Monday, April 7, 2014

Flowers and Bees: A Swarm to Remember

My favorite New Mexico wildflower. My husband keeps trying to convince me they are weeds, but I don't see how anything so beautiful could be called a weed. The purple flowers open one at a time, moving down the stem, curling like a caterpillar. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman 

These flowers grow anywhere from six inches tall to ten feet tall. They grow on stalks in groups of two or three or a dozen. I see them in the desert and the city. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

We didn't have any wildflowers in the desert last year. We didn't have any rain in the spring! We had one sprinkling of snow and just enough rain one winter night to damage our roof when the wind ripped off the tiles and sent them flying into the arroyo. 

Bee on sunflower in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. This is my favorite bee photo. It seems to be overwhelmed by its pillow of pollen in the center of a large sunflower. 

I had a strange incident with bees last year, almost one year ago, in fact. I was walking my chocolate lab, Holly, and carrying my chihuahua, Chewy, in my arms. I had just checked the mail and turned around when suddenly, I heard the strangest sound, like a dozen chain saws revving up at once.

Bee on Russian Sage. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

When we started the walk, as we rounded the first corner, I noticed one of our neighbors working with a saw in his garage. At first, when I heard the buzzing sound I assumed he had changed tools to something larger and returned my attention to the mail in my hand. 

Wildflowers at the Arizona/New Mexico border. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a black cloud moving over the house across the street. It was one of those odd moments where something is so completely out of place that you actually have to stop and think for a few seconds about what it could possibly be, even though you know what is coming toward you...and within seconds we were engulfed in a thick cloud of bees swirling around my face, head and body. 

Bee on sunflower in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

I could barely see Chewy in my arms and could no longer see Holly at all, though she was still sitting very quietly near my feet. I don't know what was stranger, the fact that the bees we were surrounded by the largest swarm of bees I'd ever seen or heard of, or the fact that none of us felt the least bit compelled to move, and the bees were not stinging. They would come close and look at my face, then buzz off. I couldn't see the dogs, but I could feel that they were holding perfectly still. I don't know how long it lasted, but it seemed a very long time, or as if time had stopped. 

Bee on flowers in Loveland, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman. 

It was dark and loud and the movement of the bees felt like a slight breeze against my skin. To be honest, I lost all concept of time. I have no idea how long we stood in the middle of the street (there are no sidewalks in my neighborhood so we always walk in the street).

Pollen-happy bee in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

As suddenly as they had swarmed around us, swirling past our faces, between our bodies, never landing, they just as suddenly started moving upward, forming what appeared to be a black tornado rising above our heads. We continued to stand in place, but I did look upward and that is precisely how they appeared, like a tornado. They moved sideways like a cloud, then to the side again forming a second cloud. 

Bee in Loveland, Colorado. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

They appeared to be following a leader, their movements synchronized, like a dance, and I began to feel as if I was experiencing something magical. Then the cloud of bees moved to the front of my neighbor's house, hovered near his door, rose up the front of the house, over the roof and back down the other side, and the majority of the bees disappeared.

Bee on Russian Sage in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

It was such a strange sensation. I wasn't the least bit afraid--perhaps because not one even attempted to land on me--but I was curious. I'd never seen or heard of anything like this, particularly in New Mexico. Last year, however, I did have a few friends post explanations for what they thought happened, including the possibility that the swarm lost their queen. If you have any suggestions feel free to leave a comment.

In the A to Z Challenge, F is for Flowers! Happy spring everyone! 

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