Lessons from the honeybee

....And Philosophizing the Loss....

This was written in July:

A couple days ago I was in the orchard gardens picking berries and singing, thanking the bushes and canes for the berries and feeling full with the reciprocity existing in my relationship with this little bit of the Mother Earth. I was moving away from a section of raspberries, heading between the almond trees, when I nearly walked into a honeybee swarm. Excitement mounted. Heart pounding, I texted Bri, our assistant bee keeper, letting her know. She was not available, so I made plans: got together a hive, and set it up under the swarm. I invited the bees, telling them I would love to offer them this home and would do all I could to keep them from harm.


Later, the bees were checking it out. I thought I would wait and see if they would decide to go in of their own accord. But then evening came, and they stayed put, hanging to the branch. I have been keeping bees for 4 years and have never had experience with capturing or luring a swarm. Nothing I have done with bees has ever seemed to go as planned and nothing I learn from books seems to tell me what bees will do in each situation. I decided to wait till morning.

Next morning, there they were, still hanging. I decided to put them in the hive, thinking at the time of how they are a partly domesticated animal and may need to be manipulated. I sprayed them with sugar syrup. I made the top box empty of frames, and just pulled the branch into it. I was figuring this out as I went; the branch was too thick for me to cut one-handed as I held onto it with the other hand. It snapped, and the motion got some bees flying, but it made the branch go more into the box. I then could clip it, and shook the bees into the box, layed the branch in front of the entrance for the remaining bees to go in. They went in to a large extent. I put in the frames and put the lid on. I looked carefully for the queen amongst the remaining bees on the branches, and didn't see her.

I was pretty sure I got them with the queen. They seemed in. The bees flying around seemed to be going in, too.

Later I was in the pasture getting the goat kids ready to go to their new homes, and a loose cloud of bees flew overhead, moving up the hill and into the firs.

Today, the hive is empty.

My exuberance turned to dismay. I felt that the magical space of connection and communication and reciprocity in Nature that I had been in when I first saw the swarm was somehow diminished, mocked, made to seem false.

As is my habit, I search for the lesson. Am I not meant to keep bees? What is my lesson? Over days I am sorting it out, philosophizing the loss that comes so heavily with beekeeping. I am thinking about how the relationship is for me, between me and the garden plants and me and the chickens and me and the goats. With them, I feel more able to successfully pursue a symbiosis-based relationship than with the bees. And then I reflect on the historical relationship of humans with goats. Goats and humans co-evolved in a sense. We have had a mutually beneficial relationship to a large extent over many many many generations. It doesn't go against the grain for me to keep goats in a healing manner, respectfully, thankfully giving and receiving. Bees, however, are a wild animal that is barely domesticated, and the relationship has been based on humans manipulating the bees to get the honey, often going against the bees own biological imperatives: we focus on not letting them swarm, in order to get more honey, which keeps them from being able to practice replication and natural selection and even mite control. When a swarm happens, a local queen is raised, with genetics for survival in that particular area. When a colony swarms, there is a break in the brood cycle which lessens parasite loads.

We also put boxes and boxes of bees into trucks and ship them here and there to mono cultures of almonds in California, blueberries in Washington. Foraging on mono cultures is not healthy for bees. Being shipped in trucks is immensely unhealthy for bees.

To top it all off we poison the food with pesticides.

Here, I am trying to do it differently but my striving is not often rewarded by abundant honey or even colonies surviving.

The lesson is to learn not to judge success by gain or loss. I remembered I had a scrap of paper laying on my cheesemaking table where I had jotted myself a note months and months ago:

"True success is not measured by gain or loss, but by experience, beauty, and love. "