Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Bee Oasis

The pond water carries the rich, deep green tint of algae. Now that the tadpoles have grown legs and moved on, the honeybees move in – small hired wings of the orchard and vineyard. Floating free of their white hives they line the water’s edge. Some frolic on lily leaves, while others use rose petals for rafts. I venture to say that they are having fun.

The traffic is heavy and steady at the oasis. Individual bees fly in from the orchard, and then wander out again. One by one they form a steady, aerial stream. Some linger, resting on round, waxy leaves of water hyacinth, sipping cool pond water, rinsing dust from their striped backs and wings before returning to work. Pink-cheeked in the light of day, I am drowsing in the midst of this watercolor calm, dizzied by the honey smell of jasmine vines and blooming rose, this great butterfly of a summer’s day set off by the pond’s radiant glow.

As the golden dust of late afternoon settles I ponder the plight of the modern day honeybee. In her book The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us, Bee Wilson explores the relationship between humans and bees, including the current state of the bee-rental business. In the spring, bees from farms are prepared for shipping all across the United States. The honey bees are first stressed from being separated from their queen. Additional stresses come in the form of being poured into containers. Then further stresses include being shipped across country in shipping trucks. Hives are hauled long distances from field to field, exposing the bees to a wider variety of agricultural pesticides and genetically engineered crops.
It is a miracle any of them survive and remain in their new homes after going through such indignities. Large honey producers and agricultural landowners often treat bees as if they were slaves. Yet it is not possible to enslave them; nor can they really be enclosed. As Bee Wilson notes, bees, it seems, are a law onto themselves.  We may convince ourselves that the bees are working at our command, but they work for the purpose of their own industry. They work, but not for us.

Bees, in their great diversity, are the principle pollinators of flowers. The colorful buds and scents that draw bees to the daintiest blossoms are as pleasing to us as they are attractive to them. Bees may visit as many as a thousand flowers on each foraging trip, mixing the nectar with glandular enzymes before depositing the sweet liquid into the hive’s waxen cells.

Ancient Egyptians thought the bee a symbol of wisdom, regeneration, and obedience. Napoleon's robes were known for their embroidered bees because Napoleon saw the bee as symbolic of immortality and resurrection. Are the bees who work ceaselessly to produce sweet, dripping honey – purest nectar miraculously distilled out of air, food of the Gods, medicine as well as food – also messengers to humankind? If so, what are they here to tell us? How much longer will humans continue to search for truths about themselves within the gold of the honeycomb?

This year my summer goes the way of the everyday divine – a series of days, each much like the last, yet each adorned with a unique radiant echo. It is enough for a day to end, for an evening to approach, slow but patient setting of the sun, to be reminded that this particular day can never be repeated. I pay close attention to the growing, flowering, and ripening in my midst, relying on bees and butterflies as guides.

With head gently tipped back and eyes shut I unwind, my body’s pressing weight graciously supported by a striped cotton hammock, feeling strangely youthful as a distant airplane hums overhead – row of tall pines facing me. Savoring the richness of some old-fashioned rest and relaxation sweetened with a spoonful of summer in a jar, I ride the bicycle of my dreams, pressing the pedals along a straight, wide road.