Our whole family gathers in the back yard, near the fence line and woodpile. It’s evening, and both the sun and temperature are dropping quickly. Several of us wear light coats. We’re all near-kneeling, our heads bent toward the ground in front of the two white beehives. We look like supplicants gathered for prayer. We face the quiet hives and talk in whispers.
My husband kneels to pick up bees that lay curled, motionless, in the grass just outside the hives’ entrances. He lifts them by their wings, one at a time, and drops them in our cupped, waiting hands. One for Isaiah, one for Levi, one for me.
The bee’s weight barely registers in my hand. It lays curled on its side, with nothing to indicate it’s anything but dead. Still, I look at it closely and worry about its stinger. Then, I curl my right hand over top of my left so my fingers and palms form a darkened cave, a tomb.
I raise my cupped hands to my face and form a seal over the darkened hollow of my hands. Then, I exhale long and slow, taking care to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. Each breath warms my hands, warms the bee.
Ten breaths, twenty. We whisper to each other, “Do you feel anything?”
“Keep breathing, try a little longer.”
Inhale and exhale, like a child warming winter-cold hands. Wait and breathe. Breathe and wait.
Opening my hands, I peek. The bee’s torso, once immobile now seems to throb lightly, as with breath, the yellow and black cone expanding and contracting with the slightest motion. Is it possible to see a bee breathe? I wonder. Maybe I’m imagining it.
Closing my hands again, I continue to breathe. Cold air in, warm air out, until I feel a small tickle, a bee’s foot brushing my palm. I open my hands and check, yes, a leg is moving. I close my hands and continue to breathe until the bee begins to right itself, crawling sleepily, calmly across my palm.
“It’s awake,” I whisper, “How do I get it into the hive?”
My husband comes and helps me move it with the aid of a twig, transporting it gently to the door of the hive. Then, it disappears inside its own cave of warmth and safety and we return to scanning the grass, the clover, for half-dead bees to breathe back to life again.