Posts Tagged ‘bees’

We suspect it would be fair to say, Dear Reader, that Contemplation is a way of being that is largely ignored by the young, and of increasing solace to those of us who are irretrievably ensconced in middle or old age.

As you are aware, in the last couple of years we have become increasingly enamoured of standing or sitting around doing very little. And of spending that rescued time thinking.

Not with a deliberately blank mind, as in meditation, but with a mind that is focused on the moment – mindfulness is the de rigeur pop-psychiatry phrase that is currently in vogue – and really looking at the world and thinking about it.

cabbage-white-butterflyThis has led us to think harder about Death. And Fear. And how we deal with both.

We have even been moved to write a poem about the “Sweetness” of Death.

And one of the posts we are actually more pleased with than most, a chewy 2500 words, no less, is about how important it is to really look around oneself from time to time on Calendars, and life, and gardens, and days and marriages and butteflies and more. If you haven’t read it yet, please take the time to do so.

Life is simply so busy – so filled with stuff – that we lose the ability to be still and really think. To truly see the world around us, in all it’s intricate complexity and to learn the lessons we are offered by it.

bruce and the spiderRobert the Bruce was a famous Scottish King who laboured long and hard to free his country from English rule. Although this brave man had been driven out of Scotland, he was not ready to give up. Several times he tried to win back his kingdom, and several times he failed. An interesting story is told of how he gained the courage to persevere so patiently.

He was lying in a poor thatch-roofed cottage one day, wondering whether he had not better cease all efforts. Suddenly his eye rested upon a spider which was weaving its web. It climbed away up to the roof, but before it could fasten its thread there, it lost its hold and fell to the ground. A moment later, he saw the spider climb up and try again. Nine times the insect fell; but at the tenth attempt the thread was fastened and the web woven.

Bruce, who had watched the nine failures, gladly saw the patient spider succeed, and declared that the little creature had taught him a good lesson, and that he too would persist, in spite of repeated disappointments, until he should triumph at last. So instead of giving up Bruce tried again, and soon found that his luck had turned. From a moment of Contemplation came the campaign that drove Edward 1st out of Scotland.

I was reminded of this story today by a single bee, working industriously to harvest pollen from the  coastal daisies that grow along one end of our swimming pool. Unkempt clumps of them have now taken over the retaining wall in front of our home and the path around the pool, but despite protestations from Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink (a much more active gardener than we are, it must be said) we have resisted trimming them back.

Firstly, because Erigeron glaucus is one of our all time favourite edging plants, because this little daisy plant is incredibly drought hardy, will spread readily and is very easy on the eye. Secondly, it also attracts bees.

Even late in the summer, when all fruit trees have had their pollen used up, and even this ubiquitous little clump of daisies has already been visited umpteen times, still the bees return, pausing only momentarily on a flower head that has already been harvested, but hopping uncomplainingly to the next, and the next, until they find one still bearing its life-giving essence.

Their patience is inspirational.

beeAs we flicked the pages of the Sunday newspaper’s insert magazine up to our chest in deliciously cool water, we kept one eye on the hard-working insect. It was unhurried, thorough, and uncomplaining.

As you will know, Dear Reader, if you can dredge the matter up from the dark recesses of your mind, we have previously written about the bees in our area, and how they have tangentially reminded us of what’s important, in Drowning Bees and Men.

Well, today they reminded us that patience and persistence, married to industry,  is the great common denominator for success, and we all surely need to contemplate that from time to time.

spotted dove_0The other natural intersection today was some time spent cooing to a Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis) that alighted on our pool fence and, after looking around anxiously for a minute or so to check the coast was clear, settled down to bask contentedly in the late afternoon sun.

Yes, we are aware that most people do not seek to talk to birds in their native tongue, which is why we keep our strange little habit to ourselves, but hiding alone behind a high fence seemed a safe spot to indulge.

For some years now, we have had pair of Spotted Doves that return to our home every spring to nest and produce their young, and early summer mornings we are always greeted by their unmistakeable coooo, coooo, crooo call, which depending on whether one is slumbering gently already half awake, or deeply asleep and rudely woken by it outside the bedroom window, will generally determine one’s reaction.

Their nest is seldom more than a few sticks thrown together, and for many years they nested at the top of a brick pylon inadequately supporting our car-port roof. That pylon has now been repaired, however, robbing them of their birdy AirBNB, so they have decamped to the nearby ornamental cherry.

The pairs are monogamous, although the bird also congregates in groups when feed is plentiful. This year, we had the unusual situation of two males vying for the attention of one female, with both walking along branches and other elevated surfaces cooo, cooo, crooooing for all they were worth and bobbing their heads up and down, in order to display the white spots at their neck. Mating follows immediately after such displays, so one Mr Dove made it, and one didn’t.

Looking at the Dove on the pool fence, we wondered whether she was the female taking a short break, or one of the two males enduring a lonely vigil, as the sexes are very difficult to tell apart. We imitated the male call, and immediately the bird tilted its head on one side and fixed us with rapt attention. It didn’t seem in the least concerned by our impersonation, even though we are perfectly sure, Dear Reader, that we do not present any resemblance to any Spotted Dove it had encountered before, and as we have a somewhat sore neck at the moment we weren’t about to head bob, either.

This little idyll persisted for what seemed like forever, although in reality it was just a minute or two. On climbing out of the pool and retrieving a towel from the side of the pool nearer to where the bird sat, we heard an identical (to our ears) coooo, coooo, crooo from a tree on the next property, and a second bird suddenly flew to sit next to the first one, which shifted uncomfortably for a moment or two.

The new arrival allowed the breeze to ruffle and fluff up its feathers, and it suddenly looked for all the world like a giant grey shuttlecock, at least twice the size of any normal bird. His mate, as we now presumed her to be, settled next to him, apparently comfortable again.


spotted doves


He bristled there and looked at us fiercely, with what we suppose was the equivalent of a Spotted Dove protective glare. She just gazed into space, unconcerned. It would be very easy to imagine her response to his later over-protective questioning would be “Who? Me?”

Rather than provoke an inter-species incident, we quietly retreated, and they settled down next to each other, for all the world like the King and Queen of their domain on their rickety paling pool fence thrones. Just enjoying the sunshine. Probably chatting about the need to get a new twig or two for the nest.

And somewhere, we assume, a single Dove was off resolutely looking for his conquest. Or maybe, the thought occurred, he has already found her, and they are seated too, somewhere nearby, basking in conubial avian bliss.

An unseen world, all around us, if we did but look. Not that the realisation will stop us turning the TV on tonight, but it did delay us. Today at least.

Bee on yellow flower

Watching a rather drunk and bellicose diner berate a sommelier over a tainted bottle of wine, an old friend once wisely said to me, “You can tell a lot about people by the way they treat waiters.”

His point was simple, and well made – when in a position of power, it is how people behave to those over whom they have authority that reveals their true self.

Just as it is easy to love people who are loveable, (and therefore no great recommendation for one’s own character – because actually what’s tricky is loving un-loveable people), it is easy to be deferential, courteous or caring of our equals and our betters, usually through a cocktail of self-interest and cowardice.

It is much more a testament to our true natures when we treat the serving, the weak and the helpless with dignity and concern for their well-being, when we don’t strictly need to for any other imperative than good manners and a general good-naturedness. Consequently I will never do business with people who are rude to waiters, or shop assistants, or bus conductors. It is a simple filter which has served me well.

I was reminded of this in our swimming pool the other day. Since her earliest years, my daughter has been rescuing bees who have incautiously splash-landed in our pool. This is mainly because she has always had a soft spot for any living thing, and can’t bear to see little beasties suffer, with the notable exception of cockroaches. (She doesn’t like this poor, much-malinged beetle, not because it is indicative of an unclean pantry or worse, but merely because she is nervous of any animal predicted to be the only likely survivor of a nuclear war. Or to put it another way, they just creep her out.)

Her concern with bees also stems from the fact that, when she was an itty-bitty kid, she heard that bees were dying out, and the world could end up destroyed because of the subsequent collapse of plant life. This wasn’t helped by the delightful Jerry Seinfeld labour of love “Bee Movie”, which adults took as a yet another vehicle for Seinfeld to be witty, sardonic and get the gal, and she took as true science.

Since then, she had made it her personal mission to preserve all the bees she possibly can from what would otherwise be an ugly aquatic death in our pool. And before someone says “But bees can swim!” because they flap their wings and go round in circles in the water, (you can find proof on YouTube), yes, they do stay afloat for a while but surface tension prevents them taking off again, so once in, they inevitably drown.

And sure enough, Wikipedia is full of the on-going problem of bee losses, to wit:

“As plantings have grown larger, the need for concentrated pollinators at bloom time has grown. At the same time populations of many pollinators have been declining, and this decline has become a major environmental issue today.

For example, feral honey bee populations in the US have dropped about 90% in the past 50 years, except for the Southwest where they have been replaced by Africanized bees.

At the same time managed honey bee colonies have dropped by about two thirds. In North America, during the winter and spring of 2006 – 2007, there was a considerable decline in commercially managed honeybee colonies, with losses of about one third of honeybees population.

This event is named colony collapse disorder, and has appeared in 35 states of USA affecting honeybees, reporting losses in honeybee colonies as high as 80 to 100 percent for some beekeepers.”


However the good news is that we may not, in fact, be headed for a catastrophic bee wipeout.

Dr Denis Anderson, who works for Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is yet to be convinced that it’s actually happening at all. As reported in the newspaper Stock and Land, Dr Anderson – an expert on threats to bees – just can’t buy into the story of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). “CCD is a recently invented term for an old disorder: winter losses,” Dr Anderson suggests. “Commercial beekeepers in the US have always accepted winter losses of 10-20 per cent.”

Or to put in simpler terms, bees die in times of hardship, like everything else, and in particular, bees die when it gets cold. Or when they dive-bomb swimming pools.

Anderson suggests better record keeping is merely making a well-known phenomenon better understood and more widely publicised. And researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Robyn Underwood and Dennis van Engelsdorp, argue that huge losses of bees are a well-understood historical phenomenon, not a recent scare. You can find their paper here: If you’re lying awake wondering how your next bed of roses will get pollinated, or worrying about the extinction of all life as we know it, it’s a fascinating and reassuring read.

Meanwhile, our pool continues to fill up with dozens of bees, whirring their little wings helplessly after dropping in for a quick drink turns into a potentially lethal error.

Coastal Banksia

The beautiful flower of the Coastal Banksia … full of yummy nectar.

The Coastal Banksia Seed Pod

This is what is left when the birds and bees have enjoyed the flowers – and this is what can mangle a pool drainage system in seconds flat.

My wife enters the pool at least a month before she can normally be tempted in, and scoops up curled, dried leaves that have fallen off the Banksia integrifolia which dot the surface of the pool with annoying regularity, and uses them to gently, carefully shepherd the half-drowned bees safely to the brick surround of the pool, where they sit and preen themselves in a worried fashion, wandering about and flapping for a while, before unexpectedly taking off and soaring away, usually into a nearby tree, or perhaps into the endless sea of blue overhead, finding their way back to the hive, presumably.

(By the way, dear reader: whoever planted the tree nearby the pool, generations back, by the way, was an idiot. It is now 20 feet tall and sheds leaves and dead flower-cones constantly, although it is a magnet for Wattle Birds, and various rosellas and parrots, which is some small consolation. Now widely known as Coast Banksia or Coastal Banksia, B. integrifolia was previously known by a range of common names: Honeysuckle, White Banksia, White Bottlebrush and White Honeysuckle; and some older sources refer to it as Honeysuckle Oak. In my humble opinion, it should, however, be called The Pool Murderer, as its dendritus has completely blocked the pool pump at least twice during this summer alone.)

I watch my wife from the shade of the tree, and after a while, whilst my normal instinct would be to scoop them out unceremoniously with a net and dump them over a neighbour’s fence, or more likely still, spray the surface of the pool with a hose and drown the little buggers quickly, (and then allow the ever-vigilant Kreepy Krawly to clean them away off the bottom so no-one treads on them), I find myself, somewhat to my own confusion and amazement, ferrying them back regularly to the brick coping as well.

In the space of half an hour I probably rescue fifteen or more.

What’s more, I am a fool to myself, because later research reveals that they are, indeed, worker drones, sent on a mission from the hive to find a reliable source of water, which then return home and tell all the other thirsty bees where to find a drink.

So every one I liberate from a watery grave probably results in a dozen more finding their way to me, and I simply can’t rescue them all. Indeed, the internet abounds in ghastly chemical concoctions to be placed in containers around the pool, to catch and drown the drones in increasing numbers, until eventually the hive becomes discouraged and stops heading your way.

The least horrid suggestion I found was to provide an alternative source or water for them to access, such as a bird bath with rocks in it for them to climb onto, to be placed between the pool and the hive the bees are coming from. So, as I do not have a clue where that is, tomorrow will find me watching bee after bee with deep concentration and intent, trying to divine from which direction it is approaching. I will then provide an alternate water source that will save them some flying time, and hopefully a number of kamikaze bee drones will live a little longer to boot. What’s more, I can then use the pool without fear of treading on one of their corpses.

Whilst I do not panic and lump dwindling bee populations in the same basket as global climate change, I am pleased I am doing my little bit to offset any current decline in their numbers. Although it makes such a negligible difference to the world’s eco-systems, I feel better for doing the right thing, where before I would have been thuggishly exterminatory and uncaring. After all, the hymn is All Creatures Great And Small. I am giddily proud of my tiny acts of redemption and also that after a moment’s thought I had the wherewithal to follow my wife’s lead, and that she had, in turn, followed our daughter’s innocent act of generosity of spirit.

Because, after all, that is how compassion spreads, isn’t it? When we follow tiny, perhaps insignificant examples and surprise even ourselves, instead of relapsing unthinkingly into our essentially brutish nature.

Today, bees. Tomorrow, each other?

You never know. It could happen.