Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The first days are the best to flee

Swarm season is coming to a close in our fair city but our Fort Greene bees are just settling in. On Saturday Tim and I cracked open the rooftop hives and found that our queens are healthy layers and the workers are hard at work drawing out comb. They have plenty of room to expand, plenty of food, and lots of precious boogery brood to look after, so our swarm risk is low (knock wood). But as Tim’s parents know, and as Virgil wrote, optima dies prima fugit: the first days are the best to flee.

They grow up so fast!

Two weeks ago when we introduced the bees from packages into hive bodies, we welcomed them by reading an invocation from Ohio poet James Wright. I know, it’s corny. But Wright has been dear to me since 2007, when I was working as an avian field biologist in coastal Alaska and feeling nostalgic for the Kokosing valley that I had just left behind for good. That same valley was Wright’s home turf and my friend, New Orleans-based poet Geoff Munsterman, sent me one of Wright’s poems by post.

Tim names his hives after Shakespearean queens. I haven’t chosen a name for mine yet, but the painting on the exterior is an homage to that James Wright poem about redwing blackbirds. I dropped a line to Geoff to let him know, and it turns out the tribute was more apt than I knew: Wright also has a poem about saving a bee. So it seemed right to read it as the bees entered their new home.

"It turns out/You can kill them/It turns out/You can make the earth absolutely clean." James Wright on redwings, a poem inspired by an offhand comment made by his wildlife manager nephew.

The poem is below, and I hope Tim doesn’t fire me as his apprentice when he reads this and finds out that the Latin translation could be interpreted as a sort of dare to swarm. But that wasn’t my intention. Just days after finishing my second job in the Arctic Circle I moved to Brooklyn, thinking I wouldn't stay long. But now after three, going on four years here, I'd find it hard to leave. I’ve made true friends here, I have a job at a non-profit where I can advance a cause I believe in, and the commitment I made to tend to tens of thousands of little lives is another indication that Brooklyn has become my home. The first days are the best to flee because there’s less at stake. I hope that before long our bees come to the same conclusion as I have: the place where they are right now is a fine place to be.

Image Credit: luminitsa via flickr

Optima dies prima fugit

The first thing I saw in the morning
Was a huge golden bee ploughing
His burly right shoulder into the belly
Of a sleek yellow pear
Low on a bough.
Before he could find that sudden black honey
That squirms around in there
Inside the seed, the tree could not bear any more.
The pear fell to the ground,
With the bee still half alive
Inside its body.
He would have died if I hadn’t knelt down
And sliced the pear gently
A little more open.
The bee shuddered, and returned.
Maybe I should have left him alone there,
Drowning in his own delight.
The best days are the first
To flee, sang the lovely
Musician born in this town
So like my own.
I let the bee go
Among the gasworks at the edge of Mantua.

--James Wright

1 comment:

  1. It's so strange to read someone other than Geoff writing about James Wright.

    Also, this post reminds me of an Emily Dickinson poem:

    To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,--
    One clover, and a bee,
    And revery.
    The revery alone will do
    If bees are few.