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Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Story of the Wood Bees

Buff-tailed bumblebees are the UK's largest bumblebee species/BBC Nature

A peaceful day is a rare commodity in my profession, but I have been lucky enough to enjoy a few of them during a short break recently. I wanted to share the last day of my break, before I leave England and return to my hectic schedule, with a post. I've scheduled it to be published today, by which time I will be on a plane to China.

Shuttling back and forth between England and other countries, I see more of the inside of trains, planes and automobiles - and hotel rooms - than I do of my actual home, which I recently moved to be nearer the office.

My legal offices are situated in Oxford, and in the past year I have spent almost no time at all in Northampton. Now, with my legal briefs taking me more and more away from Oxford, too, I live in hotels more than anything else when I am not at the office - which is increasingly becoming a home away from home.

I do try and make the effort to get out of the office when I can, but as it stands, my idea of a holiday off from work is visiting a museum or two, catching up on my reading and spending time in my new home - especially in my garden.

I have discovered over the years there is nothing quite like spending some time with your hands in the soil, and the smell of fresh air. Although I don't really have what we call "green fingers", my father was a passionate amateur gardener. He grew plants, flowers, vegetables and trees on our property back in Cyprus. I definitely enjoyed picking fresh lemons, plums and olives from our trees, and bringing in parsley, purslane and cilantro for our evening summer salads back then, so, why not growing them? I decided to give it a serious go on a much smaller scale over here.

We have been lucky in England with regards to the weather this summer if the beach or sunbathing is your thing, but the garden requires more subtlety in its seasons. If you put the extra effort in, however, taking a note of the heavy shower seasons, or of too much frost, and how to account for that for the autumn, you can still enjoy your garden at its best in the summer. Depending on what you want to grow, there is always something you could be planting, or watch grow, or pick from the vegetable patch, or see what needs tending to. The garden is life at work, but it also teaches you that you have to work at life.

During my time off this past week, I was able to enjoy working in the garden. The new house had come with a rickety old shed that I had in mind to renovate, and thinking it could be the ideal holiday project, I set about it - when I discovered that a nest of bees had made their home under the shed. As I hardly spend any time in the new place, either, I had no idea that my garden had become the playground to a hive of bees.

Most would regard this as a nuisance, but I felt lucky, honoured in a way that these bees had decided to set up shop under my shed. With the honey bee populations declining, and other bees and insects also affected by the extreme climate shifts across their natural habitats, I found it heartening that here some bees were, working hard within their cycle of life.

The humble bee is a favourite of mine, even before I knew of its vital role in our ecosystem. I was brought up on a diet of honey by my parents (especially during the winter months), and I guess I am biased; I love the maker because of what it makes. I often recommend my work colleagues to take a daily spoonful of honey during the winter months, it serves almost anything that ails you. I call them my honey converts, as they come back telling me how they have really seen the benefits.

So, rather than disturb the bees in my garden, who had decided to make their home under my garden shed, I chose, under advisement, to plant more flowers for the guests instead. It's been fun this past week, seeing them buzzing in and out of their home; they seem to take the same route every day, and it can get like traffic central where they will just bump into you unless you dodge out of their way.

Curious to know the type of bees living under my shed, I asked a friend who works in a nearby garden centre to come and have a look. He believes they could be buff-tailed bumblebees, white-tailed wood or carpenter bees, because they chose my shed as their ready-made home. To me their variety isn't important, I had no eye on their honey, it's just nice to know who your neighbours are, what they like, what their habits and culture include, what flowers they prefer.

They are only with me for a little while - and again, I am no expert - but I have been told that although they may stay well into the autumn, they will all die out, leaving a hibernating queen to recolonise for next year. If my work schedule gets any busier, I am thinking of selling this house, too, and live out of the office. Just to be on the safe side, I will relocate their home to a more suitable place during hibernation, in case the new owners don't happen to be bee lovers.

But for the moment, we have found each other, it seems, and, although they have no idea I even exist, they have given me great joy. It has really made this an interesting time-out for me, basking in the relative peace of my small patch of garden, broken intermittently, by their unfettered buzzing as they go on their journey.

They seem so free. I've read of writers expressing the desire to be as free as God has afforded the smallest of creatures to be, but in many aspects I feel that is inaccurate. The bees, and all creatures great and small enjoy the freedom we decide to afford them - the secret is that if we stand in way of their freedom, it results in a block to our own.

Many believe this is the first century in the world's history when the biggest threat is from humanity. The Earth still has billions of life left in it due to the Sun, but if we get it wrong, this could be humanity's final century.

What with pushing science for financial objectives rather than conservationist aims, pollution of the environment, wasteful exploitation of the Earth's resources, the reckless slaughter of animals and warfare - if this was a movie, how it ends would be pretty easy to predict.

Yet, the peaceful bees, as they struggle to give life to our ecosystem, have no idea of the dark clouds gathering in more distant lands under the same sky, where the heavy showers that will fall there will ultimately touch the lives of every living thing - down to the smallest, dwindling insect population.

They seem free, but unbeknownst to them, their freedom depends on us. It is a huge responsibility, especially when we realise that abusing that power will ultimately backfire on us in ways we can hardly imagine. The story of the bees is like the story of everything else in nature - it is our story.

Humans have often tried to create their own mini-ecosystems to live in, as though we could somehow live separate to the rest of the planet, but we have seen these bubbles burst. While humankind takes so much out from the ecosystem, we have to ask ourselves what are we giving back to it?

Every living thing has a role to perform, what is ours? There will come a time when we shall have to seriously look at finding an answer to that question.

I will leave you with that thought, and all my best wishes for the coming days. May you look upon every moment of your life with love.

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