The World Wide Internets has helpfully fueled my obsession with interspecies friendships. My browser bookmark bar is packed with links to images of these unlikely couplings. A hippo and turtle comforting each other after a tsunami. Killer whales adopting a lame dolphin. A mother tiger nursing orphaned piglets who have been wrapped in tiger fur so she will accept them.
My favorite interspecies buddy stories involve the pairing of predator and prey. A turtle that likes to hitch a ride on an alligator. A cat mothering newborn chicks. A cheetah nuzzling a dog.
As an animal lover, I’ve had my share of rather unhealthy relationships with other species. Like many middle-aged women who find it much easier and more gratifying to deal with animals than people, I’ve surrounded myself with a menagerie of creatures that give me unconditional love while requiring nothing but a full bowl of food, a belly scratch, and the occasional car ride.
A couple springs ago, though, I entered into one of my more unusual interspecies relationships. It was a predator and prey situation between me and a bumble bee.
The bee entered into my life during a particularly difficult period. I had recently gone through a bad breakup where I was pegged as the villain. I was expelled from the local lesbian community and was living in exile in a cabin in the country.
It was there, licking my wounds and getting tipsy on tequila gimlets, that I met the bee. Each night I’d retreat to the wooden deck with my large cocktail and gaze out into mid-distance, trying to piece together the fragments of my former life. One evening, my catatonic daze was interrupted by an insistent buzzing near my feet, which were propped up on the deck’s railing. I looked down and saw a bubble bee as fat and colorful as a lozenge hovering at my ankle. I tried to shoo it away, but it continued to fly near my feet. So, I lowered my feet and it immediately scooted into a hole in the deck railing. Then it popped its head out of its nest and seemed to give me a little nod of thanks.
I was so charmed by this small display of gratitude—something I was so hungry for after suffering such a beating by the angry hand of the outraged lesbian cabal—that I began looking forward to this nightly routine. After work, I’d go to the deck and put my feet over the bee’s nest and wait for him to arrive and request entre.
Before long, the bee and I deepened our bond. He’d come out of his nest and bob next to my head for hours, like a tiny Macy’s Day Parade balloon. When I’d drive up to the house, I’d see him winging toward me from the porch and he’d fly alongside me as I walked to the house. Even the dogs became friendly with him. At first, mistaking him for a flying treat, they tried to snatch him in flight. But soon, they allowed him to tag along as they patrolled the yard. I refused to spray any insecticides, even though the cabin was deep in the woods and suffered constant onslaught from teams of wasps, mosquitos and other pests.
I was distressed, of course, at the end of summer and what I assumed would be the end of my bee’s short life. But the next spring, he or one of his offspring took up residency in the nest and our relationship resumed.
My life and my spirits have improved tremendously since I first met my bee. Yet each spring, I think of that bee and the small joy it gave me during a dark time.
Although we all count on The Big Romance to make us feel alive, sometimes what we really need is a good friend to show us that we don’t need to rely on sex, obsession and infatuation to experience the deep mystery and wonder of life.