A honey bee manifesto
Editor’s Note: On Friday evening just before twilight, on the eve of National Honey Bee Day, I received a surprise visit from one of the queen’s court. She begged I pay attention and take notes. When satisfied I was rapt, she danced the following manifesto.
According to her wishes, I typed the transcript into American English to the best of my ability and scheduled its posting for 12:01 a.m. EDT.
She was quite clear in her presentation, although I could sense her impatience with my plodding translation and my requests that she repeat this phrase or that. Once done, we shared some tea and honey before she slipped into the gloaming.
I have done my best to put her thoughts into print. Any errors in translation are mine, and mine alone.
I serve as long as I am healthy and comfortable. I thrive when you treat me not as your servant, but as your friend. If you become a keeper of my kind, remember that keeping entails responsibility. If you want me to live in a place of your choosing, at a time of your choosing, in a hive of your choosing, you must care for me.
The “live and let die” philosophy—you live and let me die—is not beekeeping; it is bee abuse. A decision to keep me is a burden you choose, an albatross you carry. If you will not care for me, if my presence is troublesome, you must let me go free.
Don’t confuse your interests with mine. What you want and what I want are not the same. You must separate the two and compromise, as must I. For you it is sweetness and light, money for the till, pollination of your crops. For me, it is the survival of my sisters, my colony, my species.
Like you, I am a living, breathing animal. I feel hunger, thirst, and pain. I have good days and bad; my strength ebbs and flows. I have a right to abundant flowers. I have a right to unlimited water. I have a right to air free of contaminants. I have a right to quietude, peace, and respect.
I realize that all humans do not think alike, nevertheless, each beekeeper must plot a course and follow it. Just like each of you raises your children differently—cultures, values, religions, diets—you will keep bees differently. Although I accept those differences and do not require you to choose one regimen over the other, you must have a plan. You must be informed and empathetic. In short, you must care.
Do not keep me if you are in love only with the idea of it. Do not keep me because it makes you look cool or because you want to call yourself a beekeeper. Keep me because you love me and because you care about my health, my environment, and my future. Do not put me where I am too hot, too cold, too dry, or too wet. Do not ignore me when I am sick. Do not abandon me when I become inconvenient.
To care for me you must care about the planet. To insist the earth is not warmer, though warmer it is; to pretend the summers are not dryer though dryer they are; to proclaim the crops are not toxic, though toxic they’ve become is to ignore reality. But you can fool only yourself. You cannot fool me. No, you cannot fool the honey bee.
Discrimination must end. You humans know, after all, that you cannot restrict a race of your own kind to the back of the bus, to an internment camp, to a reservation. Likewise, you cannot legislate my environment away. You cannot decide your fancy cities, gated communities, or expensive subdivisions are too good for my kind. You cannot lock me out because I may, for short times, become a nuisance.
Genocide must end. Spraying my home, my food, my water, my air with weapons of mass insect destruction only proves that humans are arrogant—unaware that they, too, are part of life’s interdependency. A human who believes he does not need a bee is destined for the Darwin award.
Pollution must end. Climate change must end. Fragmentation of the landscape must end. To be a keeper of my kind is to be a steward of the natural world, for I am nothing without the meadows; I am nothing without the deserts and woodlands; I am nothing without the prairies, hedgerows and swamps. I am nothing without flowers, and nothing without trees. But I am not nothing.
No, I am far from nothing. I provide you with food and fiber and fuel. I provide you with beauty and beef and butter. I provide you with spice and squash, cotton and cucumbers. As long as you care for me and my environment, I will continue to pollinate your world in exchange for mere nips of nectar and a pittance of pollen. But if you are unwilling to compromise; if you are unwilling to provide for me as I provide for you, then I can make no promises. Remember, my kind can live without yours, but can you say the same?
I ask you on this National Honey Bee Day to think about me, to think about you, and decide how we can work together for a better, cleaner, happier world.
Yours from the hive,