I sit perched on the hive stand, leaning back against number one. It vibrates like a refrigerator, low and steady. Scent oozes thickly from the entrance. Moist and earthy and sweet, it reminds me of raw meat. I close my eyes and recall the other constant sounds of nature:
- The waves pound the soft sands of Nauset Beach, coughing up little pieces of green, a shell, a triangle of glass. The roar is constant and deafening. In the dark, we shout to be heard but soon give up. The five of us—sailing instructors with a night off—are content to pass the baguette, the cheddar, the reed-wrapped bottle of Chianti. Somewhere offshore, the clank of metal against metal and the slippery scent of sea life pickled in brine remind me that we are not alone.
- In the Anza-Borrego desert, the incessant wind shreds itself against prickly saguaros and jagged rocks. This whistle of air rending itself to bits is high-pitched and baleful. I hunch in the shade of one of those rocks, yanking the spines of a cholla cactus from my palm. One drop of blood seeps from each wound and dries in an instant. I wrap my hand in a bandana smelling of fresh cotton and swear. I could keep my sanity, I think, if the wailing wind would stop for one minute. Just one minute.
- On Route 36 somewhere in Kansas, I can’t hear myself think. Billions of ears of wheat rub together, whispering against themselves like the folds of a million nylon flags. But the tiny noise is amplified—acres and acres of little sounds rising to the blue in an ever-rising crescendo. I look for a tree, a hedge, a sheltered place for my tent, but the place is empty of everything but wind and wheat and sound.
- The Elwha River flows north through the Olympic Mountains. Stars prick holes through the night sky but the noise doesn’t seep out. The river sorts its way through riffles, around stones, over logs, and under the arching branches of vine maple and red alder. The darkness and the cacophony is a handicap. When I boil some snowmelt for tea and pasta, the scent of the match and the whiff of Coleman fuel overwhelm my remaining senses, but food never tasted so good.
And so it is with bees. Unlike wind and water, bees are living things. But they share a keep-going-ness, a stick-to-it-ness, with the strongest forces of nature. This time of year, I can hear the thrum before I get close to the hive. It is exciting, life-affirming, a testament to Earth. To live your life without experiencing the force we call honey bees would be to come up short. I never miss a chance to just be with the bees. To bee is to be.