Rating: G (K)
Genre: gen, personal
Words: 1000 or so
Summary: My sister—she six and I nine—made a ritual of ‘bee watching,’ where we would just sit outside on the summer-warmed walkway and watch the bees at work.
It was a hummingbird, that much was plain. But the way it flitted among the tomato bushes with zealously erratic flight patterns, casting a reflective emerald sheen across its wingspan… That was magic. I waited in the shadows of the doorway until it left, savoring its presence. Because I was so close, I could see the individual feathers that made up its iridescent brilliance, every so often shifting from greens to black as the bird tilted the outside of its wings away from the sun’s rays. Its breast—of a color now forgotten, which paled in comparison to the hummingbird’s wings—pulsed with the beating of its tiny heart.
On countless occasions, I have wondered why, of all places, it had been in our yard. Why waste its otherwise flawless decorum with tasteless scenery? In terms of general landscaping and beautification, our front yard could not be considered even minutely close to passable. From the street, the plot sloped up gradually, ground covered in a mat of nondescript ice plant and a rosemary bush. Then the incline suddenly increased very sharply, on top of which was an octagonal planter box littered with scraggly tomato plants and a bed of nasturtiums that threatened to devour all other occupants of the pitifully bedraggled garden. I would be left to ponder ‘why’ alone, however, because the hummingbird finally zipped away, and I was released from its spell. It didn’t come back, and sometimes I still wonder if it was scared to return because it had seen me watching it.
But amidst all the pathetic drabness of our yard, the rosemary bush was a jewel worth its share of marveling. And that is precisely what my sister, Tamsin, and I did. Not for the rosemary itself, but for the tiny wonders that made the blooms team with life—there were bees in that bush. My sister—she six and I nine—made a ritual of ‘bee watching,’ where we would just sit outside on the summer-warmed walkway and watch the bees at work. Together, we would point out which bees had the most pollen (most of which we could not believe actually came from the rosemary—did rosemary even have pollen like that?) collected on their legs, and which ones had the least citrine-toned stripes. Eventually, we were able to distinguish which were the bees that collected pollen, and which were either wasps or yellow jackets just trying to fit in.
Sometimes, Tamsin would ask me, evident in her almond chocolate eyes that she was only half expecting a practical answer, “Why do we do this, anyway?”
I would answer, “Because we can. Because they’re here, and we’re here, and it’s not raining.”
Other times, she was more cryptic, and out of blue, would comment on the patterns of the bees. “They never go to the same flower, you know. I wonder if the bees yesterday were the bees we saw today too?” Looking down, she traced the roots of the rosemary with her baby fingers.
I wondered if the hummingbird had chosen us, or if it made a routine of visiting each house once, and never coming back, just like the bees.
Routine for them or no, Tamsin and I grew to love our new and fascinating routine.
Until the day my sister got stung.
Then we never watched the bees again.
It wasn’t even while we were bee watching in the first place, and she didn’t get stung by a bee, either. Or even stung, for that matter; technically (but only technically) my sister had been bitten by a wasp. One Sunday after church she had decided to go out onto the patio in our backyard and ride her metal tricycle—the one with partly cement wheels that rolled along the rutted ground unsteadily, full of niches and uneven spots. I wasn’t at home then, but according to my mother, Tamsin had started screaming hysterically, tears streaming down her face like nobody’s business as she clutched her hand, brows furrowing as if to ease the pain.
Her finger swelled up to a size that would make even a pregnant rabbit proud, and was tender for the rest of the afternoon.
She and I had never vocally agreed to cease bee watching, but after that day, it just never happened. Now, that may have been because of the coming autumn and the shortening of daylight hours, but since we have not watched the rosemary bees on any given day for the past summers, I think that it was the wasp incident more than anything else that made us stop.
Again, I was forced to recall my memories of that one hummingbird, from what seemed like so long ago (and now seems about the same amount of time in the past, though the material years since then have gained considerably.) Had the creature been like the bees, circling among the various gardens in the vicinity without passion, or had it, in fact, personally chosen not to come back voluntarily, as my sister and I had chosen not to watch bees again? When the tension in the air is mellow and the winds are balmy as I walk up the walkway to our front door, I always remember the hummingbird and the bees once again. Each time, I always come to a different conclusion. Oh, that bird was just going to every house on the block indiscriminately—coming to our house was merely chance, not fate. Or, the bird was chased away by my prying glances, the bird got sick because it ate one of the hard, unripe tomatoes and died. The list continues far beyond the limits of written word, mostly filled by incoherent thoughts or the jagged shale of self-blame. You know the ones—excuses for the absence of a hummingbird’s beauty that center around me and my own incompetence or our yard’s general hideousness. The kinds of blame that have no place in logical reasoning or thought patterns.
Even so, today, as I walk down the path, it’s mid-autumn in the early morning. The air is crisp and exhilarating, armed with a majestic aura that only comes when October draws near. The same rosemary bush sits among the tendrils of creeping ice plant, though it looks more scraggly than usual—the bush has been pruned back for the winter, and its branches will be used to scent campfires. By the time I’m almost to the end of the walk, a tentative flash of honey catches in the corner of my eye, and a single bee begins its daily routine.
And as I climb into the waiting car that will take me to the bus stop, I get the feeling that I’ve seen that very same bee before, and it came back—to me, to our home—as a repeat customer.
Whether this too, is illogical, only time will tell. But I saw the hummingbird this morning, so I think it really is the same bee.