03 August 2015

Bees, Knees, & Transitions

Colin Meloy is singing the soundtrack of my daughters’ childhoods this morning, much as John Denver sang mine.  It’s time to say goodbye to yet another summer.  This morning I return to work and on Thursday school begins.  It’s been a summer of transitions and reflection.

Last week we made a very difficult family decision to have our beloved pet cat put down due to increasing behavioral issues (the technical term is inappropriate elimination).  We have each made our peace with losing Lucie, but there are moments of acute loss that each suffer, often at unexpected times.  To walk into the space where her food dishes were causes my heart to drop, every time, and my heart seems to beat out, “she’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone.”  The evenings and mornings when she’d be especially cuddly and purry seem so empty to us now.  Every now and then, I think I see her out of the corner of my eye, curled up in one of her usual places.  Emptiness seems the primary description for losing a pet.  Lucie occupied such a presence in home and heart.  She was an exceedingly social cat, greeting visitors and needing to be wherever we were.  We miss her so.

As if called to fill this void, thousands of bees swarmed into my in-laws’ garage the day after we said goodbye to Lucie.  Dan contacted friends who are beekeepers to assess the situation.  They said the bees might leave on their own to find a more suitable home, but if not, they’d capture and relocate them on Sunday.  The bees were still there the next morning, a mass of solid bees the size of a basketball, clinging to one another and the ceiling of the garage.  Peggy and Dave arrived and suited up, explained the plan, and talked with such love about the bees.  Something clicked inside me and I was intrigued and fascinated and immediately wanted these bees placed on our property.  I asked impulsively if we could have the bees, and Peggy was delighted that I was a convert and explained what I’d need to do to prepare a space for the bees.

Sunday night, the bees were moved into a box on our property, under a juniper tree south of our house.  From our deck we check on them multiple times a day, using binoculars, observing patterns in their comings and goings.  We’ve ordered our own bee suits, have a pile of bee books from the local library, and have had conversations with our neighbors to make them aware.  We’ve spoken to several people who are or were beekeepers who have been so supportive and willing to share advice.  We definitely feel part of a community of environmental stewards – the beekeeping community is welcoming and eager.  There are moments when I am watching the bees when a paraphrase of Bogie’s line from Casablanca pops into my head:  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, these bees buzzed into mine…  I’ve never felt quite so obsessed and concerned about anything like I do about these bees.  Truly, they are incredibly low maintenance, and in fact do their thing without human assistance and in spite of human interference, as they’ve done for millennia.  But to provide them a safe place to call home during this time of crisis for their species feels like very important work.  Beekeeping is a lot like parenting, teaching, or gardening, in that my first task is to create and maintain an ideal environment for them to thrive.  I’m learning all I can and hope that this colony will succeed.  If they make enough honey to share with us, that’s an added bonus, and I hope to have plenty for anyone who wants some.  They do appear to be a strong colony and my first glimpse into the bee box two days after their placement showed them to be busy building comb and setting up house, as perfectly as we could hope.

This summer we also replaced our flooring, which required us to move out of the upper floor of our house.  We slept in our camping trailer for a week, our garage and downstairs filled with furniture and boxes.  We spent many days this summer sorting through clothing, toys, and such, deciding what to keep, what to donate, what to pitch.  It was a cathartic process that involved many trips to Goodwill and the Humane Society Thrift Shop to drop off bags and boxes.  Madeleine and Arden said goodbye to numerous toys they’d outgrown.  We repainted their bedroom and still need to hang pictures back on the wall, but it’s mostly back together.  I had the realization that Madeleine has three more summers with us before she heads off to college, and my mind’s been frantic with planning those family vacations we’ve not yet done (Hawaii, Europe, Baja, Washington DC).  Of course, we don’t have to do these family trips before she goes off to college, but she’ll soon have other interests and a summer job.  She did have a small job this summer teaching music reading to a young violinist.  I’m definitely feeling the clock ticking in a way I haven’t before this summer.

Exactly a month before the first day of school, I tore the medial meniscus in my right knee while on a morning run.  I was laid up for about a week during which I had a lot of time to read and think.  I saw an orthopedic surgeon who indicated surgery is my only option for this injury, but that I would be the one to decide when that should occur.  A steroid shot into my knee has given me much mobility and I can do most any activity I want (except hiking and running).  It’s a waiting game at this point to see what I can tolerate.  Just this week I began taking slow walks around the neighborhood, managing to do two miles without much discomfort.  As always, though, an injury or illness makes us take stock since it slows us down to the essentials of life, temporarily, if we’re lucky.

In spite of not being very physically active, I haven’t been writing much this summer, or even this year if I’m honest.  I can’t really pinpoint why, although there is often a sense of overexposure of the self, or feeling as if I’ve revealed or might reveal more of my inner workings than I want.  So this season has been one of inward retreat and renewal.  It takes a lot of physical and emotional energy to exist in this world, even in my cushy, semi-rural existence here in America.  As I gear up for another year in the classroom, I am more grateful than ever that my profession offers this very important and very necessary perk of summers off.  I am refreshed and revived and very much looking forward to the new challenges the school year always brings.  I am grateful, too, for new professional opportunities like coaching Academic Decathlon, and new personal interests like beekeeping, that keep each day fresh.  Dan and I celebrated our 22nd anniversary last month and some days I feel very old in my bones, very set in my ways as I go about my routines.  But these transitions to new stages, new interests, and new dreams will help to keep us young.  As Gabo said, “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.” 

We’ve transitioned from a one-pet household to being stewards for thousands of creatures, from a household with two children to one with two young adults.  I’ve gone from being physically active to slowly working my way back to being able to walk a couple miles.  It’s an adventure, this life, filled at times with heartbreaking detours and unexpected curves, and always, always, always, with changes.  Wishing you some new dreams that will set your heart abuzz.

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