I’ve never liked “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” I hated that the fable was pro-hard-working, no-time-for-fun-or-art ant. I identified with the grasshopper, and it was pretty scary to see that not only did no one delight in (or even appreciate) his music in summer, no one wanted to take him in or give him food in winter. It seemed to me like the two options were: work hard and be safe, or do what you love and perish. (I have been known to be dramatic now and then).
I’ve been working in my flower gardens a lot this summer— some latent Gerdin gene has kicked in and I’m channeling my grandma. My husband said he really appreciates it, that it makes it nicer to live here. I told him I think I contribute the most in the “Thriving” category, and he’s really good at the “Surviving” category— and we’ve been in the latter for a long time.
Doesn’t anything bridge that enormous gap, the apparent chasm between Surviving and Thriving?
Honeybees have the satisfaction of work— of taking something in and making something new that is not only nourishing but sweet and good. Honey is medicinal. It literally never goes bad— you could eat honey from a pharaoh’s tomb (if you weren’t worried about possible curses) or from a Viking cellar.
Honey is specific to plant and place: Tanzanian honey tastes different from Minnesota clover honey. It helps with allergies. It’s antiseptic. It can be made into mead.
And unlike ants who, to my eye, work at a frenzied, militant pace, honey bees dance to tell their hive where the good flowers are. They stitch a thread of connection from blossom to blossom over acres, over miles. If you could trace the line of their movement it would be, I imagine, a visual poem.
And they aren’t storing up fuel for decay, like ants; they are stuffing their furry, golden bodies into flowers, into the very center of colorful, feminine, temporal, perfumed chambers. The magic, the pollen, clings to them— they don’t cling to it, they don’t hoard it. And when they make honey— it’s just regurgitation. They are vessels, they transform nectar without doing anything particularly special or difficult.
What also appeals to me is that if one honeybee fails— if one is somehow flawed and simply can’t do its job for a day or a week or its whole life… well, it’s one of many. It is impossible for the failings of one bee to kill the world’s flowers, fruits, vegetables. It is impossible for just one bee to save them all, either. There’s no pressure, no blame, and no credit. But there is beauty. There is sweetness.
When I was very young, my parents kept bees. I can still remember my dad in the dust-colored suit, netting protecting his face as he moved slowly among the hives with his tiny bellows of soporific smoke: a sweet and comforting smell.
I like that the bees aren’t killed or driven out or even alarmed in order to harvest the honey— they are made drowsy and dozy. They sleep. Maybe they dream. Then they get back out there, following sweetness, and do what they do best.
We found a 5 gallon bucket of honey stored in the root cellar some years after my parents divorced. It was crystallized and thick, a deep golden amber. We scooped it out and heated it slowly. And it was still good.