It’s a cloudy afternoon and I am seated at the large, rectangular dining table with a notebook, gazing distractedly upon the lush green tapestry of foliage that surrounds our ‘tree house’ here on the slopes of Haleakalā. The doors are open to the lanai, my two English Whippets are passed out on the floor for their seventh nap of the day, and from somewhere out in the distance, the whining drone of a chainsaw cuts the silence repeatedly. As I ‘zone out’ and stare through the large windows, every few seconds a small, darting, golden missile flies across the view. My honey bees are out and about, zooming forth on their endless missions to gather nectar from the mountain or returning home with their cache to the white box that houses their colony.
Though it’s not raining, it isn’t ideal bee weather. No matter the outside climate, these busy little, winged alchemists of nature keep the inside of their home at a very constant temperature thanks to the fanning of their wings. If the roof is lifted off, they’re in a much better mood about the situation if the day is sunny and warm, no cool breeze suddenly blasting into their living space. It’s understandable, really; if I was seated comfortably in my living room, reading a book or working on a project, and someone suddenly opened the front door (or took the entire roof off) and left it open so that cold air was pouring in, I’d be grouchy too.
Due to the tall trees that completely surround this house and because of where the hive is situated, there is only a certain portion of the day that the colony receives full sun; roughly a four-hour period that is optimal for ‘working the bees.’ Alas, that window was veiled with clouds today. Perhaps tomorrow… though I’ve been saying that each day for a week now but the midday weather has not cooperated with my human agenda as a bee steward.
This being a ‘starter’ colony with a young queen, I like to check on the state of things fairly often (but not so often that I’m bothering them), about once a week, just to make sure that everything is buzzing along nicely. Mostly, my concern is that the golden queen (Lucinda, I’ve named her) is laying well and that there is ‘brood’ (unborn bees) in all the key stages of development. As a small hive, the colony’s main objective at this point is increasing its size rather than simply building up reserves of honey. One of the lovely benefits of tending bees in Hawaii is that they don’t have to survive a cold winter; a wealth of plants are always in bloom and pollen is abundant, so the bees make honey year round.
The creation of honey is a staggeringly labor-intensive process. As outlined in the award-winning travel narrative, Honey and Dust, by Piers Moore Ede:
Considering that the average bee will produce only about 11/2 teaspoons of honey in its lifetime, it takes about 5,300 bees to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey. One jar of honey is also the result of about 80,000 trips between flower and hive, the result of about 55,000 miles of flight, and the nectar from about 2 million flowers.”
Not only does this insight put the actual value of honey into perspective (more valuable than gold, I say), the endless work of these amazing creatures to produce a relatively small output gives me a sense of encouragement. Inspiration. There have been countless times—particularly when struggling with editing my recent book manuscript—when I felt that my daily efforts didn’t add up to much.
And yet I haven’t worked nearly so hard (nor so constantly) as an average honeybee in a day. I can only trust that by the end of my lifetime, I will have written and accumulated enough words and pages to equal that precious teaspoon and a half of honey from a worker bee. If I am very lucky, I too will have transformed some of nature’s nectar into a bit of golden sweetness to offer the world through words, insight, and authentic action.
I often sit in a folding beach chair that I place two or three feet from the white bee box hive; doing a bit of writing in a notebook, enfolded by the sonic hum, and observing the activity as ‘the girls’ come and go. Being around the bees is always a sort of meditation for me and I learn a great deal from simply observing them. They will each move through and serve many roles within the colony during their lifetime—nurse bee, builder, guard, gatherer—and each of one of them is completely attuned to purpose and totally dedicated to the welfare and survival of the colony. In our modern world, this is something that we’ve lost; very few of us have any tangible sense of meaning, what our authentic roles or gifts might be, or how those talents might serve our community at large. Little of our work in the world seems meaningful, which makes it all the more likely to feel that our efforts and actions don’t count overly much.
Even if we have found a project or purpose that offers a soulful framework to build our days upon, there will still be times when the journey is difficult and uphill, where it seems that we’re not accomplishing much, or that we’re simply spinning our wheels. Though it has largely become the measure of our days, productivity isn’t the key value of a life well-lived. Yes, creating and offering something of merit certainly adds to our sense of worth, but there is also tremendous value in surrendering to the mysterious currents that pull us in unexpected directions, along with simply learning to enjoy life; not through entertainment or distraction, but through the pleasure of our open senses and the vessel of the bodysoul.
The bees inspire me to keep working and they simultaneously offer a bit of solace that my modest efforts may still add up to something worthwhile. Life is always a dance between ‘doing’ and ‘being’ (or ‘bee-ing,’ perhaps). Some days I’m better at the ‘doing’ aspect and some days I’m better at being; occasionally I strike the elusive balance between the two, and I find myself in perfect alignment, a sense of openness, vitality, and flow in body and breath. I treasure those days… they are surely part of the priceless gift of being human.
May your day unfold with unexpected blessings and inspiration, gentle reader. Too, may you find the work that brings you a sense of meaning, connection and delight—your Eros and passion—while savoring and celebrating the simple existence of simply being.