Labor Day afternoon was hot and drowsy at the cottage, and everyone was a little listless. Maybe it was due to the impending end of summer and its attendant tasks of bringing in the boats and cleaning out the fridge. Maybe it was because we had all gorged ourselves at lunch with tomato sandwiches. (Simple is best when it comes to tomato sandwiches. I like mine on good-quality white bread, with a swipe of real mayonnaise, a dense layer of bright red, dripping-ripe tomato slices, a little salt and a lot of fresh black pepper.)
Anyway, I was in a state of torpor when Douglas, my fiance, stepped in from the porch, closing the screen door smartly behind him. “There’s a swarm of bees out there,” he said, matter-of-factly. We left the kitchen en masse and hurried outside. Sure enough, the air above the narrow roadway in front of the cottage was alive with thousands of honeybees. They were flying slowly in a loose, noisy, buzzing sphere about 10 feet across. As we watched, the sphere moved lazily down the street and over onto the neighbor’s lawn, hovering about four feet off the ground.
Gradually, the bees flew into a tighter and tighter ball and finally settled into a small rugosa rose bush. There were so many that their weight bent the bush over and obscured about half of it from view. It looked like the bush had been covered with a heavy, shining, brown-and-gold cloth.
Bee swarms are not uncommon this time of year, when the heat stresses them and prompts them to kidnap their queen and make a break for it. These bees belonged to our grey-haired neighbor, as much as a colony of free-range, foraging insects can be said to belong to anyone. Over the course of the afternoon, she capably recaptured them from the rose bush, wearing a beekeeper’s protective white suit and calmly shaking them into a waiting trash can. She tolerated an audience of bystanders and responded casually to our questions as she worked.
From time to time, I have flirted with the idea of keeping bees. I’m drawn to their business-like behavior and the mysterious intelligence of their communications. I like it that they make sweet honey out of — what? pollen? nectar? I imagine myself decked out in one of those blousey beekeeper suits, gently smoking the hive and then calmly reaching in to harvest chunks of the dripping, golden comb. The neighborhood children will watch from a respectful distance, marveling at the antics of their slightly neurotic old neighbor, her white hair pinned up under the veiled helmet.
Busy with my career and my family, I haven’t made time for beekeeping — or raising chickens, or growing prize pumpkins or any one of a number of other wistful agrarian notions. But now, moving into my sixth decade on the planet, with my children grown and the promise of fewer demands on my time and more flexibility in my schedule, I can see the possibilities more clearly. I am grateful to have the wit to learn a new skill, the sense of adventure to enjoy a challenge and the good health and energy to undertake new physical tasks.
It may not be bees I take on, or chickens either. But it will be something. Because even a long life is too short not to keep learning and experiencing. As I continue my work with the Bangor Daily News, I look forward to hearing from my readers about their emerging interests and new activities, old hobbies rediscovered, all the surprising adventures made possible, or necessary, by the transition into a creative maturity.