The Magic of Bumbles


How nice to learn new things. How silly to have believed something so wrong for so many years.

Let me begin at the beginning.  My wildly spinning world has been spinning even more wildly of late. Travel, writing, house clearing,book tour,  a new shop, losing 20 pounds. Moremoremore.

I had set aside some time this morning to be in my garden.  Not a huge agenda—clearing the hops back off the gate, picking beans and cucumbers. Nothing more ambitious than that—and spending time in the green and damp.

I brought light cloth gloves, mostly to keep the hops from leaving their customary welts on my hands. The secateurs, I noted, were a little dull. I wished I had doused myself in bug spray. I heard the gentle chirrup that meant Puka had caught something. A wee bird. I fussed at him and told him he should eat the damned jays that were destroying the fall Cortland apple crop.

I gathered a big bale of hops and turned to walk them over to the edge of the bank. I backed into the wet and drooping rose of Sharon hedge and suddenly felt a sharp pain on the back of my gloved right hand. I looked down, thinking I’d caught a raspberry cane.

A big glorious bumblebee was stinging the Hel out of me.

I literally said “What…” out loud and flicked her off my hand. She lay in the damp grass a moment and then returned to her work in the rose of Sharon blossoms.

I dumped the hop clippings down the bank and wondered at the sharp throbbing pain continuing to worsen on my hand.

In shock?  Maybe. Because my whole life long I have believed—quite wrongly—that bumblebees couldn’t sting, didn’t have stingers. I have shown countless people how to pet a working bumble with  a gentle downward stroke on their soft bodies. Don’t worry, quoth I. They don’t have stings.

What else don’t I know I don’t know, I wonder?  I have no idea who told me that and showed me how to pet a bumble.  Might have been one of the old folks in the cove or some gardening relative.  It’s been so long ago I can’t remember.

It’s stopped hurting now—though my fingers feel stiff when I ball up my fist.  And the sting site is a little itchy. I’m going to put some witch hazel on it in a minute and see if that helps with the itch.

My friend MariJo Moore is my go-to person for asking what things like this mean.  I don’t have a cultural history of animal medicine like this so I sent her an email—in between my internet search for info on stinging bumblebees.  She told me what Gabe Horn had to say about medicine like this coming when you need it.  And then she told me that bumblebee medicine is about seeing that life is good and sweet and filled with brightness and color and the bee is the ancient symbol of good fortune, joy and harmony.

That feels very right.

And here’s another interesting piece of this bee biz.  We had the first meeting of our fiscal year at Mother Grove on Sunday.  In an effort to inspire the circle of council in this new time, I reminded them that bumblebees don’t look as though they are capable of flight and yet, they do.  And building a Goddess Temple on the buckle of the Bible Belt may not seem possible, but it is.

And two days later I get stung by a critter I firmly believed didn’t have a stinger.

Yeah, that’s how it happened. Isn’t that the way of the Divines?  We speak our fates into being sometimes and They laugh at our surprise.


10 thoughts on “The Magic of Bumbles

  1. Neat. I always thought they could sting, but don’t, because they can only sting once and then they die. So, figuring they don’t have a death wish, they don’t sting unless they have to. Interesting, though. Now I’ll have to go look up the sting habits of bumblebees. AND I want to pet one!

  2. I have to say that all bees will sting when they perceive a threat. You may not be threatening them but it is their perception that matters. The most important thing is to remain calm no matter what. Once stung insure the stinger has not been left behind by taking a stiff card and sliding it across the skin beginning a short distance away from the sting site and moving it across the site to insure all of the stinger is removed from the inside out. Take some tobacco and make a paste by adding water to it and apply to the area stung to help remove any poison from the stinger. If there is swelling, keep the area raised above your heart as much as possible. If you feel any swelling in your throat proceed to the hospital.

    I learned all of this at an early age because I am allergic to bee stings but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating them and the honey, one kind makes. I have had them walk on me while the people around me were panicking. By not making any sudden moves I was able to keep from being stung and having to make a trip to the hospital. This is why I said remaining calm is the most important thing.

    • Thanks for this! I was a honeybeekeeper for a few years and have great respect for these little animals. I usually use chewed up plantain on stings because I have that around. Have you ever tried it?

      • No I haven’t. My father chews tobacco and so we always had it around when I was young. I keep a small bottle of cigarette tobacco around the house and one in our emergency kit in the car. I have not heard of plantain but I will be looking it up now.

  3. Let me take back that I have not heard of plantain because I have. I normally don’t eat them and I rarely eat regular bananas.

    • Ah, different kind of plantain. This is a wild weed that grows everywhere. It is low to the ground and has both a broad and a narrow-leaf variety. There’s a picture on this page–

      • Ahh I was wondering how the banana variety would help. The picture on the page you posted is a plant I remember seeing when I lived in Asheville, NC but since moving to South Texas I haven’t seen them.

  4. my mom always kept a pouch of pipe tobacco in a drawer in the kitchen for stings. She added vinegar to a pinch of it to make a paste. Wonder if modern tobacco would work since it now has so many chemicals in it?

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