The Dreams of Bees

meditations on mid-winter beekeeping

February 13, 2022

Hello You,

I had plans to write about other things this week, but then this other thing happened, and it felt like such a profound bit of wonder that I had to share it. The clip above is a four minute slow-motion video documenting our honey bees making rare mid-winter cleansing flights. I hope you enjoy it.

Such events happen maybe once or twice a winter here - whenever weather conditions are just right, (sunny, a few degrees above freezing, not too much wind) allowing for the bees to safely leave the hive for a short time. My husband and I have been at this citizen beekeeping thing for about a decade now, but witnessing a hive’s euphoric, purposeful cleansing flights always makes my heart sing. It’s like spotting a shooting star or hearing a favourite song or running into an old friend on the street.

porch sitting with the bees

When winter comes, honey bees tuck in for the duration. They’re not hibernating, though - they’re actually quite busy, flexing their wings and buzzing, working hard to generate enough heat to keep the hive warm and alive. If all goes well (if they’ve got enough honey put up to sustain themselves, if the hive stays warm and dry, if predators, disease and parasites don’t come calling) they’ll make it to spring. Winter bees are different than their summer sisters in that they live up to five times longer, mostly due to not having as much wear and tear on their bodies and wings, but also because they have to.

I miss them terribly this time of year. They’re such kind companions in the garden and flower beds around our house during spring, summer and fall. I feel their absence quite keenly in winter. I often wonder how they’re doing. I worry. Do they have enough honey to get through the season? Are they warm? Are they well? Sometimes after a winter storm, I’ll wade through the snow and put my ear to the side of each of hive to listen for the hum of their efforts. If I don’t hear anything, I give a soft knock and wait for a reply. After a tragic winter when “no one answered” my sweet husband gave me a stethoscope so I could better monitor the hives’ wellness. That’s true love.

tools for mid-winter beekeeping

Yesterday, when it looked like cleansing flight weather, I was absolutely giddy. I ran outside, plopped myself down in the snow next to a hive and watched the first bees gather on their “porch” to warm their bodies in the sun. It didn’t take long for them to buzz their wings and push off into the blue. The flights themselves don’t take them very far and last just long enough for them to stretch their wings, get some fresh air and leave beautiful little dots of saffron-yellow waste behind on the snow. Every so often one would land on the sleeve of my sweater for a brief rest before heading back to the hive, giving me the opportunity to get a good look at how they were fairing. One lingered for several minutes, long enough for a one sided-conversation. “You look great,” I told her. “So healthy and well.” I imagined what she and her sisters made of me as they flew by: Good to see you, friend. You look older, tired yet still hopeful. Take some advice from us…let go a little, get rid of what you don’t need, dream of flying.

the bee’s knees

Yes, bees dream. Biologist and bee researcher Tugrul Giray1 recently discovered that during sleep, bees move their antennae in the exact same way they move them while mapping navigation memory for flight. This motion occurs at no other times in a bee’s daily life. So along with all the buzzing winter bees do to keep the hive fires burning, they also sleep, and when they sleep, they dream of flying. My dear winter bees have never seen spring but they’re preparing for its coming in their dreams. I will too, dear bees. I will too.

Next Time

Next week’s newsletter will see the return of Destiny Typewriter with more answers to your questions and her thoughts on love and dreams. What dreams have stuck with you lately? Can Destiny help make sense of them? Keep the conversation going, and as always, if you have a question (or dream) for Dear Destiny, you can leave it in the comments or give her voicemail a shout at the link below. Until next time, may you find magic along your way.

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a poem in the making

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To learn more about Tugrul Giray’s research and the life of honeybees, watch Dennis Wells’ excellent documentary A Bee’s Diary, as featured on CBC’s The Nature of Things.

Ami McKay