The Bird and the Bees

***Parental Advisory: I lose my shit in this post.***

Spring has been coming in fits and starts; Saturday was glorious, with gangs of goldfinches ruling the meadow and a, adorably-crabby seeming bunch of red-winged blackbirds patrolling the pond. The sun was out, and I was in short sleeves. Sunday was not so glorious. In that it fucking snowed.

The finches and the blackbirds, and the little sparrows called Chippies that Pancho likes to chase, were lovely, but the bird I refer to in the title of this post was...not so lovely. Through no fault of its own. I feel guilty even calling it non-lovely. But anyway.

When we arrived Friday night, I noticed that the toilet was flushing rather slowly and incompletely. It never really had a powerful, confident flush, so I chalked it up to more of the same. But the next morning, it started getting slower, and I was getting concerned. Ya don't fuck with toilets. I tried plunging it, Matt tried plunging it, but it stayed the same. After much googling, Matt drove to the hardware store, for the second time that day, to buy an auger (this thing, if you're not familiar). After additional googling, he got to work, but couldn't get the device down more than a few inches. "Allow me," I said, and finagled it down and around and etc, until the auger was jammed so tightly down the toilet that I couldn't move it an inch in either direction. "Allow me," Matt said, and got to work pulling it out. Finally, he did, and as he was pulling the device out of the water I saw A FUCKING FOOT. I ran out of the bathroom shrieking.

"Oh my God," he said. "You need to see this."

"I absolutely do not."


"What is it, a mouse?"

"No, something very different."


"A bird."

That's right. A BIRD WAS JAMMED DOWN OUR TOILET. How in the actual fuck.

It was most likely a starling. My brain, which creates narratives everywhere out of nothing, put together this: the bird must have perched on the stink pipe, which let's off sewer gasses. It must have succumb to said gasses, and passed out, falling down the pipe. Then, perhaps seeing light coming through the toilet water, tried to move toward it and drowned somewhere in the trap.

(The fact that I've been repeating this line from Laurence Sterne in my head for weeks freaks me out a little: "'I can't get out,' said the starling.")

And the bees.

I picked up my bees Friday night, with less ceremony than I was expecting. They were silent in their white nuc box when the man put them in our trunk; by the time we got to the house, they were buzzing quite a bit. I could feel their wings beating while I carried them to their new hive. Since it was night, I left the bees in their travel case on top of their permanent hive. In the morning, I would open a little door on the box and allow them out. Then later, after they'd gotten their bearings a bit, move the 5 frames of comb, brood, honey, and yes, bees, into their hive box.

I'd read a few books, scoured a few forums about how to transfer the bees. It seemed very simple (too simple, actually). Just open the box, and with or without the use of smoke, move the frames into the new hive. The most difficult part seemed to be remained gentle, and keeping the frames in the same order.

However, the most difficult part is actually that you open a box and there are thousands of fucking bees in there. BEES.

I was in a suit and had my smoker ready, but I needed to take a step back and collect myself. I don't know what I was expecting: obviously, you want there to be bees in the box. Maybe, I thought, I shouldn't do this.

But I got it together, I did, and I moved the five frames of bees into their permanent hive. All good. However, after I moved the last frame, I noticed there were quite a few bees still in the travel case. Hmm. Nothing I'd read said anything about stragglers. I left the bee travel case, with a couple hundred honeybees, near the entrance of the hive, and went back to the house, slightly exhausted. I reread things more carefully, and watched some more videos. Some beekeepers suggested dumping the bees into the hive, while some other said to just leave the box nearby and let them find their way in. Thumping and shaking a box of bees didn't seem like something I was capable of, so I went with the less invasive route.

And then, that night it got really cold and dark and rainy. I worried about the bees all night. I woke up early, worrying about them more. I wanted to check on the bees, but it was cold -- if I opened the hive, I might endanger all of them. I waited until it was in the upper 40s, still pretty cold, and I went out and checked. I looked in the travel case -- only a handful of bees! So they'd made it. I relaxed. I put sugar water feeder on top of the hive, to supplement their diets while they got acclimated. And then I picked up the travel case; there were dozens, or maybe hundreds, of dead bees on the ground. They hadn't made it. Because I did it wrong.

Matt noticed some movement in the cluster of bodies; some bees, at least, were still hanging on. I scooped them up and put them into the hive, though it felt risky to open it again and chill the others further.

So I don't know. I might have really hurt the hive, because I wasn't as educated as I should have been. I didn't take a beekeeping class, I don't have a beekeeping mentor. I guess I assumed that because I learned to garden from books, I could learn bees from books.

I hope they are okay.

Sunday afternoon, as I smeared peanut butter on the wall of my new mouse trap/electrocution device, another line popped into my head. This time, the Bhagavad-Gita by way of Oppenheimer: "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."

Dramatic and self-centered? You bet. But a reminder that I'm not a princess who lives in a forest eating improbably-growing truffles and whose only friends are wildlife. But a real person, in a real place where many creatures die, and sometimes because of me. And also because things are random, and for all its buzzing, stinging fierceness, life is profoundly fragile.

Sometimes it feels as if I have only two or three lessons in life, and I keep learning them over and over.