What I Learned From A Monstrous Bee Swarm and An Everlasting Bonsai Tree

I went to the National Arboretum to escape the boisterous pandemonium of Washington, D.C. but what I took away from my experience to this colorful, oxygenated, and vitamin-D filled museum was unexpected, historical, and inspiring.

If trees could talk, this one would tell quite a story. This 400 year-old mushroom-shaped bonsai survived an atomic bomb, and no one knew it until 2001. Meandering through the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., I was mesmerized by this tree’s unyielding spirit and determination for survival.

This is no average tree. On the morning of August 6, 1945, the Yamaki family and their bonsai endured the blast of the atomic bomb that led to the end of the war between Japan and the United States. Thirty years later, bonsai master Masaru Yamaki offered this unbreakable tree, one of the oldest and most precious, as part of a gift from the people of Japan to the people of the United States. Today, this indestructible bonsai serves as a symbol of friendship and good will between the two countries. Now being held at the Bonsai museum, this remarkable bonsai does what all trees should do — speak to individuals in a unique and personal way.

In light of the recent celebrations of Earth Day and Arbor Day, I wanted to honor this beautiful, ancient, and yes all-around badass tree spirit for showing unyielding tenacity during such dark and dismal times.

The bonsai trees didn’t stop after coming across our wise old friend’s story. There were probably over a hundred different, intricate types of bonsais — all delicately grown from various types of native trees with the babies of the bunch being the ripe age of 80 years old.

I began traversing the museum, carefully examining every nook and cranny of each individual bonsai — the way they curiously and dangerously twisted and turned to reveal their true form and nature. As I delved deeper into the bonsai forest, I noticed something else, something far more dangerous lurking growing ominously in sound and appearance throughout the majestically ancient Asian villa.

Bees. Not the adorable, zoom right past you and leave you to your business bees. These were the most pesky, invasive, zooming into and around your ears and nose bees. The place was swarming with them. The monstrous-sized bees created this intensely loud buzzing and humming as they whizzed past all walks of life.

Jerking my body from left to right in uncomfortable spasms and sprinting desperately from one side of the museum to the other, I was as terrified and traumatized as a naive little eight year old. I felt so conflicted — mixed with feelings of fear from the pain of being stung but desperately wanting to continue on my journey of photographing and examining each and every lustrous slanting curve of the bonsai barks, color spectrums, and plant species. What was I going to do?

How could I enjoy myself without feeling my subconscious kicking in every other millisecond? It’s as if my flight or fight survival mode syndrome kept slapping me in the face telling me to run and holler. Save yourself.

Why in God’s name was no one else freaking out as much as I was? There were people everywhere and no one seemed to give the slightest care. I kept telling myself that no one appeared to have been stung, so I shouldn’t worry. I’ll be okay, they’re just bees — it’s not like they’re going to kill you.

And then, it’s as if all my bee, wasp, and yellow jacket fears conspired against me and fiercely came to life as I turned the corner onto this brightly-lit, white-walled pathway. Not a small group, a giant swarm of angry, motivated bees were swerving from every corner of the room intensely focused on something at the center of the hallway. Seeing my boyfriend and countless other families on the other side of the hallway, I tried to subdue my fears, to make myself walk through the boisterous swarm without running away. Keep walking, just get past this part. If they can do it, you can do it.

It took all of my might and psychological consciousness to make myself take that first step. Pretending like my feet were filled with cement, I made myself consciously place one foot in front of the other as quickly and as carefully as I could, so as to not disturb the fearsome bees or my buzzing life-saving brain from making me run away.

I heard every single buzz from over hundreds of bees within the walls of my ears. Walking as fast and as meticulously as I could, I made it past every single one of them without feeling any pain whatsoever. Sweat pouring down my face, but feeling a sense of triumphant accomplishment I’d made it to the other side of the museum without harm. I did it I thought, I conquered the bee swarm.

Moments later when I met up with my boyfriend, I overheard a conversation from a nearby family consoling and telling their kids that the bees are a harmless, passive breed that seem louder and more dangerously distracting than normal. “No need to worry about them kiddos, they won’t harm you.”

Are you f*ing kidding me?? Demanding confirmation from my boyfriend, I realized the family was right. Apparently I missed a sign at the beginning of the museum when I was inspecting the 400 year-old bonsai tree in all of awe-inspiring wonder. My boyfriend saw the look on my face and, yes, it was priceless. Adrenaline subsiding, emotions tranquilizing, subconscious fading into the background, and sweat quickly drying — at that moment I realized I’d learned something.

Sometimes it takes a swarm of bees or surviving a blast from an atomic bomb (in the case of the old bonsai tree) to face your fears, ignore your goal-inhibiting subconscious, and finally enjoy the truly beautiful moments that life or nature throws at you.

Sometimes all you need is a little courage and determination to get past the self-doubt, fear, and survival-mode thoughts that pervade our noisy subconscious. But after letting these inhibiting emotions go and in spite of everything you go through to overcome those goal-inhibiting thoughts — the end goal, the beauty that is unmasked and revealed in front of you — that is what’s worth it in the end.

National Arboretum, April 17th, 2016
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