Here’s a photograph I took of a bee on a petunia in the garden this morning. The photograph’s ok for having been taken with my phone but lacking a better camera and lens, I wasn’t about to move in closer. We used to keep bees but not anymore. It was fun and fascinating, but we gave that hobby up a long time ago for the same reason that I don’t like to stand any nearer to bees. Or wasps. Or yellow jackets. Or hornets. Or any member of the hymenoptera family. Because one day while I was walking through the woods on the way to my brother’s house, I put my hand down on a wasp and it killed me. I died.
There’s lots of moving parts to this story and I don’t want to take the time to elaborate on them all but they go something like this: a wasp stung me on the hand and I fainted.
2. My brother David and husband Luke were there and when I came around, I told them to take me to David’s house which was nearby. I’d feinted before, and been stung before but…
3. A woman we had never seen before was suddenly standing in the path and she said, basically, “Nope. Get her to the hospital. She’s having a reaction.”
4. So they did. Luke ran every red light and by the time we reached the hospital I was on the floor of the pick-up truck, unconscious and pretty much not breathing.
5. I died. I saw black, and a tunnel. Ask me about that some other time. Also about the woman who we never saw before or after, but I have forever called “my guardian angel.”
6. They shot me up with epinephrine and kept at it until I started breathing again.
7. Fast forward through four shots a week, every week for the next five years until a better serum is developed and the shots are reduced to once a month for the next 15 years (thank you to the hospital staff and nurses and allergists who helped me all those visits). Eventually, I outgrew the allergy.
8. Oh, and not to forget the two pregnancies and two kids who I was certain were going to come out with wings on their backs and stripes on their bellies and buzzing to meet the world. I’m sure they’ll have something to say about that.
9. Systemic allergies are serious.
10. Bee keeping is fun and fascinating and not really related to the allergy story, but lot of folks in Fairbanks do it. Bees are ordered through the mail and when they arrive it’s sometimes still too cold outside so you keep them inside and feed them sugar water for a while. Wild Alaskan honey is so good it’s to die for. Here’s a link to the Alaska Bee Club http://alaskabeeclub.com/?page_id=106 and another from the oft-quoted Cooperative Extension service https://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publications-db/catalog/anr/ABM-00230.pdf, and this one specific to Fairbanks http://toklatapiaries.weebly.com/getting-started.html.
11. What is related is the question that often comes up when writing fiction and folks give advice such as, “write what you know,” or you get asked how much of what’s in the writing is real. Answers to both questions are complicated and sometimes contradictory.
12. Here’s a few paragraphs from DAUGHTER OF THE SHAMAN. In this scene, Elik has just happened on a bear feasting on a caribou carcass. The bear leaves and when she goes to investigate, she is stung by wasps, feints and enters a shaman’s trance.
Finally though, the bear finished eating. It sat back on its haunches and watched her as it swerved its great head from one side to the other, then dropped back on its feet and turned as if it were in no hurry, as if it knew she was a woman, weaponless and smelling of her woman’s smell and didn’t care. Satiated, it ambled into thicker brush.
As soon as it was certain it was gone, she stepped nearer for a look at its tracks but something caught her eye and she turned toward the carcass.
It was moving. Not the body, but alongside it. The head, the entire caribou head seemed to turn and follow her steps.
She moved and the skull turned with her. The skin, the eyes, the lips, the entire face was moving, crawling. No, not crawling. It was shimmering.
She glanced about. There was no sign of the bear and none of Kaviaq or his dog. She knelt and leaned nearer, her weight on her wrists as she tried to see.
She gasped and covered her mouth.
The entire head was swarming with wasps. Yellow, black, swarming wasps. They were layered thicker than fur, thicker than the matted shreds of caribou flesh hidden below.
They crawled over each other, scavenging, hungry, fighting for the meat. Hundreds of them. Hives of them. Lifting. Tasting. Hissing inside empty eye cavities. Crawling inside the mouth where lips and gums had disappeared.
She jumped to her feet, but too quickly. The wasps sensed her motion. One flew toward her and another followed. They sensed her warmth then found her hand and lit on her fingers. Those two, then another. They hovered over her fingernails and sniffed at her wrist and crawled toward the edge of her sleeve.
She panicked and shook her arm but instead of flying away the first one stung her. It pricked her skin and she shouted as another stung her wrist. Another on her hand. Pin pricks. Knife points stabbing. A sound like tic tic ticking in her skin.
Her ears were ringing and the light grew dim. A thick dull taste moved slowly toward her throat. Everything slowed until only the taste in her mouth grew stronger. Down her throat. Into her lungs. Her breathing slowed. Legs forgot how to stand. One moment they were holding her, the next moment she was falling.