March did not come in like a lamb, not really, but it’s finally here and with it we begin another promising round of spring work on the Figure 8. As usual, I’m entertaining big dreams of an extraordinary harvest – 500 lbs, you may recall, remains the gold standard — and to that end I’m ripping the guts out of the greenhouse, turning over the garden beds, building a new turkey run for a crop of fall gobblers, and making sacrifices to whatever gods I can find to spare us all from the anxieties of summer wildfire.
And this year we are going to raise bees. I’m doing this for two reasons: first, there aren’t enough bees. You may have read or heard about CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder, which has killed off, by one estimate, ten million beehives, collectively worth two-billion dollars, over the last six years or more.
Blame for CCD has been swatted back and forth – predictably – but we can say with reasonable assurance that the problem resides in the use of agricultural chemicals. What often happens in CCD is that the chemicals are dumped on pollinating crops, the bees get covered in them – one study showed pollens contaminated “on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in ONE sample” – which weakens the bees’ ability to resist infection by a parasite, which eventually kills them.
But it gets worse, naturally.
The same study found that “US honey bees, which are descendants of European bees, do not bring home pollen from native North American crops but collect bee chow from nearby weeds and wildflowers. That pollen, however, was also contaminated with pesticides even though those plants were not the target of spraying.”
All of this is reason enough for us to raise bees, even if I did not harbor an enormously selfish and insatiable appetite for honey.
But there is a third reason too, which has more to do with our commitment to becoming what agrarian Wendell Berry describes as a “responsible consumer.” The responsible consumer, Berry writes, “must also be in some way a producer. Out of his own resources and skill, he must be equal to some of his own needs.”
Which only makes good sense. A responsible consumer lightens the load for everyone because a responsible consumer is also a discriminating consumer, which would be a delightful worldwide development – should such a thing ever catch on — against the questionable sustainability of our current vision for living on the planet in the long term.
Because handing our great, great, great grandchildren the rich inheritance of a sustainable way of life seems important.
I’m convinced that raising bees, and gardening, and hunting responsibly for our protein, is also precisely the kind of radicalism I appreciate the most. It’s a personal, mostly quiet sort of statement against the general trend toward ecological destruction, and as Berry writes in The Unsettling of America, “one must begin in one’s own life the private solutions that can only in turn become public solutions.”
I am seeing this process, which is always under-written by the natural human desire for self-reliance and independence, as the very best kind of active resistance against the spiritual, physical, and mental fragmentation increasingly imposed on, and even demanded from, the modern citizen in our wildly consumerist and hip-hop culture.
I’ve been warned by several folks that my bees are likely to fly away in a giant swarm, that they will all die off, that it’s too much work for too little reward, and so on and so on, but I maintain far too positive a bent to be easily dissuaded.
Because what’s at work here is a drive to arm ourselves with private solutions, to better invest in the intimate particulars of our lives, and so finally to present to the world “one improved unit.”
That’s what Berry describes as moving “from the universal to the particular,” from “protest or public advocacy to work and to good work.”
Good work, the kind focused on sustainability, comes in all shapes and sizes. Mostly it requires us to embrace a little sacrifice, and to put our money where our mouths are, which in a fragmented and overspecialized culture overwhelmed by the ease of Amazon, Inc., and under constant intrusive pressure from the U.S. Government, et. al., isn’t always easy to do.
But we can stand a few sacrifices of ease and convenience to create the kind of life and culture that will have long-lasting, sustainable, and positive impacts on the world at our feet.
Can’t we still do that?
In the meantime, it’s March, which we know came in more like a lion than a lamb, and we can be reasonably certain that it will tease us with another arctic blast or two before its all said and done.
But the red-winged blackbirds are back at Indian Ford Meadow, the Golden Eagles are in their nest in Wychus Creek Canyon, the greenhouse is warming up, we’ve got six new chicks in the brooder, and I’ve got a brand new notebook I’m taking to Bee School.