It was an accident, really. I was walking home with my backpack slipping off one shoulder, filled with homework and deadlines and heavy, heavy books. The spring air had warmed just enough to coax leaves to open from their buds and grass to poke out from the ground. I was chasing my thoughts into circles, never resting on one long enough to get anywhere.
There was a bee in my path, crawling slowly over the ground, its wings limp and tired. Something about the way it looked weighed to the ground tugged on me, so I grabbed a short stick to pick up the weary bee and took it home.
I set my backpack down on the floor with a heavy thump, keeping my eyes on the little bee to make sure it didn’t fall off. My mother was in the kitchen, and I announced my presence by saying “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt us”. She still jumped when she turned around, but she merely told me to be careful of the stinger as she left the kitchen.
I set the stick and bee on a small plate and dissolved a bit of sugar with a little water. Carefully, I placed a spoonful of the sugar-water next to the bee, then carried the plate back outside.
I did not know what path I’d begun.
Here’s the thing: bees do not forget a kindness.
As the days stretched longer and the air grew hotter, I found more bees crawling near my house. I started carrying a small jar of sugar water and a dropper with me, to give them just enough strength to fly again and continue their work searching for flowers.
I started filling our long-abandoned birdbath with a shallow pool of water for them, scattering a handful of small rocks so they had a place to land and drink in the midst of their long day. After reviving a weary bee, I sometimes carried it to the birdbath and set it on the edge, in case it wanted a good long drink before it flew away.
I began to notice how few flowers grew nearby. It was no wonder the bees often grew faint under the hot sun. I rode my bike to the store and asked after flowers that bees might like. My allowance scattered across the store counter and I carefully balanced my purchases in one hand as I steered my bike home with the other.
I planted purple clover around the birdbath, started thousands of daisies along the garage, and lined our backyard fence with lavender.
My father expressed surprise at my sudden interest in gardening, but offered me the use of his old garden tools. “It’s good work, to garden.” he’d said, pulling the box out of storage. “Give it all you got.”
My mother loved the flowers, telling me she’d often wished she had the time to plant some. She would join me from time to time when she had a few minutes to spare, the two of us sometimes working in silence, sometimes chatting about our day. She bought me a new pair of gardening gloves after a particularly hard day of weeding. I think it’s a little piece of a dream she thought she’d never have.
The bees recognize me now. Hundreds of them. They gather around me when I come out to fill their water, and they like to land on the backs of my hands when I’m gardening. They follow me when I go out for walks, and I swear they come to me in swarms when I’m feeling upset.
Over time, my friends have met the bees and learned not to fear them. It has taken a couple years of getting acquainted, but now my friends have started planting flowers of their own.
I had not planned on becoming a caretaker of bees. All I know is this: that I was walking home from school with a backpack full of work, that I saw a bee struggling and weary, and that I decided to help.
Here’s the thing: I’m glad I did.
Listen to me.
Bees do not forget a kindness.