What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.
This is the first line of a poem published by William Henry Davies back in 1911 and his words seem more relevant now than ever. We’re all on a non-stop merry go round of activity, spinning from work to kids to chores. Feeling guilty if we’re not achieving a goal or ticking something off the to do list. But last year, for a little while, a tiny visitor made me stop.
First let me set the scene. A few years ago my son made a beautiful, rustic bird box. With a circular entrance, overhanging roof and hardwood walls it was everything the discerning sparrow or blue tit could ever want, with one major exception – he forgot the first rule of property. Location, location, location! In his excitement he nailed his creation just about a fence, which happens to be the cat equivalent of the war zone divide in our street. Any bird raising its young above this feline front line would provide a practical demonstration of Darwinism at its most gruesome.
So, to my relief, the box remained empty until one day in late spring when I was called excitedly to the back of the garden. Not knowing what to expect, I found a swarm of bees dancing outside the entrance, like a room full of embarrassing relatives at a wedding disco. Inside the box, I could see more bees crammed neatly like a strange insect Tetris. Curious to learn more, I set my smart phone camera set to zoom, and proved once and for all that I will never make wildlife photographer of the year!
I did get enough of a blurry outline to find that I had a hive of tree bumblebees – beautiful furry creatures with black heads, a wide ginger stripe and white tails. Pretty new to the UK, first seen in 2001, but they now cover the entire country. Another European invasion for UKIP to worry about? They naturally nest in tree holes, but bird boxes provide a perfect upgrade. As the UK is the bird box leader of Europe, you can see why they’ve joined the immigration trail – detached home, perfect location, south west London and rent free.
I learnt that the dancing, ducking and diving outside the box wasn’t to protect it, but were males waiting for young queens to come out to mate. I saw two bees get it together – they stopped beating their wings in unison and plummeted, landing with a thud on the ground before re-emerging with,I like to imagine, slightly embarrassed bee grins.
I began to spot the bees all over the garden, and as I watched, I saw something else – I began to see the beauty right outside my back door at a different level. I watched a worker bee land on the Persian carpet entrance of a foxglove. He strolled into the pollen pantry, disappeared out of site and re-emerged a few seconds later, his pollen sacs full of the precious yellow powder.
The mass of tiny blossom on the Californian Lilac became a supermarket, with bees flying up and down the aisles, barely a touch on each bloom but meticulous in their thorough approach. And the Michelin starred flower had to be the Oriental poppy. Each one the size of a cup, the deep red paper petals surrounding a broad dark circle of stamen, quivering with purple pollen. I watched as my winged friends immersed themselves in the flower as if swimming in a pool of milk and honey.
And while I was taking the time to stand and stare my other senses began to take advantage. I startedto hear sounds other than the Heathrow fly path – two magpies bickering on a nearby roof, my resident blackbird singing his heart out, warning other males to keep off his patch, and the drones and hums of other insects taking advantage of the pollen bounty.
My bees left the nest, but they left me with a gift – a different way of looking at my garden and appreciating the beauty in small things. I think that’s what William Davies wanted us to do when he wrote his poem and we all need to do it more often. We need to get off that merry go round every day, if only for a few minutes, and appreciate what we have. I hope that this will inspire you to take a bit more time to stand and stare at the beauty inyour world.
A poor life this if full of care we have no time to stand and stare.