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Growing up with bees

The Honey Bus: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and… by Meredith May, Park Row, US $24.99, Pp 336, April 2019, ISBN 978-0778307785

Most of us know virtually nothing about bees except that they produce honey we all love. The other thing we all know is that their bite can cause unbearable pain and swelling. We all love honey but try to stay away from bees. The worst thing is that we also stay away from any knowledge about bees as well. Meredith May was born in a family which was usually close to bees. Her grandfather loved bees and had encyclopedic knowledge about them.

In The Honey Bus, Meredith May tells her story of growing up with bees and how the bees changed her life like many other members of her family. Meredith May loved bees even when they bit her. Even when they bit her, she learned something from them. Meredith May writes about when she was attacked by bees, “When the bee buried its stinger in my skin, the burn raced in a line from my scalp to my molars, making me clench my jaw. I frantically searched my hair again, and stifled a scream as I discovered another bee swimming in my hair, then another, my alarm radiating out wider and wider from behind my rib cage as I felt more fuzzy lumps than I could count, a small squadron of honey bees struggling with a terror equal to my own.”

This was not all. But the interesting thing is that we also have something to learn from her. She continues to write, “Then I smelled bananas — the scent bees emit to call for backup — and I knew that I was under attack. I felt another searing pick at my hairline followed by a sharp pierce behind my ear, and collapsed to my knees.” She also explains why the bees attacked her when they did, “The bees at the tennis ranch attacked me because their queen had fled the hive. She was vulnerable, and they were trying to protect her. Crazy with worry, they had lashed out at the nearest thing they could find — me… Maybe that’s why I hadn’t screamed. Because I understood.

Meredith May also tells us about the life of a bee and how their community is organized. She says that bees act like people sometimes — they have feelings and get scared about things. You can see this is true if you hold very still and watch the way they move, notice if they flow together softly like water, or if they run over the honeycomb, shaking like they are itchy all over. Bees need the warmth of family. Alone, a single bee isn’t likely to make it through the night. If their queen dies, worker bees will run frantically throughout the hive, searching for her. The colony dwindles, and the bees become dispirited and depressed, sluggishly wandering the hive instead of collecting nectar, killing time before it kills them.

Over time, the more she discovered about the inner world of honeybees, the more sense she made of the outer world of people. She writes, “As my mother sank further into despair, my relationship with nature deepened. I learned how bees care for one another and work hard, how they make democratic decisions about where to forage and when to swarm, and how they plan for the future. Even their stings taught me how to be brave… I gravitated toward bees because I sensed that the hive held ancient wisdom to teach me the things that my parents could not. It is from the honeybee, a species that has been surviving for the last 100 million years, that I learned how to persevere.”

The Honey Bus is a moving personal memoir of hope, family, and love for bees. It is a memoir of a child who grows up with bees. It is a treasure trove of knowledge about bees. The Honey Bus will teach you a lot more than you have learned about them in your whole life. Meredith May tells us how bees gave her courage when she was on the verge of losing all hope. Meredith May also tells us how we can learn from nature to love fellow human beings and make this world a peaceful place. The Honey Bus is packed with empirical knowledge about bees and is a highly enjoyable read. The Honey Bus is one of those books that will stay fresh in your mind for a long time to come.

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