Her Work Is At An End

This morning I went to my garden to water and weed, just as I do most other summer mornings. It’s early August, and the hot, sunny weather Portland has been getting the past few weeks has caused both my vegetables and the weeds to engage in furious growth. While I hate having left the weeds to get as big as they have while I’ve been gone for festivals, I do have to admit it’s more satisfying to yank up one weed and clear a six inch wide patch of earth than to scrape dozens of tiny weedlings with my trowel and hope their roots don’t regenerate quickly. I’ve managed to make enough space to transplant crowded parsnip and beet seedlings, and these appreciate the cool water that soaks into their new soil.

The other evening when I visited my garden with a friend, we found a dead honey bee still clinging to a calendula bloom gone to seed, entangled in the drying, withered petals. While dead-heading the flowers today, I noticed the little deceased was still there in spite of the human-brought rain from the hose. A few specks of soil clung to her fur, kicked up from watering and weeding. Her wings, slightly torn, stuck out at odd angles. I broke off the flower she lay upon; she looked almost as though she were merely taking a nap, one front leg tucked under her head.

There was no sign of trauma or injury. Perhaps she was a casualty of neonicotinoid pesticides outside of the community garden’s organic boundaries. Or she may have been too old, exhausted on her last flight, a spring hatchling now matured far into summer. She might have just come from her hive after being relieved of a burden of pollen and honey.

Had she died at home, there’d be no bedside elegy; bees are much too efficient for that. Her corpse would have been dragged from where she fell, then dropped unceremoniously into a refuse pile outside the hive. Here, nestled on the edge of a fertile calendula blossom, she was afforded a bit more peace, a few days to lie in repose. Probably no one but I and my friend took note of her passing;  certainly none of her hive-sisters would have noticed she was missing. There is no room in the hive for sentimentality when life is so brief to begin with.

I’ve brought her home with me. For now she’ll rest on my work bench, off to the side. I have ideas on how to honor her with my funerary art, but for the moment she’ll lie in state, a reminder of so many of the reasons why I do what I do–and a warning against working too hard lest I, too, only find peace when my own work is at an end.

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