Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Death of a Bumblebee

If you are a bumblebee, you can die two ways. Unlike the mid-level employee who dies at his desk and no one notices for days, dying mid-work is considered graceful in bumblebee world. A worker bee ceaselessly extracts nectar until she reaches the flower upon which her tired body will rest. When I came across this dead bumblebee in the Heather Garden at Fort Tryon, I wanted to cry. So sad, so poignant, so serene.

However, some bumblebees don't have the work ethic to die with grace. Instead, they are beaten to death by their sisters when deemed a waste of space in a space-limited hive. This raggedy drone's corpse tells of a death much more grisly than that of the worker. His fuzz has become matted and his appendages are akimbo. As they say, Ma Nature giveth and taketh away.

In Virginia Woolf's bleak but beautiful essay The Death of the Moth, she pities the insignificance of the death, and thus the life, of a single dusty-winged insect. Am I wrong, though, or do the deaths of these striped buzzers seem meaningful in some important way? They deserve weighty tombstones or bronzed statues.

Oh autumn, you're breakin' my heart. First, on a blue-skied, rusty-treed Sunday, you take my dog. You continue to expose me to various forms of loss, namely and most notably my drones, my immune system, and my summertime jubilation.

Then, you fleetingly flash your outrageous beauty right in my face, and leave me to fend off rain in the safety of my way-uptown apartment, all alone but for the fruit flies occupying my compost and beyond.

All of this tells me that I'm going to need a pretty radical Halloween costume. I've got a fever and the only cure is ridiculous clothing. The problem is, my imagination is as stunted as my wallet, which is as stunted as a six-year-old chain-smoker.

But I digress...

These autumn colors are the finale in a long celebration of life. Before we know it, it'll start all over again.

Make sure you don't miss it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Loving Memory of Marley

This past Sunday was my cuddly hero of a big floppy puppy's last day in this world. After 12 wonderful years on Earth, where will he go? I was taught, as I believe many of us 80's kids were taught, that all dogs go to heaven. Marley's version of heaven most likely involves his favorite activities: eating, exploring, snuggling, and sleeping. I must say, my version of heaven isn't so dissimilar from Marley's. Except that in Marley's heaven, people play maracas filled with roasted almonds, everything tastes like peanut butter and there are no pointed surfaces. Now, I don't lose it with excitement at the sound of almond hitting almond, but a few falcon butlers shaking some almond-filled maracas would certainly tickle my heavenly fancy. Plus, everyone who knows me knows of my sharp-objects-pointed-toward-my-eyeballs fear. And who doesn't like peanut butter? (Except for those with peanut allergies.) (Note the foreshadowing.) (And the parentheses.)

Fall has proven to be devastating so far, and the trees have hardly begun to shake their knees. Now, the falling leaves will only bring new meaning to losing Marley.

For a college film class, I watched a time-lapsed disintegration of a dog into the surrounding woods. The filmmaker described this act as an expression of love. At the time, I was just happy that I wasn't in the other film class that watched an extensive human autopsy, so I could kind of understand the filmmaker's desire to document his dog's return to the earth. Our act of love will be to scatter Marley's ashes with those of his loyal brother, when his time comes, on their favorite beach. (Not the one we walked them on, but the one they used to run away to, of course.)

I once drove down to a snooty country club to retrieve Marley, who'd deviously escaped with his partner in crime, Bosco. Two tennis pros hit balls across the net as Marley jumped up and intercepted. A blue-haired lady squawked, "This is my private lesson!" but they were too enamored with their silly intruder to care. Quite the charmer.

On Sunday night, I returned to the city, my eyelids exhausted by tears. Or so I thought. I got stung by one of my bees that sad day, smack dab in the middle of my forehead...which would be no biggie if I did not wake up on Monday looking like Mike Tyson's girlfriend (a term coined by Frank).

When a bee stings you, she pulls back but her stinger is barbed (!) (also, will she ever evolve?) so that the pointy poison sack detaches from her body while the stinger pumps away. Until, that is, you scrape it out with your fingernail. I did this immediately and still ended up with these horrific results:

The last time I was stung by a bee, I spent 24 hours feeling wretched in bed. I believe I have been in denial for quite some time now. I am allergic to bees.

The author of Fuzzybuzzness, allergic to bees! Such a tragedy.

2010 will be the year of the bee suit. Until then, I'll leave my little buzzers alone. Drone bodies litter the ground, and I have no desire to film their decay. Marley has transformed from a tangible being to an intangible one. 2009 winds down slowly.

Some people say photographs alter the memory to record only those specific instances. I disagree. Like the filmmaker, my photographs are an act of love, a celebration of Marley's joyful existence. They confirm my memories, rather than shape them.

When Marley got sick, I began to heartbrokenly mourn his impending loss immediately. My sister Eliza, wise beyond her 25 years, reminded me of what I wrote a few months ago:

Love the furry black poodle with the crooked teeth who wanted nothing more than to give you his paw.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Massacre of the Drones

A male drone is distinguished from a female worker bee by his bulky stature and big, dumb eyes. Compared to the girl-powered majority, he's a few crayons short of a pack. He rarely leaves the hive, gets drunk on honey he had no part in cultivating, is all but immobile and almost completely blind. Some suitor.

Around this time of year, when the temperature starts to drop and the trees start blushing, the worker bees begin a thorough decimation as methodical as it is just:

"There is, at first, no sign of menace, although the drone's worker sisters have grown increasingly testy as the nectar supply tapered off with the end of summer. The drone is, as usual, swaggering across the combs, shoving aside workers who get in his way as he heads toward the capsules of honey. But this time something is wrong. A couple of females block his path. The big fellow is surprised by this unexpected resistance. "What's going on here?" his manner says. The workers do not yield before him. Then, both females suddenly fall upon the startled drone, pummeling him, biting his fine wings, tearing at his antenna and legs, violating his macho male superiority. The carnage is underway." -The Queen Must Die, by William Longgood

The carnage is certainly underway in my hives. Drone bodies litter the ground, their googly eyes seeming to implore a desperate "WHY?" in their inertia. The air is crisp, and although the sun still beams down upon the Northeast, the workers know that winter is fast approaching. The drones, bumbling bags of sperm that they are, are no longer of use to the colony. Uselessness in a beehive is a crime punishable by death.

The massacre of the drones marks an important seasonal shift. Bountiful summer has passed, making way for autumn's last harvest before cold, dead winter stifles out all but the most hardy, adaptable life.

I've been mourning the passing of summer, the season that finds me at my happiest and most energetic, in a quiet way. After celebrating the magic of the living seasons, I now turn my attention to fall and impending winter, seasons that embody loss, death, and silence. (Do I sound too morose? Good.)
The sun has begun to sink low in the sky, casting a golden nostalgia upon every surface it touches. The shade, once an ally, has grown tired of being sought after constantly, and begins to welcome wind and dampness to its dark corners, in an attempt to fend off unwanted guests. The worker bees have begun enacting brutal revenge on their lazy brothers. The sun, the shade, the drones... the first to go in a long, long line of loss awaiting us.
Autumn is a season of change. Things are changing. What is most important, now, is to remember each day for what it is. Soon, it will lie beneath soft sheets of frost, and only memory, and love, will keep it warm.