For a long time I thought only of bees. They crowded out all
the others and this book became just for them. A Book of Bees in all their
bee-ness. All the physical capacities, all the behavioral subtleties, all the
organizational mysteries, all the comradeship. All that golden beeswax lighting
up the ancient world. All that honey sweetening medieval Europe. All those
bees, timeless templates for the most diverse human projects and ideologies.
Bees took over.
But then a plague of winged ants invaded my living room and
after they left I began thinking of locusts and then beetles—all those beetles!—and
then caddis flies and crane flies and vinegar flies and bot flies and
dragonflies and mayflies and house flies and so many other flies. Then one
thing led to another and I came across field crickets and mole crickets and
Jerusalem crickets and then Jessy sent me a weta from New Zealand. And then the
17-year cicadas emerged in Ohio, and I discovered the thrips, and the katydids,
remembered the aphids on Californian roses and the summer wasps drowning in
water-filled jam jars, and then termites, and hornets, and earwigs, and
scorpions, and ladybugs and praying mantids sold dry in packets in garden
supply stores. And then there were the mosquitoes with long legs and the
mosquitoes with short legs and far too many butterflies and moths of all kinds.
And I remembered what we all already know: that insects are without number and
without end, that in comparison we are no more than dust, and that this is not
the worst of it.
There is the nightmare of fecundity and the nightmare of the
multitude. There is the nightmare of uncontrolled bodies and the nightmare of
inside our bodies and all over our bodies. There is the nightmare of unguarded
orifices and the nightmare of vulnerable places. There is the nightmare of
foreign bodies in our bloodstream and the nightmare of foreign bodies in our
ears and our eyes and under the surface of our skin.
There is the nightmare of swarming and the nightmare of
crawling. There is the nightmare of burrowing and the nightmare of being seen
in the dark. There is the nightmare of turning the overhead light on just as
the carpet scatters. There is the nightmare of beings without reason and the
nightmare of being unable to communicate. There is the nightmare of being out
to get us.
There is the nightmare of knowing and the nightmare of
non-recognition. There is the nightmare of not seeing the face. There is the
nightmare of not having a face. There is the nightmare of too many limbs. There
is the nightmare of all this plus invisibility.
There is the nightmare of being submerged and the nightmare
of being overrun. There is the nightmare of being invaded and the nightmare of
being alone. There is the nightmare of numbers, big and small. There is the
nightmare of metamorphosis and the nightmare of persistence. There is the
nightmare of wetness and the nightmare of dryness. There is the nightmare of
poison and the nightmare of paralysis. There is the nightmare of putting the
shoe on and of taking the shoe off. There is the slithering nightmare and the
one that walks backwards. There is the squirming nightmare and the squishing
nightmare. There is the nightmare of the unwelcome surprise.
There is the nightmare of the gigantic and the nightmare of
becoming. There is the nightmare of being trapped in the body of another with
no way out and no way back. There is the nightmare of abandonment and the
nightmare of social death. There is the nightmare of rejection. There is the
nightmare of the grotesque.
There is the nightmare of awkward flight and the nightmare
of clattering wings. There is the nightmare of entangled hair and the nightmare
of the open mouth. There is the nightmare of long, probing antennae emerging
from the overflow hole in the bathroom sink or, worse, the rim of the toilet.
There is the nightmare of huge, blank eyes. There is the nightmare of
randomness and the unguarded moment. There is the nightmare of sitting down,
the nightmare of rolling over, the nightmare of standing up.
There is the nightmare of the military that funds nearly all
basic research in insect science, the nightmare of probes into brains and
razors into eyes, the nightmare that should any of this reveal the secrets of
locusts swarming, of bees navigating, and of ants foraging, the secrets will
beget other secrets, the nightmares other nightmares, the pupae other pupae,
insects born of micro-implants, part-machine/part-insect insects, remote-controlled
surveillance weaponized insects, moths-on-a-mission, beetles-undercover, not to
mention robotic insects, mass-produced, mass-deployed, mass-suicide nightmare
These are the nightmares that dream of coming wars, of
insect wars without vulnerable central commands, forming and dispersing,
congealing and dissolving, decentered, networked, netwar, network centric
warfare, no-casualty wars (at least on our team), dreams of Osama bin Laden
somewhere in a cave. These are the nightmares of invisible terrorists, swarming
without number, invading intimate places and unguarded moments. The nightmares
of our age, nightmares of emergence, of a hive of evil, a brood of bad people,
a superorganism beyond individuals, “swarming on their own initiative—homing in
from scattered locations on various targets and then dispersing, only to form
new swarms.” The nightmare of language. The language of bees. Nightmare begets
nightmare. Swarm begets swarm. Dreams beget dreams. Terror begets terror.
Where are the bees now? Collapsing in their colonies,
gliding through their plastic mazes, sniffing out explosives, sucking up that
sugar water, getting fat and weak on corn syrup, locked in little boxes at
airports, sticking out their tongues on cue. Who knew the tiny critters were so
smart, said the journalist. Fuzzy little sniffers. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Keeping us
safe. Helping us sleep easy at night.