Many years ago, while living in London, I became fascinated with honey bees after reading The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. In the novel, a terrible disaster leaves only a few groups of people living in the world. One of the characters has a strong connection with the honey bees she keeps—perhaps longing for the same perfect community that the bees had established. Atwood has said: ‘‘The communion between humans and bees is an old belief, folklore, that predates the advent of sugarcane and sugar beet...Because before that, bees were the source of sweetness, with honey, and also the source of light, with wax.”
After a long winter of taking beekeeping classes, my friend Brian and I set out to start our first hive. We found the perfect home for the bees at Rock Meadow Conservation Land in Belmont. There we met a handful of gardeners who are happy for our arrival, as well as the quiet man who set up the bluebird houses in the adjacent meadow. All of these people, including us, seem to be searching for an accord with nature—a sort of kinship that only comes from a discerning mentality.
We’ve had our hive for nearly a month and so far we’ve been surprised by how creative the process can be, from decorating our hive to hours and hours of discussion, and finally extracting the intricate honeycomb our bees have created. We are constantly fascinated by their behaviour and how docile and accepting they are of their keepers.
You’ll find other artists who have connected with the art of beekeeping, such as Jarrett Mellenbruch, who installed Haven at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in 2014. The installation touches on several issues such as harmful pesticides and the essential role honey bees play in pollinating our food sources, while highlighting the intersection between art and the environment. Eventually, one thousand Haven hives will be installed around the country.
When it comes down to it, honey bees are much like humans. Like the bees, we are predictable but also terribly fragile. I must admit they do have one thing figured out: honey bees are all female except for a small amount of males used for mating. And in a slightly humorous and practical act, drone males are kicked out at the end of autumn and left for dead. Perhaps the kinship I find with honey bees is their Amazonian women ideal.
With that I leave you with the Lyle’s Golden Syrup slogan, whose tin depicts a swarm of honey bees flying from a decaying lion carcass: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness.”