On Frame Drums and Vanishing Honeybees
I recently had the privilege of meeting Layne Redmond, an appealing, thoughtful woman who happens to know a lot about honeybees.
She is also acknowledged as one of the world's most skillful players of the frame drum - an ancient, hand-held instrument originally associated with "bee priestesses." These priestesses served the eight bee goddesses, whose numbers indicate the historical importance of bees in the world order. The frame drum was used to serenade the goddesses and generate positive, healing energy.
The symbolic significance of the bee-human relationship is expressed in the hexagonal design of the honeycomb, which symbolizes air and reflects stability. The center, or core, of the hexagon represents the heart. Symbolically, when all is right with the bees, all is right and in balance in our hearts.
Sadly, all is not right in the bee kingdom, nor has it been for some time. In addition to giving an unforgettable performance on the frame drum, Ms. Redmond reminded us that for four years now honeybees have been disappearing worldwide.
In the fall of 2006, beekeepers started reporting in alarmingly increasing numbers that their hives had been abandoned. Usually, the queen bee was found alive along with immature bees, but there was little or no sign of adult bees. No bee carcasses were in the hives or on the ground. The bees had simply vanished, leaving their queen and youngsters to fend for themselves, a behavior that continues to defy explanation today.
Bees have vanished before - in the 1880s, the 1920s and again during the 1960s. However, they have never disappeared in these numbers. An astonishing 50 to 70 per cent of all hives in the United States were abandoned in the 2009-2010 winter pollinating season. The loss is catastrophic, and as such has earned the sobering name of "colony collapse disorder."
Theories abound regarding the cause of CCD. More than 200 professional papers have been published. Initially, researchers suspected the varroa mite, a bloodsucking, disease-transmitting parasite. However, varroa mites are not indicated in all cases of colony collapse.
Pesticide poisoning has been a suspect from the start. Samples of wax and pollen have been widely tested for all 19 classes of pesticides used in farming since records have been kept. No single pesticide has presented with consistency, although researchers have been shocked and dismayed to discover the occasional presence of DDT, which has been banned in this country for 25 years.
The current issue of SEED magazine reports that many scientists studying the bees' plight are now leaning toward the theory of a perfect storm - a critical or disastrous situation created by powerful negative factors merging together at once.
Honeybees have faced adversity since the early 1900s, when beekeepers began transporting bees long distances to pollinate crops while also mistakenly believing that by killing the strongest bees in the hives, they could ensure that weaker bees would grow stronger and multiply.
Still, beekeepers are not solely to blame. The varroa mite is playing a destructive, though not exclusive, role. Air pollution, poor nutrition due to apiary crowding in commercial applications, limited or contaminated water supplies, the weakening of bee immune systems due to the practice of monoculture which deprives bees of diverse pollen sources, extreme heat, stresses from travel, and pesticides - have all been identified as contributing factors. Taken all together it may add up to more than the bees can bear.
So why should we care about vanishing bees? If we lose the capacity for bee pollination, most of our fruits and vegetables and many nuts will disappear from our diets. Bees are not only responsible for $15 billion in added crop value through their pollination efforts in the U.S., but they are also responsible for our dietary diversity. Currently, one-third of our diet is from plants that require pollination from honeybees.
Because of their role as an integral part of the food chain, the total disappearance of bees would represent a critical, and perhaps irreparable, loss to human life.
And these dire implications don't even begin to address the symbolism inherent in the mystery of the vanishing bees: the somber message that something is broken at the very heart of the matter.
Beth Daniels, who lives in Southern Pines, is director of development for the MIRA Foundation, based in Aberdeen.
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