suddenly, a bee

I heard the bee for some time before I saw it, assuming the sound was a quirk of radio and wishing, like I usually do, for dials that can be more finely tweaked than a button you press which tells you the thing is on 89.7FM, damn it, no matter what you may think.

Static. Bzz. Have you tried turning it off and back on? I like analog better. Let’s not get into fixed volume.

I’ve become an NPR junkie, allasudden — is that correct? “An NPR?” I think it is because you type it as you’d say it, and while I’m sure they say that several times an hour I cannot remember which way they do it — anyhow, I have become a happy NPR junkie, soothed by world news from the calm gentle voices with a “nowhere accent” like I have by default.

I was told, recently, that I have the NPR accent. Best compliment ever. I did not point out that I also have a face for radio, because I didn’t want to ruin the moment.

So I listen to NPR a lot, and I really enjoy the weekend shows: Wait Wait and Radiolab and Snap Judgments, and the news from Lake Wobegon, all the while wondering whether Keillor’s peculiar sibilant whistle will be bad this week or not, because that’s one of those verbal tics that drives me up the damned wall. I was not a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Gopher, for that same reason. And you know, for years, years I spelled it “judgements” and had to retrain myself to kick that spare E out, it’s one of those things where the neuron got baked with incorrect data, and I had to learn it all over again.

Anyway. The bee. I heard her before I saw her, listening to … something or other… on NPR, and since Josie didn’t alert to anything I assumed it was a radio problem.

(this feels like a Riley story, like it should be Riley who found the bee, the way she found possums and hamsters; Josie may be stepping into that empty space as my guardian that Riley left, which is bittersweet)

I don’t know how I noticed her, but I looked up, and distinctly saw the bee, the plump body with stripes, the black legs, the wings, bouncing between a lampshade and the energy-saving Twirly Bulb lighting the lamp.

Then I got a little scared, because I have never been stung and don’t know if I am allergic to bees, and health care is so expensive these days when you can’t even afford Obamacare, and I didn’t know what to do next. Note that I would not mind finding out the hard way if I am allergic to bee stings, if the fix for it was cheap and easily obtained.

So, of course, I turned to the internet. Turn off all the lights, my friends told me, and open a window: the bee will be attracted to light and make her way out the window. I did this thing and waited under the blankets in my bed, because I decided that the more of me that was hidden, the less could get stung by a potentially allergenic bee.

Leaving was not an option, because I wanted to see when the bee left.

A friend of mine keeps bees in England: he has a few hives, he collects honey, he has the smoker and the biohazard suit, and though he has not yet made himself a bee-beard it’s just a matter of time. It’s amusing to see him talking to his bees online (because you know bees are on Facebook) with those English idioms that never made it to America: fill your boots girls! I don’t know if he catches stray swarms. I think so.

My mother had a hive land on her head, a long time ago: she was walking Sadie the Cowardly Mammoth Dog after a few days of heavy rain, and the whole mess slid out of a tree and went whomp on her head. The bees were so startled that they didn’t even sting her, though she (and Sadie) both succumbed to a mighty panic. A nearby neighbor saw this happen and helped my mother get the bees out of her hair and shirt. The woman then helped her corral Sadie who, of course, had lit out of there at the first buzz of trouble and was trying to work the bees out of her own thick coat just down the road.

When your dog is seventy-five pounds of panic, the worst possible thing to do is add bees.

At one point I told the most hilariously unhelpfully smartassy of my friends. It went like this:

She: “I just got flirted with by a drunk guy on Hillsborough.”

Me: “There’s a bee in my bedroom. Trade you.”

She: “Deal.”

Me: “How the hell did it get IN here?”

She: “Flew.”

Me: “Strangely enough I get that part, captain obvious. From where?”

She: “Is from outside obvious too?”

Me: “Yes, you’re missing the how part.”

She: “New toy for Josie?”

Me: “I don’t know why I ask you things.”

The bee never reappeared, and since it was an unseasonable ninety degrees out I closed the window and went about my business. I assumed I could catch one stray bee easily, with a cup and a piece of paper or something, and then let her back outside.

The bee never showed up. I joked about this: maybe Josie ate the bee, maybe little hamster Myshka ate the bee, maybe there’s a hive in the roof. Maybe I’ll find a dead bee behind a bookcase when I move out of here and fall down laughing because at last the mystery is solved. Maybe I should get my English bee-whisperer friend to come over and coax the bee out of hiding.

I didn’t want the bee to die at any point, because I like bees, they are cute and useful, they pollinate things so we won’t starve, and have never plotted to overthrow humanity although we are always stealing their delicious honey. (And I’m back to Pooh-bear.)

That was almost two weeks ago, so you can imagine my surprise when a sluggish bee appeared out of nowhere on the bed next to me. She wasn’t flying, and she was walking slowly, jittery in a way that didn’t seem natural for a bee.

I moved slowly, because one never knows if a seemingly sluggish bee is really a secret revenge bee waiting to leap up and sting an unsuspecting hominid in the eye: do you know how many of us it takes to make all the honey you put in a cup of tea? And you don’t always finish it! I unrolled a good amount of toilet paper, to cushion the bee from my huge crushing megafauna hands, and then I captured the bee in the paper as carefully as I could.

I brought her outside and tipped her out of the paper onto a chair, where she scuttled, dazed but determined, along the plastic seat. She was still moving slowly, dragging a hind leg. Cold maybe, I thought; it’s cold indoors, for a bee used to living outside.

I took a deep breath, held it for a moment to warm all the air, and then blew gently on the bee. She scuttled a little faster, but that was all.

drwhoairI blew on the bee again and off she flew, into my back yard thick with flowers, and the warm summer sun, and I hope off to her home.


my jungle in the monsoons

I think, in the entirety of August, there has been one day where we didn’t get rain. That one day was overcast and threatening thunder out on the edges, so it barely counts. There was rain, it just didn’t land here.

Little Josie has a problem with this; she is a special sparkly wonderprincess and does not like walking in wet. She avoids puddles, she has to be dragged onto wet grass to do her doings, she fusses about damp toes. Considering that the entirety of her time with me has involved ALL OF THE RAIN and we’re still working on housebreaking, this has been a bit of a problem.

My deck, which is untreated wood that is frayed and shredded, marked with the scratches of several dogs’ worth of claw marks from a sudden takeoff, is slick on the surface with sudden algae. Once the wet season ends I’m going to have to sand and seal it. If it ends. I’m wondering about that, by now.

Yesterday when the rain stopped I went out into the back with Josie, with the intent to to haul her protesting into the damp grass (taller than she is, in places, despite a recent mow) to do what needed doing. My house, designed very badly, has eaves with no rain gutters so that everything drips straight down half a foot away from the house walls. It also includes a light fixture next to the back door, so at night when the light is on, the frogs and bugs gather there: the bugs entranced by the light, the frogs following along for easy pickings.

As I stepped out, something cool and wet landed on the back of my neck. My hair, pulled into a ponytail loop sort of thing, undid itself. There was a tiny bit of pressure, an opposing force, and I saw a light-grey septentrionalis zing away from shoulder level and onto the deck at my feet. It hopped off to safety, whatever that is for a frog.

A few nights ago I saw a much smaller frog, barely old enough to have shed its tail and found its way to the all-night diner of my back light, sneak up to snag a moth as long as it was, but much slenderer.

The wild things adore this rain. At night, the cicadas and crickets are almost drowned out by the creaking trill of frogs. They come to the gutters and puddles and weed-choked drainage ditches to breed, each singing about how it is the best frog, the strongest, the loudest, the only frog any prospective mates should consider. It’s a wonderful sound; the sort of thing I’ll miss about Florida if I ever leave this place.

There is a little brown anole which comes back every night to sleep in the same clump of Spanish moss. It sleeps vertically, tethered in the tangle of moss, with its tail curled and its head pointed up. I have not disturbed it, though I have walked by close enough to breathe on it. Either it did not notice me or its prey response was to stay motionless and hope I didn’t see it. I nearly didn’t, but the opalescent belly-scales of an anole are something I’m well used to picking out from all the other patterns in my tiny patch of nature.

The heat index today, about eleven in the morning, was a hundred and seven. The actual temperature was eighty-six. I wish I could handle heat better. I wish it didn’t send me reeling indoors, looking for a glass of ice with a splash of water inside and a cool flat surface to lie on.

The only dissonant part of this grand system is me, and my species, and the things we do. The plants and animals know how to handle this; they revel in the bounty of bugs and seeds and berries. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, the frogs congregate in the lamplight for moths when they’re not breeding in the standing water, the spiny-backed orbweavers build dizzying webs that reach from the leaf-littered ground to the oak canopy above.

(Then I walk into them, and splutter, and ask the spiders if we need to have a little talk because at this point they ought to know I walk there, so why do they keep putting webs there, it’s not that I don’t appreciate what you do, spiders, I quite like all the bug killing you do, but can you perhaps do it somewhere ELSE?)

Everything fits but me. Something has to change: either I need to make of myself a person that lives more easily in this, or I need to find a place that is more suited to what I already am. But the rainy season will draw to a close, August edges into September which dries, and then October which cools, and I’ll forget about this until next summer when another frog flings itself at me, for frog reasons I’ll never know.

feed the birds

I went to a park, with a friend, the other day, to have lunch and soak up the estuary atmosphere. It’s calming, the smells of saltwater and ocean air. The place was pretty busy, as it usually is: people fishing, kids playing, shorebirds stalking for food, and boats off in the distance.

We sat down and set up at a metal picnic table, under a tree, and before too long we had company. I think they were crows of some sort, not grackles, because their eyes were dark and their feathers weren’t iridescent. A murder of crows descended — that’s just fun to say. They were not tame, but one could call them tamed: they knew people meant food, they smelled that we had it, and they had no fear of us if delicious snacks were in the offing.

Come on, hominids, sharing is caring.

My friend was slightly less okay with this than I was; every time one swooped by to wait patiently in the tree above, she’d flinch and yelp. One large crow, the biggest of the flock, landed on the end of the table and watched me curiously. I tried to get the bird’s attention, whistling and clicking at it the way I do with parrots. The crow tilted its head and watched me carefully, and when I threw it a french fry it snapped it up. I started talking to it: oh, you’re gorgeous aren’t you, you magnificent beggar, you’re not afraid of a thing, look at you!

“Look at those claws!” my friend said.

“I want to take one home!” I told her.

“Have you seen Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds?'” she asked me.

“Aw, these guys are harmless,” I said. “Aren’t you? Just a little hungry, huh? C’mon, say nevermore.”

We had an audience, too: two young girls, maybe seven or eight years old, waiting while their family unloaded a tremendous amount of fishing equipment from the back of a sparkly tan (champagne, I think, is what the color is called; ugly) minivan. They shrieked and giggled as the birds came and went, and called to them in loud childish ways, but since they didn’t have food, the crows weren’t interested.

Now, look. I know, rationally, that feeding the wild animals and thus removing their instinctive fear of humans is a bad thing. I am generally against it. But sometimes you have to take a moment and talk with a patient crow that wants a little of whatever you’re having. The damage is already done, the animals are fearless, and if you’ve been having a bad day, sneaking a snack to a corvid will make you both feel good. It’s not like feeding tourists to alligators.

When we were finished eating there was a bit of food left over, so I took it and myself well away from the table and my jumpy friend (“You’re not doing that here!” she said, knowing what I had in mind) and the crows, scenting food, followed.

I took a fry, shredded it, and threw a few pieces: one far away, two closer. The birds took them and waited, watching me. It’s quite a thing to be the subject of so much intense scrutiny. Crows are smart, and you know it when they watch you. The kids in the parking lot watched, too.

Then I held another bit of food up in my hand, but didn’t throw it. I waited. A lovely big crow — I’d like to think it was the same one that had sat on the table with me — flew up, and as gently as a person would, took the fry from my fingers. It was a thing to see: this wild fearless animal, a magnificent example of its species, shiny and healthy and huge, beating its wings hard enough to blow my hair back and taking an offering of food so carefully from my hand.

So, of course, I did it again. The crow watched everything: my hand, my body language, the other birds. I watched it watch me, and I was amazed at the fact that we could communicate in this simple way, the crow and me, exchanging food without fright or injury.

Then the sea gulls approached (MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE!) and I called them a bunch of party-crashers, and tossed the rest of the leftovers to the slightly less-brave crows who had watched as the biggest one got the best bits of food.

The two little girls were still watching. I can’t imagine what this looked like to them: they watched as I stood up, whistled like I was calling for my dog, and the crow came to take food like I’d trained it.

I am not a Disney princess, and I never much wanted to be one: I’m happy to be my own scruffy self, with embroidered hippie jeans and sand-shredded lacquer on my bare toes, and my hair barely passing for presentable most of the time. There aren’t any anthropomorphic animals who want to help me find a man or make a dress, or even just wisecrack at opportune moments. But there are wild animals, daring and intelligent and calculating, that will watch and listen and come to an understanding with me. That’s enough. It’s more than enough.

Hey, Hugin or Munin or whoever you are, you wanna eat this?

the curious case of the pepper-tree

It is late April; the pollen is supposed to recede, and I have about a month before the rainy season sets in. Thus it is time to ready my implements of destruction and violently attack the jungle that is my back yard before the storms set in and make everything grow six inches overnight.

The highest priority target is something I’ve been warring with for about a decade. There is, and always has been, a pepper tree in a most awkward spot in my garden: wedged into the twoish feet between the a/c heat pump and the wall of my home.

At least, I think it’s a pepper tree. Brazilian pepper, to be precise, a particularly nasty invasive wossit that’s been pollenating and poisonating its way all across Florida. These things are the cane toads of trees. My theory with my garden is “it’s better than sand,” unless it’s sandspurs, but this thing is in a bad spot and it needs to go.

I turned to the internet, and found that, short of Agent Orange and/or fire (I’m not joking about the fire, every guide says things like “If fire is not an option then the following labor-intensive methods can be used but success is not guaranteed” and then they’re going on about backhoes) the removal and eradication of pepper trees here is a Big Fucking Deal, and also a Big Fucking Problem. Errgh. Seriously, fire? Kill it with fire is the best option, in reality?

Here is some of what I found. A detailed how-to guide and explanation of a “pepper bust” (PDF) put out by the internet side of one of the local papers. It has a disclaimer in case of injury right at the front. That’s heartening. Next I located a website full of gardeners having a collective bitchfit about these damn trees. Not that I blame them. Because fuck pepper trees in the ear, especially when they are putting roots under your (vital in FLA) air conditioning apparatus.

The pepper bust printout has given me hope; there’s a method called “basal bark application” of herbicide that will eventually kill the thing off, leaving a dead stump and roots that won’t grow under the house and break the AC or eat my plumbing more. (I already have seventeen thousand a hell of a lot of native trees on my eighth of an acre and their roots eat pipes and fiber-optic wire.) So I can do that, I figure; I can use the hedge loppers to strip the thing down to its trunk, then cut slices into it with my machete and dribble Tree Poison into the cracks. I don’t much care if a dead woody stump is still there. It’s not like it can make a heat pump more unsightly.

But first I need to find and sharpen my machete, which came from the local army-navy surplus and has whacked more jungle than Indiana Jones. Maybe it’s under the gimpy glue cat. It’s not under the stupid boneless cat; she sleeps in trash bins. And it’s not under the dog, because usually I am. The point is, attacking the jungle with hedge loppers is no fun, but attacking it with a wicked two-foot blade is, and especially when you have overwrought nautical revenge songs stuck in your head to sing loudly while you defoliate, you gotta do it with style.