Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wild bees

The Victory Women (aka honeybees) living in our apiary (aka back garden) have changed the way I feel my way through the world (aka mostly Melbourne). I notice cape weed and oxalis poking up through the grass around the local oval. I log them in my memory, in a column headed August-September, Subject to Change. Beefood. When I walk past a eucalypt, my eye seeks out gumblossom, those wee cream-coloured tutus, or the green waxed caps over the blossom-to-be, or the brown nuts of blossom that's been and gone. I feel the double usefulness of fruit trees, for the nectar they use to bribe the bees into being their sexy go-betweens and then the fruit that bribes us fructivores into being the trees' devout midwives, au pairs and all-round manure-bearing lackeys. 

I notice bees themselves. The darker ones, Carniolans, and the honey-golden ones, Italians, and the native blue-banded bees, and the occasional teddy bear bee, also native, one of whom I saw today picking her way over a parsnip umbel. I notice things that might hurt them too. Every time I see someone squirting insecticide at a rosebush, I mentally draft the letter I'll write to the local legislature explaining that all the experts concur: squirty stuff designed to destroy insect life generally does, indeed, destroy insect life and then what. Then I mentally play out the scenario in which I run for local council and go to 76 meetings and eventually table a recommendation insisting that all insect mitigation be conducted via the agency of other insects, birds, or thumbs and forefingers. I can see that going down really well.

I don't know if, before the Victory Women came into my life, I would have noticed the aperture in the base of this tree.

I love these bees. They're about five kilometres from our house, and every so often we amble up to watch them. They're living in a wide corridor of rivergums that runs between piles of houses. Beneath the gums there's an understorey of grasses and wild mustard and in the nearby gardens there's the usual garden stuff, so they do well, these bees. You can see them descending through the air to their antechamber, fat yellow pouches of pollen on their legs, and you can imagine the ecstasy of gum nectar when the season comes.

Last September, we found that someone had detonated a fleabomb in the entrance to their home. There was a grisly pile of dead bees that the survivors had carried from their nest out onto a graveyard perhaps a foot from the entrance. We worried that, although clearly some of the workers had survived, the brood would be poisoned, would perhaps not grow or would grow with stunted wings. But five months have passed - that's two or three or four bee lifetimes - and the bees are still coming and going from their rivergum. I want to cheer for them, resilient wild girls.

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