Saturday, December 26, 2009

On Honey Bees .. a wonderful book

I've been browsing a book titled A Short History of the Honey Bee. I am amazed and enlightened by every detail about bees and about honey and about the beauty of flowers that go into honey.

Ilona McCarty's photographs are wonderful. One spectacular photo shows a bee foraging on the stamens of a borage flower: the bee's wings are dusted with pollen and its pollen sacs are full; exquisite blue petals translucent in golden sunshine. Another photo, so unlike the staged photos of craft magazines, shows the honey-covered, stained fingers of a beekeeper as he masses honey and wax together prior to extraction of honey.

Readicker-Henderson's text is clear and accurate. Further, his literate, poetical descriptions and anecdotes really underscore his passion and the importance of bees to the future of the world.

"...the bees were simply doing what bees do: acting as the gardeners of the world and making their incredibly generous gift of the landscape."

"[Father] drew his pocketknife across the wax caps, and the honey began to flow, an amber that made me think of what I'd heard in science class, that it was possible to slow light down so much that it became solid."

"...honey is memory, the landscape's own memory, as measured as a tree ring, as detailed as the pin feathers on a just-fledged bird..."

I've long known that pure local honey and beeswax candles were worth every dollar I pay for them. But now that I know the labour that goes into them, I consider them a bargain.

"Beeswax is made by young worker bees... in their second to third week of life ... They secrete it from eight glands on their abdomens, where it comes out in scale-like shapes ... The scales then get chewed by the worker bee, which turns them opaque; color comes from oils and propolis ... Making wax is biologically expensive for the bees ... it takes over a thousand of the secreted scales to make a single gram of wax..."

What does one taper weigh? 100 - 120 grams? 100,000 scales. Incredible!

The book certainly goes over the serious threats to bees by Colony Collapse Disorder, pesticides, and the disruption caused by transportation of hives. But I'll end this short book review with Aristotle's idea "that bees didn't actually make honey, but simply gathered it like dew from the leaves. Honey, he claimed, precipitated from the air when rainbows descended."

I share Readicker-Henderson's awe at this. Just imagine ephemeral rainbows becoming real by some magic; leaving their subtle colours as the tiniest droplets of honey on leaves, gifts for one of Nature's most hardworking creatures, the honeybee.

Happy Christmas to all from Why's Woman.

A Short History of the Honey Bee: humans, flowers, and bees in the eternal chase for Honey. Text by e. Readicker-Henderson with images by Ilona McCarty. 2009.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What form of protest? Who listens?

December 16, 2009. The first thing I heard on this morning's 6:00 a.m. news was that police and protesters were 'clashing' outside and inside the site of the Copenhagen talks. Lying in bed, unable to move for the shock of it, I tried to imagine an action that would be a true show of strength by climate change activists ... something that not sucker them into the societal norm of violent protest and anger. Some way they and their cause would not become just another news clip of angry voices and police drag-aways. I worried whether there was any co-ordination amongst the NGOs outside the gates. Had they trained their people in non-violent resistance methods? Did they have people ready to keep their own people determined in the face of police? Did they have a strategy of joining with other groups if trouble started? Strategies for this are as important as joint e-mail petitions, it seems to me.

Was it the late 1970s or 1980s when the idea of 'reweaving the web of life' came about? There's a photo I recall seeing, from a British peace protest. The women had all brought balls of yarn and they wove themselves into place, during a silent protest of nuclear arms - a witnessing against a force they saw as so bad and so overwhelming that there were no words they could use to protest or explain just how bad it was (although no doubt they had participated in letter-writing campaigns for a long time before arriving at that protest locale). At least, that was always my interpretation of it. The photo was black and white, but I imagine that this silent protest glowed with colours from the yarns ... that the women created something beautiful while witnessing silently the overwhelming evil of nuclear weaponry. There's something in this combination of horror against atrocity, need to protest and need to make beauty - all at the same time - that I understand, that touches me in tender places I seldom show when writing a cynical or factual letter of protest about something or other.

I've always been stressed by - well, probably frightened by and in - noisy crowds. When those crowds are protesting and shouting, I feel overwhelmed. I've been in protests and rallies, and marches too, but I'm not one of the shouters. I'm one of the quiet ones. Skipping any deep psychological explanations, I always figure there has to be a better way of protesting than shouting and fist waving; after all, aren't those the behaviours of the federal politicians we see on the late news ... you know, those men and women we criticize for making spectacle instead of solutions?

Would it make the late news if 5000 people outside the gates of the Copenhagen talks all sat down, quietly, in the dark evening, with candles lit, holding up photographs of their children and grandchildren, their neighbours' children? What if they all sang together? What if they all sat there, wrote out letters - pleas - to their governments, to the leaders inside - and affixed those letters to the gates around the building ... like the roadside memorials to traffic fatalities?

I respect the commitment and bravery of everyone who, at her or his own expense, is in Denmark in hopes that the big guys (and I bet 90% of them are men) will pay attention and do the right thing. These people will all go home and continue to work for change in their communities and countries. And their practical efforts will bring about a new order with our without the big guys.

And I hope there are no major injuries or fatalities if 'clashes' continue.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world - this makes it hard to plan the day" E.B. White

When I ran across this quotation I didn’t know whether to laugh at myself, or cry over the truth of it. I have not been following the ins and outs of the Copenhagen talks. I did the reading beforehand. Whatever happens at the talks will happen without my reading. So, I’ll put my thoughts to other things.

E.B. White, a long-time writer for the New Yorker magazine, is probably best known for his children's books, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. His wife, Katherine Sargeant Angell, was an editor at the New Yorker, and she gardened. Her only published book, titled Onward and Upward in the Garden, is a compilation of her essays and reflections. I’ve read that she continued to plan for her garden in the last year of her life, when she knew she was dying. She ordered bulbs, oversaw their planting, planned new gardens. There is always hope in a garden.

Earlier this week, Bob, the husband of a co-worker, Mary, died of cancer. Bob had recently retired from a professional job with a large company. I have no doubt that Bob was wonderful at his job and easy to work with. But what intrigued me about him was that he grew trees at his home in the city. He grew trees from seeds, or propagated them. He nurtured them. He gave many away, and sold some to support this calling. He knew a lot about trees, a topic I am most ignorant on. People called him from all over; he knew everyone round about who loved trees. I want to honour Bob somehow. I think I’ll have to begin learning about trees, and find some places to plant trees. Perhaps the only thing I can do for Mary is to tell her that Bob’s good influence is leading me to learn and to do something.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Earlier this week I watched a wonderful film: InTransition. It's a documentary about the Transition movement begun by Rob Hopkins. The film uses simple graphics and visual changes at the beginning to go over some of the basics about climate change and fossil fuel use. There's never too much on the screen at any one time, which made me observe and listen to the voice-over more closely. I relate this because so many films rely on special effects and busyness to get our attention. This film uses our own abilities to focus on one thing at a time, the best way to take in information. (I belabor this point because I often do editing of documents and spend much time taking out big words which are used inaccurately and confuse a reader. ) The film goes on to show actions from a dozen or more towns that are beginning a Transition movement. One of the film's narrators is a wonderful little boy, who is peering through a piece of playground equipment (or it might be the frame of a small geodesic dome). He talks about environment issues in the world-weary tone of a an experienced university prof addressing a first year class, knowing he has to keep it simple. He knows way more than we do and must start slowly to bring us up to speed. Other clips show people explaining how their groups came together or describing activities they've gotten involved with. There is a lot of 'doing' and a lot of fun. One town held a parade that looked like a cross between Toronto's Chinese New Year parade and Caribana ... but all the hoop-skirted, flouncy costumes and colourful, fluttering banners were made from fringed plastic bags , dangling bottle caps and everything that after the parade would be dismantled and put in the blue bins. Another scene showed older people (mostly women) showing a school class how to select materials and sew bags. This seems to be a very simple activity ... until we realize that people of all ages are working together in a school classroom, children are using artistic skills (selection of texture and colour) to make something useful at school, several of the sewing machines are not electric, and overall the children are realizing that they can get 'designer' bags without spending a lot of time and money at a mall. Another project was a 'memorial to oil' set in the town square. A cylindrical display maybe 3 meters tall and 1 meter diameter had sliced-down-the-centre plastic jugs affixed all around it, spiralling down. Inside each plastic frame items made of oil were nailed down: cosmetics and containers, clothing pieces, toys, Barbie herself.

This screening of In Transition was London (Canada's) first event. By my count there were 110 people there. And over three quarters of the audience stayed on afterwards to talk a bit. People said what interested them. Making a commitment to our children and our future underlay many comments. Other passions included people-oriented and powered transportation, better use of materials, more care of things, being ready for change, being able to feed ourselves through community gardens and more varied agriculture. It was good. I felt that everyone in the audience was already finding ways to save the world in their spare time.