When colonies collapse

I’m not a very sentimental person, though I have my moments.

And I’m certainly no nature lover, but lately I can’t help but fret and wonder — where have all the bees gone?

honey bee

I’ve been dismayed over the last six months by the dramatically named “Colony Collapse Disorder,” the inexplicable mass vanishing of millions of bees. I find something deeply disturbing about all of this, though I’m not sure why (especially since I would not have noticed this lack of bees on my own)…

Is it because, as far as insects go, bees are kind of cute and rather humble, spending their days in quiet service to the hive? Is it that they’re so industrious, that their ultimate mission — pollinating, spreading life — seems so benevolent, so essential, so natural?

Bee expert William Longgood romanticizes our fascination with bees, stating that

Bees are one of our few remaining links with unspoiled nature. They have not changed fundamentally, so we are told, in millions of years. They are still harbingers of spring and couriers of summer, as they have always been. In our increasingly mechanized and sterile world they remind us of sunshine and flowers, of gentle winds, of the soft rustling of grass and leaves. They move with exquisite grace among the petals and flowers and, while watching them, we briefly experience a sense of harmony and unity with our own forgotten beginnings.

I don’t know if the bees are really completely on their way out, but if they are, then their disappearance would signal an end to this particularly ancient and essential connection to the past. (But their loss would also point to the future: is this yet another clue that The World As We Know It is undergoing an irrevocable transformation?)

Maybe the bees will come back, with sly grins, telling us they were just kidding, just taking a little vacation, perhaps just protesting the current administration… Or will they simply keep disappearing?

Certainly, there’s something profoundly sad, even tragic, when something, anything, collapses and then disappears forever.

I haven’t heard from my father in six months and nine days. Has our colony, too, collapsed?

18 responses to “When colonies collapse”

  1. lane says:

    I’ve heard it said that cell phone transmissions are disorienting the bees and killing them. This is profoundly sad and scary. Humans can’t live without bees.

    “six months and nine days” this is also profoundly sad and scary.

  2. Marleyfan says:

    Can’t live without Bees or Cell phones

    Sorry for your situation JZ…

  3. Scotty says:

    Two comments:

    1) When I first started hearing about the disappearance of the bees, it seemed to me like the opening salvo of some epic calamity — like how a lot of science fiction starts with some seemingly un-important event that dominos into THE END.

    I’m not a very sentimental person…I haven’t heard from my father in six months and nine days. Has our colony, too, collapsed?


  4. cynthia says:

    I am sorry about the situation with your father. That is way too long. I hope he contacts you. Lane, I agree with you on the cell phone thing.

  5. ruben mancillas says:

    This got me thinking about 70’s doomsday sci-fi and our human ability to adapt. I don’t think we’ll (necessarily) end up eating people or experiencing Carousel but we will figure out how to live in a horribly compromised world even if bees die out while they cannot survive because of whatever we have done to our/their environment. I read somewhere that we will have overfished and polluted the oceans to the point where commercial seafood will cease to exist by 2175. I can’t imagine a world without it but billions of people somehow will manage. As for my friend Jeremy, there is nothing I can say but I am sorry that he hasn’t spoken with his Dad, but he is one of the most connected and cared about people that I know of. The colony dies but the colony lives on too.

  6. lisa t. says:

    I hope our colony hasn’t collapsed. Cuz I’m part of yours.

  7. lisa t. says:

    that wasn’t a quote above. i meant to italicize “hope” but the italitcs html seems to have malfunctioned.

  8. jeremy says:

    aw, thanks for being part of my colony, guys!

  9. stephanie Wells says:

    J, I was logging on to say the same thing–sometimes the colony needs to be redefined by its inhabitants, and you are definitely at the center of mine.

    Excellent post–love the nature stuff, but when you can drop the zinger at the end that links it to the personal, it takes it to the next level. Love it.

  10. Tim Wager says:

    Love makes a colony, JZ.



  11. farrell fawcett says:

    Just read this. What a heart-breaking last sentence. I’m sorry J. And like all the rest said you are an irreplaceable part of our honey bee colony. hope to see you buzzing around philly again soon.

  12. Rachel says:

    Jeremy, I am sending you a great big lion hug.

  13. Jeremy: You’ll be pleased to know that I had lunch at an outdoor cafe today near Harvard Square and a very pesky bee kept going for my salad and drink. I kept hoping that the annoying people around me jabbing on their cellphones would kill it off, but it kept at it, and as far as I know is still alive, pestering the next patron.

    Oh, alright. You belong to my colony too. Or vice versa. I don’t care what you said about your dad’s obsession with his car and his egotistical dismissal of your profession, he really should call you soon. Have you tried calling him? Better not use a cell phone.

  14. WW says:

    such a devastating post — for me resonating on many different levels, but especially given yesterday’s post, on the idea of becoming a parent — I don’t think you imagine such a rift when you’re considering becoming a father.

    Your father’s a businessman — maybe decide what the final outcome you want is and then negotiate with him accordingly — love as a business deal.

  15. Julie the ping pong queen says:

    Well Jeremy you’ll be happy to know today driving back from swimming in the ocean with my mom a bee taunted and stalked me while i swerve around the bends of PCH. even with the windows down and the sun roof open that little guy held his ground. i actually caught him as he sat on my dash and threw him out the window.
    i remember in the 70’s playing in the school yard a swarm of bees blocked out the blazing sun. me and my friends dashed around screaming “Oh No! Not the killer bees?!?!”
    remember the killer bees anyone?
    on a side note when leaving the beached drenched and freckled my mom pointed out a sign we had failed to see…NO SWIMMING DUE TO DANGEROUS BACTERIA!
    So sad. Nature is trying to tells us selfish beings something ….
    As far as your pops you know where I stand. Send him that song. Make the first move. You only have one dad no matter how much of a jerk he can be.
    But then I am sentimental.

  16. Trixie Honeycups says:

    your dad is a grownup. he has heard your voice, and he’s being a baby.
    there were more brutal ways for you to express yourself. you were just being honest. he needs to work on this also. he needs to own his part.
    let’s talk.

  17. gingerjar says:

    Well, I think I know where the bees are. I open my front door and they are swarming outside (at least 4-5 are), nothing like when I was a kid and there would be a clump of bee’s hanging from the trees in the school-ground. Talk to your dad…the phone lines run both ways (or cell-signals). My husband’s son did not talk to him for 7 years…they had a falling out and the son had moved from Texas to North Carolina taking his newborn daughter with him leaving no forwarding address. They finally reconnected (long story), and they had missed so much…his son had been to Afaganistan and is going to college. The grand-daughter is now 7 and beautiful. Life is too short to waste even one moment.

  18. Becky says:

    How can bees be dying out? Aren’t they supposed to be industrious? I can’t count how many times I was stung as a child. Those bees?
    And I read and felt that last line. Your friends give much kind and wise advice.

    Hi Jeremy! Hope your summer was somewhat restorative, and you found time for at least one adventure. I’m in the throes of teaching, so procrastination has officially begun by trolling this fun site.

    It’s probably not regulation, but I’m also responding to your worst job ever request on this thread:

    My worst job was delivering the Orange County Register in Laguna Beach. This wasn’t a kid’s bicycle route. It was hard labor. It wasn’t the most difficult, by far, but it was the most bleak. I delivered every day. The lack of camraderie, I think, is a large part of what made it unbearable. I thought I’d bond with my fellow deliverers. Who else is up at 3:00 a.m. but dock workers and winos? But no! They would not have me. I remained invisible my entire two-month tenure. No doubt the turnover was too high to waste energy forming a friendship with someone who may split anytime (which I did). And I wasn’t so good at it. The wealthy lagunians wanted thier paper lovingly placed right at their doorstep, which usually was up two flights of stairs and behind a fence, which meant getting out of the car every time, or perfecting the paper throw (a certain deft flick of the wrist). The paper usually landed on the roof of my car. And you had to get them their paper before 6:00. Well . . .

    One morning at the start of my shift, I hit a beautiful, fluffy skunk, the smell of which lingered long after I’d quit.

    I could never get to bed by 8:00 p.m. so as the days wore on I became so sleep deprived I was practically psychotic. I wept at the slightest mishap. I did, however, like driving those empty streets, and there was something romantic about bringing people their morning news (at least it was to me then, my early twenties) . Some people waited outside for me in thier PJs and slippers (strange, huh?)

    But one morning my alarm went off and I just stared at it. I didn’t move, even knowing that the guy who trained me, who was responsible for delivering the papers to homes I missed or couldn’t find, was going to have to work my route, in addition to his own. And he was a nice, patient guy. When the phone rang at 3:30, I let the answering machine pick up. Oh, the shame.

    But I realize that this does not compare, in terms of sheer agony, to your worst job, which sounds like it should be illegal.