Life Lesson in the Garden

She was hanging on for dear life. She’d slide backwards downhill a bit and then muster enough energy to grab onto something that I couldn’t even see and hang on again. Her head was down in defeat. Her arms and legs were motionless. I pitied her. And of, course, she was a she. She was a worker honeybee lost and spent of energy on a leaf – a leaf, a nectarless leaf – in my pre-flowering rose garden.

I knew how that felt. Many times backpacking I would hit that wall where I’d run out of calories and stand motionless asking for candy, and then, when offered it, ask my friends to unwrap it because my hands were too uncoordinated from lack of calories to function. Over the years I got pretty good at preventing that but even last year on the first day of the highest mileage (per day and collectively) trip I’d ever done, I hit that wall about a half mile before camp. Luckily, Nadia was there asking if she could do anything. It’s not pretty when this happens. I’ve shakily unwrapped my own candy and greedily popped it in my mouth like a starved animal. I’ve sat on a rock and cried, not sure what was wrong. I’ve gotten bitchy and threatened to drop my pack where I stood and make camp, even if it’s rudely in the camp of another group. There’s a joke among my guides: When she’s hungry, throw candy and back away slowly.

I’m not diabetic. I have no metabolic disorder. It’s just that when I backpack, I can easily burn calories at a rate beyond what I replace by eating. And I’m eating big calories all day long: spoonfuls of Nutella and peanut butter, salami and cheese, Cliff Bars, etc., etc. My hiking companion last year Carolyn, had to stop mid-way in Mammoth Lakes on her 450 mile hike to buy a smaller size skort. My other hiking companion, Rich, because of his shrinking posterior, was having trouble keeping his pants up. I just kept candy close at hand and tried not to be a nuisance from crashing and burning and making a scene.

But this bee had no fellow bee to offer a flower and without a source of energy I knew she would finally slide off the rose leaf to the soil below and die. I thought of picking her off the leaf with my hands and placing her on a flower but thought she might have just enough energy left to sting me. I started to walk away sad at her impending demise, attributing it to the ways of nature as much as baby grizzlies can be lost downstream crossing a spring melt swollen river. Then I thought of the worldwide tragedy of collapsing colony disorder, a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. The cause is not clear but it is clear to me from what I’ve read, that this is a man-made condition. So, suddenly feeling a sense of responsibility, and a hitting-the-wall kinship, for this bee who’d flown beyond her calorie intake, I pulled off a nearby blooming lavender flower, held it out for her to crawl onto and transferred her to the flower on a blooming lavender bush. Her proboscis soon found a tiny flower on the side of the main lavender flower and then another. (If you look closely you’ll see that lavender flowers are covered with many small flowers.) Soon her previously motionless wings were buzzing and she was flitting from flower to flower. I was glad to be the one to offer her her trail candy and walked back into the house with the sense that this world would be a gentler place if we all cared for each other in the ways I’ve found on the trail and in my garden. I wish us all happy buzzing.

© Karen Najarian, March 24, 2014.