One of the things I have embraced in this period of national lockdown is that, for those of us who are not key workers or health workers, we have no need to set our alarms in the morning. We can wake up naturally, when our bodies tell us to (if you are able to sleep of course!). I hope that you feel able to enjoy the enforced rest, which perhaps will have some benefit at this otherwise crazy time.
Over the past week it has been beautifully sunny and mild, and on several mornings, I have been visited at my bedroom window by a large bumble bee, who seemed to want to come in. My curtains were shut, but I could see his formidable silhouette through them has he buzzed and hovered around. He finally settled on the open window frame, and when I drew back my curtains, I could see just how big he was as he basked in the warmth of the sun.
It was my dad who taught me not to be afraid of bumble bees, after I had been frightened by one landing on the garden bench next to me. Back then, aged about five, I was terrified of anything that buzzed.
As I fled to the other side of the garden, I was startled to see my dad sit down next to the bee, and put his hand down on the bench next to it. He then gently nudged the bee into movement and, to my horror, it crawled on to his finger.
He beckoned me over to have a look, assuring me it was perfectly safe. I tentatively approached as Dad proceeded to stroke the furry back of the bee with his little finger, as if it was a tiny cat. He explained that it would only sting if it felt threatened, because to do so would mean its certain death.
The bee didn’t flinch while dad explained why they and other flying insects were so important to our lives, and then, after a minute or two, the bee decided it was time to go and headed off on its perpetual search for pollen.
There are many sayings that surround bees, and one that rings very true is, ‘The bee helps the garden, the garden helps the bee and man reaps the harvest of both’.
To our ancestors, bees were extremely valuable not only for the production of honey, but also as a pollinator for essential home-grown crops. They were referred to as ‘little servants of god’, and thus it was considered wrong, and even sacrilegious, to harm or kill one.
They were treated with great respect, and many country folk refused to swear or lose their temper in the company of a bee. They were also considered wise, and the superstitious believed they could foretell the future, which is why an old custom was for a newly-married bride to place a piece of wedding cake near a hive in the hope of bringing prosperity and fertility into her new home.
If a swarm landed on a nearby dead tree, or came into your house, then that was an omen of a death to come. However, a lone bee in the home brought good luck, and if one landed on your hand, it meant money was coming your way. If, however, one landed on your head and stayed there a while, then greatness was awaiting you.
You may remember that last year I wrote about the custom of ‘telling the bees’ where householders would inform their hives of important upcoming events or divulge with them their worries and anxieties. Imagine if we still did that now? There would be endless queues like those I’ve seen outside supermarkets over the past couple of weeks.
I’ve never forgotten that moment in the garden with my dad, and it is one of my most treasured memories of him. This morning I mentioned my visiting bee to my son Jasper, remarking that it hadn’t been to my window for the past couple of days, only for Jasper to reply that a bee had been coming to his window in exactly the same way as mine for the past two mornings. You hear people saying that they think their late loved ones send them butterflies and feathers from heaven. I wonder if Dad is sending us our wee bumble bee?
Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 17th and the Gazette & Herald on 15th April 2020