From time to time I check the swimming pool to see whether any bees have fallen in.
If I find one, I scoop it out using my hand, a leaf, or — if the bee is in the middle of the pool — a broom.
And then, depending on the state of the bee — newly stranded and still raring to go, or thoroughly water-logged and just barely alive — I either leave it in a sunny spot in the backyard or I take it to the Bee ICU, which is under the heat lamp on the porch.
When my wife got the lamp installed, I thought it was the type of thing we’d never use. But now that I’m on a bee-saving jag, it comes in handy. Bees recover quickly under its warmth.
Full disclosure: I told a bit of a lie in my opening line — the part about checking the pool ‘from time to time.’ In truth, if I’m at home and awake, I’m basically a bee lifeguard. I check the pool every half hour. I rescue any insect which seems to have a fighting chance.
This is somewhat insane, I know. As my sister pointed out, I’ve come to resemble the Jonathan Franzen character who goes door-to-door trying to get neighbors to clothe their housecats in tiny vests with a bell on the front, to reduce the killing of songbirds.
My sister isn’t wrong. The bee lifeguarding triggers some OCD-ish intensity.
I suppose another way of saying all this is, yeah, we’re right in the middle of Sad Dad territory. Both kids have left for college. My dog died. And I’m in the backyard patrolling an empty pool as if 20 toddlers were jostling each other at the edge.
That said, bee lifeguarding doesn’t feel sad. For one thing, you’d be amazed how utterly dead the bees can seem upon arrival under the heat lamp — they’re not moving, they’ve lost their color, they’re kind of black and slimy looking — and then minutes later, they dry out, their color comes back, their legs start moving, the abdomen begins pulsating. (Apparently this helps them take in oxygen.) They stand up, clean off their head and legs, wait till all systems are go, and then fly off. I’m astounded, every time.
On a busy day, I’ll rescue 10 to 15 bees, on a slow day, one or two.
I should just cover the pool, to obviate the need for lifeguarding. But a) then I wouldn’t get to be the hero; and b) even though the pool is currently around 52 degrees, I do like to sit in it for a few minutes each day.
I guess regularly sitting by myself in a cold pool removes any doubt about Sad Dad status. Well, that and my Spotify playlist. But in my defense, I started sitting in cold water long before Wim Hof made it popular. It’s good for sore muscles and a cluttered mind. It puts at least a tiny dent in my espresso addiction.
The other thing about bees, they’re surprisingly relatable. When you first lift them out of the pool, they are so clearly not at their best. They aren’t on a winning streak, I guess you could say. But then you watch them battle to come back to life. It’s a struggle, you don’t have to be a scientist to see that. And not all of them survive. So there’s an element of suspense, too.
Okay, it’s probably not hugely suspenseful. But for me it is.
I spent more than an hour with one particular worker bee. After a slow start, she looked like she would be all right. She recovered enough energy and coordination to walk around. She drank a bit of the sugar water I dabbed beside her. Then she tried to fly off. For whatever reason, whether wing damage or a separate issue, she couldn’t fly. She exhausted herself trying. And then slowly the whole process went backward. I watched her … not come back to life.
I tried everything — repeated trips to the heat lamp, more sugar water. I put her in different spots around the backyard, using a leaf to transport her. But gradually her movement slowed. She started to curl up in the posture which a dead bee winds up in.
Not knowing what else to do, I thought, ‘Okay, well, at least keep her company.’
I moved her from the leaf to the palm of my hand, and the two of us just stayed together in the fading light of late afternoon.
Before she died, she reached out her long back leg and touched the base of my thumb. It took my breath away. I’m sure it was nothing, just a reflex on her part. But in the moment, it gave me a jolt. The gesture felt a bit like her saying, ‘We are connected.’
So anyway, I guess we can also add Bee Hospice to my résumé, not just Bee Lifeguard and Bee ICU Nurse.
Now dear readers, please don’t send me Amazon links for floatable pool objects to decrease bee drownings. I’ve tried them. They help a little, but don’t eliminate the problem altogether. As I said, I should just cover the pool. Or drain it and let the kid down the street use it as a skateboard park.
But then I would need to find a new cold-water spot. Besides, my wife wouldn’t go for an empty pool, due to aesthetics. Nor would she go for a stranger coming over to see how many days he could string together before breaking an arm or leg, or neck.
Anyway, if you have a swimming pool, try it sometime — rescue a bee and watch it come back to life. It will blow your mind. You don’t have to be a Sad Dad, though that does heighten the experience.