Whoever looks at a beehive should actually say with an exalted frame of mind, “Making this detour by way of the beehive, the entire cosmos can find its way into human beings and help to make them sound in mind and body.”
–Rudolf Steiner, from a lecture on honey bees
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
–Opening lines of Antonio Machado’s Last Night as I was Sleeping
Drawing upon the canary in the coal mine narrative, one might say that the honey bee serves the same purpose for humanity as a whole. Disappearing honey bees are an omen of our disappearance as well. But the honey bee is more than an early warning system or an alarm. This humble creature that has been on the planet for 150 million years is responsible for pollinating at least forty percent of the fruits and vegetables that are part of our diet.
In 2007 the media was all abuzz (excuse the pun) over disappearing honey bees, something that was posited as a kind of mystery. After seeing the powerful documentary “Queen of the Sun: What the Bees are Telling Us?”, the only mystery will be why the mainstream media could not have uncovered the source of the looming disaster without delay. Its failure to do so reminds us of the need for alternative sources of information, starting with the experts and activists who are featured in this film directed by Taggart Siegel. Featured prominently in “Queen of the Sun”, beekeeper Gunter Hauk states that the crisis of the disappearing bee is “More important than global warming. We could call it Colony Collapse of the human being too.”
It should come as no surprise that agribusiness is largely to blame. The film, which is based on first-rate investigative reporting, gives a prime example: the almond plantations of California, a primary export. It turns out that there are insufficient numbers of local bees that can pollinate the trees so a new industry has grown up to meet the demand. Honey bees are raised using industrial mass production techniques and packaged on trailer trucks destined for California. Once they arrive, their artificial hives are injected with high sugar fructose to activate them. Needless to say, such bees are largely incapable of reproducing themselves and when as survivors they enter the larger natural world, they tend to weaken the species.
When I was watching the segment on the almond business, something jogged my memory banks. The largest almond producer in California is one Stewart Resnick, a member of the Bard College board of trustees and limousine liberal. His Paramount Farms is the world’s largest producer of pistachios, as well as almonds. He and his wife Linda are always boasting about the healthy foods they sell, from Fiji, mineral water robbed from a colonized island chain, to Pom, the pomegranate juice that is hawked like snake oil medicine from the 1800s.
On the Paramount Farm website you can read the following “green” statement:
We strive for environmental sustainability in our processes, technologies and packages by conserving energy, water and other resources.
We are proud to grow and process healthy products for healthier lives. And every day, we try to make them better.
From our trees to your hearts.
This feel-good nonsense is belied by the facts:
Thousands of beekeepers had done the math and begun building up their stock. It’s not uncommon for a commercial operation to run to 10,000 hives, trucking them from California to South Dakota to Florida in the course of a single year. One million hives, or nearly half of all the hives in the United States, were hauled into California this year, according to Randy Oliver, a beekeeper in Grass Valley, Calif., who has pollinated almonds for 25 years.
For a honeybee, the lucrative almond pollination season comes at the worst possible time. The natural lifecycle of a bee colony follows the seasons, with a hibernationlike rest period during the winter. Unfortunately for the bees, California almond trees bloom around Feb. 10, a miserably rainy time of year.
In addition to documenting the environmental factors that have led the disappearance of bees, the film does an excellent job of demonstrating what a miracle of cooperation and industry the bee hive is. Long-time beekeepers, dedicated to raising hives in a natural setting, share their marvel over the abc’s of bee biology, starting with the organization of the hive with its hexagonal comb structure. While many are boutique honey farm entrepreneurs, others raise bees in the same way that Mike Tyson raises pigeons out of love for the animal itself. You are amazed to see throughout the film how many beekeepers are content to have bees cover their arms and faces. One French beekeeper loves brushing his mustache against the hive, asserting that the touch of his hairs gives the bees pleasure.
It would have been easy for such a film to descend into strident denunciations of capitalist agriculture gone mad. But it is more than that. It is a celebration of nature filled with the sights of bees pollinating flowers in a kind of ageless ritual.
“Queen of the Sun: What the bees are telling us” opens today at the Cinema Village in New York and at the Laemmle in Los Angeles on the 17th. This is a first-rate documentary that will both alarm and inspire. Highly recommended.
Official website: http://www.queenofthesun.com/