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.

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