Monday, August 13, 2007

The Rod of Asclepius

“He is not worthy of the honeycomb, that shuns the hive because the bees have stings.” William Shakespeare

I had almost nothing in common with G_ except for the smallest of shared loves, the taste of spun honey and sharp cheddar cheese sandwiches. As far as I was concerned this was enough for a brief moment in time. And it so happens, this tenuous connection, a faulty hinge barely worth mentioning also characterized my relationship to honey. With a birth name which coincidentally rhythmically rhymed with Sue Bee, my adoration for sweet amber flower nectar should have been fated. Missing the mark, I deviated ever so slightly to the left with the barely audible hum of an allergy which sent me fleeing rather than flying. Honey tickled my throat, not my fancy and I avoided the stuff just like I dodged the bounding bumbles feasting on azalea buds outside my door- in scared strategic scuttles.

Henceforth I made tentative forays into the Promised Land: delightfully benign Luden’s Honey Cough Drops, Honey Vanilla Häagen-Dazs (senselessly retired in 1985), syrup laden layers of baklava, and occasional swipes of honey with cheese or crisp apple slices with little laryngeal distress. Over the years singular samples of monofloral honey managed to hit my palate unveiling a previously unknown story of time, mood and place. What I had experienced before as achingly sweet sticky goo became a dazzling symphony of flower, landscape, and molten sun ripened heat. Rather than a midline thin non-descript note squeezed out of an 8 oz. plastic bear, exceptional honey is thrilling, lustrous, multilayered and royally substantial. Sardinian Corbezzolo, Hawaiian Christmas Berry, and New Zealand Manuka: these lingering drops of ambrosia traveling from afar have seeped in forging a nascent tender loyalty.

Consider the fact that an individual honeybee produces about 1/12 of a teaspoon in its short lifetime (40 days). Yet an average hive can produce about 60 lbs. of honey in a year, of which 25 lbs. are needed to survive winter. Known for being diligent and orderly, job assignments are allocated based upon age beginning with tidying up the cell from which they were born out of. While each bee has an individual story and place within the hive, every isolated movement has within it an intention that serves the survival of the whole. A bee is even willing to self immolate to protect its colony. Collectively it takes 2 million visits to flower sources and 55,000 air miles to make about a pound of honey. The tiniest effort matters. Face to face with bewitching color and fragrance, bees not only drink carbohydrate rich flower nectar which becomes honey when mixed with enzymes and aged, but they collect pollen on their legs to feed the brood back home. Subsequent visits to other flowers provide pollen exchange and fertilization from which fruits and vegetables blossom into being. Our very own food sources are dependent upon the life affirming actions of the tiny mighty bee.

I am beginning to sweep broad beyond what my two small eyes ordinarily see, past a world of black and white, mine and yours- to try and see what the honeybees see. I live in a myopic insulated dream saturated with the unimportant drama of the individual me, busy acquiring and managing fragments of information about the gross and the obvious. The life of the industrious bee is about the inconsequentially small invisible which becomes essential with the weight and shaping of the collective in touch with the mysterious. Their divine food has wakened me out of my lonely reverie as I unknowingly follow the faint ecstatic footprints of earliest man.

A drop of honey is a collection from the souls of flowers. It is complex photographic impression translated into taste of a specific moment in time and place, each element of the equation bearing consequence upon the other. This magical recipe has been enchanting cultures for ages because the formidable efforts required to create such an elixir are shielded by the unseen and ineffable. Honey has been prized by ancients as money, medicine, preservative, offering to the gods, and as a symbol of love and fertility. It perfectly embodies the constant diligence needed to sustain life as well as being a sensuous balm that makes those efforts worthwhile.

Now as we face a time when Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is making headlines, I suggest we take a cue from our friends and exchange the “I” for “we”. Part of our cultural alienation comes from the inability to hold two pictures at once, viewing disparate events as separate, pushing us further away from our natural mind. We are the bees; and as they are dying off from exhaustion and weakened immune systems whether from pesticides, miticides, changed weather patterns, or overwork- we are suffering a little each day too. Just as honey cakes were offered to the snakes (symbol of transformation) vital to the healings performed at the Temple of Asclepius, I extend a dab of honey to our collective soul in the hopes for renewal and abundance. Long live the Bees!

A few links:

Honey Mousse recipe by TastingMenu- voluptuous and delightful, I froze some to make a very quick and easy ice cream.

Maksim playing Flight of the Bumblebee

Zambezi Organic Forest Honey- after reading about CCD and recognizing that 80% of our fruit and vegetable crops are pollinated by honeybees, it is pertinent to keep the health of our bees strong.


jbird said...

I always buy alittle jar of honey from wherever I visit bec. it just brings the sweet memories right back the minute I crack open the jar. Favorite one....Alaskan Fireweed Honey, that is so fragrant, you can smell it a room away. And from the Bay Area Marshall's Honey. Go little bees go.

blatta said...

Your writing is bewitching. The effortless segue from the most prosaic of remembered observation to the cosmic morphology of really big ideas. Or rather than segue at all, the awareness that it's all of a sum, all of a same.

I'm starting to think it's really not so much about the food at all.


Lydia said...

Though I am not allergic, I'm not a huge fan of honey, but I am in awe of the effort it takes to produce it. Lovely, lovely post!

Callipygia said...

jbird- That is such a great idea & I'll need to check out AFH. I love Marshall's Honey too, they have a pumpkin blossom one that sounds intriguing.

blatta- Thanks. I take each piece as a design problem, start with an idea and it keeps morphing. By the time I end I sometimes wonder if it is too forced/contrived/a big tangle! I'm glad you enjoyed reading.

lydia- I know I felt the same way as you, but I tell you a few samples of extraordinary stuff will change you and maybe even sneak into "the perfect pantry"?

sher said...

Beautiful post. I worry about the disease affecting honeybees. They are marvelous creatures, and it will be an agricultural crisis if this continues. Have you ever tried Tupelo Honey? It's wonderful, and rather rare.

Tea said...

Your writing is so lovely!

Callipygia said...

Sher, As a gardener- you must really be in touch with their place and purpose. As for tupelo, Van Morrison can't be wrong eh? But no haven't tried it much good honey, so little time!

Tea thank you, that means a lot to me.

Honeycake said...

Good news about the bees, although it hasn't made it into any blogs or papers that I've seen -- they're coming back in good numbers. Are they a miracle or what? I like jbird's idea about picking up honey from wherever you go. mmmmmmm.
I have a friend who HAAAAYYYTS honey -- she calls it "bee poop!"

This is an amazing post, Star.
Love, Honey

Callipygia said...

honey- making a comeback already? This is like, "if you build it, they will come"... We need a new reality so I like that. Smooch.

Lis said...

Another wonderful post. I had heard about this problem with the bees in the not so distant past and was alarmed to think of every plant that a bee pollinates.. without bees the earth would be far less beautiful.

I'm glad to hear what Honey has to say.. that's wonderful news =)


Callipygia said...

Lis- Yeah it is pretty sobering to think about how essential the busy bees are. I myself am staying busy eating honey, who has the better deal?

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful piece. We harvested our first honey this month and your post crystalised the joy. The first taste of oil from the press holds similar emotions.
thank you from downunder.