A Honeybee Allegory

July 31, 2013

In the tenth and last of “The Good Lord Made Them All” animal story series is a fascinating story that will appear in the book next January. As I was preparing to write this week’s blog, a subject prominent in today’s media (both electronic and print): the current standoff between the forces of entitlement and the forces of job-creation came to mind. Keeping in mind, of course, that both opposites are always with us, each serving a purpose. For some strange reason, I felt impressed to take some lines from the story, and use them as this week’s allegory, leaving the application, if any, to our readers.

Until now the sycamore hollow had been strictly a female domain, but in early May there emerged from the central brood cells a limited group of double-sized, stripeless bees who conducted themselves in a decidedly loud and lordly manner. To some extent, this arrogance was understandable. From the very first they were pampered by the household legions. They toiled not and neither would they rule, yet the queen herself received scarcely more attention.

These males, numbering perhaps three hundred, each resplendent in a velvety jacket of golden brown, grew fat and sleek on the choicest sweets from the honey pantry. By June they were spending their hours mainly in a sluggish stage of honeyed drunkenness. But the thousands of toil worn harvesters and domestics pursued their ceaseless duties….

There nestled in the carefully guarded center of the brood nest a half-dozen cells much larger than the rest. By the second day after the old queen had been swarmed away from the sycamore, one of these cells pulsed with life. There was a stirring within, a faint, gnawing commotion somewhat like a chick pipping an exit from its swaddling shell.

Excitement quickly simmered throughout the queenless colony. A corps of nurse bees hurried to the a-borning cell, and lent their aid. Soon a new queen, as pallid as alabaster, crawled forth into her mysterious new world. Nature, ineffably wise, had not forgotten Apishontee.

Even the drones, who until now had shown little concern for the queenless condition of Apishontee, perked up noticeably. Twirling their fine sensitive antennae – somewhat as ancient suitors were wont to flourish waxed mustachios – the males crowded toward the royal brood nest.

For once, their arrogance was resented. Jealously ministering nurse bees drove them back, swiftly and unceremoniously. Whereupon, recoiling sullenly, the drones marched back grandly to the nearest honey cups.

The new queen of Apishontee emerged into daylight two days later. Pausing on the threshold of her honey-scented domain, she chanted a muted drone of motherly affection, while her joyous thousands of subjects thronged about her. The queen presently took to the air and made a series of calm, slow flights about the slanting sycamore tree.

It was now that the phlegmatic males quit their sulking and made their appearance. Heads glistened in the bright sunlight like buttons of ebony. On each proud back gleamed an irregular dark crest – that mark of bee royalty found also on the queen, but not on her daughters who wore the gold-striped livery of toil.

Drumming up their deepest bass of male importance, the drones wheeled about in songful courtship. The queen, for a time, seemed unimpressed. The drones continued to circle. They rose and dived, spun and droned with magnificent song, strutting in their most handsome behavior.

Abruptly the shining new queen zoomed into the air. She spiraled steadily and rapidly into the cloudless azure sky. The drones, momentarily bewildered, perhaps reluctant to attempt such dizzy heights, finally coursed after her. But of the several hundreds of them, scarcely a dozen of the lustiest continued their pursuit. These whistled on into the blue – up, up.

* * *

July burned its course across the countryside. Apishontee the Younger had quickly regained her busy stride. The new queen, moved by that serene gravity imposed by her station in life, set herself to bee-queenly tasks. Eggs multiplied with a machinelike prolificity, a thousand a day, two thousand a day. The numbered strength of Apishontee grew steadily.

But not so the golden stream of new honey. There came hot, rainless weeks. Wild bloom, which normally laced the swampland, withered and dropped. Nectars, so scarce, so scattered, were gathered more and more tediously. Honey came into the sycamore more and more uncertainly.

Finally it ceased.

Apishontee grew frantic. During this lean season of drought only the handsome drones remained unruffled. The thousands of busy harvesters, ranging farther afield, worked themselves ragged. Busy little legs became worn to a wirelike smoothness. Small striped abdomens took on the dull, harsh sheen of worn satin. Gossamer wings became dusty, torn. Hundreds died.

But the drones, born to a life of ease, knew but one thing to do – eat. This they did, and kept luxuriously fat. Early each morning they descended from their comfortable perches in the highest sector of the hollow. They promptly gorged themselves on honey, then thrust an indelicate and wobbly course through the humming household legions, to gain the outside.

For the handsome drones, though at first pampered and allowed choicest foods and privileges, had come to suspect that their importance in a busy household had somehow vanished. As difficulties afield stirred a subtle change of attitude among the toilworn workers, the drones seemed more and more anxious to make themselves scarce while daylight lasted.

True drones, they were strict, however, in maintaining dignity. They thrust a way past the sentinels at the entrance and took to the air in grandest manner – bound, their pompous actions assured everyone, on an important mission for the day. Safely beyond sight of the tumultuous hive, they promptly dropped their air of high purpose.

Shiveringly careful of the dew-damp woods, they loitered awing. But as soon as the sun had dried away the dew, they settled themselves comfortably in open spots, where during the busy morning hours they might remain pleasantly stupefied on fragrances that they could no longer hold in substantial form.

The drought was broken in late August. Black clouds bilged up at sunset. By midnight, rain again lashed the swampland, and again the wind blew violently. Apishontee huddled inside her sycamore hollow, feeling no complacency tonight. The sycamore rocked before the wind, groaning fitfully. Apishontee, the Many-in-One, huddled together anxiously, perhaps fearful lest another blast of sky-fire might demolish their home.

It happened an hour later, but it was not by lightning this time. It was the steady pressure of driving wind. Each rocking motion of the leaning sycamore bent it farther, left it slanting at an increasingly perilous angle.

Apishontee sensed this unexpected threat with a sort of collective despair. No more flowers to harvest. If the hollow were broken asunder, the precious store of honey lost, the colony could never collect enough to survive the coming winter.

The wind continued its fury. Rain ceased, and started again; but the wind came on unceasingly. Lower bent the sycamore. Then, under a violent surge of rain-chilled wind, the bee tree was abruptly uprooted. It began falling – a dizzying sensation even to the hollow-huddled bees.

But the sycamore top had slanted only a foot before there came a grating, sliding sound. It ceased falling and came to a dead rest. Its central bough, sturdy and crooked, was caught in the solid crotch of a giant water oak near by. Instead of her home being demolished, Apishontee now sensed that it was made permanent, even more solid, by this chance stroke of storm.

* * *

Rain brought belated life to the scorched earth. Late season flowers sprang up. The harvesters of Apishontee plied them eagerly, willingly, for soon winter would be upon the swampland. The drones were undismayed. The drought had not worried them.

It was on a crisp, chill morning in October that they were made to give close heed, however, to their laggard existence. Descending as usual toward the nearest honey store, they brushed through a collective mood distinctly hostile to them. The drones tried to ignore it; they galloped hurriedly down the narrow corridors between the honeycombs. The domestics, wings aflutter, voiced shrill resentment this morning.

It happened swiftly, then. The workers surged upon the glittering-bodied drones. Tumbled legs-over-wings, the males tried to right themselves, sought futilely to retrieve their dignity. But the outraged honey harvesters and work-worn domestics were firm. In a seething pattern they fell upon the gorged, oversize members of Apishontee.

A few reached the outside with injury no more serious than a deflated ego. Many, alas, came into the early day sans wings, or minus certain of their glossy black legs. These were hearsed away by the zealously determined house cleaners, and dropped to the ground with grim finality.

Apishontee of the sycamore tree as simply, as sternly as that, rid her colony of those members who had long ago served their one purpose in life, who could thereafter contribute no mite to its perpetuation. Winter was soon upon the swampland. Apishontee went to sleep, content in the knowledge that she had at last reached a proud peak of wildwood civilization.

Published in: on July 31, 2013 at 5:00 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I get it….good job.

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