Half of my bees are lost. Dead. It’s the national average these days. 50% losses after the winter. Mites? Chemicals? Lack of food/habitat?
Likely all of those things. As Mark Winston, 40 year bee researcher and professor of biology at Simone Fraser University, wrote in Beetime..
We are prone to accept death by a thousand little cuts, in which one degraded aspect of our environment or health becomes familiar and accepted as … Sooner or later, though, there is that thousandth cut, insignificant on its own but deadly in the context of many other cuts.
Mark Winston, Beetime: Lessons from the Hive(Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 2014)81
Today as I grieve my bee losses, I am aware that I live in a society that is cutting itself to death—bees being only the canary in the mine. Our culture of chemicals, poisoned food, toxic politics, gun violence, overpopulation, destruction of our air, land and water, an economic of endless growth, fossil fuel addiction, to name a few…are all contributing to a human world that seems intent on destroying itself.
Somedays I feel the sickness in myself. Acutely. My bees literally feel it.
Do I have hope?
As a glass half full kind of gal, I must also say, half my bees are alive, flying and gathering pollen as Spring approaches! I was overcome with delight when I saw 4 of my hives with the usual buzzbuzz bee life activities.
One thing I took away from Dr. Thomas Seeley’s presentation last weekend on the Hive Mind was the resiliency of honeybees. After years of stalking the wild bee colonies in his local forest of upstate New York, he asked the question, “Why do they persist?”
He found out, after years of sampling and observing wild bees that have escaped or swarmed from their domesticated lives with owners like me, that there were two things that allowed them to survive the myriad disasters arrayed against them.
- Good genes—who they are
- Good lifestyle–how they live
When they finally leave behind the drudgery and sickness of our industrialized ways of beekeeping, they can find their own rhythm and ways of coping— through natural selection. In studying multiple lineages of queen lines and their genetics, he found that after a huge homogenization, overcrowding, overstressing, over chemicalizing of the European honeybee in this country, they crashed. Bee society had lost their diversity.
Does this sound familiar for our current human dilemma?
Back to bees…The current wild bees living in Seeley’s neighborhood today have changed drastically. In terms of their genetics, their size has changed: “new bees” are smaller and more nimble. Their behavior has changed: they are adaptable and the workers have learned how to kill mites in the uncapped brood cells, before they hatch with these horrors attached to their bodies.
In terms of their lifestyle, they live with much greater distance in their colony spacing, so they don’t readily pass along pathogens and parasites as they do in the intensely crowed bee yards where we keep the hives in close proximity for our convenience. Their nest site is smaller and they have learned to slather they inner hives with propolis, an anti-biotic, antiseptic resin they gather from evergreen trees. In all ways, they are living less crowded, less stressed, less “too big” lives.
If there is one notable message from honeybees, it lies in the power of their collective response to stress, in the way they allocate work, communicate, make decisions, and balance individual activities with their communal imperatives. Our decision either to emulate honeybees by opting for the collective good or to pursue personal interests and individual gain may be the decisive factor in the success or failure of our response to contemporary environmental challenges. (Mark Winston, Beetime: Lessons from the Hive(Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 2014)17
Sounds like a good recipe for humans.
I end with a lament for the bees and for all of us. It is a prayer for healing. It is attributed to the Ojibway people, the Anishinaabe, who originally stretched from the Great Lakes to Montana.
look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.
We know that we are the ones
Who are divided
And we are the ones
Who must come back together
To walk in the Sacred Way.
Teach us love, compassion, and honor
That we may heal the earth
and heal each other.
Earth Prayers, ed. Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991)95