Thursday, May 22, 2014

Eleven Bees: A Meditation

This is a guest blog by Jean Lorrah

I walk my dogs for at least a mile every day, meeting people, getting exercise, and watching the seasons change. We have distinct seasons here in Kentucky (where I have lived for over forty years), and being out there every day for many years I have noticed a combination of weather cycles and climate change. For example, up until 10-12 years ago, we cycled between wet and dry years, two or three dry years, then three or four wet years. There were always more wet than dry years, and there were always occasional localized floods. Now we seem to have only wet years, and the floods come more frequently and range over wider areas.

Recently our winters have been more severe than usual, and lasted longer. In the area where I live, severe winter weather usually runs from December through February, but this past winter started in November and kept us snowed in till the end of March. What I observe as I walk this spring makes me wonder about Nature's forms of compensation.

The first time I heard of Nature compensating was a few years ago when the peach crop in southern Illinois (in our news area) failed three years in a row because of late frosts that killed the blossoms before the fruit could set. The third year that happened, the trees bloomed for a second time--but along came yet another frost and killed them again. Not to be frustrated from their purpose for a third year in a row, the trees put out an unprecedented third bloom! That one survived, and the peach farmers had a crop that year.

The purpose of life is to propagate, which fruit trees do with flowers and fruit (which carries seeds to make new trees). I'm one of those people who tends to connect new information to old information, so when the news was filled with stories of bees dying out starting several years ago, I first connected the other insects I saw carrying out pollination on my walks with the missing honey bees, and then with the three blossomings of the peach trees.

Once I knew that bees were dying, I watched for them on my walks. There used to be lots of bees--it was not unusual to see dozens of them on one walk. But as the years passed there really were fewer ... and fewer ... until last year, the entire year I counted only two. That's not two bees per walk--it's only two honey bees the entire year!

But as the bees dwindled, the flowers did not. Every year there were as many as ever, the fruit trees produced fruit--how could that be if they were not being pollinated? They were--I was fascinated to see all sorts of insects doing the job the honeybees used to do. There were the big slow bumblers, and wasps, various flies, and even beetles. Nature made sure plants continued to be pollinated in spite of the dearth of bees.

And finally, this year, some of the bees are back. In the past three weeks I have seen eleven honey bees at work collecting pollen. Oh, that's still a tiny number, but eleven in three weeks is far better than two in an entire summer!

We've just come out of the longest, coldest winter on record--records that have been kept for more than a century. It's always been a rare thing to have snow in this part of the country after February. This year the second week in March saw a storm that closed everything for days: roads, schools, businesses, the Post Office. That used to happen once in a decade, and always in January or February, once in a great while in December. This year snow buried the crocuses and daffodils which came up on schedule.

And now--our little city is an absolute riot of flowers! Since spring finally arrived, a full two weeks after the Spring Equinox, March, April, May, and even a few June blooms are all flowering at once. Furthermore, each and every bush, tree, and plot of flowers has the biggest, thickest blooms I've ever seen.

Even the lowly clover is a carpet of white this spring, with the individual flower heads twice as big as usual. Before the clover blossomed, as the first warm days melted the snow and coaxed out the dandelions, the local news broadcasters asked people to please not immediately pull them out as weeds, but leave them for the bees.

But it didn't take long for everything to rush into bloom--from huge azaleas (up above) to the irises that usually flower in June.

Even the rhododendron bloomed in May. Not just for the bees, of course, but Nature overcoming the horrible winter all at once, it seems. I took all the pictures you see here within the past two weeks, and have decided to spare your bandwidth the roses, peonies, magnolia, mock orange, honeysuckle, violets, buttercups, and daisies.

And then last night, as I took the dogs out before bedtime, I discovered that it's not just flowers coming out early. On May 21, over a month early, I saw the blinking of the season's first firefly!

1 comment:

  1. Jean, You are so fun to read. The photos are beautiful.