My journey with bees ended this winter. I went in to autumn with 3 strong hives. They were disease free, treated for mites, strong, young queens, and enough food to last a barren, cold winter. Then came the wasps. One hive at a time, they attacked – the bees defended themselves against all comers such as other bees, bumblebees, mice, moths, cats, humans and even beetles. But wasps, they just let come in and rampage. Within a week, the first hive was struggling, and then the other bees came for it, a constant stream of robbers from many of the neighbours 8 hives. by the time I realised what was happening, it was all over.
Then the wasps moved on to the next hive. I closed the entrance down significantly, and there were no robber bees, but the wasps persevered. Two weeks later, despite many squashed wasps, it was terminally weakened, and then dead. It took less than half a day for the hive to be completely cleaned out, yet again, by robbers, even closed down. There was not much for them to gather, as I had removed the honey super. I blocked it up as soon as I got home from work – but it was too late.
Then they moved on to the third hive. It had more fight, but I think the wasps got the queen, as there were no new grubs, and some emergency queen cells. But it was too late. They died. I closed up before it could be robbed out, but the wasps found a way in anyway. Life can be like that. You try your best, but are attacked again, and again, and again. No matter the defences you put up, a weakness is always found by the wasps.
For due diligence, I repeatedly checked the hives for disease – there was no sign of foulbrood (or AFB). The dead bees all had normal wings (so little or no PMS), they had feed, the weather was OK. Just dead bees and dead wasps, then few bees and more wasps. Then no bees.
I was, for the first time in many years, beeless. It produced an emptiness in my heart – the death and loss of up to 100000 of my little friends. I felt like a failure, that it was my fault. It may be my fault – what if I had searched more diligently for the wasp nest, though it was not on my property. What if I had done the Vespex course and bought poison bait, what if I had closed the hives up earlier, what if I had moved them to town. What if, what if, what if.
It is too late for what ifs now, and I mourn. I experienced, in miniature, for my many little friends, the emotions felt by one who loses someone close, and the weight sits heavy on my heart. If you have lost an animal, a pet, a hive, or (God forbid) something or someone more significant, my heart aches for you. I hope you can feel peace. I hope the pain mellows and you can move past the crush. I wish you well in your journey.
An ending or death works through stages. I am not an expert in this, but have been through enough to feel the sharp pain that takes your breath away when it hits. I know that deep ache when you are reminded of the loss, and the emptiness of a future without that which is lost. Wiser people than me know better the process – C. S. Lewis wrote very eloquently about grief, I would recommend his books to anyone. But, even grief lessons and fades by degrees. I can now look at the cat basket in the lounge without hurting for my lovely Holly, the softest, loveliest little cat.
One day I may also feel the same about the momentos left behind when my Mum departed. It is not only with bees that my heart ponders the what ifs. The wasted opportunities, the missed times spent instead pouring life into that and those which will never appreciate it and will only ever demand more. Regret is possibly worse than loss. It is the loss of something which will never be, but may have been.
So what do we do? Whatever we can. We cope, day by day, leaning on our friends, our family. And in leaning on them, we provide a rest for them also, supporting them as they need. Spend life on what matters, because it is over too quick. And then, if we can one day look up to the sky again, we may see beginnings again – even though it looks hopeless in the now. Until then, just stand.
There is good news – I have been given a hive. Just one, a single box, a single queen with her bees. But it may be enough. I have not brought it back to my home – the wasps and competition have compromised that site. It is back to roots I go – back to Dads. His site, in the city, is surrounded by gardens and trees and blossom and flowers. It is safer than the privations of the dry lands here. It can hide and flourish in the very place where (many years ago) Beloved cried when she saw a fool on bended knee ask her a question, where she said yes.
With luck, care, and good management, this can be a return. My chain of queens may be forever broken, but this can be a new journey. New Beeginnings.
If you are lost, go back to where you started. Go back to where you knew where you were. Go back to where you knew who you were.