Archive for September, 2008

Some days the universe

September 24, 2008

doesn’t seem all that happy to have you. You run late for an appointment, and sorry, he’s fully booked. The bus comes, and goes as you round the corner. You decant the sugar into the salt jar. The phone rings – wrong number. The phone rings – wrong person. The knock at the door is a Mormon. The checkout girl is a moron. You walk the length of the main street not knowing your zipper was undone. And you’re wearing old knickers.

the balloon
             you set free

bursts on the railing



September 23, 2008
photo by Jon Sullivan

photo by Jon Sullivan

You’re here for the bee job?

He was friendly, if a little taken-aback when I told him what I did. (“Oh? Oh. How very …er, yes.”) He led, I followed. Corridors crossing each other, seemingly at random. Doors swinging open and shut, and everywhere the stutter-hum of fluorescent lights. A small ramp down, into yet another room. A gigantic freezer, and posters on the walls.

“This is where we keep them,” he said, and pulled the door open. I tried to look alert, intelligent: eminently employable. He handed me a small square plastic container, one of many. Of frozen bees.

“New Zealand exports around twenty tonnes of live bees, every year. Our Queens are especially sought-after. It’s a huge industry.”

He slotted the container back into its space in the freezer – a human version of a hive’s orderliness. “We take samples from every hive that wants to export them. Varroa mites, you see. They haven’t made it into the South Island yet. But it’s only a matter of time. Anyway, that’s the job. You section the bees, and examine their thoraxes and lungs. It’s vitally important to be thorough.”

I followed him out of the room, nodding, head buzzing. And it followed me, the thought of the tiny frozen corpses – emissaries of their sistren, strangers in a cold, strange land. Neatly packed into their containers, like glass beads. As perfect as only the dead can be.

spring dawn –
through sleep the sound
of the first bee 



This piece is in response to a haiku I saw on Matt Morden‘s blog the other morning:


already carrying 
enough weight of the world
bees thick with mites

It’s got particular resonance here just now – the varroa mite has just been found in hives in North Canterbury. Why so bad? Here’s a quote directly from the MAF website (NZ Biosecurity):

The apicultural industry’s major contribution to the New Zealand economy is the pollination of plants, which is worth many times the value of honey and other bee products. It is estimated that one third of the food we eat relies on honey bees for pollination, and the area of crops reliant on bees for pollination is increasing.

Uncontrolled, varroa will usually ‘kill’ a bee colony within a year. New Zealand’s billion dollar fruit export industry relies on bees for pollination. But it’s not just fruit exports – vegetable seed production in Canterbury alone generates $40 million in export earnings annually. More than 4000 tonnes of vegetable seed is produced in Canterbury paddocks, 98% of NZ’s total production. And if you’re still wondering why you personally should care … we produce a large percentage of the world’s vegetable seed, including 33% of the world’s carrot seed, and 50% of the planet’s radish seed.

And it’s not just honey bees. There are four species of bumblebees in New Zealand: Bombus hortorum (The Garden Bumblebee), Bombus ruderatus (the Large Garden Bumblebee) and Bombus terrestris (the Buff-tailed Bumblebee) which are widely spread, and Bombus subterraneus (the Short-haired Bumblebee), which is confined to the South Island (and – now extinct in Britain). Bumblebees spread throughout New Zealand from those first imported to Christchurch in 1885.

(Still can’t quite get my head around the idea of intrepid colonists, carefully shipping bumblebees …)

Scientists have established that without bees to pollinate our food crops, humans will die off in just seven years.