The first time I noticed the bees, I was chopping wood around the side of the cottage. At Tallawarra, this mainly involves sweating and verbally abusing the wood – I frequently volunteer for this chore for it’s cathartic benefits. After a particularly satisfying crack and split, I looked skyward and saw a handful of bees buzzing around an old cloth that was inexplicably sitting on top of the roof. They were long and oval, like wasps and not like the fat fuzzy bees of Canada. I thought nothing of it and went back to bashing the logs around.
The next morning I went out to feed and say hello to the chickens and the house-sheep, and on the way back, I noticed that there was another cluster of bees on a different corner of the cottage. I stood and considered them a moment – why are they on this corner and not the other one? Did they move? Or is that a different colony? And then I went inside and forgot about them.
A couple of days later the bees had spread to the front of the house and were congregrating around the part of the roof that hangs over the front door. What had started as a scattered buzzing here and there was now a low pulsing hum, like the deep throated growl in a very, very large cat. I inspected all corners of the cottage and found bees buzzing and carrying on everywhere. They had us surrounded.
The girls and I were out in the garden – a haphazard affair with about equal parts weeds, vegetables and spiders – and I absently looked into the window of the room Sally and I shared. It was darker than it should have been… and moving. I went closer. There were approximately thirty bees ramming their heads into the window. On any given day there were a couple of bees in the cottage’s living room, buzzing around on the window, engaging in insect self harm. But this was ridiculous. There were bees everywhere. My pile of clothes and books was heaped underneath the window, at the foot of my bed, and it was seething with bees. They didn’t pay me much attention, and so I watched them crawl around on the sill and their sisyphusean onslaught against the windowpane. They were dopey, like they had gotten into the wine. They lazily bashed themselves against the window, and then crawled around for a while, drumming up the motivation to go at it again. The ones on the bottom of the sill huddled in groups, crawling and falling over one another. Some were dead or in various stages of slowing and dying. The more verile ones paired off and looked like they were either dancing or fighting, forearms interlocked, feelers waving. Upon closer inspection they were actually grooming each other. Jess brought in a small plate with a glob of honey in the center and we ushered as many of the bees as we could onto it with a piece of cardboard and put the plate outside.
The following day, Jess frantically called out to us from the front yard. I heard them before I saw them. It
sounded like the spin cycle on a giant’s washing machine. They had gathered and risen in a massive cloud above the corner they had originally emerged from. The sky looked dirty, as though a tornado was flinging up all the dirt from the garden. They hovered, undulated and droned menancingly. One flew in my direction and got caught in my hair. In our panic, he became more entangled and frightened and stung me, right above the ear. I yelped and rushed back inside, and made faces while Sally expertly pulled the stinger out of my scalp. I could hear the bees inside the house, too – the deep hum was muted but no less threatening – and there was a small army of them against the living room window, struggling to get back to the group. It felt like the buzzing was now coming from inside my head. I iced the sting with a frozen container of milk and eyed them suspiciously while we ate lunch.
The next day it rained, and the giant cloud dispersed, leaving only a few stranglers darting around the original corner. And just like that, the house was quiet again.