Worst Vegan Ever alert; friends, the urban garden I volunteer at (and now live at – long story) has three beehives and recently we harvested our first small batch of honey.
And it was delicious.
“Sah fresh! Sah local! So organic! Sah raw.”
Tonight, though, I was granted the opportunity to suit up and place a few more starters in our newest hive for the bees. Unfortunately I don’t have any picture of this, but I felt like Major Tom. It was awesome.
We puffed a bit of smoke near the entrance of the box and lifted the top to reveal more bees than I’ve ever seen in my life. I’d be lying if I claimed my heart kept its rhythm. We started brushing the bees off the ceiling of the lid back into their box, and a bunch flew up around our faces, landing on the netting and my gloves.
All of the sudden it hit me; these were relatively dangerous animals, and they were everywhere. The bee suit became irrelevant. All I could think about were the bees all over the place and their tiny little suicide stingers.
I realized I was getting panicky and remembered to calm the eff down. I am a firm believer in self-dialogue (and my asylum friends are too!! har har har) and began telling myself to be calm, that I was fine and they were fine and they didn’t want to hurt me and I didn’t want to hurt them. I pretended I was telepathic and told the bees I was their friend, that I wanted to take care of them, that I believed in their well-being, that I respected them, that they and I were in a symbiotic relationship, etc.
It brought me back to working with horses in my early teens. I used to volunteer at a ranch where I was the designated “baby tamer” and lesson assistant. I used to hang out with tiny foals and get them to trust me with the assistance of sugar cubes, and then I’d ride this sixteen-hand BEAST named Shaman around during lessons with little kids.
Then a friend of mine had a couple two-year-old geldings and one mare she was breaking, and she put me in charge of them, too. I used to longe these three horses for hours every day, one right after another. I complain that my right bicep is disproportionate to my left one from serving, but holy crap you should’ve seen what it was like when I was hanging onto the end of a line connected to an animal that weighs a ton. A literal ton. Lunging big horses is the same as caressing a baby one; you stay calm, you keep your heartbeat regular, you make your face serene.
There was one time in particular where the woman I was working for asked me to longe her friend’s three-year-old stallion, this muscular palomino with an attitude problem, while she ran some errands. I agreed, but it was terrifying. I went to get him and this guy looked me straight in the eyes and flared his nostrils like he was already winded. I told myself it would be ok to quit, to go back and just explain that he was too aggressive for me.
However, I was also terrified of being inept at the One Thing I was doing with my life in high school, so I forced myself to take a minute, breathe in some confidence, and step into his stall.
Out in the ring, he bolted before I even told him to, and went on this ridiculous sprint along the perimeter of the round pen like a rodeo star. I swear to god I could feel my heart in my ears.
This is how I die, I thought.
Obviously I didn’t die. I wrapped his lead line around my wrist (you’re not supposed to do this but I did it because I didn’t think I’d be able to hold on if I didn’t…but don’t do this) and let him run, forcing myself to breathe normally. The expression “dig your heels into the ground” had never made sense to me until this afternoon, sweating in the round pen with the craziest horse I’d ever worked with.
And then, like with the bees just now, I started acting like a psychic and “telling” the horse he was beautiful and strong and I respected him, and that I wanted the best for him and that I cared about his well-being. He stopped actin’ da fool and cantered for me, and I watched his shoulder muscles flow like water under his skin. I watched the muscles in his flank stiffen and loosen with each step and all of the sudden I couldn’t think of anything besides how lovely this creature was. This gigantic, potentially dangerous animal was the most beautiful and rhythmic creature I’d ever seen. He could’ve killed me, yet there he was, running in circles around me and then slowing to a trot when I asked him to.
It felt like being in a trance, watching him canter around me. All of the sudden I couldn’t stop smiling, totally enamored by this animal. It was one of the most beatific moments I’ve ever experienced. I felt peace, joy and awe for something bigger and more beautiful than myself or anything.
I’ll never forget my initial fear of the unknown, of what that horse could do to me. More than that I’ll never forget how much I stood in awe of him, the reverence I had for him, and the way he cooperated and eventually licked his lips in recognition of me.
I put him away that afternoon feeling like I’d had an epiphany, like my life would never be the same. I knew I couldn’t translate it (a tentative “horses are beautiful” is what my explanation of it sounded like) but I knew it would stick with me.
I haven’t thought about that stallion in forever, but it all came back tonight working with the bees. I stood in awe of them, of the way they organize and devote their lives to the queen. I had to tip my hat, to speak, to their adaptability. The amount of work that goes into producing a single teaspoon of honey, which we consume without a second thought, is astounding.
I dunno. I just wanted to say hey. Bees are amazing. Horses are amazing. People are amazing, too.
And I feel like mutual curiosity, respect and understanding can go a long way toward forming trust and even camaraderie between two members of creation.
Also I miss riding horses.