It is interesting to wonder if people casually applying the cryptic phrase, “the birds and the bees” are aware that they are referring to one of the most mysterious and immensely important biological phenomena on our Blue Planet.
The biological/metaphorical/metaphysical importance of sexual reproduction could not be more profound. Whether the process originated as the result of the random collision of chaotic molecules, or was the handiwork of God, without its emergence the highest form of life would likely have been aquatic “green slime” (even some of those plants reproduce sexually).
No ferns, mosses or angiosperms (flowering plants). No gymnosperms (cone-bearing trees). Life above sea level, lake level or river level would have been impossible and the worldwide landscape would have appeared like the Moon or Mars. The atmosphere would have contained high levels of carbon dioxide and low levels of life-sustaining oxygen.
The highest forms of animals would likely have been unicellular or perhaps some small, asexual worms. Even in lower plants and animals, the process is essential for allowing for increased biodiversity, hybrid vigor and a myriad of genetic functions. It may be the most important factor in the dynamic process of creation/evolution on Planet Earth.
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None of the aforementioned information was of current importance before a tree-service crew arrived to fell one of our huge oak trees that posed a threat to our neighbor’s property. The tree was safely downed and it became my task to clean up the brush and saw the trunk and limbs into rounds.
That’s when I discovered a honeybee hive hidden in the hollow of the tree.
While I consider myself a devout naturalist, the prospect of being stung by hundreds of angry bees was quite scary. I quickly invoked Charles Darwin (survival-of-the-fittest) and decided the hive had to be eliminated. When I shared this view with my wife, she was shocked by the possibility of losing so many of her bee friends.
Of course, I should have known that she would channel St. Francis of Assisi and her concern conjured up the words of one of the hymns that our family enjoyed singing at Grace Episcopal Church.
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“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all.”
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” is an Anglican hymn, also sung in many other Christian denominations. The words are by Cecil Frances Alexander and were first published in her Hymns for Little Children.
Having no idea what to do, I consulted a local apiarist for advice. She quickly discerned that, due to the size of the trunk, relocating the hive intact would not be feasible. She mentioned another option, but indicated it may take two weeks to remove the bees. Meanwhile, she was keenly concerned about the newly horizontal position of the hive and indicated that even one hot day could alter the structural integrity of the hive and possibly cause irreparable damage.
“Whatever you do,” she said, “ better do it at night to minimize risk to you and trauma to the bees.”
Having no beekeeper equipment I had to improvise and prepare for an after-dark mission.
According to Edwin Way Teal ( author of “The Wilderness World of John Muir”) naturalist John Muir was a scientist, a poet, a mystic, a philosopher and a humorist.
My chainsaw was readied to make crosscuts above and below the hive in order to return the trunk to the vertical position. Because of evening noise regulations I notified our neighbors and the local police about my pending soiree with the bees. The police dispatcher seemed amused with my request, probably because it had nothing to do with covid-19.
A long-sleeved shirt and Levis would be covered by mechanic’s coveralls, wrapped with duct tape at the ankles. A rain parka with hood that could be cinched down tightly around my face that would be covered with a facemask. A hiker’s headlight was at the ready. Leather work gloves would hopefully protect my hands.
Christie mused that I looked like medical personnel working in a covid hospital ward.
I double-checked the chainsaw and procured bubble-wrap to seal the entrance.
In the autumn of 1970, before the spirit-hungry masses discovered Yosemite National Park, I went on a university, graduate-biology field trip to the Incomparable Valley.
I had never embarked on an operation like this and the fear of possible attack by a swarm of angry bees was palpable. As nightfall approached we both felt like we might lose our dinner.
Everything was in place and the bubble-wrap was quickly inserted.
And then I was cursed by a double whammy of quotes:
Whether Murphy’s Law, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” or Robert Burn’s; “The best laid plans of mice and men;” the chainsaw refused to start. However, after using a couple of choice expletives, the motor roared to life.
I made the first crosscut 18 in. below the hive opening and rolled the round out of the way. Then I quickly made the top cut, 18 in. above the opening. The hardest part was repositioning the 300 lb. log into the vertical position. As I wrapped my arms around the stump section, the frenetic buzzing of thousands of angry bees resonated throughout my body. I tried not to think of what would happen if they escaped their temporary prison and attacked the source of the alien noise and shocking vibrations.
The section of trunk was secured in the vertical position. I had a 15 ft. pole saw that I used to retrieve the bubble-wrap, and then quickly retreated to the safety of our home.
After whimsically describing John Muir as, “St. John of the Mountains,” I have come to suspect the designation may have been more Jungian and …
Meanwhile my wife was texting every stage of the drama with two of our daughters.
All three were cheering me on from at least six feet away from the hive.
As I write this, life in the hive seems to be returning to normal. The bees are busy flying to and fro on their busy errands.
I would not describe the experience as “bee’s knees,” but an adrenaline-inducing event that was hopefully once-in-a-lifetime.
Lowell H. Young is the author of “Biodesign Out For A Walk.” He lives in St. Helena.
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