“A Bee Hive is one of the most successful ways in which the purpose of life has ever been organised.“
Winter has hardly begun, but the long dark nights seem to have been upon us forever. The days will get shorter still, and even after the Winter Solstice at the end of this week we will not notice much change for some time to come. I have spent much time since All Souls and All Saints at the beginning of November considering my relationship with a) my bees and b) the Bee or Bien. Perhaps some of you have been engaged in similar pursuits. After all, from August onwards, we need to say a gradual but inexorable farewell to our bees, and prepare for a long time of seeing less of them, and finally, losing sight of them altogether when the cold sets in truly.
How do you prepare for seeing less of the bees? For me, this question arises year after year when the light starts fading and Nature embarks on melancholy displays of withering and dying, mostly, and the bees stay in the hive, leaving me wondering, worrying, a little bereft. Of course, they still venture from their hives at odd times. You see it and think “maybe the last pollen of the year” ….. or “will I see you again?” And you will probably confirm that meeting one’s bees during these days of rapidly diminishing light is a rare pleasure, strangely touching. Yet we know that we must now resign ourselves to silence in the garden. Such prospect of bee silence makes one very aware of how strongly our enjoyment of the bees is entirely dependent on our senses.
We are sense-bound creatures and derive much of our enjoyment of life from what we experience through our senses. In spring and summer such living is easy, as it were. When the world is resplendent with colour and scent, and Nature all alive with the songs of birds and insects, the bees’ music in the garden serves as a continual assurance that there is a future, that life goes on. In summer we can also feel quite confident in our ability to judge our bees’ well-being. If anything odd or unexpected is observed, we can step in, adjust the hive, maybe feed a little, or provide some remedy. So there is much to see, observe and do in bee-active times, and little time to ponder things. That is for now. Pondering, in relative bee silence, whether we have really done all we can for the bees to help them overwinter, for example. Of course, as responsible beekeepers we will have taken all possible practical steps to ensure safe wintering, such as keeping an eye on the stores, making the hive safe, keeping watch over them and so forth. Is that enough?
Is it what we do for the bees ever enough? Is not more expected? Can we ever be certain of doing justice to the being inhabiting the hive, the Bien – so superior and enigmatic a creature? These are questions from which summer offers easy distraction. However, long hours of darkness give rise to inwardness – a mood of soul the bees may well appreciate in the human beings whose development they accompany and follow so closely.
I am convinced that we all have a space in our heart for the bees, where we wonder and marvel and remember our encounters. Listening to many a beekeeper over the years I know that this is so. A space in our heart for the Bee. We all have it, beekeepers or not, and we may, at special moments of open receptiveness, sense its potential, its promise. What happens in this space? How can we cherish it, cultivate it, help others unlock it? Our experience of the bees in winter really does raise the question of how we really relate to them, and to what or whom we relate. Could you imagine that the bees have an interest in all our individual efforts towards imagining their oneness, the nature of the Bien, and its exalted status in the great household of Nature? We may be confident that we will be greatly helped by the bees if what we desire is to interact more deeply with them, in an attitude of humility and willingness to learn. Especially when we can outwardly do nothing.
At he beginning of this beautiful Advent time, whilst gathering evergreens to bring home for the Advent wreath (a middle european tradition), I was delighted to see my bees flying avidly, gathering pollen from Mahonia and Viburnum, gathering water, carrying their dead from the hive. I felt an attitude of expectancy emanating from the hives. Was there something expected of me? I cannot claim to having understood clearly what it was that was expected. But a certain sense remained from the encounter. So I made a resolve – there and then. Advent Partly in response to
that certain and yet uncertain sense and partly for something nice to tell the bees at Christmas time, when they really appreciate any news we might tell them.
Every day henceforth, I promised my bees, some time will be spent on considering what has come into my life through them. And yours, too, insofar I have had the privilege to share in some of its bee- borne moments. Anything and everything …. people, ideas, ideals, joys and sorrows, and, of course, by what good fortune they entered my life in the first place. Put simply: a daily meditation on bees. But far from simple it is. Considering anything, in a quiet and receptive frame of mind, on a daily basis, is taxing. Anyone who has tried it will confirm that. Mindfulness does not come naturally to most of us. It needs real commitment. In time, I am sure, we all find our individual ways of cultivating that space in our heart where the bees are. But what we share as beekeepers aspiring to worthy forms of husbandry is our need and desire for connection. Connection to the Bee, its aim and its purpose.
It is a comfort – in these bee silent days of winter -, to feel close to the bees and dwell on their gifts, their manifold gifts to us and our beautiful and imperilled earth. I look forward to telling my bees more about this in the twelve days of Christmas. And hope that you will tell them your news, as was the custom among our bee-wise ancestors.
With good wishes to you all, our bee friends far and wide, for a light-filled and peaceful Christmas. May our bees sense the warmth of our connection with the Bien and each other, and help us become ever more worthy of being their guardians and keepers.