All quiet on the Beehive front


I know, I know, I promised a photo shoot of my bees this week…

Due to technical difficulties, it will be delayed. Stay tuned. I share with you at least one fine image from the photographer who did the photo shoot.  He has a Nature gallery, chock full of glorious critters—-from hummingbirds to butterflies to cranes.  Soon you will see more of Ralph Lind’s excellent eye for beauty. Trust me.

Mercifully, this week has been a very quiet one in my backyard bee world.  After the craziness of the past weeks, I covered up the hives and left them alone.

Bees, like humans, can easily become stressed by their surroundings.

As someone who multi-tasks too much and often creates my own whirlwind, I understand the erosive effects of this kind of stress.
Yet, evidently, bees aren’t as workaholic as I thought they were.  They are “restaholics”, according to Mark Winston, a 40 year veteran bee biologist who who wrote a wonderful book named, “Beetime: Lessons from the Hive” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 2014).   Likely, it’s we humans who stress bees out more than anything, as we meddle in their home, poison their foodsources, take their food, cut down their habitat, and often don’t know what we are doing, leaving them to go back and fix our messes. Like humans, when they are stressed, the bee immune system breaks down.  They get sick.

Mark Winston writes:

Bees in unstressed colonies are restaholics rather than workaholics,—spending up to 2/3 of their lives doing nothing (174) But, when required they can ramp up by compressing the normal time frame of work into a shorter more intense period…There’s an obvious lesson for stressed humans here, which is that rest may have an important relationship to our lifespan and provide resilience to respond to challenges in our personal, professional and community lives.(177)

We often use the aphorism, “busy as bees” and uphold bees as tireless, selfless, volunteer workers—something to emulate.

But, it seems that mostly they are just hanging out in the hive—–able to switch to high gear when needed for the hive’s betterment.  Bee colonies naturally tilt towards health and balance.   I love that.

It is a good model for communities in this country where most barely eke out a 2 week paid vacation and 60-80 hour work weeks are considered normal.

Perhaps the bees are calling us to less work, more play, need less “stuff” so we don’t have to work so hard to pay for it, and have more time to hang out in relationships.

Speaking of which, bees evidently are all about relationship.  Another lesson from the hive.  They relate constantly to one another through pheromones, touch/taste and dancing!  There is a very special bee jive called the “waggle dance”.   Biologists have studied this and found it to be the way bees convey directions for anything from nectar flow to the location of their next home.

Communication, communication, communication.  Bees are all about it. They groom one another, stroke and lick each other,   rub abdomens in passing, smell each other’s scent and use their antennae to connect with one another and pass along info.

Bees even communicate with flowers.  According to “Beetime” ….Bees carry a positive electrical charge, while flowers tend to be negatively charged, although both charges are slight. When a bee visits a flower, it triggers the flower to change its charge to positive within seconds. Subsequent bee visitors detect this subtle difference in electrical field and avoid the flower….since it likely doesn’t have pollen or nectar. An electrical conversation! (209)

We humans, evidently are becoming more impoverished and less emotionally intelligent in this area of communication.  Texting and emails keeps us in our own little silos, cut off from the most basic ways of communicating, using the art of full-bodied conversation.  We choose not to be present to one another, person to person, which would require gestures and tone, scent and touch as ways to highlight our words.

According to 2012 research done by Leslie Seltzer and colleagues at University of Wisconsin, conversation decreases salivary cortisol, an indicator of stress, and increases oxytocin, a hormone associated with social bonding, pair formation, maternal behavior, trust and empathy. Texting didn’t show the same effects, even between those with close relationships like mother, and daughter, suggesting it’s something about live interpersonal conversation that creates the strongest social bonds. Communication … can have a profound effect on brain neuro-chemistry. (Winston, Mark. Beetime: Lessons from the Hive. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 2014, p.207)

In a few days I will go to a large national convention of my faith community gathered from the four winds of this country.  We will do pretty much what bees do.  We will be in the same rooms with one another as we seek to do the business of the church.  I can only hope that our conversation in person will enhance the outcome and give us a deeper quality as we touch and smell and see one another.

We have some big issues to work on—including whether we will be fully welcoming of GLBT persons in our denomination, or at least tolerant and forebearing of those who have a different view. May we work for the highest good of all our communities.

Maybe we can even break into a waggle dance together.

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