Looking at the banks and hedgerows at this time of year, I wonder how anything small – or even large – that lives there manages to survive. Everything’s withered up or simply gone. Of course, there’s no expectation of leaves or flowers, but where are the fruits and berries, the smaller creatures lower down the food chain essential to survival… just what is there to live off? It’s a bare and empty larder, hardly even offering any shelter.
And yet, deep under layers of moss, beneath bark, beyond and out of sight, sleep seeds and eggs, cocoons, life in shells, little wrapped-up tangled bundles of creatures, even slumbering, hibernating animals tucked up to weather the winter.
It’s always been like this. Many must perish, but a few – a select few – live on, to carry the colony, the tribe, the clan – perhaps even the species – into better times. Yet despite its regularity, predictability, even necessity, such a slaughter is hard to comprehend.
So, we tell our own stories.
For us, there has to be a reason. Obviously, it’s somehow got to be our fault. Therefore it’s a punitive god that destroys us – starves us, freezes us, cooks us, wipes us out, drowns us – whatever he (it has to be he) chooses. But not universally, for a special few are selected, through good behaviour, obedience or particular merit which may not even be clear.
With such thoughts drifting through my head, I walk along the edge of the field to our hives.
And here they are, just where we left them, having journeyed through the winds and the rains, some frosts already and probably snows to come. Stationary, but already well-travelled. Simple squat wooden towers, little stacked vessels, revealing nothing of what’s within – the cluster that maintains its own warmth with minimal effort, that gradually moves the inner layer to the outer, that protects each as it preserves itself.
They’re well on their way, these little arks, but there’s a long passage still to come. Nothing I can do can make much difference. Along with those unseen seeds and packets of life buried behind me in the hedgerow, each in their own way, they’re all travelling through the winter. They have no need of my good wishes, nor can I communicate them.
But here I stand, secure and powerful, knowledgeable yet ultimately impotent, ruminating upon the role of an Old Testament divinity, humbled before our overwintering bees.
The Hive in January
Travelling through the winter’s storms,
the frosts and floods, the winds and snow,
this tight-lapped craft – no sails, no power –
continues on its way. A journey like this
can only be measured in time
for no one knows the distance
and in the darkness who can tell,
when life has necessarily slowed?
How else can such a voyage be managed?
It is enough to float, secure,
to stay alive, and let time pass,
dreaming of dry land and fresh green worlds.
An extension of life has been granted
to the privileged few. The rest all died.
Now mantled by warmth these must survive
protecting the core of their being within,
the source of new life, dependent on them.
No one speaks but all understand.
Little waves play on their vessel.
Outside, unseen, old suns burn out,
worlds are destroyed, the earth is transformed.
They spin out their stores in the darkness
and look forward to quickening, new flights
and full life after so long a passage.