Something peculiar and unsettling happens when a thunderstorm is rolling in… I wrote this little piece on one of those unsettled steamy storm-threatening days last summer. Now we’re back into those restless days when bare thighs stick to wooden chairs and animals pace in small circles while purple clouds stack up on the horizon… If you, too, have a love-hate relationship with stormy weather, you’ll know the feeling it brings on.

Storm Warning

When long days at the computer and on the phone with raving idiots are threatening to turn me into a raving idiot myself, and the tension builds behind my eyes like an incoming storm… there are only two kinds of medicine for mind and spirit:

I can put on hiking boots, take a book and a dog to the woods, find a mossy bank beside a sun-sparked stream, and sit a while.

Or I can go among the bees.

On this day, I shut down the computer at noon and jump up and go out — no radio, no book, not even a dog beside me — across the dooryard and through the rampaging wild roses at the back of the orchard to the bee yard.

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It is hot and muggy and without a breath of wind, the morning dew still heavy where the hedgerow shaded the grass. A silly young robin freezes at my approach, head cocked to one side, eyes bright, a caterpillar dripping from her beak. The air smells like honey.

Bumblebees drone in the flat-topped white yarrow at the edge of the hayfield, a bass note to the higher hum of the honey bees, and the white paint of the clustered wooden hives is unbearably bright in the sun.

A butterfly skitters across my line of sight, the palest yellow — I must look it up and learn its name, I think: it’s good to know the creatures who live here with me.

There is a superstition that honeybees know the beekeeper. That seems unlikely, in a literal sense — their lives are so very short, and my forays into their hives (to check their health or to steal their honey) are infrequent once we get past swarming season. But I do think the bees know, somehow, when I have no meddling intentions. When I am in the bee yard only to smell the scent of honey and hear the bees’ song, they do not sting.

From time to time a slender tawny young worker, new to foraging in this huge bright world, will notice me and land, curious, on my hand or arm. She’ll pick her way across the band of my wristwatch, bob her head and abdomen as if making its acquaintance, then wander on. Her tiny feet tickle on the inside of my elbow — and then she flies on. No, my tiny winged lady, I am not a flower.

The alsike clover is still in bloom, and the purple vetch, and the wild yellow rocket in the ditches — nectar-bearers, all — so the bees have better things to do than sting a silent watcher. And to sting is to die. So I sit among the hives, like an old woman on a front porch watching traffic, as the returning field bees fly in low and heavy to the entrance of each hive; others, heading out empty, take off with a sudden smooth upward arc and are lost to sight immediately against the hedgerow’s green mosaic and the sky.

But in this unsettled weather, with rifts of mackeral clouds to the east and distant thunderheads rumbling beyond the western ridge, pale heat-lightning flashes on the horizon, the bees are unsettled.

Truth be told, I am a bit unsettled, too.

Even the soothing song of the bees can’t quite drive away the thoughts of deadlines and negotiations, errands to do and meetings to arrange… its pitch has changed, and the field bees are suddenly coming home, shouldering in at the entrance, vibrating their wings.

The neighbour’s Border collie, who is terrified of storms, comes thrashing through the uncut hayfield seeking comfort and circles, panting and black and smelling vaguely of the skunk she caught last week. She begs me with her rheumy old eyes, and I give in, sigh, rise, and lead her back to the house.

She’ll pass the storm in our stone-walled cellar.

I’ll know that the weather has cleared (and it’s safe to plug my computer back in) when she emerges, all spider-webs and wagging tail, and sets off at a jaunty pace for home.

My own dogs are still asleep on the floor beside my desk, when I go in. One raises a lazy head to watch me refill my tea mug, sit back down, and turn the computer on, then his chin hits the floor and he closes his eyes: his job is done, I’m back at work. From what the bees and the Border collie tell me, we’ve got about an hour left before the storm rolls in.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. domestika

    Beauty lives everywhere, I believe, Jeri – it’s just less about big sky and broad vistas, when you get to the suburbs, and more about looking at the fine details.

  2. Jeri

    What a wonderful piece of descriptive, vividly set writing! It’s pieces like this that make us suburban dwellers long for a more rural lifestyle.

    Thanks for sharing it!

  3. domestika

    Thank you, Anne. You know, I think there’s another storm coming in just now… if the neighbour’s dog in my cellar is anything to go by!

  4. Anne Maybus

    What a lovely piece of writing. It was a pleasure to read. Thank you Jen.

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