What the Beekeeper Knows
Yesterday I learned that bees have to visit two million flowers in order to produce one pound of honey. And I’m not sure if I’m better for having this fact. The day before yesterday, in the middle of the night, I went to the kitchen not knowing what I was looking for. By the glow of a night-light, I saw that deep amber, dazzled with bubbles like a nebula in its hive-shaped plastic squeeze bottle. The more I know the more I tend to measure my life in quantities of what I’ve consumed. What I’ve destroyed. Like bee hours. Like flowers per million.
Yesterday my kid noticed a bee perambulating across a dandelion. Gathering nectar, I told him. Now I’d have to say ceaseless toil. I’d have to say Sisyphus. I have friends who keep bees and I wonder how they’ve lived with this painful knowledge of bee life, if they’ve told me these bee things before and I’ve ignored them; whether they would tell me to relax now, that this is simply how things go for bees.
I wonder at all the little facts we keep. Would it be better to know the secret labor of every human heart? Maybe in the future when the children reach a certain age we’ll have parties for their commencement just before we give them the software that uploads eons of human experiences into the microchips in their brains. My wife sometimes asks me to tell her a secret, and I always tell her I have none, which of course isn’t true. It’s just that the secrets present themselves without warning.
Just the other day, for instance, I suddenly remembered being 17 and alone in an Austrian city. It was late, and I walked to a monastery on the edge of town. And I know it all sounds very Sound of Music, but I had no friends and was quite certain of the dismal future that lay in store for me and was already beginning to understand how someone can have regrets that last forever. I was feeling desperate and that I was shrinking somehow, faster and faster, and that if I didn’t ask the universe for a sign that I would disappear right there.
And then a hedgehog walked past me. A matter of feet. It lasted less than a minute. In the darkness its eyes were brighter darknesses, its poky roundness waddling on to wherever it had to go. Of course there are many variables to this scenario that aren’t worth getting into, but I was certain that in that moment it had protected me. And so what? Now you have this story too, you have one of my secrets. And who can say what that might bring, or what metric could be applied to appraise the potential value of this small uncovering, this slight contact.
But imagine what’ll happen if I do it two million more times.
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