My title sounds like an Orphan Black episode, but actually refers to the Hive in London’s Kew Gardens, which is a surreal representation of the lives of bees.
I’ve always found bees comforting, with their furry small bodies, like a fairy’s teddy bear. The susurration of their explorations brings to mind lazy warm days. They prefer the small knotted blossoms of oregano and pendulous flowering swathes of butterfly bushes to overbred flowers like cactus dahlias, with their scimitar petals, and red tea roses, an adman’s wet dream.
Bees only sting when threatened. As a child, I fished them out of the swimming pool filter, and let them air-dry on my finger, before they flew off. Bees have had a hard time adjusting to our evolving world, and their numbers are shrinking. They’re vital for pollination. In Switzerland, where personal lawsuits haven’t become routine, bees are kept next door to us, in the park belonging to an insurance agency.
The day the editor-spouse and I visited Kew, the park was filled with strolling mothers and excited children. It’s a challenge these days for botanical gardens like Kew, as well as zoos, to lure children away from the tempting screens that bring the world to their homes. The Hive meets the challenge, drawing children to it. It’s described as “a unique, multi-sensory experience designed to highlight the extraordinary life of bees. A feat of British engineering, it stands 17 metres tall, set in a wildflower meadow.”
I stood within the hive, giving myself over to its complexities. I felt moved by the panoply of sounds and the spatial design. It was like a visit to the Rothko chapel in Houston, with subtle ambient music instead of stillness, sunshine rather than dark. But I wanted to look up at the oculi, the sky unencumbered by metal, the clouds scudding by. I sat, titled my head back, made myself comfortable, and listened:
After some serious drifting, I started noticing what people around me did.
Adults entered the Hive and migrated to the periphery, standing against the metal lattices. Many wore serious expressions, and stillness settled over them.
The children, who came and went in giggling groups, met in the middle to look down. The hive is accessed by steps, and built on a high platform. In the center, you can look through the transparent floor a flight down, to the people clustered below on the unimposing cement base. Nothing fascinating to me. But the kids came together naturally, leaving their parents standing soberly at the edges. They wriggled around on their bellies, made room for each other gracefully. What did they seeing? Would they still be in the middle if there were no people below?
I remember how we loved to climb trees, hide in the leafy heights, spy down on unsuspecting grown-ups. Unobserved and out of reach, we briefly had the power balance shift to our side. Do the kids think about the bees, as the lights on the hive change in response to the movements of the actual hive outside, and the humming music ours out of the speakers.
Or all we all still just observing each other?
The hive was like the internet, connecting us through a thousand points of intersection, bringing what’s on the inside to the outside, exchanging the private for the common sphere. A structure that was built to symbolize the life of bees became the embodiment of human interconnectivity, the social understanding that guides our behavior. If we’re all observing each other, can we even imagine what’s past the top of the dome, what lies beyond?
Let us hope to leave the hive, and to return, bringing exquisite messages and the bright songs of flower petals.