Archive for November, 2010


Thursday, November 4th, 2010

We are flirting with the edge of frost. The air chills noticeably as soon as the sun dips low behind the spindly ten-leaf trees. Perhaps the dew has already frozen on our patch of garden, presenting us with a transient coverlet of lace as harbinger of what’s to come. And, still, some bees are flying. A last few honeybees fly in and out of the brilliant whiskered mouths of the last nasturtium caves. Huge ground bees stand stunned on aster centers like locomotives rolling to a stop halfway across a prairie.

It would be foolish to anthropomorphize bees. (Anthropomorphism being the act of believing that one’s dog really does feel fashionable in the cardigan that matches his owner’s holiday outfit.) In his book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, anthrozoologist Hal Herzog describes the attitude of two arachnid research colleagues. One felt that spiders were little more than tiny living robots, reacting in the narrow range of ways they had been programmed by nature and evolution. The other had been discovered crouching in the middle of an elaborate web of flexible tubing he had constructed in his office, trying to feel what spiders feel. (I’d rather party with the second researcher, though I would hesitate to marry him.) Between those two approaches there is middle ground — living creatures, no matter how simple their neural ganglia, are not machines. But their minds, if that’s an appropriate word to use, are not translateable to me. Researchers are just beginning to study (and disagree about) the ability of a wide range of creatures to feel pain, let alone more subtle emotions like joy and fear and purpose. So, I am forced to accept that my communion with insects, no matter how focused and well-meant, is a matter of saying “flower” to a creature who replies “xchditn.”

However, that doesn’t prevent me from anthropometaphorizing insects. These bees are bound to die. As am I. But these tiny engines of life, slowing in the cold, continue to perform the tasks that were their life’s work through their warmer days. I have no way of knowing whether the last drops of nectar are sweet to the bee that ends her life sipping them, but I am stirred by the sight of her relentless quest. Nothing seems as beautiful as the last flowers of fall and no insight more important to me than that we are alive every moment until the moment we are not.

– Sharron Cohen