Lessons from Bees

Sunlight stabs the lids of my eyes and forces the morning upon me. Ren sang to us under the stars last night and I’m quite sure that I saw the first pale streaks of dawn on the horizon when I finally climbed into my treetop bed and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Throwing on some clothes, I poke my head out the window to better hear the faint humming below. Sageflower is busy in the garden, humming a tune that makes me think of warm summer sunshine and cool breezes through the treetops, hay bales and grapes ripening on the vine. I think of Lughnasadh, the time of harvest in my world.

She glances up with her wide smile and beckons me with a wave of her hand to join her.

I grab a shiny red apple on my way out the door. Bright yellow Sunflowers stand like radiant Archangels along the sides of the fence that borders Sageflower’s garden. The square patch of land surrounded by a weathered fence, covered in lichen and moss contains a bold and breathtaking quilt of color, texture and patterns. Herbs are terraced in a stone spiral in one corner. Pink Hollyhocks and blue Delphiniums grace another corner. Narrow stone paths weave throughout the garden where flowers and bushes flourish. Pollinator heaven. At the thought of bees, I realize that Sageflower isn’t the only one humming. The busy drone of bumblebees and honeybees indicates a healthy community of working pollinators.

“Good morning, Sojourner,” Sageflower greets me cheerfully, handing me a dripping chunk of honeycomb. “The bees are working hard this morning.”  She points to a bucket of sweet combs, her morning harvest. “Hope you’re not afraid of bees.”

I shake my head. I’m not allergic to stings either, which is good news since the yellow and black flying critters are buzzing all around me.

“Aren’t they wonderful,” she sighs, as though she has just witnessed a miracle of nature. Which she has. “You can learn a lot from bees,” she says as she lifts a finger in the air and a fat bumblebee lands on it.

Near my ear, a honeybee buzzes. I do know the difference between the two. Honeybees are smaller, thinner and have a more defined body than fat bumblebees and they have two sets of wings, large ones in front and a smaller set in the back.

Honeybees are super social and live in hives of thousands, while bumblebees live in much smaller colonies, often in old, existing burrows that they have repurposed for themselves.

Both have a queen, but in the bumblebee community, only the queen survives the winter and has to rebuild her colony each spring.

Honeybees, as their name suggests, are the Olympians of honey making. Bumblebees also make honey but only enough to tend to their hives and the needs of their colony. However, the bumbles are the better pollinators. With more species, different lengths of tongues and bigger bodies, they are workhorses when it comes to carrying heavy loads of pollen from many types of flowers. And their wings beat 130 times a second! This buzz pollination technique causes flowers to vibrate and release their pollen to the bees, who can then carry out more pollination producing more harvest. They are also quite wizardly in the art of cross-pollination. What they can do with flowering trees and bushes is nothing short of magical. And they can do it in cold weather and rain and are not deterred in the least by overcast skies. Their bigger size creates more heat and keeps them warmer longer so they can punch in earlier and punch out later. True workaholics.

Honeybees are unique in their ability to communicate to their co-workers. They even do a cute little dance to direct each other to good supplies of pollen. This is why they are better honey makers than pollinators. They don’t venture out past a single area if it’s producing well.

Oh, and it’s true that honeybees can only sting once before they die. Bad luck for them. Bumblebees, conversely, can sting multiple times. The good news there is that it takes a lot to provoke them. I’ve spent hours weeding and tending my gardens with bumblebees zooming all around me and they never bother me.

“Wow! You are quite knowledgeable, Sojourner,” Sageflower says, sitting on a bench now, with her chin in her hands, listening to me ruminate and I’m not even sure I’ve said any of this out loud.

Now that I know she’s listening, I do speak. “Bees in my world are in trouble. We need to protect what’s left of their colonies and help them grow.”

“Who threatens them?”

“Humans, mostly, loss of habitat due to development, use of pesticides and other chemicals, human accelerated climate change. And because of the shrinking habitat, honeybees and bumblebees are competing for available food. It’s really, really sad.”

“Can you do anything to save them?”

“Sure. Planting gardens, like yours, using native plants is the first thing. Lots of people are doing that back home now which is awesome for not only bees but the butterflies and birds too!”

“What are pesticides,” Sageflower asks, and I realize that I have seen absolutely no chemicals or artificial products in Moss Hollow.

“They are poisons, synthetically made from chemicals that are harmful to animals, the environment and humans for that matter. They are created specifically to kill weeds, insects and other ‘pests’ who get in the way of humanity’s need to mass produce or keep an artificial aesthetic to the land they own.”

I see her thinking.

“That’s terrible. Do they understand the destruction they are causing?”

“Some do. The irony is that if humans let nature do its thing, there’d be no need to control things artificially. Birds, bats, frogs salamanders and many other creatures, would eat the bugs that are less desirable in farming. The circle of life already provides for balance and health in nature.”

We both sigh, at the picture of devastation caused by such poisons.

Sageflower shakes her head and asks another question? “How do you make sure they have a place to live all year round?”

“Leaving natural areas with underground holes, dead trees and hollowed-out logs, old bird nests and other natural cavities is great. They will even use compost piles and vacant birdhouses. Because bees often live underground and hibernate in those empty burrows and under leaves and compost, it is best not to mow too early in the spring. Plus, the early spring plants, like dandelions, are a great source of early food for bees. We encourage people not to mow, or rake until after May.” I pause and explain what a mower is, since this is technology unknown to most in Moss Hollow. “Our people often want pristine property and do great damage to bee colonies by raking, mowing and blowing the winter leaves.”

“We do all that anyway, in Moss Hollow. Except for mowing, since we don’t have anything like that here. If only humans understood how much life lives right underneath their feet.”

I nod in agreement. If only…

“Sojourner, you have taught our little gardener a lot about the facts of bees, but what of the spiritual lessons they bring? Have you learned anything from bees to help you on your path as a true Earth Warrior?”

Morgha’s voice, that sounds like the echo of the ancient clans of the Highlands, resonant and full of wisdom, interrupts my chat with Sageflower. As always, I feel like I should bow or something. Her question forces me to think beyond facts and figures.

I turn to a tri0 of worker bumblebees and consider her question. What have I learned from bees? Suddenly, I notice several of their compadres buzzing in a patch of grass under my feet.

“One thing I’ve learned is to walk gently upon the earth,” I say. “You never know who lives on the ground beneath your feet. I have come to understand that by walking slowly and carefully, I have the blessing of witnessing the everyday lives of insects, the slow growth of grass, dew drops that linger after a rain shower. Walking gently and slowly helps me to feel calmer and think more deeply about the nature all around me.”

She nods slightly. “What else?”

“Bees show us how much more we can accomplish by knowing our purpose and using our special gifts for the good of all. And working together, sharing the load and using good communication skills.”

A particularly fat bumblebee hovers near my face. “They’ve taught me not to react to every little intrusion or insult that comes my way. Sometimes it’s better just to fly to a different flower than engage in a battle.”

Sageflower’s delighted laugh makes me smile. “That’s great, Sojourner!”

“Bees know that Nature provides enough for all. That is if humans don’t disrupt that balance of natural resources. And though they have, I still don’t see bees fighting over the Coneflowers. They share what’s available. I wish we could learn to do that.”

“Nature always provides enough, Sojourner,” Morgha says quietly. “If we don’t get in her way, or destroy her beautiful creations, there will always be enough for all the bees. The question is – how can we, how can you, inspire people to destroy less and nurture more?

The three of us ponder that as the garden around us hums with beauty and business. Suddenly, Sageflower puts words to the humming I heard from her earlier.

Bee, busy bee-

Your harvest sweetens my tea.

Your humming tickles my ear.

Your colors delight my eye.

Your work scents the air.

You have taught me

To walk softly

Upon the Earth.

Bee, busy bee-

Honor I give to thee.

Thank you for your summer service.

Hurry now, on this

Lughnasadh day.

Finish your harvest

 Before chill winds

Blow our way.

Bee, busy bee-

From the flowers to the trees.

Collecting nectar in your sac,

And carrying pollen on your back.

To hive you go to

Serve your Queen,

For next year’s workers,

New honeybees and bumblebees.

Bees are doing their best to care for the earth. Can we as humans, as Earth Warriors, say the same? How can I be a better steward of the bounty and blessing of the earth?


About The Author

For Heidi Hanley, reading and writing are like breathing. On her 5oth birthday, she got serious about turning her passion for writing into a goal to publish. The result is The Prophecy, Book One of the Kingdom of Uisneach series. The Runes of Evalon, the second book in the series, is due out in April. Heidi lives in New Hampshire beside the Connecticut River with her husband and a Scottish Terrier. She has enjoyed a career as a Registered Nurse, Interfaith minister and is currently serving as a Hospice chaplain. When not working, you will find her reading, sneaking away to Maine, or and in the garden with the birds and faeries.

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