bees collapsing from overwork

honeybee with pollen

The other evening on a walk, I passed under some white-flowering trees and after snapping a few close-ups of blossoms, I noticed I wasn't alone: honeybees and at least one bumblebee were gathering pollen above my head, ignoring me. It was hard to capture any bee shots, though, because as soon as one landed on a new blossom, the worker bee would dive into the flower cup and disappear, only her wiggly rump showing. I got a bit dizzy with all the turning around and looking skyward under the tree.

I've only been stung once in my life (in a car as a kid, if I remember right), so maybe I'd feel differently if I had to carry around an epinephrine pen to prevent sudden allergic death, but I like bees. Someday I want to have bees of my own. They signal to me the business of life—spring is here, work to do. For Christmas last year, I even bought my friend Dan a shipment of hibernating Mason bees since he's a biologist and his house pets aren't cats and dogs but a California Kingsnake and an Old World chameleon (so running out of pet food for Dan means picking up some live crickets and pink baby mice).

clover honey in thrifted Kerr jar

And though it's a form of slavery or simple theft to use some other creature's unrewarded labor for our own benefit, bears do it, too, lapping up that sweet golden liquid when they find it. I like honey and peanut butter (and butter) on toast, honey in oatmeal, honey in homemade chai and granola. I've bought local honey from the co-op and lately non-local honey from WinCo, whose signs tell customers not to open the wooden lids on the honey boxes at the back of the store because bees might fly out (a fib, of course).

backlit bird nest

But imagine a world where there are no blossoms and no bees and no fruit or nuts or cotton or clover and and thus far less food to divide among seven-to-soon-ten-billion humans, most of whom believe they deserve to eat and reproduce. This is the world we are creating in our confidence that we can manage nature with disregard for eons of minute natural-selection processes and the web of complex relations between the animate and inanimate. James Lovelock, who decades ago postulated Gaia Theory, that the earth functions like a living organism, believes at age 90 that all we can do now is "enjoy life while [we] can" since the thinking apes have already triggered a massive climate restructuring of the planet and we will only be coming along for the destructive roller-coaster ride, soon cognizant of how little control we have over anything other than Thanatos (death) and taxes, despite our comparatively large mammalian brains and opposable thumbs. Apes, like bees, are social creatures, but soon whose colony will collapse? Every outing with my camera I, like everyone else, am documenting what once was.

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