Bees, and why you need to care about them


I have been hearing about colony collapse disorder since the mid-1980s, when I lived in Tunisia and actually knew some beekeepers. Their hives were dying, and they had no idea why it was happening.



It’s now a worldwide problem. The European Union is voting on the subject soon, and I hope they vote sensibly.



Do you realize that our crops – our food sources – almost entirely depend on bees? Bees are the key to pollination. We farm bees just as we farm crops like corn and beans, but the bees are not so reliable anymore, because of this damned colony collapse disorder.



It may be a fungus. It may be the overuse of certain insecticides. It may be some mysterious illness. It may be Gaia’s revenge on mankind.



At any rate, the European Union is taking steps by banning certain pesticides which seem to be implicated in the colony collapses. An English friend of mine, Oma, recently posted a blog about the movement to ban these pesticides.



I know what you’re thinking: Who cares about bees?



Answer: if you don’t care about bees, you’d better change your mind, and fast.



You can follow this link to sign an American petition to ban certain chemicals connected to colony collapse disorder.



Please sign.



Listen to the mockingbird


Sometimes, on weekend mornings in spring and summer, when the windows are open, I lie in bed and listen to the birds outside: repeated notes, strange sliding calls, Morse-code beeping, alien whoops. 



I can recognize a crow.  Bluejays have a distinctive hoarse call, and I know the rusty-screen-door screech of a cardinal.  I know the scream of a hawk; believe it or not, there are hawks here in Rhode Island too. 



And I know the mockingbird.



I didn’t at first.  Then, one day, sitting in a folding chair in a local park, reading a book, I was absent-mindedly listening to a bird singing in a nearby tree.  It went on and on.  It was pretty, in a way, but it had no continuity.  It’d tweet a few times, and then warble, and then do sharp repeated notes, and then peep, and then coo.  It never let up.  It went on for twenty minutes, and never repeated itself once.



It was like reading a story with the pages scrambled. 



This is the mockingbird’s survival strategy.  A lot of birds sing to mark territory: Get out of here! This is my turf!  The mockingbird memorizes every birdsong it hears, and plays them all back in an endless random loop, and keeps all the other birds away, some through challenge, some through confusion.



And then it has all the delicious bugs in the neighborhood to itself. 



Mockingbirds are good at their work.  I heard one imitate the caw of a crow once.  Citydwellers have reported hearing them do the beep-beep-beep of a vehicle backing up.




They are dismal-looking, dull-colored, nondescript.  They perch high up in the branches, or on the tops of telephone poles, or on traffic lights, above the action, looking down.  I’m sure it’s to ensure maximum coverage.



They drive me mad. 



I really sympathize with the other birds, who must really hate them. 



In “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Atticus tells Scout and her brother that it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird, because it just sits in its tree and sings all day long.  And what’s wrong with that?



Oh, Atticus.  I wish you were here right now. I could explain it all to you. 



And then I would eradicate all the mockingbirds.





At nightfall I like to watch the bats wheeling and swooping over the housetops.  Except that Partner says they’re not bats.  “They’re birds,” he says.



“Look at them!” I say.  “Birds don’t fly like that!  Also, most birds don’t fly in the dark!”



He shrugs.  It’s one of those disputes we’ll keep having even after we’ve been put away in the old ladies’ home.



It’s late autumn now, not really bat season here in southern New England, but I am reminded of this mostly because of the sudden passing of my old boss Sharon.  She and I shared a basement office on the main campus for a couple of years in the 1980s; it wasn’t much, but we got by.  One morning she came in with an odd look on her face.  “There’s something stuck to the wall outside in the hallway,” she said.  “I think it’s a bat.”



I raced out to see.  Sure enough, it was a tiny bat, clinging to the wall in the hallway, crumpled as if it’d been injured.  I’d seen it as I came into the office that morning, but I’d assumed it was some odd stain on the wall; it was a basement after all, and all kinds of odd things end up on the walls.



Anyway: Brown University had a bat-research project, and a bat hotline.  We called, and they came over with their butterfly net and gently removed the tiny thing from the wall.



Today, over twenty years later, Brown still maintains its bat research lab.  I was just reading an article in a campus publication about how carefully they care for the sick and wounded bats.  I can still picture that poor little fellow (or girl) back in the 1980s, who looked as if he/she was in pain, and how glad we were that someone came to take care of her.



I hope he/she lived to swoop above the treetops again.



Even if Partner doesn’t believe those are really bats.



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