When bees die

Dear Stardust bees,


Your buzz is very faint and there’s no reply to a knock on the hive. No queen and only a few foragers, slow and tired are still at work. Your entrance has been reduced down to the size of a single bee. You have been robbed of your honey and your potency and I sit with a lifeless hive.

How can it be that so recently you were full of life and now you are gone? Your body is quiet and still, so I am free to do what I want around you now. I feel the absence of you watching me. I was not only coming here to see you, but to be seen myself and now I’m aware of the mysterious reciprocity to our meetings together.

Poppies and an empty hive

Strangely I sit here one year on exactly to the day that we discovered your arrival. You were a new swarm in a beautiful new hive that my love and I built for you together. You gave me somewhere to ground myself and you’ve been a stern but kind wild friend to me who stung me if I were too brash, arrogant or didn’t respect your boundaries. You demanded that I be present and authentic with you and I thank you for that. You taught me so much about how to respectfully approach wild ones.

Poppies grow next to your near empty hive with Phacelia, Speedwell, Dandelion and Campion as companions. It has been a month of poppies for me; they are springing up in the apiary and outside the house. Their fragile blood red flowers last for a single day and their seedpods are quick to follow; a symbol of the cycle of life and death that are welcome company for me right now.

Should I have done anything differently? No. Could I have done anything differently? No. I did nothing and nothing is exactly what you need of your ‘keepers’ now. You were able to live however you needed to, knowing that I would not disturb your home or take your honey. I invited you to simply be bees and that is what you have been. My role as your guardian has been to bear witness and share in your struggle and I feel content and calm with that knowledge.

Witnessing your difficulty brings me a wider understanding of things: of the mess we’re in and of the ecological imbalance all around. I wonder whether there are too many honeybees and not enough forage? Is that why you were robbed of your food and starved? Are there are too many bees being kept alive on sugar and not enough pollen and nectar to keep you strong and healthy?

Beekeeping? What a mess: so many diseases, so many things to ‘watch for’, so many reasons to worry about you. It has never been my intention to intrude, control, manipulate or ‘keep’ you. I wanted to be near you, help you, study your ways and be a voice for you. You leaving in this way is a big call for me to stay aligned to my beliefs and intentions and not to succumb to the beekeeping frenzy of ‘I should’ve done this’ or ‘I should’ve checked that’. I trusted you to know what you needed and I stand with this.

And yet a colony that swarms never truly dies. Your swarm from May is out there somewhere and they will have taken away with them your evolutionary genetics, your wisdom and your learning. I hope those bees are in a grand oak tree somewhere continuing their bee lives in wildest of ways.

Honeybees die all the time for a whole multitude of reasons, most of the time caused by things we have done (lack of forage, spread of disease, pesticides) but also sometimes you do just die. Your loss is part of the wider natural selection at play and natural selection is our biggest ally in supporting you. As a darwinian beekeeper, my journey with you is gradual and involves long term healing. You have been evolving as pollinators for millions of years and we have meddled with your genetics so much in the last 100 years. So where do you leave me now? Heartbroken but with a deep acceptance of what is. In moments of loss like these, the re-wilding of the honeybee seems unrealistic in a context surrounded by artificially bred, imported, sugar fed bees. The herbal apiary, empty of honeybees for now, will continue to give as a much-needed forage patch for bees and my work with you shall continue, not at the hive entrance for now but along new beelines.

Dead honeybees in front of the hive

I have learnt that to work with honeybees is to work simultaneous acceptance of both grief and wonder.

Farewell Stardust bees and thank you for all the beautiful moments.

Life is after all just a series of moments …