Poems by Pierre Dutertre

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Bumblebees Do Fly

by Pierre Dutertre

From Canary Spring 2013

Pierre lives within the Hillsborough watershed in central Florida, a few miles from the Hillsborough riverhead that is fed through natural springs. He regularly commutes to the Upper French Broad watershed in North Carolina where he crafts his photographic art. Pierre is an artist, educator and photographer.

I am not sure who started the scientific argument that bumblebees cannot fly.

Apparently, and according to my classmates in the aeronautics department at the Faculte des Sciences in 1972 Paris, the lift equations of the rigid bumblebee wings versus its weight ratio make it simply impossible for bees to generate any form of lift. The numbers do not add up for any remote possibility of flight.

And yet, bumblebees do fly. They fly and hover effortlessly between flowers, pollinating our most precious food resources. “They do fly.”

Forty years later, I arrive at a bed and breakfast in the remote mountain community of Barnardsville, North Carolina. A good friend recommended this place, very close to my intended photography explorations of the deep mountain forests. He described it as a holistic, organic, and very special place to stay. Although I am unsure as to what holistic is, and I have no particular affinity for all things organic, I was intrigued and contacted the innkeeper to book a five-day stay. On the telephone an elderly sounding gentleman asked me several odd questions: “What do you do?” “Why do you want to stay here?” “Are you afraid of bumblebees?” That last question intrigued me the most.

I miss the concealed and unmarked entrance to the B&B twice but finally make my way up a steep driveway to the main house on the left. I presume that a smaller structure to the right is the guest cottage. Both wooden buildings appear old and weathered, with flaking light green paint and large portions covered in vibrant ivy. In between I notice the massive terraced gardens rising upwards brimming with flowers, berry bushes and vegetables of all kinds, the organic aspect of the B&B, I presume. Just past the cottage on the right, a sunken quarter mile meadow meanders uphill between the high tree lines; later I will discover that this meadow continues uphill and switches back for another thousand-foot climb. The deep forest I seek is just a few hundred feet away.

As I step out of the van, an elderly gentleman greets me with a firm handshake, introducing himself as the innkeeper. He is very tall and sports a wild and unruly thick head of white hair. “Welcome to our humble residence,” he says with a mischievous smile. “Let me show you to your accommodation. I hope you will feel comfortable here.”

I follow him to the cottage on a narrow path made of local flat stones and up a flight of dilapidated wooden stairs that creak with every step. As we arrive on the large deck of the second floor, overlooking the meadow, I am completely astounded by the beauty of the view and the tranquility of this setting. However, this peaceful scene is quickly interrupted by the buzzing sounds of dozens of bumblebees that are flying around us. The innkeeper looks at me with a large smile and says, “I hope you don’t mind them. It’s really their place, not ours. They live in the roof and they are completely harmless”.

As we enter the room, two bumblebees fly past our heads and into the interior space. He tells me that this is a standard routine for them. “Just open the screen door when they have finished looking around and let them out.” Interesting.

Later that evening I sit on the deck absorbing the outstanding beauty and tranquility of the meadow. The bumblebees hover effortlessly a couple of feet above my head, defying gravity with minute wings and large colorful bodies. They seem to be looking at me with great curiosity. Each bumblebee performs that 30-second observation and then goes back to whatever it is that bees normally do. I wonder what they think as they observe me. Will they remember me when I come back to this magical place in a few weeks?

On the last day of my stay, I ask the innkeeper to reserve the room for my next trip in a few weeks. He looks at me puzzled: “Sadly, I have decided to stop renting the top floor of the cottage; it’s not worth it anymore.” I am taken back by his statement. He goes on to say that the steps and deck to the second floor are in need of complete reconstruction and the local fire marshal is concerned that there is only one way out from the accommodation. I ask him what his plans are, what he is going to do with the cottage. “What of the bumblebees?” I ask foolishly.

“I think that I will just try to maintain it the best I can, maybe replace a few steps, but I can’t take the chance of a guest getting hurt.”

I am devastated. After five years of staying in a variety of B&Bs, this is the only affordable place, and it has been so perfect for my artistic retreats. This is my personal paradise, where I finally feel totally comfortable. To hear that I cannot come back is a crushing blow.

A few days later and back in Florida, I feel compelled to call the innkeeper and ask him if he has thought some more on the future of the cottage. He informs me that he got a quote from a local builder to rebuild the steps, deck and install a second exit for the top floor. “It’s going to cost $8000, not anything I can afford.”

I cannot believe the words that come out of my mouth next: “What if I pay for these renovations? I could stay there several times a year. It would be a kind of advance payment.”

On the line there is silence. After almost a minute he replies, “Well, that sounds fair. If you take care of these repairs, the second floor is yours for, say, five years. I won’t rent it out anymore, so you can bring your own things. You’ll have to pay for breakfast, though, whenever you are here. How about four dollars for each day?” A great price for paradise.

“Please tell the contractor to be very careful with my bumblebees,” I reply and hang up.
Turning from the phone, something inside me lifts. Bumblebees do fly.

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