My sister and her husband live on ranch property on the shores of Bear Lake in northern Utah that has been in our family for four generations. She is raising her two kids, Wesley and Sylvia on this high desert cattle country land.
The landscape up at Bear Lake is beautiful, in a sort of harsh, intense way. There are rattlesnakes. It gets really cold in the winter. The sun burns skin quickly in the summer. There are ticks in spring and fall. The growing season is short. The economy is slow, and seasonal.
Last week, I was up at the ranch for a summer gathering with siblings and their children. One afternoon, Sylvia and I went on a walk down to the lake. Or rather, she rode her purple bike and I walked. The lake has been low in recent years and as a result, lots of vegetation has grown up on its shores; reedy plants and small trees and large patches of tall wavy green things with teensy yellow flowers that bees like.
Sylvia was ready to turn around and ride home once we got to the turn in the road that paralleled the lake shore, but I suggested we just go dip our toes in the water first. She hopped off her bike and walked straight toward the large patch of tall wavy green things that were between us and the lakeshore. I offered to plow a path through.
As I swam carefully through weeds taller than my head and saw all the bumble bees hovering around, I thought about a video on re-wilding [2:06] I had come upon several months ago while surfing the web.
We stood in the shallow water of the lake for a few minutes and then after we decided to start back, I said to Sylvia, “Hey did you know you can pet bees? I saw it in a video. This little, tiny girl, maybe two or three years old was petting a bee. It was really cool. The little girl wasn’t afraid at all!” It must have caught her imagination because before I had finished my last sentence, she said “I want to try it!” and set about doing so.
Her first attempts were tentative, but soon lost her fear as she had success in touching the fuzzy soft backs of the big bumble bees who were busy gathering pollen and not bothered by small seven-year-old fingers gently stroking them. Enthusiastically she wandered about in the tall wavy green things, blonde braids shining in the warm sun, following the bees.
“You should try.” Sylvia remarked to me, wisely. I did try and found it a little unnerving, but possible. (But, interestingly, because my fingertips are calloused from climbing, I could not feel anything.)
I asked Sylvia how the bees responded to her petting them. They just went about their business and didn’t mind. I asked her what she learned from the experience of petting bees. “BEES ARE SAFE!!” was her immediate and enthusiastic reply. She could hardly wait to tell her mom and brother and dad that she had petted bees.
As she straddled her bike to set off on the half mile dirt road back to the ranch, I asked her if she’d ever been stung by a bee. She replied that she had been stung just once — in the hollyhocks by the new chicken coop, about two weeks ago. She had just brushed by a flower and the bee stung her through her legging tights.
Learning to pet bees is not something we do very much. But it is an intimate and empowering experience; one that reminds us of our wild, original self. And another really cool thing is that wild children sense immediately what they need, and what is good for them.