When the swarm landed in the liquid ambar tree the wind was shaking in all directions. The air was crackling with dry heat and the hive collected itself directly over the rue plant, making a clear statement, dripping downward and casting off new perfume scents every second. On the front porch I watch, in wonder, as the scent of ripe banannas settles into gentler notes of honeyed-peaches, and then these aspects of jasmine and honeysuckle start pouring over the bitter green scent of the rue, which is bound to be loved for it also has the scent of caramel and fresh cream making everything soft and milky. All this is happening as the bees begin to turn and change patters rapidly, flashing wings together like feathers of a larger wing, until they appear like a golden peacock, signaling so many things at once it is beyond me to understand even a fraction of what is occurring...
The queen has her own smell, like plums and grapes and clear clean daphne flowers, and they are protection her and her alone, calming and are so gentle now you can pick them up and scoop them like you would honey itself..
The necklace has that otherworldly feel inside of it. Blue amber glows like the air on that day, and the drops of baltic amber cast to shore in storms look much like the drops of tangerine-scented resin the sweet gum gives and finds its ambrosial name for. The jet encompasses the contrast of the warnings given by certain wingbeats, and the illusions of fear we encounter as masks over another keener reality. The hive was slowly coached into a yellow bee box and carried thoughfully away by a dreamy-eyed beekeeper and his same-scented daughter. They walk as one unit, holding the hive, to the cadence of a shifting song which will bring sweetness for a long time.
The BALTIC AMBER BEE COLLECTION 2022:
I love doing bee themes, for perfume, jewelry, incense and other art. It is my tribute to these incredible polliantors who are also my friends and neighbors.
In my yard, on any given year, I have learned that at least 7 hives of native bees will nest if I am careful about how I do my aromatic gardening, perfuming, and distilling. Several native bumble bees can be sustained by the raspberry flowers, the daffodils, and the old fashioned comfrey I grow. I do not pull up these plants in the spring because I know that the hives depend on them for food and root-shelter for their hives.
All bees gather pollen, and nectar, but what is less obvious is that they also gather resins and other sticky plant waxes which they then use for the most amazing things in their hives and in their communication and marking system. Most bees will release the scent of banannas when threatened or about to swarm, and many a beekeeper has learned the hard hard way not to eat nanners by their hive. In nature the scent of a banana ester is so strong it can be detected at remarkably low levels; which makes sense considering it is like the battery to the fire-alarm for a hive. Now one must consider that this is just one letter, or sound in a vast olfactory vocabulary understood by both bees and people, just in different ways.
The hives in my yard are pretty easy to find. Some years the bees are gentle and hide, other years the same species will be bold and full of zeal, and this tells fortunes for the year with an accuracy like a golden tarot. In early spring I just look for the really heavy, big, first solo bees and I follow these queens to see what they will drink from for food, and where they nest. When I find their nests I protect them, pay attention to when the first two guard bees come out, and make friends with these bees. The guard bees will notify me if something is off with the hive, buzzing around my face if I have accidentally forgotten and stepped too close, but also following me if they need water or if the queen has died, or the hive is under attack. Over the course of many years of watching and planting I have this blueprint in my mind of what the different bee hives use for their perfume, honey, wax, propolis, venom, scent marking, and scent luring.
Beekeeping native hives is just part of perfumery. Every distiller worth their salt follows the cycles of bees and shows respect for the hive as a more advanced distilling family; the bees are our elders. It is another reason I do not wear a ton of perfume outside in winter or go into the woods at all in the heart of winter; being steeped in balsams and red cedar as I am, it is not wise to go out in hibernation times and wake up the countryside. In fact, it is quite rude, so I spend my winter months like the bumbler grandmothers, under the earth, in my perfume den, blending and contemplating the memories of spring, summer, and fall.
The bees will gather resins for their venom, and for the propolis that protects the hive. In spring they will collect black poplar balsam and fir pitch from the river bottoms as the first maple flowers are still opening to offer sweet pancake nectar, and later they will draw from the beautifully scented wax of rockrose, of the concord grapes and italian plums, and the spicy crystaline resins of the apothecary rose which must haunt their collective dreams with her ever-changing pantry of scent and color. For I see no difference between bees and flowers, just the motion of time that defines them through our lens. And often I wonder what it would be like if we let the bees have our yards and guide us....for only the bees can really pick a flower in her prime.
When I harvest rose, I harvest where the healthiest of bees are going, and always find those flowers which are fullest of life. Life which must be shared, with the crab spider, the ant, the earwig and the lacewing....all of us take part in this theater of perfume. I hope you are there too, sipping some cordial or another, dreaming of peach wine and the scent of persimmons gone to flower.... The amber necklaces all represent this hive magic to some extent, being full of plant motifs, flower dreams, perfume fingerprints, and drops of resin turned to fossil gold.