Friday, April 20, 2012

Bittersweet Honey

At a farmer's market the other day, really just tables lined up alongside a tired city park, I talked with the guy who makes his own honey in western Massachusetts. 

He drives his faded white van with rusted highlights full of honey and specialty jams his wife and daughter make from deep in the woods to the city.  He finds his customers hours away from his hives and his home.  

We talked about how little snow there was this winter.  He expects a drought.  He was not complaining though no one could blame him if he was.  He said it like it was a fact as much as clouds in the sky.   His hands looked thick and leathery.  

I nodded and noted that a couple weeks ago on a canoe trip with my buddies on the Delaware River, the water level was more like summer levels.  More than a few spots we scraped the bottom of the canoe or barely skimmed by.

This time of the year, the snow and ice should be melting and washing out of the mountains filling the river.  We should have been coasting easily over the tumbled river rocks on a thick layer of water.  It's easy to imagine how less water coming out of the hills also means less food washed into the water for the fish and other life, and so on.

All of it does not bode well for his bees, either.  Less water means less flower nectar, which is what bees use to make honey.

But his bees are facing even tougher challenges. They're disappearing.  He held his arm out straight to show the decreased height and size of his bee colonies.  He rattled off the numbers and the shocking decline hung in the air between us like smog.

Scientists are not really sure what is causing colony collapse -- yes, it has a name -- but it's happening in many places.  The honey man feels it is caused by cellphone towers disrupting the bees' navigation.  Bees use the Earth's electromagnetism to navigate, and he believes cellphone towers disrupt that.  The bees cannot forage properly and they get lost.  Less food gets back to the hive and more starve.

Colony collapse might also be caused by pesticides or a combination of stresses.  It's certainly unfortunate, even alarming, as bees not only make sweet honey but they also pollinate all kinds of plants including vegetables and fruit we eat.

Beetles, however, love the warm winter, we went on talking.  They are flourishing, madly boring through trees when normally the cold keeps them at bay, gives the trees a break.

The honey man knew the name of the beetle.  Mountain pine beetle, he called it out nonchalantly.  

We somehow got onto the topic of space junk, too.  The thousands of pieces of spacecraft and debris that humans have put into orbit around the planet.  We talked about how NASA keeps tabs on this stuff because it can do real damage.  Basically, they've got a big computer tracking litter that people left up there.  We chuckled, but it was not exactly a jovial laugh.  

What a mess we make, that's what the honey man said.  He shook his head a little and his big mane of hair hardly moved.

A nearby trash can on the street caught my eye.  It was overflowing with plastic cups that once held, only once, fancy coffee drinks.

The cups and other trash spilled onto the sidewalk and around the base of a nearby scraggly sycamore.  A stray straw and a sandwich wrapper lay on top of a black rat poison box placed in the dirt near the tree.  City birdwatchers are anxious these days because several famous urban hawks have been found dead with rat poison in their bellies.

Humans, we're dirty, I said.

We're a spoiled bunch, he added.

On the way to the farmer's market, I read  a story about how solar panels are having a tough time competing with low natural gas prices.

Nowhere in the article did they mention the true costs of fossil fuels like natural gas, such as health costs from pollution and the cost of damaged nature.  If these costs were reflected in the price we pay at the pump or meter, we'd already be buzzing with the sun.  Meanwhile, Americans are incensed when the price of gas increases even a little. 

I wish we could have it another way.  It would be great not to feel weary, and gloomily conclude that we're never going to change.

This is where I am.  This is where we all are, here on the big blue marble.  And we treat our home like crap.

Earth, she's the only one, love her.  It's pretty idealist thinking, pretty naive maybe, but feels like the right thing -- to expect more out of us all as a civilization, to try to raise our standard of living, while helping the world be the clean and healthy place it should be.

I bought some honey, mainly to support the honey man.  Plus, I enjoy holding it up to the sunlight and marveling at how it came to be.

He held up his paw and wished me a good day.

I was going to say happy Earth Day back but it sounded odd in my head; everyday is Earth day, especially for him.

1 comment:

M.L. said...

My favorites: the essays where a bit of MM shows up or shows through. Nice.