Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone

I would like to first preface this post by stating, very clearly that I am wrong.   Before I even begin, I do not have it all figured out.  The answers, I do not possess.  So, if any of you out there think that I am incorrect, you're right.  These are ideas, these are beliefs.  We've all got them, and if you reach into your bag and find something different, I assure you, we're OK.
Many that know me well have heard me speak of honey bees, as in Apis mellifera.  This little beauty is a being to which I've become incredibly attached over the last year.  I was given the opportunity at the current property I live and work on to assume the role of beekeeper, an opportunity I enthusiastically embraced.  In this format, you will only begin to realize how this has affected my life, both spiritually and emotionally.
We work within a certain philosophy of farming, and ultimately thought, on this particular estate called Biodynamics. At the moment, it is not entirely necessary to outline our complete methodology, yet suffice it to say that Rudolf Steiner (author of the Waldorf educational system and Athroposophy at large) outlined in a series of lectures in the 1920's a system of Agriculture stemming from what many refer to as "spiritual science."
I've been living with biodynamics ever since I first saw it in practice at Quintessa estate in Rutherford, CA.  This was in the summer of 2007, not all that long ago but this, like most other spiritual pursuits, is an ongoing path where growth is the subject of utmost importance, not arrival at an ultimate destination.  Until this week, however, I've never been so challenged to delve deep into myself and really take a look at what it is that I really believe to be true to the natural world, and then, in turn to stand and defend it.  Discussions of agricultural imagination I have surely had, some of them heated debates but this conversation finally struck close to home and therefore became a sort of crisis of belief. 
If you've turned on the TV or read any publication in the last 10 years, you've undoubtedly been alerted to the plight of our honey bee.  They're really in some deep kimchi...that is no lie.  Colony Collapse Disorder.  Researchers and beekeepers alike all over the globe are working to figure this situation out.  What we're finding is that there is no one cause for CCD.  And everyone has a solution, a new treatment for this or that ailment, or a new way to propagate queens for genetic strength (not genetic diversity, I might add).
An unnamed beekeeper from an unnamed commercial operation found themselves in our tasting room on Sunday afternoon.  Word on the street was that we had recently acquired three new hives and the individual eagerly absconded from the imbibing group to check them out.  Upon return, she was on the verge of a a full-on breakdown.What this person witnessed was not that pretty I will admit, and her cause for concern was a very valid one.   Each of my hives is in a different stage of collapse, and it can be quite heartbreaking to see, especially if you're a beekeeper.
Now, here is the dilemma, and this is where it gets sticky.  I have chosen a path of beekeeping that is free of any treatments, chemical or otherwise.  Nothing.  So my little girls are left to fend for themselves, to struggle to find a balance between themselves and all of the harmful crap out there in the world.  Single cellular parasites, mites, cell phones, radio waves, car exhaust, etc etc etc.  Is this irresponsible?  Is this neglect?  Am I intentionally harming these creatures?  Some would say "absolutely," to all of the above, especially the beekeeper I was telling you about.  They were not happy with me.
Treating for Varroa mites, a pandemic in the bee world, is commonplace.  It is even allowed under the umbrella of biodynamic certification with certain organic acids.  There is a myriad of products out there, some with a 90+% kill rate.  However, if I treat my hives for these mites, what are the implications?  I've then supported a weak strain of bees, and now these little ladies are propagating their weakness towards Varroa.  I've also killed 90% of the mites in the hive.  Awesome.  10% of the superman mites have survived and now they're multiplying and passing on their superman double-helix.  Well isn't that about a bitch?  Weak bees, strong mites, and I only wanted to help!

Now I'm part of the problem, not the solution.

Perhaps we're doing this whole "life" thing backwards.  Perhaps we're starting at our destination, the cart is before the donkey.  Not treating my bees was a heart decision.  I may lose a hive.  I may lose all my hives this year.  It takes an immense amount of courage and wherewithal to strive for truly strong bees.  We will never rid the world of Varroa.  I've got to give the bees a chance to figure out a balance.  Nature is give and take, push and pull, predator and prey.  We know that inherently, yet we quickly lose site of that fact when we have all these silver bullets at our fingertips that seem like the right thing to do.
Do I like kneeling at the entrance to a hive and witnessing a newborn bee struggle to figure out just what the hell to do with deformed wings?  Do I like seeing worker bees "cleaning house" by removing dead bees from in and around the hive, carrying them a few feet away from the hive and abandoning them?  I must really be firm in the belief that, eventually I will have a few strong hives to weather the onslaught of the fallen world in which we live, and I can then divide those hives with their strong and diverse genetic material inside.  I must really believe that the solution is somewhere along those lines.
Take a step back and distill my situation down to the ether of the matter.  Agriculture is no different.  I'm fairly certain that if an extension agent from UC Davis found himself wandering around our vineyards (why would he actually be in a vineyard, you ask?), I'm certain he'd have plenty of words to describe where we went wrong and how we can fix it quickly.  Isn't life a string of decisions not unlike what's going on here?  How do you raise your children?  How do you react to that jackass at the coffee shop, or that volatile coworker?  How do you eat?  How do you throw away what you didn't eat, or the packaging in which it came?  And then there's religion!

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then replied with a story:
“A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A levite walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”*

Whether you're into this Jesus cat or not, its easy to see the correlation.  According to the law of the time, the priest and the Levite both did what was considered "right" or "righteous."  This broken man on the side of the road obviously had come into harm for some reason...he was bloody, he was unclean.  To get involved was not their place, and thus by the law, they remained in the right.  These dudes were righteous, however, the Samaritan was truly good.

There are so many things that seem right, however, there is no good in them. The prettiest whistles won't wrestle the thistles undone.

*Luke 10:25-37


Ruth said...

Or do the thistles even need to be undone at all?

Meg said...

But, if its a truly organic, or bio-dynamic system you're after, wouldn't the natural next step after the strongest bees assert themselves in the ultimate expression of Darwinism be to simply leave them alone, instead of moving them all into the same hive to 'survive' in a then unnatural state?

Anonymous said...

I love your writing. I love your brain. I love the spiritual implications and parallels. I will be pondering....