Friday, July 29, 2016

The Hive

I had heard about The Hive at Kew Gardens, but I didn't know how moving and immersive visiting it would be. A and I almost missed it. It's not readily visible from the central path, but we saw a corner of it reaching beyond some trees and walked over. Surrounded by a meadow of wildflowers, it sits on stilts so viewers can experience it from all directions.

Wolfgang Buttress designed The Hive after a honey bee hive; built from aluminum hexagonal frames, it is an airy space, constantly changing form and transparency as I moved through it. Lights and speakers stud the framing. Accelerometers detect vibrations in the nearby orangerie bee hive and send those signals in the forms of lights and sounds to the structure. The Hive sings the songs of the bees in various octaves of the key of C—bees' one note—lights flickering along with the bees' actions. The more activity at the hive, the brighter and louder it is.

A bee doesn't hear through ears like human ears, but through its proboscis. Underneath The Hive, several columns carry the sounds of the nearby hive. Clean wooden stirrer sticks sit in containers on the top of the columns so visitors can take one, bite down on it, and insert the stick like a bee's proboscis into the column. The sound vibrates right through the stick, through the teeth, jawbones, and seemingly right into the brain. The effect was so powerful it gave both A and me goosebumps.

Being inside The Hive was transformative. Never before in my life have I had the feeling that I stepped out of my speciehood and even partly into another. But The Hive made me feel different. Since it is connected to the nearby bee hive and every light and sound reflects what's happening there but translated to a scale I could feel and see, I had the opportunity to feel fleetingly non-human. When else does this happen? I couldn't stop smiling.

I'll never make honey. I'll never buzz at just the right vibration for a particular flower to release it's secret prize of pollen. I'll never experience a true matriarchy or Colony Collapse Disorder. Yet, for a few moments at Kew last week, I heard and saw a bit like a bee. And now my universe is bigger.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Breastplate of Faith and Love

It was the most traditional of places to break the traditions: a 13th century church in an English village still owned and managed by a lord descended from the Norman conquerers who arrived in the 11th century. There, the mussed-haired, cowboy-boot-wearing vicar married my two gay friends in a small Christian wedding. We rode a double decker bus to and from Brighton and the wedding village. There were hats, so many happy tears, and afterwards at the village pub, Pimm's cups and a roast with Yorkshire pudding. During the reception speeches, the pub staff hung around doorways, faces just peeking through the doors, watching and listening. Some of them cried, too.

Two days before the wedding, C and I took a long walk to the “big house” after the church rehearsal. We went the long public way because we aren’t residents, whom the lord grants the right to pass the short way to the big house. C was nervous and distracted before his wedding, so we didn’t talk much, but we walked in the hot day—80s, humid, clear happy sun—up the road to the manor through herds of sheep and islands of old trees. I’ve known him since he was 10. He still walks the same way, a little duck footed, no efficiency of movement, all energy and ideas and springing wit and creativity. We could have been 12 or 16 or 30, taking this walk together, with him anxious and me calm. At other times, when I have needed an edge rather than a pillow, he’s walked with me, churning out solutions and razor wit.

He’s been unhappy a lot of his life. But, a few years ago, he lost his unhappiness; he was at the most peace I had seen him. Then he met J. And, he became happy, truly, genuinely happy. This past Thursday, it was C and J who took a walk together, down the aisle built deep in the past and to their future that so many couldn't have imagined too long ago.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day

In the last month, I finished my first school year running a library, started teaching summer school, turned 41 in the best birthday celebration I have had for years, and bought and moved into a house in San Francisco. It's an imperfect house in an imperfect place and it is wholly perfect for me. In this neighborhood paint may peel off many houses, but neighbors lean over their backyard fences to share gossip and gardening tips; I can't walk easily to a hipster 'hood, but I can walk Indiana through a large, beautiful park criss-crossed with hiking trails graced with spectacular views, a park which happens to be a block and half away.

Tonight, I have my first load of laundry running in the new-to-me washer, a constant rumble of neighborhood firecrackers sputtering all around me, an expansive view of the city's downtown as fog starts to tuck it in for the night even before the evening's big show, and my feet up on my surprisingly unperturbed dog.

I have a huge future to explore in my new home and new garden. There's so much ahead. I'll share as I go.

But right now I'm here, where it feels like I've been headed for my whole life, and I'm completely happy.