….and Summer Solstice! June 20-26 is National Pollinator Week. I celebrate these amazing little workhorses who feed us free of charge by their pollinator services.
This summer as I teach Albuquerque Public High School students the art of beekeeping, I am amazed that youth who have trouble attending in the regular classroom or struggle with emotional/behavioral issues are totally mesmerized and engaged in the outdoor classroom by their subjects—apis mellifera. The lowly honeybee.
And why not? Bees are more like us than not. They live in communities or bee colonies. They have complex, organized societies. They have a division and specialization of labor from nurse bees to morticians to guards to architects and field bees. They work together. Things can get ugly and violent at times in the hive when survival is threatened. I won’t lie. They do some brutal things to each other. They get crabby and mean when they are hot, stressed or crowded. They demonstrate what we humans call ageism and sexism. Not so different from our societies.
We are more alike than different. Perhaps that’s why we are fascinated by honeybees.
Bees will always throw you off. They will mystify you just when you think you’ve got them figured out. I’ve been duly humbled as a beekeeper for the past six years.
Here are some amazing Bee factoids to honor their work and short 30 day lives:
- There are over 20,000 species of honeybees around the globe
- There are about 4,000 solitary native bee species in the U.S.A. which I have featured in this article. So beautiful.
- All the worker bees in the hive are female.
- The queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day
- 80% of our food is pollinated by bees
- The oldest fossil of honeybees found was 100 million years old in the Caucasas region of Russia, by Cornell University researchers. They have been with us a looooong time.
- Bees must tap up to 2 million flowers to produce only one pound of honey. I bow to their hard work.
- The average worker bee will make only 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her life
At the beginning of our class, I talked with the students about “mastering” a craft. I thought they would say that “to master” meant “to dominate” “to rule”. But they said exactly what I wanted to teach them. Mastery means to “know” your subject. It means to care about your subject. To gain enough wisdom to teach.
Perfect. I told them that we would be learning about bees. We would observe them. We might know a tiny bit more about bees at the end, but in no way would we be be able to gain mastery. That takes a lifetime. And in one lifetime, I’m pretty sure I won’t have mastery of my subject of honeybees.
Andy Goldsworthy, is an English Earth artist who makes huge installations from natural elements in the great outdoors. Once he built a large rock art installation. It fell apart not long after he created it. Though his pieces are designed to eventually return to the ebb and flow of the natural world, he was surprised this had taken so little time. Clearly there was a flaw in the design. His choice words were, “I guess I haven’t mastered the nature of the stone yet.”
I feel the same way about bees.
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