Motorcycles, Politics, Camping, Sex, Compassion, and Bees

Part One: Bees

Some days we never want to end, others cannot expire soon enough. This past weekend held a little of both, though the good certainly outweighed the bad and the ugly.

As one might surmise from the title, this is going to be a long one, folks, and we’re going to cover a lot of ground (badly, and without much in the way of Organization, might I add.)

Let’s start with the bees, because they’re important, they’re dying all around us, and three of them had important cameos this week. Wait, lies – Let’s start with this weekend’s plans, because they factor into everything.

On Tuesday, I decided to tag along on a group motorcycle camping trip to the Salton Sea from Friday through Sunday. I’d not done motorcycle camping since 1996, and what better way to get back into the swing of things than with a gaggle of other like-minded folks?

Ok, now the bees.

That morning, I had found a very sickly looking bee on my patio furniture. I see dozens of dead bees around my apartment complex, which is always a sad thing. I have to assume there is some kind of pesticide they’re using which is killing them off in tragic droves, one by one, dozen by dozen.  I find them lying on the sidewalk every day. I don’t know what sort of bees they are, or whether they are solitary, but I do know we need every last one of them that’s left on this Earth.

“To understand many things you must reach out of your own condition.”
~Mary Oliver

Thus, when I saw the wee girl on my chaise lounge, I didn’t have much hope of her being alive. I gently blew across her wings, and she reared up into a groggy but distinctly defensive position: Middle legs and stinger raised, wings outstretched, facing this new unknown threat. Immediately after assuming this posture, she lost balance and tumbled onto her side. Oh, dear. Poison? Cold? I have no idea how to distinguish a poisoned bee from one that is simply too cold. I watched her for a few seconds as her legs clumsily churned in slow motion, trying to get her upright.

I can’t stand to see animals suffer; it causes me anguish in a deep, sensitive, delicate area. My first instinct was that she was dying, and that I should end her suffering. That’s such a final solution, though – I wanted to give her the chance to survive. Hoping she was cold and that I could warm her up, I placed my index finger alongside her body so the heat would radiate out to her. She immediately perked up and began scrabbling toward me – not in an aggressive manner, but in a keenly interested one: Her antennae and front legs reached forward ambitiously, her abdomen and stinger remained relaxed.

As quickly as she could, she climbed up onto my finger, legs frequently missing their steps and wobbling with every one, but she got there and then she sat quite still – only her antennae moved, daintily touching my skin, perhaps trying to figure out what I was, whether I was food, or just a heat source.

“This is quite an exercise in trust for us both, isn’t it?” I murmured.

I waited. After perhaps two minutes, her movements became more regular and coordinated, and after a minute more, she adroitly took to the sky where I hope she will live out a normal, healthy bee life. Thursday, the spectacle repeated itself as I found a similarly beleagured bee clinging to the wall near my elevator. She took much longer to come around, but eventually she, too, flew off into the sun. I videod that one, which is probably only of interest to me (and maybe Steven and Leslie:)

I hope this is amongst the right things to do, and isn’t causing them harm or more stress that will lead to terrible things. Thinking back to both of these times makes me feel happy: Altruism serves the self, too.

Flash-forward to Saturday night around a campfire burning in a large metal pit. A pale, half-inch-long spider ran in circles for over an hour along the rim of the pit, sometimes stopping to inquisitively check out its surroundings, but mostly just running around the rim fairly quickly. For awhile, no one else seemed to notice it, then Chuck pointed it out. We wondered why the circles – if it was too hot, why didn’t it simply hop off the edge into the cool darkness? Around and around and around, sometimes at what seemed like its top speed. Others began to notice it and watched.

I was worried someone was going to knock it into the flames – people are so often mindlessly cruel to tiny beings, particularly when we find them distasteful – but as far as I know, nobody did. I watched them watching it, trying to figure out what everyone, arachnid and human, was thinking. Naturally, I’ll never know. At some point, I looked for it, and it was gone – I hope off into the night to hunt some bugs, and not into the flames to briefly wither and then die. I was heartened, though, that at least for a half hour or 45 minutes, the humans elected to let it live. This brings us to:

Part Two: Compassion

We are strong when we show the smallest of beings compassion. Humans, lacking any real predators (though I do hold out hope for the bacteria and viruses to rein us in, perhaps soon,) might think we have little to lose or to gain by stepping on a spider or by putting it outside, unharmed. I posit we have everything to gain through compassion. The simple act of choosing kindness over cruelty or even over neglect actually changes our brain chemistry and our bodies. For the better. You can read a summary of one such study right here: Compassion Meditation. Scientific article here: Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering

Beyond quantifiable results, though, lie the more immediate, personal, less tangible ones: We feel good when we do good.  Some might feel a sort of smug satisfaction when squishing an insect, but is it really a good feeling? Perhaps for some. If you’re someone who likes the idea of Power and Control, what greater satisfaction is there than to have the ability to decide whether something lives or dies? In the grand scheme of things, one spider, one bee, is meaningless to most of us – but it’s pretty fucking important to the spider and to the bee.

Let’s flip this around for those amongst us who aren’t of a mindset to live and let live. Let’s think for a moment about wild dolphins – these are powerful, intelligent animals, capable of quickly, easily, and efficiently killing humans in the water. Seldom does anything ever go wrong when people dive with them, though. Sure, there is the odd, misguided attempt at coupling, or a “rogue” habituated dolphin getting cranky, but most dolphin “attacks” get no worse than this – spoilers, no actual attack occurs, just enjoy:

They could kill us, but they choose not to. There’s a lot of power in that. Wild-animal-related human fatalities typically happen under circumstances that are usually the fault of either that particular person (getting selfies with wildlife, trying to pet or feed wildlife, provoking wildlife, et cetera,) or of People in General (areas where wildlife is often fed, encroaching onto territories, et cetera.)

Predators other than humans don’t tend to attack without cause – the stakes are too high, even for the apex predators (wolves, sharks, bears, et al.) They forever live in a PVP, very permadeath world (non-gamers, click the links to learn the lingo.)

All of us have the physical ability to intentionally harm or kill lesser beings should we so choose. There have been (thankfully rare) times in my past when I was needlessly cruel that to this day cause me the greatest shame I have ever felt. I don’t know why I did the things I did, and I wish more than anything I could go back and not do them. Instead, I have to live with those memories as a reminder of what I was capable of when my worst self took over and beg the forgiveness of a vast universe.

That Ian Malcolm quote, though: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  We all know how that ended up, don’t we: Velociraptors. Right? Right. The next time you see a spider or an ant that is not especially in your way, choose to let it live and see how that sits with you. I hope it takes, not only to benefit those critters who might otherwise be harmed, but also to benefit you, yourself – walk into the warm light, man; it’s really nice here. For all of us. I promise you won’t be any less of a badass by being kind – in fact, your level of badassitude will increase immensely because you could choose pain or death, and you instead chose kindness and life. That? That is the ultimate in strength.

I have digressed, per usual. My point: Be compassionate, because you can afford to be. It costs nothing to extend kindness, and I suspect that even the most calloused, blackened heart can be warmed through its practice.

Let’s get off this particular soapbox and move on: Part Three: Motorcycles (coming soon…) 

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