A perfect silence
The entrance to the hive, the landing board, should resemble a tiny storm of bees in the summer. Foragers fly like tiny helicopters in, barely avoiding the rush of outbound bees. Guard bees line the entrance, testing the inbound bees, ready to attack. Other bees line up noses into the hive, fanning their wings to cool it, and still others fan their abdomens, their scent calling the workers home. This day the landing board was deserted.
On closer inspection, not exactly deserted – in front of the hive lay a pile of dead bees, some still twitching. On the corner of one entrance a worker ran in crazed circles, ever slower. The guard bees refused her entrance each time she approached, and eventually she stopped her mad dash and lay on the board, feeble legs moving helplessly.
In a healthy hive the mortuary bees will drag the dead far from the colony to avoid attracting ants, but I could not see no bees taking off dragging the dead away. Then I opened the hive. The sound of the hive is like a song, and its words tell you of their mood and their health. This hum, however, was faint. More dead bees lay inside the entrance, and as I lifted frames from the hive body they fell away. Larva, normally curled in a wet c shape at the bottom of their cells, languished out along the walls, dead. I knew what had caused this.
This was a pesticide kill.
Pesticides come in as many forms as the pests they “protect” against, and many are needed to prevent the ruination of crops. Their use comes with a price, as many are poisonous to insects beyond their intended targets, and the spray meant for the apple blossoms falls just as well on the dandelion beneath the tree.
Some pesticides have a diesel carrier, and these kill the bees that get sprayed. That’s bad, but there are worse scenarios. Some pesticides infect the pollen of the flower, and as such, get carried back to the hive. If the colony is fortunate the pesticide kills the bee en route, or affects its behavior such that the guard bees deny it entrance. It will die on the landing board, but there are worse things that could happen. If the bee makes it back to the hive, and gains entrance, the poisoned pollen will be packed into cells.
Nurse bees will mix this pollen with nectar to feed the larva, and kill them where they lay. Newly hatched bees will feed from it, and die on the frame. The harvesters die in the field, the nurse bees on the frame, the larva in their cells, and the colony is dealt a mighty blow.
I knew the poison could have come from anywhere, from the fields down the street to the parks up the hill, so I swept out the dead, and put on a feeder, and reduced the entrance, and left the wounded colony. That evening my wife and I took a walk, and our usual route took us up the street and past a garden. I love that garden, and the bees do too, hanging heavy on the roses. This evening there were few bees on the roses though. Then I saw it.
In the flower bed by the garden edge, a can of malathion based pesticide, a green label with a pink rose adorning it. I approached the gardener, who was watering his flowers, and asked him if he had been spraying for bugs. Yes, he was. Did he know the bees were in his garden? Yes, he did. They kept coming back, he said. Why did he spray? Because the thrips kept eating at the roses. He wanted them to be perfect.
I lhave since ooked up that word in the dictionary, and the word perfect has a meaning. It is complete. For nature, the rose is complete even with the tiny scars. It is only to man that perfect means absolutely without blemish. In nature, perfection it is the completion of all things. In our quest to be rid of flaws, we have left behind this understanding of perfect, and the cost is high.
There is a silence in the bee garden tonight, where there should be the beat of many wings, and down the street there blooms a perfect rose. It is complete, as nature intended, and without flaw, as its gardener desired, and it is alone, perfectly alone.