Autumn Awe…

We have three Red Maple trees in our garden. They flame skyward like balls of luminescent fire. They’re claret stars grounded in the earth. The leaves are not a uniform red, similar to how blood from a deep cut differs from a surface wound. They are deep berry red, orange-red, burnt sienna and crimson. When I remember to notice them, I can’t help but stop and stare.

An autumn bee will live three times as long as a summer bee. There’s not the intensity of work as in the summer; there are fewer brood to feed, no drones to contend with, no stores to be collected and so no foraging to do. Autumn bees don’t have to work themselves to death like their summer sisters. I wonder if an autumn bee feels lucky. They have the luxury of time that a summer bee doesn’t get. Do they use it wisely, hovering in flight to admire the golden autumn leaves? The days are shortening, the bees only come out mid-afternoon and that’s only if it’s warm enough. I’m being weaned off them for the winter. It’s unclear how this season will unfold for the world. Messages are contradictory, experts disagree. Some people are scared, some are bored with it. Each country pulls in a different direction. The media are giddy with the confusion of it all. We should all study a colony of bees as a demonstration of collective success. Something amazing happens when thought is termed as ‘we’ not ‘I.’ But perhaps we’ve all gone too far down the path of ‘me’ to return to a time when we were ‘we.’

The last couple of weeks there’s been warm sunshine in the afternoons allowing the bees to go out and gather pollen. They are preparing for winter, bracing themselves for the inclement weather ahead when they will have to rely on their stores until spring. I relish watching them, knowing that in another few weeks I won’t see them at all. During the past eight months I’ve surveyed them swirling outside the hive countless times, back legs packed with pollen. The novelty hasn’t waned, still it fascinates me. I can’t help but be awed by the sight of a tiny honeybee with yellow crumbs of pollen on her back legs, the vital work of pollination going on. It settles me when I see my bees happy and doing their job. Scientific research can now explain the effect of nature on our brains, how it makes our dopamine and serotonin levels rise. I recognise it in the way they unfurl the twist of me. When I watch my bees good chemicals flood my system. Chemicals that cancel out the buzz of everyday stress. Bees are ancient insects living real-time in the 21st century. They are a rainbow, a waterfall, a starry night. They are the wonder of the moon, light-years of time, a black hole, a new-born. They are awe.

When I was on maternity leave with my eldest son, I walked him in the forest park behind our house twice a day. I depended on these walks to give those early days of motherhood some structure. I needed them, but I didn’t understand why I craved the outdoors so much, until now. The parasympathetic is the ‘rest and digest’ of the nervous system. This is what a natural environment provides, instead of the ‘fight or flight’ encouraged by mobile phones and large, noisy overcrowded cities. In some progressive countries ‘nature medicine’ is being prescribed by doctors instead of more traditional forms of artificial cures. The research is now gathering momentum, putting nature at the centre of what we do, reminding us that without nature, we suffer. I used to be blind to bees and other insects, they weren’t significant enough for me to notice. I saw the world in hurried, harassed segments of time, too busy to notice the detail. Beekeeping has changed that. My bees have directed my mind outwards, just like Freud recommended we do a hundred years ago. The other night when I was going to bed I stopped to look up at the stars. We have a glass roofed extension over our landing, I’m usually last to go to bed, and the house succumbs to darkness as I pass through it switching lights off. On clear nights the cool white light from the moon illuminates the back of the house and the stars are a galaxy of twinkling lights overhead. I stood with my head tilted upwards scanning the sky. The nearest star is still four light years away, or 23 million miles. The rest are hundreds of light years from us. Hundreds. Of. Light. Years. Our galaxy; the spinning earth with its arms of stars that spin outwards is just one of hundreds in space. There I stood on my landing looking up at the smattering of pin pricks in my tiny segment of night sky; flaming planets hundreds of light years away. It reduced me to less than an ant, probably hardly a speck of dust in evolutionary terms. Awe washed over me, it made my head fizz, it made me so grateful to be alive. I wanted to wake up the rest of the family and say, ‘Look isn’t it amazing! Doesn’t it just blow your mind!” Every night we get the best magic show imaginable and yet how many nights do any of us ever look up? Each day nature performs miracles right under our noses, but somehow, we’ve stopped taking notice. Even worse, we’ve stopped understanding its importance.

Photo by jplenio is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA