Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Where the bee sucks

On Saturday I'm teaching a workshop for Norfolk Wildlife Trust on bumblebees, so I spent much of today reading and jotting on bees, driving the jungle cats from my mind and bringing the bumbles out of mental hibernation. Come four o'clock I was ready for a walk and, since my trade this week is bees, I could almost convince myself that going to look for some was righteous.

I strode three steps down my front path before a bee-fly Bombylius major caught my eye as it supped at a Labrador violet. Then I noticed the weeds, quite a few weeds if I'm honest. I reasoned I would rid my front garden of them before they all set seed, and, since the bee-fly had shown the way, I hoped the bumbles would come to me. Seven-spot ladybirds trundled amiably around my plot as I fought my unfortunate flora, and over the common a lark sang his miraculous song. Two hours later, as I stood back to admire my work, a common carder queen bestowed her blessing with a visit to an Erysimum.

Now I was free to search for bees. Along my well-walked stretch of river the birds were busy. Hawthorn bushes, their first leaves breaking bud, were loud with whirring churring purring wrens, with newcomer chiffchaffs and the sorrow-laden trickle of a robin. Across the river, in the reeds, two mist-winged male marsh harriers swayed and mewed, declaring their genes' right to reach another generation here. A red-tailed bumble queen buzzed heavily around my head, asking whether I could be of any interest. A little further on a rotund buff-tailed queen searched for a spot to make her underground nest, her genes too demanding that she spend the spring and summer sending them into the future.

I was in shorts – in March – and for this fashion faux-pas I received my first sharp nettle stings of the year. Nettles abound in these generous valley-bottom soils and with their early shoots now are the jagged first leaves of equally nutrient-greedy hemlock. The tigers and the leopards have been fine – far more than fine – but now my Norfolk wakes and all around me wildlife hums and bustles. My place is here.

Where the bee sucks, there lurk I.

William Shakespeare
The Tempest

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