Last evening, I saw Queen of the Sun, a movie about honey bees and their incredible connectivity with humans as providers of pollination for over half the food we eat. In the midst of it, I remembered my grandpa and his bees, working together at the southern edge of the Scotchmans to make honey for the family — and the occasional bear. The story of the bees, though somewhat domesticated, housed in “permanent structures,” and mixed with human agriculture for thousands of years, brought to mind wilderness, the threats to it and the promise of it to us if we can preserve it.
Honey bees, like much of the planet, are being managed out of existence. If it is not the management of the bees themselves by production-oriented bee keepers, it is the management of the plants that bees depend on for their livelihood, and at the same time are dependent upon the bees for their continuation. Pesticides grow more and more sophisticated, specific and ubiquitous, and bees, the greatest concentrators of miniscule materials known to man, gather and die. Keepers, in an effort to standardize the business, are breeding bees who have no chance to adapt to natural threats, producing a monoculture of bees that suffer huge mortality rates while being hauled from one plant monoculture to the next as commercial pollination services.
The movie points out that without bees, and particularly without honey bees, the world will starve to death. And, yet, humans continue to manipulate and poison these lovely little beasts. The phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which manifests as suddenly empty hives, continues to grow. The bees go out, but, for some reason, don’t come home.
How honey bees connect to wilderness is not quite clear to me. I just know they do, that deep in the hive is the same kind of wildness that exists beyond the end of the road and the end of the trail. Perhaps some greater philosopher than I can point it out to me more clearly, but the similarities I see are beauty, simplicity within a highly complex system, nurture, abundance and solace for a damaged world — and hope for preservation of the honey bee in the same form as hope for the preservation of wilderness.
The heroes of Queen of the Sun are people who love the bees, recognize their gifts of honey and wax and the work of pollination as the miracles that they are, and are willing to work to keep the bees from disappearing. These are the same sorts of people who work for the preservation of wilderness, working by the same methods; one small conversion at a time, one bee hive or wild area at a time, one piece of evidence or moment of education at a time. It is a grass-roots effort, just like the one we have at Friends of Scotchman Peaks. And, those working to save the bees are working for the same thing, I think — to save the world from ourselves and our desire to push everything into a manageable corner and square it off so it fits with all the other things we have done that with.
What was magnificently apparent was that if bees need us to survive and thrive, we need them more. The same is true of wilderness. If wild country needs us to protect and cherish it, we need it more. What perhaps is most true is that, while bees and wilderness might survive without us, we will not survive without them.
— Sandy Compton