Say Hello to Miss Bee!

Say hello to one of the busy ladies who now calls our backyard home. Our new hive of bees (called a "nuc") has arrived. They are filling their new home with wax and tending a burgeoning brood of offspring. The ladies would like me to share a little bit about their lives.

  • These busy ladies build wax and tend brood on frames. The frames are housed in a large wooden box called a "super" This weekend we will add a second super on top of the bees' current home, which is almost full.
  • When the second super is full, we'll put a metal grate above the second super and add a smaller box on top of the grate. The metal grate will allow the worker bees to get into the "penthouse" and fill it with wax and excess honey but will prevent the much larger queen from fertilizing the cells in the top box. We will rob, or harvest, any honey in that uppermost box later this summer. Since we are midst a drought, however, the bees may not make much excess honey this first year for us to rob.
  • The worker bees are female and start their lives tending to the brood and cleaning the hive. After a few weeks, they leave the hive and become foragers bringing back pollen and nectar to the hive until eventually their wings wear out. Those who are born closer to winter may live a matter of months instead of weeks as they live off of stored honey during the cold months when minimal food is available outside. The hive dramatically reduces in size during the winter, and this is the time when a hive is most likely to collapse, as ours did in February.
  • One of the most interesting behaviors is the daily scouting report. Early in the morning, while it's still too cool for bee comfort, brave scout bees leave the hive to search for sources of pollen and nectar. They return to the hive with a lively report. They dance! The vigor and movements of the dance tell the rest of the hive the location, quality and amount of sustenance within a radius of about 2 miles. The hive then makes a collective decision about where to focus foraging based on the scouting report.
  • Unlike the short-lived workers bees, the queen bee may live for 2-5 years. What makes her a queen is her diet. All honeybees eat royal jelly for the first three days after hatching, at which time they switch to a diet of honey. A queen bee larva is only fed royal jelly.  Royal jelly is not only what makes her a queen but is also the secret to her longevity.  (Supplement and beauty product purveyors take note!)
  • Workers may create a new queen if the old one isn't up to snuff or if the hive is getting so large that it's time to split up the collective, swarm and colonize a new home. The old queen slims down to improve her aerodynamics and takes some of the old guard with her to start a new hive. The new emerging queen will either also start a new hive (if it's still crowded) or will stay and be the queen of the current hive, in which case she will kill her still-pupating queen sisters so that she has no competition for the throne.
  • The drones are the other residents of the hive. They are, in essence, the lazy, do-nothing males who sit around while the women do all the work.  They are fed by the women and luxuriate while the females remain incessantly busy.'s time for a new queen to mate. When that happens, she leaves the hive. The males follow and try to catch her. In true survival-of-the-fittest fashion, those with the best genes catch up with and mate with the queen, who may mate with up to twenty of the drones. Royal marriages are short-lived in the bee world. She returns to the hive to lay up to 2,000 eggs a day or 1,000,000 eggs in her lifetime.
  • The drones, having had their jollies, return to the hive. The females, however, are done with the males at this point. They have served their one and only purpose, and the females have no more use for these slothful moochers, who are barred from re-entering the hive. They have neither stingers nor the ability to feed themselves, and so they soon die, having been discarded by the industrious women.

Our new residents thank you for your interest in their lives and ask you to select bee-attracting plants and minimize the use of pesticides so that they, in turn, can pollinate plants that add nutrition and beauty to your life.

Do You Know Jack?

Last month a colleague from Interfaith Center at the Presidio invited me to Pantheacon, which is a conference for indigenous religions, paganism, and a diversity of other earth-based spiritualities. While there I attended a presentation by author Christopher Penczak entited "Four Jacks, a Queen, and the Wheel of the Year". He led us through a guided meditation in which we met four "Jacks", each representing a different season of the year, a different season of life:

  • Jack of the Green: Spring. Return of the green as the Spring Equinox inaugurates the growing season. Last year's seeds sprout, emerging from their winter slumber.
  • Jack of the Corn: Summer. During the summer harvest of corn and wheat, the sun reaches its peak position in the sky, symbolizing our full creative powers.
  • Jack of the Lantern (Pumpkin): Fall. Squashes and gourds are sacrificed to provide food through the winter. The hallowed-out pumpkin has surrendered its flesh to sustain life, and its seeds go into the ground.
  • Jack Frost: Winter. The earth rests, and the seeds lie dormant in the ground awaiting the return of Jack of the Green.

The Jacks revolve around the Queen, the Lady of the Lake, who turns the wheel of the seasons with ever-flowing water. She represents the eternal midst the changing seasons. The cycle of birth, maturation, sacrifice for future life, and death/burial continues unabated, and yet, the wheel turns around an Eternal Presence that renews and sustains.

How might these four Jacks speak to where you are on your wheel of life?

  • Jack of the Green: Pause. Observe. What life-giving newness is just starting to sprout around or within you?
  • Jack of the Corn: What is the new level of maturity to which you are being called?
  • Jack of the Lantern: What is life calling you to sacrifice so that LIFE may flourish?
  • Jack Frost: What type of rest/restoration do you need?

You can also look at these seasons as a mirror for the stages of life. Where are you in the life cycle? Are you in the autumn years yet still clinging to summer or spring?

What enables us to transition through seasons and cycles is a deep trust in the Eternal Presence. Called, experienced and defined in many ways, the Eternal Presence, when trusted, enables us to let go of each season when it has passed and immerse ourselves in the next season with equanimity.

Notice the changing season.

Trust the Center that holds you.

Surrender that which is passing.

Engage with what is emerging.

When we stop our striving against seasons and cycles, life flows with grace.

There Be Whales Here!

On Veterans Day I fulfilled a long-time dream thanks to a gift certificate from my partner Herb. (Thank you Honey!) My body trembled with awe and tears came to my eyes as two humpback whales came within ten feet…so close I could smell their fishy breath. (See the video below.) The cruise with SF Bay Whale Watching (highly recommended) started from San Francisco and went under the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands and then past the continental shelf at which point the whales appeared. This is the end of the season to see Humpback Whales in the Bay Area. Any day now they will make their migration to warmer waters. So, there was a distinct possibility that we'd see no whales at all.

Once we got past the continental shelf, the first dorsal fin was sighted just off the starboard bow…an Orca! Then another Orca! A few moments later off both starboard and port, blowholes spouted ocean water and air…Humpback Whales! 2, 4, 6, 8…too many to count...whales appeared in every direction. We were surrounded!

The Orcas soon swam out of sight, perhaps pursuing a distant floating raft of sea lions. Then two humpbacks began circling the boat. Having seen these humans float by day after day, the humpbacks decided to take a closer look before heading south for the winter. Suddenly the tourists had become the tourist attraction!

For the sake of the whales' wellbeing, ships are not allowed to come within 100 yards, unless, of course, the whales decide to come to the ship. Then the only thing to do is wait, watch, and marvel until they decide to leave. The humpbacks, a male and female, about 45 feet long and 40 feet long respectively, circled our boat to their delight and ours for over half an hour. As the captain said, it was truly an epic day of whale watching.

A few fun factoids about Humpback Whales:

  • Humpbacks can eat upwards of 1.5 tons of food a day, mostly krill and small fish, which they slurp up with a mouthful of ocean water, which is then filtered out through two rows of baleen plates, leaving a mouthful of delectable seafood. 
  • The life expectancy of Humpbacks whales is about 50 years. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species. Only about 30% of their original population remains.
  • Humpbacks sing complex songs that last up to 20 minutes and can be heard 20 miles away. Males repeat these songs for hours on end. Each population of Humpbacks has its own unique song. Scientists are not certain how humpbacks are able to sing. They have no vocal chords. While singing, their mouths do not move, and air does not leave their bodies.
  • They are acrobatic and can breach their 40-ton bodies completely out of the water.

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Mother Moose

I arose before dawn one morning last week in Grand Teton National Park to take a photo of the sun's first rays painting a pastel swath across the mountains. A terry cloth robe of cottony clouds, however, cloaked the mountains. brilliant landscape photo was to be had.  I looked below the horizon and saw a mother moose and her calf enjoying a pre-dawn breakfast. (See the video below.) Moose, the largest member of the deer family, are herbivores and ruminants who eat up to 50 pounds of food a day. The name "moose" means "twig eater" in the Algonquian language (a Native American tribe). [Side note: What an odd language we have! The plural of goose is geese. So why aren't a pair of moose called meese? For that matter if the plurals of mouse and louse are mice and lice, shouldn't more than one spouse be spice?]

The quest for vegan vittles takes moose underwater to forage on aquatic plants, which are particularly attractive because of the high sodium content of water plants. Moose prize these salty treats so much that they have been known to dive underwater as deep as 18 feet for a snack. These excellent swimmers can also run up to 35 miles per hour.

A calf will stay with a cow, mother moose, for a year until the next newborn comes along. Then a calf must fend for itself. The cow in the video is preparing her offspring for the harsh winter. With mother moose's protection, guidance and good fortune, the calf should be ready for independence come next spring. As I eavesdropped on this mother/child breakfast, the mountain photo no longer seemed quite so important.

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