Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Occasionally I will stumble upon an exhausted bee, dying on a flower. Too tired to move, but still alive enough to thrust its tongue into the nectar. I leave those bees well enough alone. Should I be gasping my last breaths with my tongue buried in my life's lust, I trust the bees will return the favor.

Tonight I found a bee clinging to a cluster of oregano flowerlets. Her head hung awkwardly over the cluster, missing the pollen and nectar of the flowers under her feet. I only saw it because I went to pick an oregano leaf.

The bee's middle leg occasionally moved, as though reaching for an itch. The wings trembled. It was dusk, the bee was, I thought, dying, or maybe, I said aloud to my wife, it was just resting.

I explained to Leslie, who has heard me explain too many ridiculous theories in our 31 years together (she listens intently, as though I might make some sense, and I speak intently, knowing she will listen, no matter how silly I am being--we love each other, after all), that perhaps the bee was only resting.

She challenged me, fairly. "How do you know it's only resting?"

Well, I saw a bumble resting on a marigold just last week, and in the morning, it was gone.

"Did you look on the ground," she asked, and I admitted that I had not, preferring to believe that my comatose bumble had been resurrected (a wonderful word). And at that moment, I suspected that my bumble had merely fallen off the marigold, dead.

Still, the idea of a bee dying on a cluster of flowerlets with her head hanging awkwardly off to the side bothered me enough to push another cluster of flowers towards her head. My wife watched. As I mentioned, she loves me, and she knew why I wanted to bury that bee's head in a flower, as crazy as the idea was. Because she knew my motive, she remained silent--not a skeptical silence, more a let's see where this goes silence, a silence of faith.

The bee buried its head into my offered flower. I figured that was it--she'll die there, and in the morning, when I see her carcass still on the flower, her head buried in nectar, I'll be glad to know I made her last moments a little better. Why not?

Still, we live in a wonderful universe and few things end as we predict. I was now in a peculiar position. The bee held her head in the clump of flowers I held; the bee's body, however, was still on the original bunch of flowerlets. Even in my most magnanimous moments, I do not envision holding a plant for an hour or two for dying insects. I am not a hospice for infirmed winged critters.

I gently tried to pry the flowers apart. The bee's body followed the bee's head, and I let go. She now rested comfortably with her head buried in an oregano flower. I have buried my own nose in oregano flowers. There are worse places to die.

Maybe it was the calories in the oregano nectar. Maybe it was the shimmying of the flowers. Maybe bees do in fact just rest at times (shhhh, don't tell the bee mythologists). She pulled her head out of the flower, then flew to a neighboring oregano plant, one where a human was less likely to interfere with her rest.

Seven weeks before my mother died, she danced. We had gathered at the Crab House in Cape May, where our family swarms annually. The Crab House is like so many other places down by the shore--plain brown paper table cloths, crab mallets, beer, and music.

Breast cancer had poked my mother's brain with nests of useless cells. Her bones ached. Her liver was swollen from metastases. When no one was looking, she moved like a marionette. Publicly, however, she moved slowly, gracefully.

In June of 1996, we danced. We knew she was dying. She knew she was dying. Others at the restaurant had no way of knowing, and they joined in our maniacal twirling, swinging, laughter. The others could not know she was dying, her energy so high, but we knew, and danced all that much harder. We knew she would not be back next year, we knew she was suffering, but the joy that night was real. We were celebrating life--not just hers, not just ours. Our joy was contagious, and the joint was hopping.

My mother taught her children to bury our heads in nectar the rare days we could find it. That nectar even at all exists boggles the mind. That it exists for us and for the bees, a miracle.

Another oldie.
The picture of the bee is from, of all places, Fermilab, a gummint site.
I figure the Crab House folks won't mind the plug--been a rough year for them.
Well worth the visit once they reopen.


A Shared Meal said...

Great post! If we could just teach all of our students to chase after the nectar of life until the very end, we would be doing an excellent job.

doyle said...

Thanks for the words.

I think once the kids know what nectar tastes like, we'll have no problem teaching them to chase it.

Getting a diploma just to get a decent job in the "new economy" seems to be the prevailing message in schools.

Money's not useful beyond basic necessities if you don't know what you want.

Clay Burell said...

This was so beautiful. That's all I have to say.

Clay Burell said...

okay, I lied: Virginia Woolf's "The Death of a Moth" and maybe Annie Dillard's "Death of a Moth" are two essays you would, I bet my last dollar, love.

If you haven't read them and want to, let me know and I'll snoop to confirm I got the second author right.

doyle said...


I may well have read them and forgotten, but I'll ask Leslie to dig them out--she teaches English, writes, and has a truckload of books scattered around the house.

And thanks for the words--I wasn't sure I was going to keep the blog up come September, busy as I am with
, but it only takes a few readers to make an audience, and in your case, one is sufficient.

Anonymous said...

scientist, poet, what's the difference?

Cindy said...

Just found your blog...wonderful and insightful...keep writing - I'll keep reading.

doyle said...

Dear Cindy,

Thank you for the kind words. August 19th was the anniversary of my Mom's death, and this is one of my favorite posts.

Glad you like it, too.