It’s an understood part of pet ownership that all domesticated animals require care. You buy them food and provide them with water. You let them out and bring them in, and then there’s the cleaning up after them. Depending on the animal, this can all take a couple of minutes or much longer.
The exception is the autonomous honeybee. Bees forage for their own food and water, and take care of their comings and goings without any help. They don’t need training, they never get lost, and they clean up after themselves. They manage not just as individuals but as an entire highly organized colony; thousands of bees, each with a specific job to do.
It was a distracting spring and summer, and this year I spent less time taking care of my bees than I intended. I didn’t check on them very much (and perhaps they appreciated not having their home ripped open so often.) I didn’t get around to giving them any treatments, nor did I check for mites or pathogens. My bees were neglected.
But can I even call them mine? Besides offering them a home, which they can choose to abide in or not, I haven’t given these creatures anything, especially this year. This is why this summer even more than usual I am both humbled and awed by the prodigious work these tiny creatures do, and which I benefit from. Gazing at the assortment of honey jars on the kitchen counter, I am struck by how much they gave me and how little they took in terms of my time and resources. There can’t be another animal that gives so generously in exchange for so little.
The honey is delicious this year. It’s a clear pale gold, and the taste is less flowery and more herbal than it was last year, maybe because of all the lavender I planted. And I can’t even say I planted it for the bees; but just because I like it.