Everywhere -- where there had been nothing a few days before -- were these.

I had seen their leaves sprouting a few days before and had wondered about them, even wondering if they might be these so called ramps that I have been hearing a good deal of talk about these days amongst the foragers for wild edibles.  But they had, seemingly overnight, bloomed.  And you only needed to stand quietly and still for a few minutes before you noticed the bees.  And I do believe, that these here?  These were honey bees.

I turned to Elliott.  You saw these?
He smiled.   Yes.  With Julia.
Wow.  I let that sit for a minute and watched the bees flit about.  Definitely not the insects manically circling the forsythia.

What were you doing?  I was strangely troubled that he had witnessed this without me knowing.

He took me over to show me the fort they had built.  He quietly led me around, showed me the garden they had cleared and outlined in pine needles and leaves using a found stick with a crook in it that made it work perfectly as a rake.  We want some seeds to plant in our garden.  Do you have some?  And the fairy firepit they had built.  And a sizable lean-to fort.

What were mommy and daddy doing when you did this?
You were planting the fruit patch.

The fruit patch we are putting in as a part of our bee friendly landscape and hoping the bee's pollinating activities will strengthen our crop.  We had toiled away at this project for a good part of the weekend, and I had mentioned to Jonathan as we were working that I was feeling a bit sad that the kids were not more involved in helping us plant the garden.  I had imagined they would be right there, carrying plants, digging, chatting with us.  And they were to some degree.  Elliott was rescuing worms from the wheel barrow full of weeds I was sending to the brush pile and returning them to the soil.  Julia was climbing trees nearby.  Nicholas was close by as well reading a book on the porch.  But there were long spells during which they were quietly out of sight and doing other things.

Apparently, Julia and Elliott were off creating and tending their own home and garden, quietly on the nearby but hidden river bank.  And watching their bees.  In the way that children so often do, being with us in their own way, gardening with us with a sprinkle of imagination and a touch of magic.  All in the shade and otherworldlyness of the woods.

Leave it to them to have found the right bees.  And to have kept this discovery quiet.

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