I was going through files on my phone and came across a video clip from last spring, or maybe even the spring before, and it reminded me to tell you this anecdote.
I didn't notice anything strange on my way down the street, but about halfway to the corner I saw them. Blocking a section of the street was a swarm of bees. As suddenly as I saw them, I began to hear them. The buzz was phenomenal, otherworldly, and terrifying.
I've hated bees since I was a kid. I got stung on my hand, which swelled up like a balloon rendering it useless for a week. One doctor guessed I was allergic to bees. It made sense since my Mom is allergic to bees, but it's not like I had an anaphylactic reaction. Still, growing up the sound of even one bee humming induced a lot of anxiety.
As I continued my approach I saw that the swarm, although it appeared chaotic, was self contained to the middle of the street. The sidewalk was a safe zone. I inched past.
There was a man standing nearby and watching. He turned to me. "It's incredible, isn't it?"
I hadn't looked very closely, but now I did. "I guess it is," I said, "but so many bees is a bit scary."
He smiled, "there's no way they'll hurt you. They're looking for a new queen. Migrating. they are all very, very focused. You see that branch, covered in bees?"
The branch, black against the sky was animated with crawling bodies.
"That's the site of their new hive. These guys are all communicating with each other about it. Eventually, everyone will settle in. By night time. You watch."
I stood, fascinated, unable to turn away as the black cloud moved up and down in the air, undulating but never defying its seemingly arbitrary boundaries. The swarm was about six feet in length, and began only a few feet up from the pavement, and extended up to the top of the branch. It was impossible to tell how many bees there were.
The man continued to tell me about the bees. He had grown up, the son of a beekeeper, on a farm. He explained that what we were witnessing is an anomaly, and that we were really lucky to be watching. It also meant it would be a good year for local honey.
Then he did something I never expected. He grabbed my arm and said, "come on, walk through them with me. It's perfectly safe." I stared at him blankly. "They won't even know we're here," he added. I nodded and took a breath. If this was a rare thing to witness, I was going to witness it as closely as possible.
With his hand gripping my wrist he walked me right into the middle of the swarm. He continued to talk about the bees. The noise was unbelievable, but even more unbelievable was that, as we stood there bees flew around us in every direction, but never paid us any attention. Bees flew past my head, right by my bare arms, and dodged in between the man and me, but never hit or stung us. I looked straight up and saw the blue sky shaded by their wings, a million black ovals against the sunlight coming through the trees.
Eventually I had to leave to catch my train. But before I did I thanked the stranger profusely.
I'm not afraid of bees anymore.