In and Out of Bee Time


I recently finished the book Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive, by Mark Winston, and thought a short summary might be appropriate. We’ve been riding a roller coaster of temperatures lately, with 60 F one day and a chance of snow the next. The weather is trying to settle into a normal spring pattern this week, so hopefully the snow and freezing temperatures have come to an end.

Bee Time, the book

Mark Winston is a biologist and writer, focusing on bees for much of his academic life until founding the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University in 2006. He published the book Bee Time in 2014, and due to its critical acclaim Winston seems have become more involved in the beekeeping world these past few years.

I have mixed feelings about the book. While it is full of thoughtful insights on how honey bees offer practical lessons for human life and culture, it never quite engaged me. It took most of the winter to slog through the text, and I was somewhat relieved to have finally finished it.

The first few chapters are a bit doom and gloom, how honey bees are failing and how this serves as our “canary in the coal mine” to change farming to more natural methods, reduce the use of pesticides, and otherwise save the earth. I don’t completely agree with this narrative, as honey bees are not really endangered due to the plethora of beekeepers in the world, and the pesticides we use today are much less toxic than their predecessors. Our wild bees are in much more trouble, and in my view it is the misapplication of pesticides that often cause problems. See, for example, the law under consideration in Massachusetts.

Winston eventually argues that the impact of mixing pesticides, mite treatments, and other chemicals could similarly affect other animals as well as humans. This was a more interesting argument, for me at least, and made me wonder whether there are unknown interactions of the chemicals, medicines, and cleaners that we encounter in our daily lives.

The back half of the book discussed relationships between bees and human art, culture, and society in general. Winston also related how the calming nature of working bees is similar to the patience needed for productive dialog.  Time with bees has shaped the approach Winston and others are taking to conduct and coordinate human dialog and decision making.

As I said, a lot of interesting content; you can see why the book won the Canadian Governor General’s Award for English language non-fiction in 2015. Probably worth reading, if you haven’t done so, although as I said I just didn’t find it engaging.

Bee Time, at home

Bradford pear blooms on March 12, 2017

The bees and plants keep thinking it is time for spring, though the weather has other ideas. In nearby Washington, D.C. the cherry blossoms were about to bloom before snow and cold came along and froze half the blossoms. In our yard the Bradford Pear Trees bloomed all showy and white, one day before a snowstorm killed off the blooms.

So the bees are flying like crazy one day, bringing in nectar and pollen, and huddled in their cluster the next. We have had enough warm weather that I am starting to worry about early swarms. I probably should have added a box on top of Ganymede this weekend, just to add some space; perhaps I will do so in the next few days.

In and Out of Time

Our title is based on the poem In and Out of Time by poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelo. The text caught my attention as I was searching for poems with the words “bee” and “time” in them. For me, the poem brought to mind a loving couple after a long life together, perhaps because our youngest is off to college next year and it will just be me and my darling wife. “We see in the distance… our long way home.”

The poem mentions bees in a playful way:

You freed your braids…
gave your hair to the breeze.
It hummed like a hive of honey bees.
I reached in the mass for the sweet honey comb there….
Mmmm…God how I love your hair.

Maya Angelo died in 2014, the same year the book Bee Time was published. As I mentioned, I was in and out of the book all winter.  Lately, my time with the bees has been off and on as well, with our various temperature fluctuations. So the title, like a good poem, seemed to apply to this post in a number of ways.

May you prosper and find honey.

2 thoughts on “In and Out of Bee Time

  1. Great review of the book. Thanks for posting.

    Sorry to hear about your fickle weather. That happened to me last year. The magnolias were just starting to bloom, and the apples/peaches/pears, etc. were in bud when a freeze came and wiped out all the flowers. We had to wait until the dandelion season to really start getting any nectar/pollen. It was such a bummer for the beeks in my area since spring is really the only season the bees make a significant amount of honey. Our summers are not great (especially last year since there was no rain), and autumn is generally hit or miss.

    Fingers crossed that things warm up for you again and stay warm.

    Liked by 1 person

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