I saw a bee floating in the water.
At first I thought it was dead, but as it drifted closer on the ocean swells I could see it was still struggling, sending out tiny ripples as it tried to beat its wings.
I wanted to help it, but I didn’t want to get stung. A leaf was drifting in the waves nearby, so I picked it up and fished the bee out of the water. It climbed onto the leaf, but would not sit still and ride. Instead, it climbed over and over the wet, slippery surface. I kept turning the leaf, gently, trying to keep the bee away from my fingers without shaking it off the leaf.
I had to move slowly toward shore, I was concentrating so hard on the strange dance of leaf and bee. At first my toes could just barely touch bottom, but soon I was walking waist-high in the water. The bee slipped and fell, and so I dangled the leaf close again so it could climb back on. It crawled and crawled, I guess trying to get as far from the water as possible, trying to find the stem that belonged to this plant that had reached down and rescued it. Only the leaf kept turning over and over, forcing it to keep changing direction.
I reached the place where the waves were breaking around my knees. Only a few more feet and I could leave the bee safely on the sand to dry its wings in the sun and ocean breeze.
The bee fell off the leaf.
This time, instead of landing in gentle ocean swells, it was swallowed by a hungry line of white surf. The churning water rushed past my feet, erasing the bee from sight. I stood and watched for a long time, but none of the bits of debris were a mostly-drowned honey bee. Twigs, leaves, that’s all I saw. The bee I had tried to save was gone.
I had made things worse. While the bee was out farther from the surf, it still had a chance. If only I hadn’t been so afraid of a sting, maybe I could have cupped it in my hands. Maybe I could have brought it safe to shore and watched it fly away. Maybe if I’d been more patient I could have found a larger leaf, or a piece of driftwood, instead of the first tiny leaf that had floated by.
In the end, I gave up searching and went back to swimming in the gentle ocean.