There was a Sweetness Once

Imagining a Plausible Future without Bees, Remembering them for Those to Come

There was a sweetness once: rich, pure, and mellow. It flowed golden and sticky. It could cool into a crystalline mass or dissolve in a warm drink. It was the sweetness to which all other sweetnesses compared. When prophets spoke of a land full of blessing, this was the flavor of that blessing. But now those who make it are gone.

Bees were marvelous creatures. As a child, I learned to fear them. They were insects slightly larger than flies and without any of flies’ ugliness. Like butterflies, they began as eggs and hatched, worm-like, only to cocoon and hatch again as winged adults; but unlike butterflies, bees had the semblance of ferocity and toughness. They could soar and hover, humming ominously as they went. They could impale those they deemed threats, for each possessed a sharp barb behind her legs. One sting could ache and swell or even kill, for an unlucky, vulnerable few. Even though a stinging bee would lose her own life, she would do so gladly in order to protect her community, for bees were creatures of service and self-sacrifice.

Bees lived in hives, vast nests full of tiny chambers for laying eggs, nurturing their worm-like young, and storing their food. Each colony had a queen to rule over it, with a small harem of male bees to father her young and a large retinue of female worker bees to build and to find food for them all. The worker bees would collect nectar, the juice of flowers. Then they would return to the colony and transform it into food for themselves, their queen, her drones, her young, and for us: the sweetness of which I spoke.

The bees also fed the flowers on which they feasted. Every time a worker bee would collect nectar, she would leave a little bit of pollen, the dust of flowers, behind her from the flowers she had already visited. Sun, water, and good soil can be enough for plants to grow, but they need to exchange pollen for their flowers to transform into pieces of fruit, which serve as food and transport for the seeds inside them.

Apples grew hard and crisp, red, yellow, and green, some tart and some gentle. Peaches were soft, juicy, and covered with fuzz. Almonds were savory and subtle, with a hint of sweetness, the choicest of nuts. Perhaps you can still find these somewhere, though the price would be high and to eat them would be bitter, if not in flavor then as a reminder of how much we have lost.

There was such a sweetness once. Perhaps there shall be again. Let us dream of that day.


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