Tag Archives: Bees

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An Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica) landed on the grey wool turtleneck I had shed to better enjoy reading the Sunday paper in the midday sun. Italian honeybees are not native. The ones around my property are ones I introduced. But both my hives died sometime between Martin Luther King Day and Valentine’s Day. Last …

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The rain petered out briefly just as I came in from swimming. I jumped into my bee suit, grabbed the fondant from the fridge and the hive tool from the mud room. Imprudently, I decided to skip the smoker. It looked as though it might rain again any minute and more extreme cold weather is predicted for the coming days. I had already missed the chance to feed the hives in the mid December heat wave. This task is overdue.

Dead bees littered he landing areas of both hives. I lifted the rock that holds the outer cover of the smaller hive against extreme wind and improbable bears and pried up the inner cover. Bees were moving around on the frames. Eureka! They had made it through the recent bouts of cold. Ouch! One stung my ungloved hand as I began adding the fondant. The bees were alarmed by the opening of the hive.

I had only slightly zipped up my costume and had not put on my gloves possibly as a psychological hedge against the disappointment of finding a dead hive. But the bees, knowing they were live and well, wanted no part of this intrusion. Promptly they were on the war path. At least one seemed to be inside my bonnet before I could get it closed up. Another was walking down my leg into my boot.

Ladies, relax! I come bearing gifts. Isn’t fondant the modern equivalent of frankincense and myrrh? It is, after all, a resin of sugar and water. Perhaps they surmised that, despite my elaborate costume, I was no wise man, having come sloppily dressed and without a smoker. Maybe they have enough honey and don’t need the fondant. Or maybe bees don’t know this Christian tradition of gift bearing on 6 January.

I quickly closed that hive — its the one Carl brought down from the Spruce tree after it swarmed this summer — and moved as swiftly as a bee keeper should to open the larger hive. It too was buzzing with bees. I quite literally threw the fondant into the hive and beat a hasty retreat.

In the safety of the porch, I turned my bee suit inside out and gave it several vigorous shakes. A bee was buzzing somewhere close to me but I could not find her. Once upstairs, she staggered out of my fleece jacket and flew into the window. She’s in bee heaven now and in the accompanying photo.


At least 2 bees died in this caper — the one who stung me and the one I killed. But the hives seem to be doing all right. The coming months are the trickiest. Until the bees can forage for food, it’s my job to keep them fed. I’ll check them again around Martin Luther King Day. I hope we won’t have a civil rights type confrontation then.

Archaeologists ranging in age from 2 to 12 returned to the nursery site this summer. Normal digs turn up Matchbox cars from the 1970s, Lego constructions from across the decades, and dolls with ageless or 1980s costumes. This year one of them uncovered a drawing of girls — all but one of whom has a name printed above her.

As you can surmise from the careful positioning between the lines of a wide-ruled sheet of paper, the girls are less than a centimeter with their arms spayed. Sandy is the shortest at under a centimeter. Julie and the one who is not named are the tallest at about .75 of a centimeter. Each has a unique outfit. Most of them have pig- or pony-tails. Quite a few of them have pupils in their eyes. They are a universally happy gaggle of girls.

Who made that drawing and when? Who are the girls it depicts?

Girl doll drawing first half of the 1980s

Girl doll drawing

While I can hazard a guess to the answer to those questions, I will learn soon after I post this blog because a regular reader is the likely artist and will remember the reason for the drawing or at least who the girls are.

When this drawing was unearthed in the nursery, I was reading The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Margalit Fox’s book on the challenge of deciphering the mysterious clay tablets excavated on Crete in 1900. The British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, named the unknown language Linear B. The palace at Knossos in which he found the tablets — and he found about 1,000 of them — was build by a literate, sophisticated Bronze Age civilization that predated Classical Athens by a millennium. But Evans did not know which civilization produced the tablets or what language they were written in. The pictograms resemble no other language ever seen. No one ever found a Rosetta-stone-equivalent to make the deciphering of Linear B easier.

A page from Fox's book on Linear B

A page from Fox’s book on Linear B

Fox turns her potentially arcane topic into a gripping detective story and Column B above is a big clue! How do a few people pick their way though a problem for which there is absolutely no context? She explains, step-by-step, how a couple of dedicated souls working mostly independently spent half a century coaxing (as she calls it) the meaning from the pictograms.

Now, dear reader, I don’t see my problem of learning more about the girl drawing as being remotely similar. But the general demeanor of the nursery drawing with its fine detail, orderly alignment and its sign/signal quality — to borrow from semiotics and Derrida — seemed a minor variant on the mind-bendingly complex process of deciphering a code. For example, suppose one were to ask: based on what the drawing shows, what is the name of the unnamed girl? Then you’d move a fraction of a centimeter closer to the riddle Fox describes.

Now instead of doing any painstaking work, I’ll wait for the artist to fill me in — a luxury Ms. Kober (classicist at Brooklyn College) and Mr. Ventris (English architect) mentioned in that Linear B snippet never knew.