Monday, August 23, 2010
Where the Bees Are
When I need to escape, I go to The Cloisters. I've been there so many times that these days I make a cursory pass by the unicorn tapestries, skip the rest of the collection, and head to the medieval herb garden in the Bonnefont Cloister. I forget about wrinkles, skin cancer, or sunspots, and sit in direct sunlight on the worn wooden bench that stands along the wall facing the Hudson. The bench is so long that its middle has been boughed downward by the elements and thousands of visitors before me. Potted plants line up in front of the bench. I know they are Mediterranean plants, meant to evoke Southern France, Spain, and Italy. But to me they are also Californian plants. The rosemary, oregano, olive, fig, orange, oleander, jasmine, lemon, and pomegranate are the same ones that grow in abundance in my mother's garden. Each fall, I look forward to a big box of pomegranates picked from the tree that has produced these fruits since my childhood. My mother carefully boxes them up, sends them cross country to me, and I spend chilly evenings extracting the seeds, each a ruby. Every winter, another box full of lemons, miniature suns tenfold juicier than store bought fruit, arrives. I have my own jasmine which I try unsuccessfully to coax into blossom in the darkness of my New York apartment. So, in the quiet of The Cloisters (even school children lower their voices here) I sit near these plants that remind me of home. Last weekend, having spent several hours in the herb garden and feeling like myself again, I exited through the Cuxa cloister. Near the fountain in its center bloomed lavender flowers alive with bees. I had thought all summer that the bees were fewer in number this year, that they had chosen somewhere else to make honey. I leaned closer to the flowers: at long last I had found the bees. Perhaps the recent cool weather had helped them wake up. Heading home through the Heather Garden, I walked past the passion flowers, which during the heat wave had wilted and hung forlorn on their vines. Now they had unfurled their petals. On each sat one or two bees staggering in the pollen and drunkenly rejoicing in their luck.