I am undone. Normally, many bees buzz around me as I work in the gardens. But today, May 11, there were none. Not a one. That is not quite true, I did see three native bees in the strawberry patch—small bees, the size of flies—but no honey bees. I provide nesting blocks for native bees. These nesting blocks are often called bee hotels. I’ve made a large space for them, enough for 3-5000 eggs. (see image below.)
We live on a quarter acre of land, most of it is garden, herb garden, vegetable garden, perennial beds, and fruit trees, with many native flowers and flowering shrubs. We have some lawn but we’ve stopped mowing it. We’re slowly relinquishing it back to nature. It is already a foot deep in some areas and is teeming with dandelions, yarrow, violas, and other wild flowers. The rabbits love it. They sit for hours eating in our grassy ‘meadow’. During the day we often stop and smile and watch the rabbits, birds, and squirrels.
But the bees are gone. I searched every square inch of our property today, and there were no honey bees at all. Not a one. This is our fourteenth year caring for this small property, and this has never happened before. I used to see honey bees as early as February.
If you live in a big city, this is not something you would notice. But here is where we live:
We live on a relatively long, narrow, urban lot in the old part of town (with big trees and small houses). Over the years, we’ve turned it into a wildlife habitat. We use no pesticides or herbicides, and we are completely organic.
This loss hit me very hard. It feels like I’ve lost some very close friends and I don’t know what happened to them. Yes, I know it was probably caused by neonicotinoid pesticides. I grieve, and grieve very deeply, but I am not angry. Instead, I feel a kind of quiet compassion for the whole thing. And I feel a sense of tragedy. Too much has been lost already. Too many tipping points have been crossed. When you get to this point, a sense of calm floods over you, and you sit down beside Walt Whitman, and say with him:
Arous’d and angry, I’d thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war,
But soon my fingers fail’d me, my face droop’d and I resign’d myself,
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead.
“And openly I pledged my heart to the grave and suffering earth, and often in the sacred night I promised to love it faithfully until death, without fear, with its heavy load of fatality, and to despise none of its enigmas. Thus I bound myself to it with a mortal cord.“
of Sicyon was a Greek lyric poet of the 5th century BC. She was
considered one of the “immortal-tongued” women poets of
Greece, and was highly esteemed in her time.
I offer here one of her especially poignant poems; to me, one of the most beautiful and touching of all poems. Perhaps she is contemplating her own mortality and all she must leave behind. Perhaps, reading it today, we may find ourselves contemplating the mortality of the entire human species, and all we must leave behind:
Most beautiful of things I leave is sunlight; Then come glazing stars and the moon's face; Then ripe cucumbers and apples and pears.