First Sting(s): Part One

By Jill McKenna Reed

The first time I got stung by a bee, I can’t be sure it was a bee. In retrospect it was likely a yellow jacket, but I can’t know. I remember it was a hot, mid-western summer day with insects screaming out their songs: “scKzzzzssT… scKzzzzzssT,” and I was small – probably six or so.

I was standing in our narrow garage which was opened to the driveway. Likely I was deciding which vehicle I was going to take out for a spin: the Big Wheel, the pickle car (don’t ask), or the Green Machine. I was not a bike rider. My siblings’ bikes were always too big for me and I was fearful of the heavy frames and the extreme distance to the ground once seated; I wanted to be able to bail out with a soft tumble if need be, not take the hard fall on the concrete, yielding stinging, scraped legs and arms.

Even at that raw age, friends and siblings had long warned me about the possibility of getting stung by a bee, so I wonder if I didn’t just want to get it over with. I had been promised by my friend across the street that the pain would be like death, that I would probably want to die. So that day when a bee flew into the garage and began inspecting me to see if I could possibly yield nectar or pollen, I panicked. I eschewed the instruction that had been drilled into me by my wise, experienced friends and siblings, being: Don’t move, and it will go away.

Naturally, I moved. A lot. In a remarkable, small-child’s dance motivated by fear of an unknown pain. And I began swatting, a lot. From what I can remember, the bee or wasp stung me on the right arm.

Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween
Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween

Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, there was almost no authentic relationship with nature; everything was abbreviated. The bug-spray truck drove down our street every summer night and we deeply inhaled that spray while trying to fall off to sleep. Our yard was chemically treated so no dandelions ever appeared. The corn fields at the mouth of our subdivision were sold and built up with houses before I was 10.

Despite that, some of my most vivid and important memories are of the few verdurous natural spaces I could find. I was fascinated when we studied milkweed pods in the first grade – the way they broke and gave up white fuzz.  We had to wear rain boots that day which I didn’t have, so the teacher put garbage bags and rubber bands over my shoes and secured them up my legs.

My best friend had a Macintosh apple tree in her yard. I was charmed. That the tree could swell small green fruits into the ripe red ones I plucked off on warm days and immediately begin gobbling– this was thrilling. (The humble Macintosh remains one of my favorite snacking apples for this reason.)

The same friend once insisted I borrow her extra pair of ice skates so we could go skating on a pond near our houses. It was the first time I had ice skated and with the snow coming down, it remains a favorite memory. That solid pond, the snow, layers of clothes, no one else around, the gray sky and the pond ringed with dry straw weeds and tall brown grasses frozen into place.

But by the time I was in high school, nature had become a foreign locale. Social life had long since taken over as the all-consuming, enthralling focus of my life. At one point my group of friends got really into camping and going away for the weekend. On one trip to Devil’s Lake, everyone decided to go hiking which would involve some basic rock climbing. I eagerly set out with them. Looking down at my shoes, my friend Nick asked, “…are you going to wear those?” I shrugged. I had no idea that black and white patent leather wingtips (with leather soles) might not be ideal hiking wear. I somehow managed to hike like a champ with those lovely dress shoes on.

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Jill McKenna Reed

Jill McKenna Reed is a poet, writing instructor, and beekeeper in Portland, Oregon. She is co-owner of Bee Thinking, a beekeeping supplier specializing in foundationless hives. When she is not writing or teaching, she can be found catching swarms or helping new beekeepers around the Portland area.  Jill earned her MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry, at Portland State University.

Living With Bees: A Poem

LivingWithBees1

Sentences About Living With Bees

by David Jacobsen

Two tires roll the narrow trail, raveling a knobbed line of stitches on the curving dirt.
Shafts of sun brush past evergreens.
His legs pump and the bike thrums, barrel-chested, like the colony of honeybees hived inside the wall behind their bed.
Last spring they watched, delighted, as the garden buzzed with activity.
She told him not to mind when drones began to slip past gapped shingles.
The bees had, along with the sweet-peas and sunflowers, taken root.
Once he had called it waste, all that honey hidden far from taste.
She had stilled him with a finger, a flick of her eyebrows telling him to listen.
Her eyes and teeth had flashed in the dark as she grinned at the nearby sound of industry. Now, nearly home, he watches their house snap into substance between trunks.
A child might have drawn it with crayon: square topped by triangle, four windows, gray smoke looping into sharp blue sky.
His tongue rafts the valley between the ridges of his molars.
He touches a flat spot—a cavity newly filled—that remains unfamiliar.
The bike is hung from its front tire on a hook beneath the back eaves.
From the floor—where he sits to tug shoes and socks from dirt-caked legs—he sees her dancing near the sink, slicing greens in time.
He pads past, touching her waist.
When the noise of hot water stops, she pours two fingers of bourbon into two tumblers.
The smell of soap announces him.
Glasses brush.
She asks him to ready the table.
After bowls and forks, he tips flame to wicks, and the wicks coax wax into a heated dance.
They sit.
He unfolds the story of sunlight fingers smoothing, smoothing ponderosa hair.
Once, months earlier, she had said she could taste them tasting it—told him that in her mind she’d mapped the mellow fruitfulness of the brimming cells: each from a different flower, each with a different flavor.
Nine candles burn while she and he dine inside the only light for a mile or more, twinned.
Near their bed in the other room, nectar sweetens unseen.
Who can know what might be established when the darkness is sufficient.

LivingWithBees2

DavidJacobsen

David Jacobsen lives and writes in central Oregon with his wife and two sons. His pieces can be found in various journals and anthologies, and he is the author of Rookie Dad: Thoughts on First-Time Fatherhood. As D. R. Jacobsen, he is a contributing writer, most recently to The Truest Thing About You. He holds master’s degrees in theology and creative writing and can be reached through his website, jacobsenwriting.com.

Photo Credits
Top image: Dirk Ingo Franke
Bottom image: Tom W Sulcer