Posted by: Memorizing Nature | July 1, 2010

The Happening Hive

Every Thursday evening during the summer, my great-uncle used to organize a square dance in the park. Once in awhile, I would show up as his partner, flubbing my feet through the moves – promenade, allemande left, swing and sashay. Our audience usually included bored bystanders and a few Canada geese. The air smelled of our city’s river. The caller barked orders in an artificial twang. My great-uncle, he always wore a bolo tie, and made the new people feel welcome. 

"What special choreography, I wondered, brought these insects to this very meadow?" (Photo by E. Medline)

Honeybees dance too, for communication and survival. It is theorized, controversially, that the forager bees zig-zag and waggle to share information about the location of flowers. They’re saying to their sibling colleagues, ‘head straight, turn left, it’s this many degrees from the sun. Are you getting all this?’ (Another less imaginative theory says that bees direct other bees to nectar by sharing odour plumes).

The hive, that feminist civilization. Or is it a monarchist’s dream? An oppressive social order. Conversely, a success story of evolution, now mysteriously teetering.   

It’s hot in the hive in the middle of summer, we can agree on that. If not for the sisters that fan their wings for ventilation, the regime would surely suffocate. Thankfully, there is enough sweet food to be found in the claustrophobia, but the colony is over-tasked to the point of exhaustion. Jobs are weird: worker bees secrete royal jelly – that vitamin-filled concoction that turns a simple larva into a potential queen – from glands in their heads.

"An oppressive social order. Conversely, a success story of evolution, now mysteriously teetering." (Photo by E. Medline)

But back to the dance. Recently, I noticed a number of bees at the dainty, pink flowers of the milkweed. The flowers opened just for these pollinators, who announced their arrival with a vuvuzela flourish. What special choreography, I wondered, brought these insects to this very meadow?

The female square dancers were attired in overly bouncy skirts, which enhanced their movements. I recall that the men were often breathless, taking frequent breaks on the folding chairs they had brought to the weekly event. When the sun was setting, the caller cued the last dosado.

I know that by inviting me to these square dances in the park, my great-uncle and his friends were trying to impart certain values. It took awhile for me to figure out exactly what I was supposed to learn.  Maybe they were leading me to the patch of purple coneflowers down the way, or to the growth of hollyhock across the road. No, I am confusing myself with a bee. The dance of the bees is remarkable. But the summer gathering where the seniors let loose . . . in that, I observed a message even more profound.   


Message to readers: A previous post in Memorizing Nature, Inside My Dragonfly’s Eyes, has been included in the blog carnival compilation Circus of the Spineless #52. Check out the other entries!



  1. Excellent post, and both bees and traditional daincing are declining….

    I really enjoyed browsing your blog!

  2. What a wonderful story!

    Yes bees are declining I was in the South of France just recently and discovered that bees were protected species.

  3. Thank you, Crafty Green Poet and Diane. I have heard that some communities are creating wildflower corridors (i.e. linked for long distances) to help the bees out.

  4. I have a wild hive of honeybees on my place, a swarm appeared this spring and occupied an abandoned flicker nest box. They are such wonderful insects, and I have enjoyed watching them visit my gardens.

    • I read your blog post a few weeks ago that had a picture of those bees! There is so much activity at The Havens.

  5. […] posts related to insects. Here are links to two oldies – Tenacious Tents (April, 2010) and The Happening Hive (July, […]

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