Nature bestows predictable magic on Shalom Acres, our little hobby farm in Greenville’s Apple Valley.
Each June we know the primal snapper will lay her eggs near our front door, and in October exotic maitake mushrooms will unfurl in our meadow. We know as well that on summer mornings deer will emerge to savor what sweetness has fallen from the tenuous grip of our gnarled old apple tree.
Another tree, though, is the topic of this essay, because as summer wanes it provides a sweetness of its own – it sings.
Our musical tree has deep Rhode Island roots – years ago a friend dug it from her property at the seashore and handed it over with orders to give it loving care.
Back then it was no more than a stick. Now this lush hydrangea, festooned with pillowy white blossoms, is pushing toward the roofline of the barn it stands beside.
Walk by it and you’ll hear the vibrato of its song, lulling as the voice of a cello.
In fact, this is the throaty hum of a thousand tiny cellos – the bees. In August and September, perhaps mindful that their season grows short, they turn our hydrangea into a sound stage. This must be what inspired the late landscape architect and writer Elizabeth Lawrence to exclaim, “The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.”
Actually, the hum of bees is the voice of our fruitful Earth, since their ceaseless pollination is vital to the food chain.
That’s why for a number of years concerns have been voiced about the dwindling bee population, the causes ranging from pesticides and disease to global warming and loss of habitat.
Over the generations, many who are wise in their ways have waxed eloquent about the honeybee.
Science fiction icon Ray Bradbury observed that they “are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
That number is about right, according to bee experts who say those million floral visits, to make half a pound of honey, require 30,000 bees logging 27,500 miles – a tad more than the entire circumference of the earth.
A proverb from the Congo puts a quid pro quo on the topic of bees: “When the bee comes to your house, let her have a beer; you may want to someday visit the bee’s.”
In days when candles were the major source of nighttime brightness, satirist Jonathan Swift observed, “We have rather chosen to fill our hives with honey and wax, thus furnishing mankind with the two noblest of things, which are sweetness and light.”
Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two about our universe, put it succinctly: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
Maybe so, maybe not, but one hesitates to quarrel with Einstein. Either way, his words are provocative lyrics for the music at Shalom Acres, where wonderment – and warning – are equivalent flowerings on the boughs of a bedazzling hydrangea that sings.