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Smart Queen Bees/the Paranormal/El Greco


I came up with a field note idea yesterday. A true story. Then another came to mind. Another true story not at all related to the first. For the fun of it I am going to join them at the hip.

I can remember the year and the season because I was courting a gal, or maybe she was courting me. It was late fall of '07. I drove 10 hours straight to pick up a needed colony of bees. One colony taking me to Tennessee and then turning me around the next morning to bring the colony home. I was in the colony yesterday, still alive if barely, which is what brings the story to mind.

For purposes of testing we needed a colony highly infested with tracheal mites (TM). TM are microscopically sized mites that enter through a bee's spiracle (an opening) leading into a bee's tracheal tubes. It is with these tubes that bees get oxygen to their internal organs and muscles. The mites infest the tubes, pierce their walls and feed on a bee's "blood", which is not exactly blood but a kind of plasm. The tube's walls become damaged, become blackened as with emphesyma. The disease was first discovered in the 1920s and called the Isle of Wight disease, which is where it was found initially.

I left town at 7 AM Thursday morning. East out of LA, north through MS, east into AL, north into south central TN, just over the border from Hunstville where rockets get developed. It was a treat driving into the mountains and a treat to see the changing colors of fall, not something seen much in the Deep South. (I remember seeing a raven fly overhead in the mountains, which should have alerted me.) I was off the interstate by 5 in the afternoon. But the directions I was given to get me to my destination were, to say the least, circuitous: down a bunch of Appalachian-holler like and narrow roads, through mountain country picturesque, but not all that enjoyable, since, I was pretty spent. The next morning I would find a better, more direct route back to the interstate. It might have been close to 7 in the evening before I pulled into town, called the bee keeper who would give me the colony I came for, who would then meet me with his wife and take me to dinner. KFC it would be.

The bee keeper had offered his home for the night. In route I had thought to take a motel room instead. But when I got there it seemed to me that if I took his offer I could get an earlier start the next day. So I accepted. What an odd home he had. It was almost like a burrow with so many half levels, narrow staircases, and with every foot of floor space occupied with stuff. Reinforcing the impression were all the trophies and prizes nailed to the walls from bunny rabbit breeding contests won by his wife. There were hundreds of plaques and trophies.

Our nickname for the bee keeper is Papa Smurf. Short, rotund, white hair, long white beard. And a real talker. His wife rather made me uncomfortable by her stare. She said little. She just stared at me with an intensity that was unsettling. I felt as if she was trying to pry something out of my body. Of course I was polite. But I avoided eye contact as much as I could. And Papa Smurf wanted to talk while I wanted to sleep. As soon as was mete I begged off the conversation, showered, went to bed. The bedroom I think had belonged to one of their daughters now married and on her own. There were things everywhere. Just things. Everywhere. And the bed must have had two, maybe three blankets and quilts. I was tired, it was fairly early, I figured to get a good night's sleep.

I think I got an hour's sleep that night, maybe two. I was alternately chilled and sweating. Under all those blankets I shivered, then sweated as when you have a fever. I remember trying to open the window to cool down. But the window was nailed shut. I remember curling up fetally trying to get warm. Nothing worked and I found myself keenly alert. As tired as I was and I was aware of every small content in that bedroom.

At 6 in the morning Papa Smurf was standing in the door. Had I let him he would have stood in the doorway talking. I thanked him for the "wake-up", indicated I was ready to get the colony and get back on the road. Quickly dressed, I walked downstairs.

Living room and kitchen were adjoined. Kitchen table was piled with things. On the table was also a microscope he used for dissecting bees when he was looking for tracheal mites. His wife sat on a couch. And again staring through me. He wanted to show me his favorite queen, he said. He called her his most intelligent queen. And he wanted me to demonstrate how to find if she was fertile. Queen bees have a sack called her spermatheca. It's where she stores sperm from the fifteen or so drones she will have mated with. By tearing open the end of her abdomen you can pull out a pearl like looking sack. If it is pure white she is sterile. If cream colored she is fertile. But, of course, the operation kills her.

I was stymmied. I said I didn't know how to check to see if she was sperm rich. Papa Smurf said something like 'You mean you don't know how to find out?' I said something like 'You mean you want me to pull out her spermatheca?' He indicated yes. So I viscerated her, rolled the sack between my fingers, found it full of sperm, certainly enough to last her another egg laying season. But then she was dead. So he took her, opened her thorax, put it under a microscope, checked for tracheal mites, and found none. Then he said: "My most intelligent queen and I just killed her."

Out the door I thanked his wife for her hospitality. The bee keeper and I got into our trucks. He took me to breakfast. Then we drove to the bee yard for the colony I would bring back to LA. I was in a hurry to get back on the road. I knew I was going to have to tough it out, driving a good 10 hours on one hour's sleep. He still wanted to talk. He said something like he wished I could stay for a few days. We put the colony on my truck and I strapped it down. I followed him back to town and again down a bunch of narrow and winding roads. In town we stopped in a super market's parking lot. I thanked him too for his hospitality and for the precious colony with both bees and tracheal mites. Back in the truck I looked at my map for a quicker way back to the highway. What I discovered rather left me shaking my head.

The most direct route back to the interstate would take me through the TN town in which I was born. The story is too complicated to tell. In 1951 I should have been born in FL, probably in Daytona Beach where my Florida native mother was living. (I almost called her my Cracker mother but I felt her slapping me from the grave. She hated that term.) But her oldest brother picked her pregnant self up and drove her to his farm in Lincoln County, TN. I was born in the Lincoln County Hospital, in Fayetville. I have no attachment to that town. None. That I was born there means nothing to me except that I was born there. When a young teen we would visit my uncle once, which trip I barely remember. So passing through Fayetville in '07 was only the third time I had been there. I remember thinking, however, how strange can things get? I am only here to get a colony of bees and here I am driving through the town in which, by no design of mine, I was born. Now, all I remember is the town square where the court house still stands.

Back on the interstate the first three or four hours were the hardest. I was punch drunk. Full concentration to the road was only managed with full concentration on the road. Muscles hurt, brain was a bit in a spin. It was somewhere in north AL and driving west for MS I got my stamina back. I knew I would make it back home. I got a cell phone call from the girl I was courting, the one who might have been courting me. I can't remember what she said exactly. But the message was clear. She was thinking about me. That, that right there, that phone call, that's what got me home.

I've known harder road trips maybe. Hitch hiking, pushing that envelope, in retrospect scares the hell out of me. And I hate that I once told my then teen-age daughter those stories. Needing to be like her papa she once hitch-hiked from WA to VA. When she finally told me about it I was royally pissed at myself.

When I got back to town my boss could not get me out of the truck fast enough. He said something like get home. He took the truck and he took the colony to the yard where it stays today. I saw it yesterday. Struggling, hard pressed by both tracheal and varroa mite pressures and somehow still alive.

There is a coda to my story. Subsequent to the '07 trip I've learned that Papa Smurf is into something close to, if not identifiable with, the occult. This in south central TN. Shivers and the sweats.

Tere

Here is the second field note that came to me on Friday. Since not at all related to the first the pairing amounts to a shotgun wedding. I've told the story before but perhaps it warrants the retelling.

The one culture hero who passes all of my tests is the German poet, Goethe, probably Europe's greatest lyric poet. He wasn't only a poet, however. A government minister, a hydrologist, geologist, painter, a theorist in optics who so hated Newton's theory of light he devised his own. To say the least he was a keen observer. About his poetry he once said he had to have a thing representing a poem before him in order to compose. He has been called a thingy poet. In the 1780s he was involved in human dissections, which was a study that was something of a rage in Europe. He found a small cheek bone called the intermaxillary bone. Only twice before had it been spotted, but Goethe's was an independent finding. The discovery cannot be overstated. It had been observed in other mammals but not in humans. Those arguing against evolution, arguing also that humans were not evolutionarily related to other animals, took the lack of the bone in humans as proof positive man was distinctly his own animal. The discovery satisfied Goethe on the point, that humans are simply another species of primates. This would have been almost 60 years before Darwin set sail on the HMS Beagle and 80 years before he published his big book on evolution.

In 1982 I traveled to Spain for 5 weeks or so. It was less a tour than it was a strategic retreat from a domestic disaster. From Madrid I made my way to the province of Andalucia where I would stay, mostly on the coast. In route I spent some days in Toledo, the ancient hilltop fortress town, once the capital of Spain. It had been El Greco's town, which was the reason for my visit. I found his studio apartment still preserved, still kept as he would have kept it. The doorway was barred but you could stand there and look inside. What was salient about the studio was its large, over-sized windows. Because situated on the western side of the hilltop it let out onto the sprawling Castillean plains below. So in addition to light coming in El Greco would have had the expanse of plains below him. It is significant that the plains of Castile are high in white, white chalk content.

One evening I was strolling through the town. I think I remember the moon was full. I do remember she was in the western portion of the sky. And there were clouds. I was standing on the prado, the plaza, below El Greco's apartment. Pretty much just looking out over the plains. Then I saw something that stopped me. I saw El Greco's skies that he painted over and over again. The same dark blues. And the same light. And I realized he had faithfully rendered the light in front of him. In his paintings the light play was less a product of his imagination and more a representational record of what he saw. Then I got it, what he saw. The light of the full moon was reflected by the chalk content of the plains and pushed back into the sky where it backlit the underside of the clouds. There is a story I've told before about El Greco. One day a friend visited him and invited him to take a stroll. He said: "No, the glare of daylight would spoil my inner light." El Greco was an intensely spiritual person, the kind of mystic for whom a religion's local color and form are secondary. In the reflected moonlight of the Castillean skies he found his inner light.

When I got to Andalucia's Costa del Sol I found many expats, mostly British, some Americans, one was a bar owner, one Finnish soccer player forced to retire early because of his injuries and who lived back up in the mountains painting. The Finn kept me drunk one weekend. Very drunk on sherry (jerez). All weekend. I had intervened between him and two Spaniard fascists in a political argument about to turn nasty. (With Franco barely dead the times were still tense.) I also met two American painters who had taken up shop in the town. One day we were talking and I mentioned El Greco's skies. I told them what I had seen. I said the painter had faithfully recorded the plain's backlit skies. They both went silent, looked at me as if an idiot savant was standing before them. Finally one painter said: that is supposed to be a product of the Greek's Mannerism, an invention. Being out of my depth, certainly no art historian, I said nothing.

That is my one small Goethean moment when I observed something the experts had overlooked. And it taught me a huge lesson about perceptions and about canonically accepted judgements. I want another.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Aug/8/2010, 3:38 pm
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Christine98 Profile
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Re: Smart Queen Bees/the Paranormal/El Greco


Great story. Creepy-cool. Belongs in the road-tripping thread, no?

Chris
Aug/11/2010, 9:12 am Link to this post Send Email to Christine98   Send PM to Christine98
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: Smart Queen Bees/the Paranormal/El Greco


Maybe so, Chris. Certainly it is what brought the theme to mind. Creepy-cool indeed.

Tere
Aug/11/2010, 6:41 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Smart Queen Bees/the Paranormal/El Greco


Joined at the hip is just about right. The queen bee/ tripping story was out of this world in this world, something I have learnt to look forward to since I started reading your prose over the past months. Especially jobbing. The queen bee/ paranormal took me the lunch break and the representational nature of El Greco's before i left office and walked back home. The bridge to my right was heavier than the small shops to my left. I could feel the weight and shape of things. That's what good prose does to you. ThanksTere.
Nov/20/2013, 11:24 am Link to this post Send Email to arkava   Send PM to arkava Blog
 
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Re: Smart Queen Bees/the Paranormal/El Greco


Thanks back at you, Arka. A different kind of story. But, of course, one you would get. You really are something.

Tere
Nov/23/2013, 2:14 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 


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