A Farm Breviary: Vespers

Evensong, I pull up my chair into the bee-loud glade and sit down in the shade of a young oak. It is a mere child of 15 years, with near two centuries of growth ahead. Yet, already sturdy and full, it provides a cooling shelter for myself and our small bee yard.

Storms build in the west, as the sun, already hidden, prepares for departure, his work done. This is the office for the ending of the day, sung as a work chantey by humming bees finishing up their own day’s labor. Laden like the stevedores of old, they return to their community one last time, legs loaded with pollen. Soon the daybridge will be pulled up in readiness for the night and her watchmen.

In the poultry yard nearby, the chickens join in chorus with the bees and begin the return to roost. They flutter up into the coop, where their elder aunts have already gone to bed. The roosters, giving a last challenge to the fading light, crow once more, then declare victory and retire from battle. In the lower fields the sheep still graze. Soon though, the dominant ewe will signal an end to the day. She will lead the flock in a doxology of contented bleats back to the barn, all readiness for rest and security.

Vespers on the farm is a coming home.

Next to me is a small hive worked earlier in the day, a captured swarm from a friend and neighbor’s apple orchard. Eleven days it has labored in building a new home with the old queen. We were prepared to find it weak, to merge it with a stronger hive. Yet, the queen still lived, busy laying eggs, building brood, surrounded by her attendants. Not yet a strong hive, but with luck, hard work, and the inevitable act of regicide — like the corn kings of folklore — the colony will end the summer and fall strong enough to survive the next winter.

I sit in idleness and rest as these last bees return from the field. I watch as they and their sisters gather, bearding the front boards in tight-knit community. With news exchanged, plans made for the following day, they begin to go indoors.

Rising, I put my ear to one of the hives and listen to the hum of their evening song. It’s a melody picked up throughout the farm. I pause and listen for the refrain, and then, as the poet says, I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

8 thoughts on “A Farm Breviary: Vespers

  1. Poetic indeed. I think a lot of nature, left to herself, is very poetic. Perhaps part of our duty to her is to hear the poetry, to appreciate it, to publish it on her behalf, and if necessary to defend her master works from wanton destructions.

    Had you ever had the notion of a bee hive being warmed by the business of the bees? I know they actively attempt to cool the hive in the warmest weather – but I wonder if as temps dip in the fall they have an alternated strategy to push back the cold until it ultimately calls them to a winter footing.

    And on the matter of human poets and the “deep heart’s core” – are we thinking Yeats or Johnston (or both)??

  2. I’m a bit conflicted about keeping bees.
    There are already hives down the road, and honeybees are apparently highly efficient at outcompeting other insects when introduced to an area.
    Having a young system with still to little diversity in plants (and neighbours who don’t even try…), together with a catastrophic countrywide decline in insect populations over just the last few years leads me to conclude that right now I can either shoot for quick honey production or a maximum of beneficial insects, but not both.
    Those bees are a little too busy, and there’s just no way to slow them down 🙂

    • I would imagine that all of our actions have a negative influence on the natural world. Honeybees do out compete some species of bumblebees. But, one imagines that the larger threat to the insect world is from our species in general. Bees in a small farm setting are more advantageous than not (he says with nothing other than a gut instinct). Plus an ample selection of mead is essential to the good life.

  3. It is, yes. I just regard my particular situation as one where honeybees would be exerting too much pressure on that fragile whole I want to work with.

    Or would exert it, if they could…we’re experiencing the coldest spring in a very long time; many fruit-producing areas have already lost their entire production to the frost and apart from rocket, still next to nothing grows in the beds.

Any thoughts or questions?