Telling the Bees – Chapter 8
As Amélie lifted the top box from the hive, the steady buzz became a roar. The air around her came alive, pulsated with the force of ten thousand tiny wings.
She felt their caress on her bare arms, the eddies of their wingbeats stirring the light fabric of her veil. Fingers steady now, tremor miraculously vanished, she inserted the hive tool deftly and laid bare the beating heart of the colony.
A warm, sweet, yeasty aroma rose from the opening as she loosened and removed one of the eight delicate timber frames, holding it up to the sunlight of a golden afternoon. Capped honey at the top under a rippled white seal of wax. Below the honey a broad arc of open cells glinting with nectar, a few colourful dots of pollen and a central patch of pupating brood, sealed snug under domed lids.
‘You certainly will not,’ had been her answer to Tom’s suggestion that he, not she, work the hives with Lottie that afternoon. ‘You’ll bang boxes around and squash my bees. I’m still perfectly capable, thank you.’
She’d allowed him to carry the new cypress pine boxes up the hill, then banished him to muck out the goats.
Lottie stood by, a bulky figure in stout white cotton, careful not to get in the way. Unlike Amélie, she preferred to work beehives fully suited. A thin plume of smoke rose from the metal canister in her left hand. She watched, apparently fascinated, as Amélie allowed the insects to settle on her hands and arms. Just a few at first, then tens, hundreds, numbers uncountable.
Lottie stepped back, tested the smoker, awaited instructions which did not come.
‘Bonjour, mes pétites,’ murmured Amélie. ‘Comment allez-vous, hein?’ She felt the warmth of the tiny bodies on her skin. ‘Ah, oui! D’accord! C’est comme ça, alors …’
The only way for a clumsy, bulky human to avoid crushing bees, she would tell anyone sufficiently bold to ask and patient to listen, was to go with their flow, adapt to their pace, not make jerky movements that they could neither predict nor evade.
Hyperfocused, she found herself slipping into the familiar trance state.
‘I talk to the bees because they talk to me,’ she had once explained to Lottie. The big, shy seventeen-year-old, doubly burdened with florid acne and a prominent bosom, grunted, nodded as if she understood.
She probably did. Amélie had a high regard for her young helper’s intelligence, masked by taciturnity and a learning difficulty that her parents and teachers hadn’t bothered sufficiently to have diagnosed.
Now, as the bees clustered on their keeper’s arms, shoulders and upper body, exploring this giant, known and unfeared, with tiny, delicate feet and antennae, Amélie entered the life of the hive, heard their song.
They sang of the harsh months of dearth, clustered in eternal darkness, shivering together to stay warm as icy winds whipped the exterior of their stout timber home.
They sang the death of the winter-bees as the days lengthened and grew warmer, their queen planted egg after egg inexorably in cell after cell, insatiable brood demanded ever more honey and bee bread.
They sang the bud burst, as the orchard opened its sweet, delicate, eager blooms in an orgy of procreation. The glorious abundance of the high forest canopy, where feathery eucalypt blossoms dripped nectar. They sang the sunlight, the earth wheeling beneath their wings, the sudden chill of icy showers.
They sang the dark wood, the descent to the black pool where lay water to dilute their honey store, running the gauntlet of wattlebird beak and shrike-thrush maw, the soft, lethal tangle of spiderweb.
All this was known and familiar to Amélie, the song of every passing winter much the same. Yet there was something new in their world, and the bees sang their agitation.
Over to the west, beyond the dark woods lay a deeper darkness. It dwelt in the peeling white-painted weatherboard, the ornate, rusting tin roof with its gables and finials, the wide timber verandas of the Homestead.
An ancient evil had awoken therein and the bees were afraid.
For their keeper.
Next week in Telling the Bees:
Chapter 9: Know Your Enemy
Amélie suggests broadening her and Tom’s social circle.
Disclaimer: The people and events described in this story are entirely the product of the author’s imagination; they bear no intentional resemblance to real-life people and events. The locations are based on real places.