If Bees Are Few

If Bees Are Few, edited by James P. Lenfestry, unapologetically lauds bees. If you have paid any attention to bee issues, you are probably aware of warnings that their numbers are seriously dropping, but approaching this book with a mindset of embarking on a sermon or didactic environmental treatise would be a mistake. The motivation would be correct, since putting their money where their mouth is, some proceeds from sales of the book will be aid the Bee Lab in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota in their search for ways to protect bees worldwide. Visit the website at www.beelab.umn.edu for more about the Bee Lab’s work and resources. The foreword by Bill McKibben points out that bees play the role of sentinel in an increasingly toxic world, acting as a warning system that our world is out of kilter.

The front matter, brief and well worth reading, prefaces the fun to come. Poets range from current award winners like Sherman Alexie to those like Burns and Kipling studied in long ago English classes. I started to pick a few lines I really liked and wound up shortening a blog that became much too long. I had to include the first sample since it brought back memories of my grandfather harvesting honey from his own bees.

24th May: Collecting the Bees (Sean Borodale) 
“He just wears a veil, this farmer, no gloves
and lifts open a dribbly wax-clogged
blackwood box.”

Boy with Honeybee Hair (Barry Blumenfeld)
. . . I came to say, He
said, it’s nothing to
Be afraid of, death. It’s a place you go to rest.

Summer at the Orphanage (Laure-Anne Bosselar)
I’d like to tell you that something happened then
– that there was an epiphany, that the bee
taught me something.
But it didn’t.

Of A’ the Airts the Wind Can Blaw (Robert Burns)
Blaw, blaw ye wastin winds, blaw soft
Among the leafy trees,
With gentle gale from hill and dale Bring hame
the laden bees.

The Language of Bees (Barbara Hamby)
This piece of amusing information rather than a poem begins by stating there are 76 distinct words of stinging, 39 words for queen, 22 for sunshine, and addressing the qualities of bee language before concluding “for it is eloquent and vulgar in the same mouth, and though its wound is sweet it can be distressing, as if words could not hurt or be meant to sting.”

Though the poems varied widely in style and substance, I failed to find a weak one. I will give a bit of advice on how to read the book. Choose one or two a day as you would select a couple of fine chocolates from a box and savor them. Truthfully, I could not do this any better than I do with chocolate. I kept reading “just one more.” At least, they didn’t make me gain weight.