Thursday, 30 June 2011

queen of the sun

We’re coming to the end of the lime blossom nectar flow, with the trees casting their heady scent across Lewes. With friends I’ve been gathering the flowers to dry for my winter linden teas – great for calming nerves and for heading off colds. Part of the heavenly experience of harvesting the blossoms is the intense sound of the bees that cover the trees during the short nectar flow. Lime blossom is a major food source for honeybees during a hungry gap between the spring spurt of blossom and the long-flowering brambles and ivy that they forage for winter stores.

It’s great to connect with all the bees at this time of year – their intensity seems to match the height of the sun. I can and do sit for hours watching the entrance to the beehives I keep in Lewes. Unless the weather is making them agitated, they let me sit nearby because as a natural beekeeper I don’t interfere with them – basically we see the hive as their home, as though a body – to be left undisturbed. And once a year, if there’s enough, we might take a few combs of honey, for medicine.

I’m delighted that the Linklater Pavilion is promoting the marvel of the honeybee and to see so many visitors at their recent Bee the Buzz event. But why are the bees being kept in such an artificial ‘observation hive’ with their frames laid out in two dimensions and with sugar syrup being permanently fed to them? There are more indignities I won’t go on about, because I feel strong feelings of outrage, despair and shame when I think about that hive. Surely a centre of ecology should be modelling the natural, holistic approach at all times? There are other ways of observing bees that don’t involve sacrificing them to the cold glamour of science.

In a lovely film I are hoping to show in the autumn, Queen of the Sun, biodynamic beekeepers point out that we owe our very lives to the honeybees, as they pollinate most of our food. Most ancient cultures saw bees as sacred beings, not just for the work they do for us but because, as anyone who has encountered bees on the bees’ own terms will know: they have so much to teach us.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

be not afraid

Over in St John's Sub Castro’s churchyard a little area of wild is regrowing, protected from strimming. It’s where I keep my honeybees. All around them grow wild grasses, flowers and weeds, tall and lush despite the lack of rain for two months, where many other beings live: small insects, birds and mammals. At the other end of the churchyard, only daisies and lawn-level grass are allowed to grow. The few trees remaining when a dense copse was thinned a couple of years ago have now died, the soil around them dried out from the lack of shade, their leafless branches bearing witness to an act of pointless interference.

Alan Watts once wrote: ‘You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.’ This terrain, my body, is not only interconnected with but continuous with all other beings. The Lakota native Americans acknowledge this in their prayer Mitakuye Oyasin - ‘all our relations’.

I’m still struggling with feelings of outrage and grief from the dire news this week, including the announcement that the world emitted more CO2 last year than ever before. Being alive today is a challenge to my sanity and my physical health, and I know I’m not alone. Sometimes I just need to return to the wild places around Lewes, such as the rewilding church yard over the road.

As Wendell Berry writes in The Peace of Wild Things

‘When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.’