The Silence of the Bees

Usually during the holidays I catch the frenzied good cheer from everyone else and wind myself up to make merry.  This year, I just can’t seem to find the spark.

Maybe it’s a case of SAD (seasonable affective disorder).  Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the first holiday after my divorce was finalized, and that new reality is sinking in.  Maybe it’s the gloomy state of the economy, which is certainly negatively affecting my financial outlook.

But I think it goes deeper and broader than these personal issues.

I feel like I’m grieving, but not for any one person.  I’m grieving for the loss of my future, and all of our futures.  Even as I stoutly maintain that we can’t give up hope, and we need to keep fighting, there is something in me that keens, heartbroken, for the huge loss that we all face.

It’s already started, the great dying-off.

I keep remembering a certain perfect May morning in my childhood, when I waded out into the deep, fragrant grass under the old, half-wild apple trees, which were glorious in full pink-and-white bloom.  I lay in a grassy nest under one of the trees–no worries about ticks and Lyme disease in those days–looking up at the blossoms outlined against the startling blue of the sky.  The petals rustled gently in the breeze, and the sound of thousands of busy buzzing honey bees filled the air.  Watching carefully, I could see the bees moving from blossom to blossom, carrying their saddlebags full of bright golden pollen.  My heart swelled with the sheer joy of being alive in that moment, a part of the humming life of that orchard on that beautiful spring day.

Flash forward to last spring, when I went out into the same old orchard on another lovely May morning, and was aghast to realize that not a single bee was working the blossoms of the tree.  The silence was frightening, like the desolate silence of a wasteland, though visually it all looked very much the same.

This is just one small example of so many countless instances of the glorious richness of life on our planet, profoundly and irrevocably being silenced.

So yes, I am grieving.  And I am angry.  And I do not know the best way to try to head off the end that seems so inevitable now.

Sometimes it feels like I’m living in a sci-fi movie, where everything seems so hopeless, the bad guys are winning…and then at the last moment, the heroes sweep in and save the day.  I want to believe that we can be those heroes.  Perhaps it will be like the TV series “Heroes,” where many of us who are preparing ourselves now for the fight will come together and really be able to make a difference.

But I don’t count on it.  Because, in large part, the “bad guys” are us.  We’re doing this to the planet.  The laptop I type on is part of the problem, the electric lights I just strung up on my porch are part of the problem, the car I drive is part of the problem.

What would it mean, really, to stop being one of the bad guys?  To become one of the vast army of everyday heroes needed to save this planet?

I keep asking this question, and I will keep asking it until the answer becomes clear.  I feel I am taking some sort of step in the right direction just by asking the question in this public forum, seeking out like-minded people who may have answers I could not come to on my own.

I know we need each other now, more than ever.  The old individualist way of doing things is part of the problem.  Interconnection should be the buzzword of the second decade of this century.  As the planet heats up, our survival will depend on our being able to cooperate and collaborate on adapting to the new, much harsher environment.

 Sometimes I have moments of hysteria, when I feel like I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and need to decide how I want to spend my last days.  Maybe this isn’t so hysterical after all…this may be a rather sober assessment of the way things stand.

Of course, we are all living under a life sentence, all the time!  But I no longer feel I can count on living into old age, dying a natural death.  Saving for retirement seems like a pipe dream, left over from a 20th century mindset that no longer makes sense.

The only  antidote I know for the grief and depression born of full apprehension of the reality of our very bleak and uncertain future is simply this: carpe diem, seize the day.

Unless we ordinary heroes come together to create a mighty and unstoppable wave of change very soon, the planet will heat up beyond our comfort zone, causing severe weather that will send us floods, famine, conflict and extinctions on a biblical scale.

Yes, ultimately the planet will regenerate, and new forms of life will emerge.  But we will not be here to play our part–to love, appreciate, tend and respect the other living beings on Earth.

It is too soon to give in to grief.  I will shake it off, rouse myself, continue as long as I can to stand up and be counted among the opposition to the terrible destruction that our way of life has visited on so many others on this planet.

Meet me out in the apple orchard, listening for the bees….

Leave a comment


  1. I felt like saying “yes”, “yes”, “yes” over and over again as I read this…I agree so fully, it is sad and terrifying to see what is going on around us in the world. Great blog! I’ll be back to read more. 🙂

  2. Awesome post.

    You’re not alone.

    May I suggest a trip to 350.

    Maybe, too:
    The Manpollo Project
    Skeptical Science.

    I’m also pretty sure that Gail at Wit’s End would love to hear from you.

  3. Dan Browdy

     /  December 19, 2011

    What a great post. Dramatic, vivid, and very real. I know those trees…as your brother…I grew up under them too.
    The world is changing. We are all changing too…but are we changing enough? Are we changing in the right ways fast enough? There is no way to know.
    As you point out we are all on that path to the end, running doing what we think is best. Or are we? Are we all conscious enough to think about what is best? To do things…little things that matter?
    Sure we should all drive a prius, or not drive at all. But how about just really living. Really living with kindness and awareness. If 99% did that, and greed was a concept of the past…the world would be such a different place, and I bet mother nature would heal herself too.
    I know what I will be wishing for this new years…and trying my best to practice in 2012.

  4. Fantastic words, great imagery. I look back at photos of my country childhood in the 60s – were the cameras different then, or did it really look less bleached, washed out, dessicated? Bees dying is one of the really scary prospects – thanks for centring your post on these little engines of fertility and reproduction.

  5. gary davis

     /  December 19, 2011

    Many culprits are suspect in the colony collapse problem. Global warming, mites, viruses, pesticides, herbicides, winter food substitute, commercialized transport, Australian bee integration, even earth’s magnetic field and rhythmic pulse have all had a finger pointed at them. A March 2010 Public Library of Science (PLOS) study found 121 different types of pesticides and metabolites within 887 wax, pollen, bee and associated hive samples. Monsanto manufactures pesticides and is admittedly working on breeding self-pollinating crops. I say follow the profit trail if the bees disappear and we may have a corporation(a.k.a. person) of interest.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  December 19, 2011

      I guess the Rights of Nature question is: can we sue on behalf of the bees????

      • That leads on to the question ‘sue who?’… to be effective, we’d have to make good the damage — and in the final analysis, we’re all responsible.

      • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

         /  December 19, 2011

        But some of us are more responsible than others–Monsanto, I’m looking at YOU–

  6. Here in Colorado, I saw very few bees last spring as well, and I am out in the country, not near pesticide ridden fields. Dandelions without bees are a sad, scary sight too. And thyme in flower used to be full of bees, but last summer, hardly any came.

    Let’s all get a beehive… horizontal bar hives are cheap and easy to care for. I am not denying all those other culprits exist, but mostly, I think it’s us… we are replacing near all life forms, why should bees be exempt? So let’s do a thing for the bees and put them out there, in those old orchards, in those meadows. And drill little holes in fences for the solitary bees…

  7. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  December 20, 2011

    I have actually been thinking for some time about getting some beehives in my backyard, although I live in a village setting at present. I hesitate because I have had bears visit me every year, spring and fall, looking for birdseed. They would just love some nice honey, but they’d destroy the bee boxes getting at it. That prospect is holding me back…but in principle, yes! Bee-keeping should become much more widespread–

  8. gary davis

     /  December 20, 2011

    I fell in love with bees right before the collapse started kicking in. I marveled at their complete dedication to work and hive, as they wore every job position hat over the course of their lives. I was amazed by their instinctual sense of community as they took turns warming each other to survive the cold winter and so willingly sacrificed themselves to protect the group. I decided to celebrate their example by carrying on a millennium old tradition making mead (also known as honey wine). I intended to honor the folklore claiming mead was an ancient “nectar of the gods,” drank by royalty and how newlyweds drank honey wine for one lunar month so that their firstborn would be the male child of that “honeymoon.” It was going to be so much fun, I reserved a domain name “” and was going to tease my targets to get a “beebooze buzz.” I have made good honorable mead and toasted the tradition. But lately, after the pop of the cork from an aged bottle, I hear the silence of the bees as so elegantly noted. And the taste of the fruit of their labor has lost much of its sweetness. I would gladly sting once and die to save them if I only knew the mark.

  9. Mary Jane Fox

     /  December 20, 2011

    A very interesting blog but one with which I cannot fully empathize. I live on Oahu, Hawaii and here I see many more hopeful signs for the planet and its people. The Hawaiian Electric Company has, in the last two years, constructed and is presently operating three wind farms which at the present time are generating enough energy to serve about 1/3 of the homes on Maui. Plans are moving along for the building of a commuter line between the two largest population centers here on Oahu which will cut down dramatically ofncar emissions, And the use of solar energy is excelerating at a fast pace for both commercial and home uise. I see all this as positive.

    Living on an Island one is very much aware of the finite amount of resources available to us. So, as is the Hawaiian tradition, many of Hawaii’s inhabitants are pulling together to help each other. It is the aloha spirit which springs forth in hard times. Something I missed when I lived on Long Island, New York.

  10. Jennifer, I too have bears here. What is needed is a small electric fence around the hives, can be solar. One of my neighbors has done it. Not worth risking the bees otherwise, in bear country. Bad enough finding my bird feeder all smashed up!

  11. Nina Seaman

     /  December 27, 2011

    You are not alone in your concerns about what is happening to the planet. Everyone needs to do their part as Dan said. As a professor, you sow many seeds. Some will fall on the rocks, others are fertile ground for new thinking and innovation. Each day is an opportunity to make a small difference to the world, but those small differences do add up to major change, think of the civil rights movement with mNy small gestures such as refusing to move to the back of the bus. The Occupy Wall Street which reminded us all that the conversation in this country can change from debt reduction to income inequality. It is a beginning and it is up to each and everyone to take responsibility to be the change that we wAnt to see in the world. Thanks for reminding us Jennie, that there is lots more to do and to get on with it!

  12. Anna

     /  January 13, 2013

    The disappearance of honeybees doesn’t grab much attention in the mainstream media. I don’t understand why not.

    In the absence of bees, villagers in Sichuan, China, hand-pollinate fruit trees. . .


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