On Friday evening, my dad spotted something odd next to the veranda and gave me a buzz on the intercom. In the gathering dusk, it was a little difficult to tell exactly what it was, at first. A walnut branch was wearing an upside-down hat about twice the size of a Baltimore oriole’s nest: a swarm of honeybees! It rearranged itself as the branch bobbed in the wind, like no fruit you’ve ever seen. It hummed.

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It hung there all day Saturday while the scouts searched for a suitable home. Consensus decision-making is never swift.

Now I thought of a thick tongue, and remembering the old saw —

A swarm of bees in June
is worth a silver spoon

— I thought of a rich person born with a swarming appetite for sweets.

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Mid-afternoon on Sunday, as I was starting lasagna sauce for supper, I heard a shout from the veranda. The swarm had made up its mind. “It looked like a loaf of bread just crumbling to pieces,” said Eva, who witnessed the breakup — “the weirdest thing I ever saw.” In less than a second, the quiet hum had turned into a roar. We all rushed out to watch as the bees rose above the treetops and streamed away toward the east. I ran after them, but they traveled in a loose cloud that was hard to see against the blue sky, and I lost them when they entered the woods.

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The only other time I’ve seen a swarm on the move, it was much more compact, and traveled only about fifteen feet off the ground — a hair-raising apparition. This one flew at least twice as high. It had probably split off from one of the honeybee colonies in the walls of a derelict house a quarter mile away; that might explain its initial attraction to my parents’ house. But its ultimate destination was probably some hollow tree, of which we have plenty on the mountain.

We used to keep bees back in the late 70s and early 80s, before the bears became too numerous, and twice I watched as my dad captured feral swarms and put them into waiting hive boxes. The first time he got all suited up and carried the smoker along, but the second time, he used nothing but a pair of pruners and a burlap sack, as I recall. Putting a hive of bees into a clean, white box full of frames seems a little like trying to lure a god into a shrine — or typing poems into a humming computer. Go forth and pollinate, says the maker to himself.

Speaking of swarms, be sure to check out today’s post at The Middlewesterner, where Tom describes his visit to Plummer’s Hollow, our road trip to Montreal, and the blogger swarm that followed.

11 Replies to “Swarm”

  1. Oh, holy wow. I’ve never seen anything like this.

    I loved the whole post — the description, the images — but especially the closing image of trying to lure a god into a shrine, or poems into a computer.

  2. Hi, all – Thanks for the kind comments. I was initially disappointed that all my photos of the swarm came out a little blurry, but now I think maybe that makes them more effective — it shows that the bees were in constant motion.

    I never feel like I could be in your league.

    Writing isn’t baseball, to me. Mostly, I just compete against myself. This post, for example, is in part an attempt to improve upon some images I used in the title poem of a manuscript I put together about five years ago, “Capturing the Hive.” I was initially thinking of including it here, but on re-reading it, found that I didn’t really like it any more. In any case, Bobby, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’ve got stories that nobody else can tell — and some of them are pretty damn compelling, from what I’ve seen. I might be inclined to be a little envious of that, if I were in the habit of comparing myself with others.

    Pablo – Yeah, I was worried when alarmist stories about the mite outbreak began to circulate in the media a few years back. We did see a dramatic fall-off in the numbers of honeybees going in and out of our deceased neighbor’s derelict house, but after just a couple of years, they started to pick back up. Maybe the bees learned how to defend themselves against the new invaders. As you suggest, this swarm is a very hopeful sign.

  3. At 15 not much your Mom finds interesting is interesting, if you know what I mean, but she rose from the table and came and looked at these photos and listened while I recounted what you wrote and I swear I could see her mind buzzing in its own honeyed way…

  4. wonderful! sets one to thinking of all things sweet and buzzing! i’m allergic – after hitting a yellowjacket nest when i was a kid (over 200 stings) – one sting sends me to the epi-pen. still, i’ve always thought it would be cool to tend bees. i’ve seen a wild swarm and all of that buzzing makes the air feel electric!

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