Still Life with Stinger

Not ten minutes ago, I left the store and started walking to my car.

Ahead of me, I saw a couple kids — probably late teens, maybe early twenties — bent over the sidewalk. Peering intensely at the ground. One of them was poking something with his foot. The girl with him, kept asking him questions, and cooing like she was trying to comfort something in pain.

I glanced over as I passed them by. On the ground between them writhed a dying honeybee.

“Can you flip him over?” the girl asked.

“I don’t want to get stung,” said the guy.

I leaned in to get a closer look. The bee wasn’t a him. It was a worker — one of the infertile females who do all the work in a hive. She was very pointedly writhing on her back, and her proboscis — her tongue — kept darting out of her mouth and back in.

I smiled at the couple, as I was a weirdo invading their space. “I think she’s done,” I told them. “When their proboscis sticks out like that, they’ve had a run-in with some pesticide.” They both looked at me with some mix of confusion, interest, and Who The Hell Are You-ism.

“I’m a beekeeper,” I explained. “She’s might even be one of mine. I only live a couple miles from here.”

“Miles?” the girl asked.

“Yeah, they’ll forage for up to five miles out of their hive.” I picked the bee up. She kept thrashing, tongue darting in and out.

“Does she still have her stinger?” The guy asked.

“Yep,” I said. “But she’s in no condition to use it.” I held her out so they could see.

We looked at the bee for a few seconds, the three of us. We didn’t say much. Only stood there in the late afternoon sun as the worker’s twitching slowed. “It was nice of you guys to stop,” I offer.

“It’s so sad,” the girl said.

“Yeah. But hopefully she has fifty thousand sisters back at home keeping the hive going.” Sad, yes. But a minuscule thing in the live of a hive. The queen lays up to two thousand eggs a day. One bee, a foraging worker, dying near the end of its useful life, is sad but no tragedy.

I laid the worker back on the ground. “Thanks again for stopping. Have a good weekend.”

I turned and walked to my car. I loaded my parcels, and heard a voice behind me. “Excuse me…”

The two had pulled up behind me in their car. The guy leaned out the window. “Is it true that bees are going extinct?”

That question. It’s a little complicated, and not especially conducive to a conversation out a car window in a mall parking lot. “Well…” I began. “Kinda. Wild pollinators are in trouble, sure. But if you’re talking about honeybees, we lose almost fifty percent year over year. And then we fight to bring their numbers back up. And we lose them again. It’s hard.” Shit, jared. Dire. “So don’t spray pesticides on your flowers.” That’s better. Less grim. An opportunity for hope.

The guy smiles, nods a little. Waves as he drives away.

It was just a little thing. A tiny bee. A small moment with two strangers. But it was a moment where two people took genuine interest and concern for a creature — a bug, and a stinging one at that — that they took time out their day to help it. And then bear witness as it slipped away. And listen to a scruffy stranger tell them how to make the world better for that bee. And the next one. And the millions after that. And ultimately for themselves and all of us.

It was a little things. But it was bigger than I expected when I shambled out of a mall on a Friday afternoon.

Today was a good day.