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Friday, April 8, 2011

Spring Deferred in the Valley…Again…

A…blossom is wilderness enough if you’re a bee.

Charles KuraltBumble bee brrr

The bumblebee has clung to the stamen of this daffodil for nearly a week now. The bee has braved some extreme weather the past few days; howling winds and a barrage of hail have failed to dislodge it from its perch. The bee’s wing muscles are paralyzed by cold in the manner of all cold-blooded insects; an ambient temperature of 60 degrees will be needed to loosen those muscles, put the hum back in her flight. Her? Yes, this bee is a “she bee,” a “queen.” She has wintered over under a scab of bark somewhere, or in some hole below the frost line, maybe burrowed into someone’s woodpile. There is much at stake for her majesty; she is a mated queen, the savior of her species. If she does not survive, there will be one less colony of her kind this summer, fifty or sixty fewer droning little pollination units to service the blossoming Valley berry fields.

Bumblebees belong to the genus bombus. I thumb through my pocket Collins Latin-English/English-Latin dictionary and discover “bombus” means “booming, humming, buzzing.” Bombus…an apt alliterative word for the bustling bumbler. Or is it onomatopoeic…buzzing? In May when the big rhodie on the south side of the house is in full bloom, the entire canopy thrums with bumblebee activity, like the sound of distant rush hour traffic. You can almost feel the earth around the bush vibrate.

Back in the days of yore when I was a tyke and lived at 16 Wilson Street in Wenatchee, our front yard was shaded by a large honey locust. In late May the locust would blossom forth creamy-white flower pendants oozing with irresistible nectar. Bumblebees as large as hummingbirds (everything is magnified when you’re a child), furry and black with yellow bands, would plunder the sugar pockets of the pea-flowered blossoms. It seemed the tree trembled beneath their weight. Fresh from the classroom, released to summer, we were prone to mischief, full of daring. Thus began the early summer bumblebee wars. Out came the garden hose. Screw on the nozzle. Adjust to fine stream, aim and blast the burly intruders out of the tree to a barefoot trouncing on the lawn. So much meanness in ones so young! One misstep with the heel or ball of your foot and you’d be speared in the tender arch of your instep. And become the hero of the neighborhood.

Across the alley from the locust tree was a wooden fence guarded by hollyhock towers. Bumblers would visit the bell-shaped flowers, bury their heads deep in the pollen of the flower’s navel. While the bee was thus occupied, we would grasp the rim of the flower, squeeze it shut, and trap the busy bee in a petal prison. Slowly, slowly, we’d slide our hand down the length of the flower until the bee buzzed angrily, “Hey, what’s going on here” and hum its wrath until we freed it. Off it would rocket, muttering obscenities, no doubt. Oh, what a vexation we were to those poor “humble”bees!

It seems to me this poor narcoleptic bee is the exact metaphor for our spring deferred. It was 34 degrees this morning and a frigid fog clutched the Valley. I couldn’t see the back of our property from the house. A good thing her majesty was huddled up in the petals of the flower; she would have been grounded anyway: zero visibility. I know I could come to her rescue, pluck her from her clinging perch and bring her inside. Set her on the windowsill beside the woodstove and inside of five minutes she would be butting her head against the windows seeking escape. Cruel that would be: a false spring, a woodstove spring. A pox on Mother Nature for treating royalty this rudely. But then she’s a cold, unfeeling Mother isn’t she! Regina maxima supreme. Does any yellow heat, I wonder, radiate from that flower’s core? Warm her majesty, if ever so slightly? This must be so: why else would she have clung all these days to her floral trumpet?

The temperature this first day after forty-one consecutive days with less than 30% cloud cover is 60.4 degrees at 6:00 p.m. I stroll out on the deck, cross to the daffodil pot to see if the queen is holding court. Her golden host, the daffodil, stands lonely. The queen is gone, spread her wings, flown away to survey her realm. I wish her a long, successful reign. May she and next season’s heirs rule the summer in their kingdom of blossoms. Ahhhh…spring!Bee gone

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