The rain came Saturday afternoon, and it was welcome after this Mediterranean-dry spring. While the sun was still out that morning, I walked around and discovered that the side yard has been taken over by my former nemesis: ground ivy, with its pretty scalloped leaves, its tiny purple/blue/lavender blooms, its disgusting smell, and its stems that break compliantly when you pull on them, all the better to keep the roots spreading below ground. But this time I did not wish I had a canister of Agent Orange at hand, for at that moment the ground ivy was literally, totally, covered with bees. Honey bees.
Do you know how extraordinary that is? Honey bees are far more endangered than elephants, and more crucial to our survival on this planet than any animal you can see with the naked eye. They are dying by the zillions of unknown things which are our fault. In the seven springs I have spent on this hilltop, I have never seen more than a single bee at a time. Yet on Saturday before the rain, there they were, hundreds of them, feasting on ground ivy.
The stories I hear from local beekeepers are almost uniformly tragic. For example: three years ago, one woman's single hive gave eighty pounds of honey. In the last two years, having received the same care and attention, all her bees inexplicably died. You can see why those hundreds of bees on the ground ivy seemed like a miracle.
I found a bee-free spot and cautiously knelt down. There were a couple of red and black butterflies with white dots on the wings, and some bumblebees flying around. But mostly there were bees, fat, honey-colored, hovering not more than an inch above the ground, diving head first into the tiny flowers, and singing softly. "This is what 'a-buzz' means," I said to myself.
I thought I would kneel there and become immersed in the motion and the buzzing and the bee-ness--an outdoor Zen moment not marked by electronic chimes. But whom was I kidding? Before a minute passed, I was fretting. Just around the corner of the chicken house, the "Liberty" apple tree was blooming its little heart out, but the only pollinators on it were a couple of house flies. What were those bees doing loitering in the side yard? The rains were supposed to last a couple of days, and pollination doesn't happen in the rain. Time was of the essence. Could I somehow scoop up some of those bees and deposit them on the apple tree? A chime went off in my head, signaling the onset of craziness. I got up from the ivy, and left the bees to their work.
My attitude to nature, at least the nature around my house, is anything but Zen. For the last couple of weeks, I have pruned everything in sight, covered trees with sheets at night, uncovered them in the morning, planted seedlings prematurely in the vegetable garden and watered them one by one, clipped the spent blooms off the Pasque flowers, espaliered the apricot tree, planted boxwoods, apples and blueberries, transplanted rhubarb and astilbes, and generally interfered with everything. Why can't I just leave Nature alone?
I come from a pruning, espaliering, pollarding people. In my corner of Catalonia, every cubic foot of earth has been plowed, planted, manured, watered and harvested, turned over and over by the human hand for six thousand years. It's no wonder I can't let go of that.
Now at last the rain has come, and I'm forced to keep away. I can hear everything outdoors--the bees, the ivy, the seedlings, the apple trees--heaving a sigh of relief.