This is a story reprinted from my blog. It was first posted a couple of years ago.
Bluebags and Bee Stings
It’s now springtime here in Australia … my favourite time of the year. Not that winter in Brisbane is too bad mind you – shirtsleeves weather for much of the time.
Anyway, springtime invariably brings strong memories of my childhood, growing up in a sleepy seaside suburb full of old timber houses that time forgot (mostly gentrified now and worth a million dollars).
Backyards full of citrus trees and vegetable patches. Trellises loaded with sweet peas and climbing beans. Wild patches at the bottom of the garden overgrown with lantana and canna lillies and bordered by rampant nasturtiums. Tumbledown chook sheds (chicken runs) and clumps of bananas and pawpaws.
It was a Huckleberry Finn type of growing up. We’d disappear from home after breakfast and reappear for dinner. Our days were filled with sailing, fishing, swimming, beachcombing, climbing cliffs, playing games in the parks, annoying neighbours and generally engaging in the sort of mischief that most small boys (and tomboys) get up to.
One of our occupational hazards in spring was bee sting. Bees were everywhere in our overgrown world of backyards, parks and beachside jungle. The clover sprang up in most gardens and footpaths – and of course we never wore shoes.
Everyday, one or other of us was down yowling and trying to pull the sting out of our foot without squeezing the poison sac attached to it (this was an intricate and hard earned skill). After that it was either a dunking in the water and some hobbling around or else a call for the universal remedy if we were within sight of home.
My memory of this was triggered a few days ago when a little kid down my street stepped on a bee on the footpath. His sister pulled out the sting and then went searching for something exotic in an aerosol can to spray on it. It reminded me of the gulf between now and then.
Back before automatic washing machines and washing powders with space age ingredients, we had boilers or coppers that contained very hot water and were ‘stirred’ with large wooden implements. Most shirts and sheets were white then of course and rarely made out of synthetic blends, so boiling the hell out of them and then wringing through manual devices like mangles was the order of the day. Wash sheds resembled medieval torture chambers.
There was one magic ingredient however that my grandmother added to the wash. It was called a blue bag. It was a small muslin wrapped bag of synthetic ultramarine and sodium bicarbonate. Ultramarine is a very blue, blue and strangely enough (probably because it absorbs yellow light) clothes came out fantastically white. Not that I cared much about that of course.
Its great magical use was on bee stings. Whenever the inevitable happened, one of our mothers or grandmothers would produce a wet blue bag, place it on the wound and … no more pain. None of us knew why of course, but we were grateful for this piece of passed down lore.
The other day as I watched the little fellow wriggling around while his sister was obviously rummaging around inside looking for some anti-sting product or other, I thought of my grandmother, always having to hand a simple product used everyday for washing and able to be deployed for other reasons. We’ve become a society of specialists – in needs and expectations.
Oh for the world of the generalist, analogue solutions, and grandmothers who were prescient when it came to the casualty needs of junior Huck Finns.
A swarm of bees suddenly appeared in our garden at lunchtime today and settled themselves into our hedge. Not having experienced this before we “googled” Kent Bees and was pleased to find your website. Thank you for attending so promptly and making it a very educational and sociable “tea drinking” evening!!!
Came back from holiday to find my last hive of bees all dead, all the honey had been raided by wasps and many many dead wasps both inside and outside the hive. Now I need to repopulate in 2009. I think I should burn all the old hives (some 15-20 yrs old)-what do you think?
Like the website. You could have an interactive google map with all bee catchers in the UK putting their details on the site so that much needed swarms could be collected rapidly. See boatlaunch.com, which a friend set up for RIB enthusiasts! Hope all well. Anthony
The flowers were blooming on the peach trees the first time I went out to photograph bees. After being told what I would need to do and where I would need to stand I was told to change into something white.
But why? I asked.
“Because you’re wearing black jeans and a dark sweater. To the bees you look like a polecat, a bear – something come to steal the honey,” was his reply.
How odd, I thought – that bees would practice profiling….
(not a comment for the blog)…Hi Lorne – good to meet you a couple of weekends ago at our orchard. Just to say, our business partners Julie and Anthony are very happy for you to site the hives in the spot we looked at, and we sorted out the boundary dispute in a very friendly manner, so it’s fine to put them over the fence in the woodland which is definitely our land!
If you call me I can let you know the combination for the gate so you can get a vehicle in. We are next there on Mon 25th May and then from Thurs 28th – Sun 31st May. Maybe we’ll see you there.
Many years ago, there was an argument between my living-partner (and best friend) and a neighbour who owned the large orchard opposite us. My friend, quite erroneously I believe, accused him of things he had not done. I could not sway the argument no matter what I did!
A bee came on to my hand one day. It rested a moment, then vibrated its wings for take-off. I asked it to help. I asked the Bee Soul to help. I knew it would happen.
I also asked for a ‘sign’.
A few days later my friend came home and said he had made it up now with the orchard owner. They had met in town and decided they were both too old and grey to be fighting like this about silly things. My friend had been invited to tea there.
He came home an hour or so later. He was smiling. He told me the orchard owner had taken him to visit his hives (I did not know the man kept bees!) He had given him a gift. A pot of honey. He had said “Some of this honey must have been made from the flowers in your garden!”
Of all the stories left on this site, this has been the most inspiring for me! I have re-told it several times since to various friends – and it always leaves a warm silence at the end when they understand the message.
We think in this age of beekeeping as a small time pursuit for either the small business or for some form of esoteric pass-time. In the past bee-keeping was anything but that. As an industry in Eastern Europe it probably reached a climax around 1200-1400. The reason that Eastern Europe was probably much better at producing honey than the west was simply that it had larger relatively undisturbed forests…. Or at least the forests had a smaller head of both human and domesticated animal population. Large quantities of grazing will eventually produce grass, whereas a smaller quantity of grazing will induce flowering ground cover and ideal areas for bees.
The Germans in classical times used to venerate their beekeepers (this reference I can not find) and they achieved a priest like significance within their tribes. I could never quite get my head around this until I understood the economic significance of honey as well. Most of the following comes from Studies in Historical Geography (1983 Volume 1 (Academic Press) edited by Bater and French). The particular essay is Russians and the Forest by R.A. French p23-44.
French talks of the vast quantities of berries that could be picked by the peasants of Russia with productive areas producing up to 100kg/hectare of berries (bilberries and cowberries) per year as well as up to half a ton of mushrooms etc. However the honey was the most impressive with one village in 1599, Oreshenko in Belorussia having 1044 “bee-trees” listed in their records. 94 were oak and 950 were pine. 99 swarms were counted with an occupancy of roughly 10:1. In other parts the occupancy got as high as 6:1.
Bees made it into the Russian law books in the 12th century when the law codes, Russaya Pravda, were produced. In 1529 Lithuanian statutes also laid don laws against bee-tree destruction, determining that you could not go too close when ploughing or damage the tree by fire. In economic terms bees provided the most valuable forest resource and was one of the key drivers to eventual Russian expansion into Siberia.
Just how important was this industry? It was a major trading commodity in both Russia and Lithuania. As an example one nobleman, one Prince Suyatoslav of Kiev, had a honey store, in 1146, that totalled 500 berkovtsy, or 80 tonnes. At some times peasants were supposed to give half their honey takings to the crown in Russia, so honey became the business of everyone from peasant to csar.
In some areas peasants were employed to look after the crown’s bee-trees, and even in making new ones. (This was done by hacking out appropriate hollows in the trees.) The volume of honey produced was one thing but also beeswax was bought and sold as well. In the sixteenth century Customs Rolls of boats going down the river Neman to Konigsberg 600tonnes of beeswax was recorded as having passed by in just 6 weeks. Even in the 18th century the trade continued with the expansion towards the south and east and prime honey lands were moving east and south with the expansion. At that time the Province of Voronezh was exporting 900tonnes of honey per year. It was thus not really difficult to see why both the peasant and the aristocracy were interested in bees.
With the expansion of Russia in the 16th to 20th centuries one finds the forest quality of the interior diminishing and thus the bee-farming being pushed more often than not towards the frontiers. Here the “natural” (I am not a fan of this word as it implies no human interference, which is rubbish) forest was less disturbed and the berries still proliferated and thus was the perfect bee place. The more livestock the less bees I am assuming.
On some more reading I came across other environmental protection techniques that included the concept of Islamic “hima”. “Hima” is esentially the notion of conserving an area for specific grazing, fuel, timber etc rights and has its roots in pre-Islamic times. One of them is a “reserve for bee-keeping. Grazing is allowed only after the flowering season. These reserves are closed for five months of the year including the spring months”. For more information on “Hima” try http://muslimheritage.com/topics/default.cfm?ArticleID=916
PS It is amazing where bees turn up when you least expect them.
This is from a book of poems I’m working on entitled The Life of the Bee. Five of the poems, however, have been formed into an art song cycle in collaboration of the composer Lee Hoiby. You can hear some song samples here from a studio recording of our Carnegie Hall performance of 2001. The five poems in the cycle are: “Millennium Approaches” “Spirit of the Hive” “The Sting” “Ars Poetica: The Queen” and “The Swarm”.
The flowers leaned on themselves, the flowers in hollows; and love, love sang toward.
We love the things we love for what they are. Robert Frost
For my exaggerations of the real toward the beautiful, I will not apologize. Allan Gurganus
Raise the great hem of the extended / World that nothing can leave.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious.
We are slowly losing the honey of the visible.
Rainer Maria Rilke
All born in the shadow of bombs / Shall become bombs.
A Nothing / we were, are now, and ever / shall be, blooming: /
The Nothing -, the / No-One’s-Rose.
The interweaving of creatures with their emanations is creation.
We are simultaneously points of arrival and points of departure.
You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes.
I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is mere appendix.
It is at the edge of a petal that love waits.
William Carlos Williams
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay
an invincible summer.
That the world is painfully beautiful painfully sad
That spent blossoms recall earth under which they once slept
Remembering air into which they now fall
THE SPIRIT OF THE HIVE
Back in the shaggy
of the hive
in the quick amber
of the Queen’s chamber
phenomena of order.
with me to the sweet
the viola and the fox-
Finger and invade
In circuitous dances
the one prayer.
Before and after.
Precise as distance.
ARS POETICA: THE QUEEN
In collaboration with my others
I build this hive. As I am
Goddess, this, then, is my cathedral.
Built of wax and lives. Of light
It grows around me.
My first sensation
was of yellow: a hum
forcing my skin to see.
Since then I have sung
the praises of this operation.
And counted the mysteries.
Storing my drooly jewels.
THE LAW OF LOVE
Act 1: At the gates
workers invade once more
clover violets fragrant winter honeysuckle
Queen consorts incessantly birthed
crowd the city so
the worker hundreds cannot re-enter
at dusk’s gates
The old Queen’s
Spirit through her larger than she
mother of all love’s agent
counts the flowers
instructs her to depart
compels her to birth rival progeny
rear them royally
permits firstborn princesses to slay cradled sisters
workers to slaughter imperial brood
Foolish clumsy useless whirring creatures
pretentious gluttonous dirty coarse
for them too the Spirit comes for massacre
when flowers began to open
Men’s wars more seditious cruel
are they less purposeful
what larger spirit moves us
what whirring hundreds must
we concede to survive
sometimes clumsy coarse
which extravagance is ours
what flowers do we harvest
when spring comes
With great stealth and smoke
approach our dome. For if not,
a flame, dry and burning, a dazzling
will greet you.
You, who threaten, let
this pin-prick, this red
fever-bite, be a warning.
In our saracen tunnels,
we hold our own, asking
WORKER BEE PRAYER
Virgin daughter of toil
whose mysterious duties begin in light
now closely huddled
in darkness numbed it seems into
unsuffocated by multitude
enlivened sacrificed entirely
to Republic to hive
to perpetual chastity
to manifold activity group mind
breaking out head first
through the living walls enclosing
into flowery expanse world
without blooming end
Return gasping for breath
into the syncopating mass
in which you freely breathe
Happy winged organ of your race
if ever isolated
dying from loneliness
tell us how among
our own adversities individualities
we might make something
perfected by work
First, the miraculous
dances directing and thumping,
buzzing in the foundation,
snipping and cutting
A great muffled drum,
the chorus tenses.
Its sibyls pour out
in a drunken jet
to sing it: the bee-flock,
who tell exodus in a roaring tissue
their matriarch with them
Exalt! up to the pear tree.
Then, from the mass molten
with magnetism and cracks,
a yawn explodes, clumps
to the pear limb,
Even now, scouts shuttle
through the branches making
fiery mummery to the sun:
The fathoming nucleus
waits for the telling.
This is a thing,
some will say,
men will not do.
Act 2: In the hive
tending nymphs and larvae
waiting on the Queen
airing refreshing heating the hive
fanning with wings
removing the dead
watching thresholds day and night
questioning comers and goers
welcoming novices home from first flights
scaring away vagabonds marauders loiterers
of the One Mind
to the sweet mass you inhabit
I bring you a human smoke to show you how
to show you
men and women claiming universal love
seeking the flowery field with compasses broken
around you and your spheres of endeavor
we lord over ruling nothing
your constellations remain
when the sun falls
star-bomb into our world
you like us will flare
but unlike us
what then of us
perhaps when the sun
falls terrible ball terromoto onto us
we will see as one
explode into whitefire whitedust
making the cosmos glow
eternal hexagonals of being
IMMOLATION / RESURRECTION
Act 3: Out there
Stars had abandoned you
You looked down and
a sea of eyes looked up
diminishing at warp speed
But this is earth
stars should be above but
If stars sang in the sky
their wisdom spheres where
Now on rich earth
in an clump made static form
there stars sang and laughed at you
not sad ringing
with sphere’s secret latitudes and longitudes
with resurrection tin stars
by lullaby verbs
by earnest limbs trembling
sleek luminous particles
grown into ache:
eye coalescing into
Self rang then
in the hive
under dull lamps just coming on:
evening percolating dense blackness
a smoothness made of crow voice
made of moon falling
painted white mum odor
A being so unlike itself
it was itself:
so curried and steamed it rose up
skin shining sweat
voice on fire
weed taking field
field becoming rain
I have been looking for a good story for you to celebrate with.
“Prospect House, in Winchester Place, now Pentonville Road, was one of those old houses of half rural entertainment once common in this part of London. It derived its attractive name from the fine view it commanded northward—a great point with the Cockney holiday-maker. From Islington Hill, as the vicinity was called, there really was a fine coup d’œil of busy, moody London; and Canaletto sketched London from here, when he visited England. Prospect House is mentioned as early as 1669, and is noted in Morden and Lee’s Survey and Map of 1700. The tavern was famous, like many other suburban taverns, for its bowling-greens. Subsequently it was re-christened from its proprietor, and was generally known as “Dobney’s,” or D’Aubigney’s. In 1760 Mr. Johnson, a new landlord, turned the old bowlinggreen into a circus, and engaged one Price, from the “Three Hats,” a rival house near, to exhibit feats of horsemanship, as he had done before the Royal Family. Price, the desultory man, eventually cleared £14,000 by his breakneck tricks. The time of performance was six p.m. In 1766, newspapers record, a bricklayer beat his wife to death, in a field near Dobney’s, in presence of several frightened people. In 1770 Prospect House was taken for a school, but soon re-opened as the “Jubilee Tea Gardens.” The interior of the bowers were painted with scenes from Shakespeare. It was the year of the Jubilee, remember. In 1772 an extraordinary man, a beetamer, named Wildman (perhaps from America), exhibited here. His advertisement ran—”Exhibition of Bees on Horseback.—June 20th, 1772. At the Jubilee Gardens, late Dobney’s, this evening, and every evening until further notice (wet evenings excepted), the celebrated Mr. Daniel Wildman will exhibit several new and amazing experiments, never attempted by any man in this or any other kingdom before. He rides standing upright, one foot on the saddle and the other on the horse’s neck, with a curious mask of bees on his head and face. He also rides standing upright on the saddle, with the bridle in his mouth, and, by firing a pistol, makes one part of the bees march over a table, and the other part swarm in the air, and return to their proper hive again. With other performances. The doors open at six, begins at a quarter before seven. Admittance in the boxes and gallery, two shillings; other seats, one shilling.” This Wildman seems to have sold swarms of bees.”
I have a wonderful late 1800s platter, handpainted in France, which shows people tanging the bees into a skep. I wrote a blog for our club, and would very much like to use your illustration of the man tanging bees which you had from an early book. http://beelore.com/2009/04/09/tanging/
We will use your website name and give you credit for it of course..and I would really appreciate it. Also, I would be happy to send you the photo of my Malicorne platter, as I think you will find it quite interesting. I was referred to you by John, of outdoorplace. Thank you for your very informative site.
Andrew is a third generation beekeeper and runs several hives in the East Riding of Yorkshire, UK. His earliest memory of beekeeping was helping his grandfather capture a wild colony of bees, established in the wall of a wooden hut: “in the smoky gloom Grandad gently took away the inner wall and there were the bees populating beeswax combs. Because the hut was gloomy and Grandad was gentle the bees just carried on with their lives. We weren’t wearing any protective clothing at all, but I felt safe. Their doorway was where a knot had fallen out of a plank, but once we had captured the queen the colony was ours.”
On the eve of a special holiday celebrated by Vedantists, a few weeks ago, I unexpectedly dreampt in this early winter-time, that a flight of honey bees gently enveloped me, centering on my heart and chest area.
Bbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz flew the bees, humming with an intricate, brilliant buzzing, as their numbers grew en flight to almost infinite proportions with one goal in mind: to surround the very core of my being, my inner heart of hearts.
Trying to keep off pounds, I had not eaten honey in years nor given thought of these industrious makers of delectable golden sweetness; authentic maple syrup is my choice sugar, making it from scatch with mom as a child.
As the grand swarm of bees multiplied exponentially around me, suddenly I grew fearful and yelped, mid dream, followed by an incomprable calm.
Amazingly, an indescribable awareness of eternity, bliss and perfection unmistakably expanded from my heart to head to toe, as my awareness expanded in all directions from my bee centered heart. A visual glimpse of my guru’s Master suddenly appeared as I floated in a mass of perfection and bliss.
Severe heart disease runs in our family; the weight of chest pressure building for several months following a mild spring-time heart attack months earlier, was replaced by the lightness of a feather centered in my heart along with a feeling of sweetness that persists even along with daily annoyances.
Since then I read that the hexagon shape of the bees cells in myth and symbolism are associated with the heart since antiquity. In Ayurveda, dreams of bees may forbode health and or wealth. In my case, I hope I am swarming toward a new life with industriousness and sweetness of purpose.
And this dream encouraged me to remember and practice meditation, as we might all feel inner joy when we stop doing and just Be.
Thanks so much for your story. I love your connections with the past, your dreams and to “just Be(e)”! Very much in tune with the sentiments of this site. I wish you and all regular readers a very happy and successful 2011!
Thank you for your informative and entertaining website. As 2011 is the International Year of Forests, I have produced a booklet of raps and rhymes celebrating the unique flora and fauna in Australian forests. We know the European honeybee, but there are hundreds of species of native Australian bees. This rhyme identifies the differences between bees, flies and wasps.
Bees Bees Bees
Bees Bees Bees
These are native bees,
Not flies, not wasps, but bees,
Buzzing in the trees.
Flies have two wings,
Bees have four,
Bees are vegetarians
And wasps are carnivores,
Bees make honey
And pollinate flowers,
I could watch them
Buzz for hours.
Bees, bees, bees.
The Sunday Herald
Sunday, March 28, 1897 Syracuse, New York
Recalled by “Forty-niner”
And Told in His Own Words
Incident Brought to Mind by
Farmer Webster’s Bees.
Remarkable Conflict Between California
Honeybees and Yellow Jackets, Near
Vinegar Pond, Where Pickled
Portland, March 27 – “I am astonished that there are so many educated people that never knew that honey bees would mate with lightning bugs until they read of a case of the kind that occurred in Trexton in last Sundays Hearald.” said an old California Forty-niner to a reporter for the Herald today.”
“It was common practice among bees and lightening bugs in California when I was there.” said he. “Off in the region where pickled cucumbers grew upon the vines and upon which we fatted and pickled pork on the hoof, as I told you a few weeks ago, and where the giant California trees grew, it was no uncommon thing for prospectors for gold to discover in the hollow of some of these gigantic trees immense swarms of bees that worked a night force who were provided with illuminating wings. In fact, it was necessary for such an economy among bees in that region in order to fill the hollows of these gigantic trees.
“I remember of finding a bee tree one day, the hollow of which was so large that you could easily have placed the Cortland Nominal school building within it, were it of a more oval shape. This hollow was filled with thousands of tons of the most delicious honey you ever tasted. There was a large stream of honey that flowed from a crack in this tree to a depression in the ground about an eight of a mile distant, forming a lake of pure honey that was several rods across. This lake was surrounded by hundreds of California bears that fattened on this honey. They would toil about Honey lake, as we called it, through the day, only leaving it long enough to visit Vinegar pond, a mile distant, to quench their inordinate thirst created by continually lapping honey from this lake. We were constantly supplied with the juiciest and most delicately flavored bear steaks from the bears we would shoot while on there way from Honey lake to Vinegar pond. These bears were very docile, as they were never hungry, and it was a common thing for members of our prospecting party to mingle with the bears at the lake side. They never offered to resent any intrusion from us; they were in fact less savage than so many fattening hogs.
“This particular variety of California bee is much larger than our bees. They average about the size of sparrows. The queen is as large as a robin. Not far from this particular bee tree was located an immense nest of yellow jackets, about the size of humming birds. This nest was suspended between two of the largest of the giant trees and was three or four times the size of the dome of the Capital at Washington, D.C. It was these yellow jackets that had created the crack in the bee tree, through which the honey flowed that created Honey lake. The yellow jackets drilled the crack with their stingers and thrived upon the honey that ran out until the bees organized a night attack on the yellow jackets nest.
Aerial Attack by Night.
“While in camp one night telling stories over our supper of broiled bear steak and delicious honey, with natural grown pickled cucumbers and pickled pigs feet fresh from the pen, we were startled by a terrific roaring that resembled the sound of a distant waterfall. We strengthened the fastenings of our tent and got inside, expecting a terrible storm to burst upon momentarily. After several minutes of suspense we ventured outside, and beheld in the distance the strangest sight imaginable. The night force of bees were all out and flying in regular line of battle, some fifty lines deep, I should judge. The constant flashes from their illuminated wings lighted the surrounding country for a half mile. You could see to read as plainly as under an electric light. The roaring sound created by their wings was what we had believed to be the warning of a great storm. We followed the direction the bees were taking and some came near the immense nest of yellow jackets suspended between the trees. The bees surrounded the yellow jacket citadel by the million and soon covered the entire outside until the dome like shape of the yellow jacket nest glowed with the constant flashing of the wings of the bees, making it resemble an immense ball of fire. The yellow jackets inside the nest were at the mercy of the bees, who tore large holes in the nest and stung to death the yellow jackets as fast as they were reached, and who were evidently bewildered by the flashing lights from the illuminated wings of the bees. The roaring sound created by the bees was augmented by that of the doomed yellow jackets.”
“The fight lasted approximately three hours and the next morning the ground was covered eight or ten feet deep with the dead bodies of the yellow jackets and bees for rods. The great dome like nest of the yellow jackets looked as though a cyclone had struck it. The bees had simply annihilated the yellow jackets, however, and had lost thousands of their own number as well.”
“The second day after the battle the stench that arose from the scene of conflict was so great that we were obliged to move our camp two miles away. I have never cared for honey since that time.”