© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
This is an extract from a manuscript I used
in a class on spirituality and photography
at the Pacific School of Religion,
and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA
Bees: here are creatures that can truly amaze me. I can see bees—sometimes—but do I truly see them? Deep ecologost, George Sessions told me that one time when Arne Naess visited him up at Sierra College in Rocklin, George had to do something or another with one of his students, and Arne had to wait for awhile. When George was finished, he went to look for Arne and found him sitting in the dirt in front of a plant watching the bees in the plant’s flowers. Yes, I would really like to see bees. They fly so fast with their preposterously malformed (for flying) bodies. Yet their bodies seem so well formed for a bee. Who are we humans to judge what is and is not well formed for a bee when we cannot fly except with grotesquely manufactured metal bodies that are only copies of real flying creatures.
I was sitting in a clearing in the mountains at about 5,000 feet elevation drawing a wildflower. Cherie was off in another clearing drawing another wildflower. I was intently absorbed in drawing, when slowly and subtly a very low sound began to break into my consciousness. Not all at once, but just a little at a time. A low droning sound was wafting on the wind currents of the forest. All of a sudden I was not intent on drawing, but on the sound of a swarm of bees. I was now fully absorbed in bees. I became cautious, and fully aware of my body’s space in that forest—what was around me, where I was in relation to what was around me, and all of this relative to the bee-sound. One does not want to draw the attention of a swarm of bees.
I remembered a story two of my uncles tell of when, as boys in the Olympic Mountains, they were fly-fishing in one of the mountain’s streams and one of them hooked a hive. Their story was funny fifty years later—running as fast as they could through dense underbrush while desperately looking for a hole deep enough to dive into—but perilous in the moment. I did not want this to be my moment, but I wanted to see the swarm. I slowly moved towards the sound. What I saw gave me goose-bumps from my head to my toes. From about ten feet above the forest duff, to about eighty feet was a cylindrical, or spiral shaped swarm of bees moving slowly through the forest. It was like watching a slow dance. A chance sighting of a secret spring bee rite of forest passage. Yes, I would learn to see bees.
Bees I have not seen have stung me in the throat, and on my feet. Unseen bees have come up out of the ground to sting my hands. A bee nobody saw flew up under my mother’s dress and stung her when she sat on it. My friend Les talks of a time when he was herding cattle through Rockbound Pass in the Desolation Wilderness Area, and the cattle ahead of him kicked up a ground hive which immediately swarmed him and his horse. One time I went out to my car to find a swarm on the front bumper. I have seen a church wall discolored with wax and honey from a hive within. Every once in a while, a member of the church would harvest the honey until the buzzing became too distracting for a Sunday service, and the hive was removed. All of this does not compare to watching that secret bee-ritual enacted through the forest.
This then is what it is I clearly desire to see: secrets. I strain my eyes until they are almost blind with tears trying to see things I cannot. Sometimes I do not even need to try, and the seeing is a gift. Like the forest bee-ritual. Another gift was of martins. These weasel-like creatures came whisking into a camp I shared with hiking companion, John Neff, one evening just past dusk. They growled and grumbled, we heard them first and could not figure out what could make that sound. They complained to each other and rushed us once to see if we would scare off. We did not, but we grabbed our flashlights and followed them around to see them better. Finally they left, but the gift of the sighting was a thrill I add to the collection of images I have acquired in my memory.