This morning I watched as a raven went to great pains to remove this twig from the mulberry tree in our back yard. Why was he so intent on this task, even while being bombarded by an irate mockingbird? When he finally freed the twig from the branch, he held it in his beak for a moment before letting it drop to the patio below him. After a moment or two, he simply flew off. Was he going to use this twig as a tool, but decided to find a better one? After he left, I went outside and picked it up. It didn’t seem suitable for a nest-building project. Bit of a mystery here……
In a neurotic, tumultuous, sometimes violent election cycle that dominates the news, in the midst of the bombardment of robo calls invading our home every single day, it’s a relief to ponder simpler mysteries (simple from my point of view…..I can’t speak for the raven). I keep this twig next to my laptop as a reminder that most of life occurs outside any given news cycle.
Recently, Joe and I were sitting in a golf cart in the middle of a fairway when we saw a cloud of something approaching us. It was a swarm of honeybees. It was almost as if they passed through us because not one bee ran into us or our golf cart though for one, brief moment we were surrounded by them. Both Joe and I had goosebumps after they passed.
Today, I held a fledgling finch I found sitting alone on the backyard patio, looking a bit stunned. At first, I thought he had flown into the glass back doors. His beak opened and closed and his little chest was heaving. He had been sitting in the sun, so perhaps he was overheated. I gently scooped him up in my hands and sat with him in the shade. When he looked like he was perking up a bit, I opened my hands and he hopped onto my knee, looking at me quizzically. I could see some baby feathers still poking out of his chest. Eventually, he flew off into the thick vines that cover the fence along our driveway, a place where finches and sparrows often nest. Later in the day, he and his mom were back out there, the little guy doing his little guy bird dance, begging for his mom to feed him.
It’s always a gift, this rare, intimate connection with the backyard wildlife.
I never thought I’d have the chance to learn beekeeping, particularly in the Los Angeles area, but the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association offers classes on beekeeping. Who knew? For $10 per household, which procures membership in the association, you have free access to these classes, most of which are held at Bill’s Bees, Bill Lewis’s bee yard in the hills of the Angeles National Forest. I was amazed at how many people showed up for the class on the first day. Bill’s Bees is tucked back into a canyon, down a narrow, winding, partially paved road, and yet we found ourselves in a long convoy all heading for the same destination. After the cluster of chairs in a barn-like structure filled up, it was standing room only for everyone else, close to 100 people altogether.
Bill and his fellow beekeepers are experts on bees and there is much to learn. Many attendees took notes, including myself. The first two classes were mainly instructional with some demonstrations on how beehives are constructed. It was the third class that I was longing for, where we would have to wear bee suits as we’d be introduced to the bees themselves.
Mark Winston says in his book, Bee Time, “Walking into an apiary is intellectually challenging and emotionally rich, sensual and riveting.” He’s not kidding. It’s a full-body experience, walking up to an open hive where hundreds of bees fill the air with the vibrations of their buzzing, where you smell the thick, sweet aroma of wax and honey. It’s hypnotic, watching the intricacies of their flight patterns as they exit and enter the hive. They are all around, bumping into my netted hood, landing on my suit, although miraculously, they don’t bump into each other. It was hard to get close to one of the many hives for very long given how many people were there in their suits. One woman started hyperventilating with panic in the midst of so many bees. I wanted to sit down and let myself be lulled into a nap by their collective hum. When I was finally able to get close to one of the open hives, I got to hold one of the frames, covered with bees and wax. There were bees attending to newly emerging bees…..bees being born before my eyes. Leaning in closer, we got to hear the individual song of the queen deep in the hive.
Although it’s not practical to keep a hive on our own small property, it was worth it just to stand in the midst of so many bees, like being invited into an exclusive club. I’ve been able to do that, on a less numerous scale and with less fear of being stung, with hoards of hummingbirds flying in and around our backyard feeders. The bees are a more intense crowd, driven by a collective purpose. I was merely a privileged observer.