Michelle Martin

You can never tell with bees

July 13, 2015

When Teresa stood in her wading pool, looking askance at the fuzzy honeybee dipping its toes into a wet spot on the side of the pool, I took it as a victory.

She wasn’t running away screaming. She wasn’t locking herself in the house and refusing to come outside until all flying insects had been banished.

She did stand stock-still until the bee had enough of the water and flew away.

I think she learned that from “Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees,” the A.A. Milne classic in which Pooh, a bear of very little brain, tried to disguise himself as a raincloud hanging beneath a blue balloon to steal honey from an active hive. It goes about as well as you would expect.

We’ve been talking a lot about bees, about how we need them not just to make honey — the most obvious connection between bees and food in the mind of a 5-year-old — but also to pollinate crops so that we all have enough to eat.

Most honeybees aren’t terribly aggressive, and most won’t sting unless they feel threatened. People should still be careful; a child reaching into a flowerbed to retrieve an errant ball can appear mighty threatening to an insect drinking nectar from the flowers.

So Teresa’s course of action was perfectly reasonable, and it’s one that I hope she continues to follow.

We saw several honeybees in the yard that day, even scooped a couple that had fallen into the pool out with a toy shovel and laid them on the grass to dry so they could fly away. I suspect somewhere in the neighborhood, someone is keeping bees, and they are feasting on the neighborhood gardens.

While small backyard hives — or even larger, urban-farm beehive installations — can’t make up for the loss of bees over the past several years from colony collapse disorder, or from losses caused this year by a harsher-than-average winter, every hive helps. Helping people, especially kids, understand that bees have a role to play in the ecosystem and in our food production, also can lead to more respect and more research to find ways to protect the apian population.

So, in the wake of Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si’,” can we spare a prayer for the bees? Bees and beekeepers have several patron saints, including St. John, St. Valentine, St. Ambrose, St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the Irish saints Gobnait (Abigail) and Modomnoc (Dominic). Some kept bees themselves, some have stories about bees in their legends (St. Ambrose is said to have had a swarm of bees land on his face as an infant. When they flew away, they left a bit of honey near his mouth, leading his father to believe he would speak with a “honeyed tongue”).

I have to say, though, I have yet to find a patron saint for yellow jacket wasps.