There was no doubt about it. The bees were staring at me. Looking at me straight in the face. Half a dozen of them at least. Hovering – as bees do – like tiny fuzzy helicopters.
They maintained a respectful distance, maybe 10 inches or so away. Not threatening, but definitely trying to get my attention. Moving as I moved. Turning as I turned. Focused on my face and eyes. Watching me, telling me … something.
I had just started to fill up an old cement birdbath in my front yard with fresh water. Its current level was low, not much more than a small puddle of leftover rain. And it took me a minute to even notice: But there, lined up side-by-side, all along its crusty cement-rough edges, was a neat row of small yellow bees, drinking. Or at least they were trying to drink. Until I and my big splashy hose began disrupting everything, stirring things up, flooding the basin, slooshing them over the edge.
And thus the bees sought out my face … staring at me … communicating with me. Asking me to notice them, please. Asking me to pay attention, please. Asking me to stop and just come into their moment with them, if I would be so kind.
Perhaps, in a larger context, they were asking me to provide them with a moment of safe harbor, a bit of intentional shelter, with all its subtle implications.
There is an old Irish Proverb that says: “It is in the shelter of each other that we live.” I suspect that truth applies to all creatures.
And it is within that word “shelter” that I find so many compelling and varying meanings and implications. Shelter refers to sanctuary and asylum … to shielding and defending … to creating a safe haven or house or harbor. But perhaps we also provide a form of shelter from loneliness with friendship. We shelter another’s fatigue with our own courage. Even humor and laughter can create a kind of sheltering moment within fear or when surrounded by desperation. Kindness shelters against despair. Compassion against suffering. Generosity shelters from want.
Bees, in their impossible yet beautiful against-all-odds flight, offer inspiring visual images of what it is to shelter one another – with their almost constant movement, their instant change of direction, their fluidity of motion. They change their roles and relationships as well, moving in rhythm with the needs of the day and the requirements of the hive. And so it is with sheltering, I believe. It is never static.
I’ve already provided one change in shelter for my small yellow bees by creating a new drinking place for them on the other side of the garden – it’s another birdbath, but complete with pinecones and small branches and leaves for perching, a place of shallows and shade. (And better sheltered from accidental human intrusion.) I’ve tried to give them some shelter from hunger, too – with roses and wild flowers planted nearby. And a bit of shelter from enemies with wasp nests carefully discouraged, and pesticides strictly forbidden.
The idea of living in the shelter of one another isn’t all about bees, of course. Nor is it all about humans. I suspect it is more about being the provider of that shelter – regardless of species, without prejudice, free from a need for reciprocity, simply for the good of the other, one generation to the next.
Brother Adam, a gifted authority on bees and beekeeping, has written: “Listen to the bees and let them guide you.” I rather suspect he had at least one of those wise little creatures hovering right in front of him, staring him smack in the face, just before he wrote it.