Wednesday, April 13, 2011

No anvils so far, and "Queen of the Sun"

With regard to the moon being in crud: On Monday I went into Concord to hang out at the bead shop. There was only one of the goddesses there, and first thing (at noon) there were a lot of different cheery customers. I explained to Sue that the plagues of Egypt or somewhere more emotional were afflicting my acquaintance, and she was sympathetic. I worked on my freeform netting bracelet. Shortly after the initial crowd thinned out, a nice woman about my age came in and described spending a weekend with her daughters, who were, on the one hand, very anxious and demanding, and on the other, officious and demanding. It was obvious the woman needed to have told both of them to do anatomically unlikely things some time ago, particularly after she described both daughters telling her she should break up with the man she had met in the bereaved cancer spouses group.

Later in the afternoon, another woman came in. Her son was going to the army induction center, and they couldn't find his father, who has kidney disease and a habit of signing himself into hospital without checking the HIPA thing that would allow his wife to know he was there. Son wanted to say 'bye for now' to his father, who, when tracked down, said "I told him to have a good day at breakfast, why would he want to say goodbye again?"
 Her other son was marrying his sweetheart Friday and both he and the bride refused to say anything useful about the ceremony other than that they were meeting the JP at the lakeshore and their friends would assemble at the woman's house and walk to the lake together. Woman suggested a tent, perhaps, maybe some chairs? Her son said she was being controlling and hung up on her.  Prospective daughter-in-law (who was not speaking to her own mother) was marrying in shades of black, grey, and silver. She complained that rather nice necklace offered by woman@beadstore had too many clear stones in it; woman was at bead shop to make a darker gray necklace. Both Sue and I had difficulty not expressing where the woman should have told prospective DIL to put the necklace. Woman needed to tell so very many people that, she could have got a deal on the necklaces.

And she kept quietly sobbing.

Meanwhile, as the snow lingers in the shadows (and some of the sunny places), the temperature in Concord hit 78 and the bead shop, on the south side of the street, went from 'how nice it is to have the door open' to "Maybe you should consider the air conditioning." Rather like a crock pot.

I had another project to work on after I finished my bracelet but between the heat and the suffocating vibes I lit out for Borders, where is was nice and chilly and I could sit far away from everyone and read Lee Martinez.  Who is not as funny as Thorne Smith but made a fine mental palate cleanser.

A bit after six I returned to downtown and went to the bee event at the Red River Theatre. They were showing "Queen of the Sun," with a mead tasting beforehand and a Q&A with the president of my local bee association, the founder of Badger Balm, kid who had spent last summer with an organic apiary in France, and the founder of Moonlight Meadery. The mead was very tasty (it was technically melomel, being composed of fermented honey and fruit juices) and I may buy some. The red currant was _delicious._

You might think I would be putting this in my bee blog, but I think the movie is more designed for the non-apiarist. It presents a lot of beekeepers and some biologists discussing the collapse of honeybee stocks in Europe and the United States, with lots of gorgeous photography and enough background information about bees to make the issues clearer.   The issue seems to be agribusiness, where bees are used as pollinating machines for monocultures of crops.

The film used the almond orchards as an example.  The pictures of acres and acres of blooming almond trees going on to the horizon was staggering.  It should have been beautiful, but the fields in which the trees grow are sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, so you have essentially a desert with almond trees stuck in. The 'migratory beekeepers'  come from all over not just North America but, as American bees collapsed, as far as Australia to help pollinate the California almond crop. It's a perfect chance to mix in as many diverse diseases as possible ("a bordello for bees," according to Michael Pollan. Which is catchy but a bad metaphor, since only the diseases are having anything like sex. And the trees, I suppose).

To make this possible, the commercial beekeepers wrap the hives in saran wrap, forklift them onto truck, and drive to California. They mess around with the bees' life cycle (many are trucked in from the north and any adaptations they may make to the winter are shot), feed them high-fructose corn syrup * and then, after two weeks, wrap them up and truck them either to another orchard or back home. The commercial beekeepers explain this was what they needed to do to make money, and apparently the business involves millions of dollars and yet is still cheaper than keeping almond orchards in something approaching a diverse ecology.

If this only affected the bees on the trucks, it would be one thing--bad and cruel if you regard bee or bee colonies as persons--but of course these bees take their new diseases home with them.  And spread them among the stationary hives and the native pollinators -- the bumblebees and the other wild bees actually native to the New World (or the Old World -- their bumblebees are in trouble as much as ours are) and as essential to the lives all flowering plants whether people need the plants for food or not.

The thrust of the film was not to explain Colony Collapse Disorder, but to make it clear we had been riding toward something like that for a very long time for a number of reasons:
 failure to realize basic public health and the simplest understanding of regional diseases and immunities should be part of pollination policies;
 the use of chemicals with complex and not altogether predictable effects;
people, not for the only time, deciding they could 'improve' a complex system that had developed over centuries, millennia, or epochs **.
And habitat destruction. You want to keep a messier yard, at least around the edges. But you already did that, because you like fireflies.

 A harsher person than I am might object to the portrayal of beekeepers as nearly all funny men with cute accents (although they have a 3rd-gen NYC beekeeper with dreadlocks, a sari-wearing biologist, and an only slightly flaky entomologist (jeans, t-shirt) standing up for the women. And that dancer in the trailer, who of course is entirely typical).

I did enjoy the evening. Mr. White of Badger Balm had brought a stunningly beautiful top-bar hive with him for show and tell. As well as getting a chance to say hi to Troy of the Kearsarge Beekeepers Association, which sponsored the bee school, I talked to some strangers keeping bees in Candia, some friends of Sarah's I have met before, and someone once connected with the NH Dep't of Historical resources (whose husband was the real estate agent while I house-hunted here) and her friends. It really is a very small state.

I think I am going to switch to buying only organic almonds.  Maybe, like 'dolphin-safe' tuna, we could have 'bee-safe' crops.

*The groans from the nutty crunchy independent cinema-going  audience here were quite funny, even while I was groaning with them.

** Yes, I do mean deciding we could sort out the Mideast with a few good American soldiers.

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