ARTEBY Author Interviews
ARTEBY: In your magical realism novel, ‘The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’, you also write about bees – ‘The Voice of the Infinite in the Small’. Tell us a little bit about it.
BG: Yes, well, that’s what the bushmen of the Kalahari say, when they listen to a mantis. A profound way of expressing the ‘unexplainable’, isn’t it? I read that many, many years ago in “The Lost World of the Kalahari” by Sir Laurens van der Post. As we’re living very close to Nature, honey bees are part of our lives, our mundane reality, whatever you may want to call it. In any case, I did not invent the bees for my story. Everything in my book – as magical as it may seem – is deeply rooted in reality and my personal experience thereof. When we planned our magical garden, we paid close attention to what attracted honey bees. The purpose was not to get honey, but to help provide these beautiful and ecologically significant beings with what they needed to live a happy life. Today, after about 20 years, they can choose between fields of lavender, flowering gums, lots of fynbos, wild pear, buddlejas and many acacias – just to name a few. Being from Namibia, I love the sweet fragrance of acacias when they’re in bloom, and as bees love the colour yellow, they’re in heaven when these trees are exploding with soft yellow mimosas . . .
ARTEBY: I love acacia honey! But your story is hardly about honey . . .
The Mantis and the Bee
BG: No, it’s rather about our perceptions and our human conditioning. I assume you refer to the encounter between the praying mantis – the predator, the so-called ‘killer machine’ – and the little innocent honey bee, who spends her life serving others. I posted a 5-minute clip on The Mantis and the Bee on exactly that part of the story on YouTube in 2010! I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when it actually happened – all I had was my Coolpix P90 and I used it. I’m still thrilled that I was part of this scene and could document some of those incredible moments! Very quiet moments . . . very different from the world of instant gratification and noise we live in . . . I called it a meditation. But we know that . . . “What you are the vibration of, appears!”
ARTEBY: What did you expect to happen when you pressed the video button?
BG: Like everyone else, I assumed the predator would catch the bee and devour it . . . It’s something we’ve come to almost expect as that’s the kick most audiences want to see on TV: the kill. . . Just go and insert ‘mantis vs bee’ on YouTube and you see what I mean. But it taught me a lesson!
Life is so different! Yes, it also includes the inevitable moment of death at some stage, but that is just one moment amongst so many within an otherwise magnificent circle of life, the dance between worlds, filled with beauty and labour and creation – and, as in the case of the honey bee, the production of honey and the pollination of plants that provide us human beings with a passport for life: our daily food!
Remember, we pray “And give us our daily bread…”? Impossible without the honey bee! In fact, the holy honey bee!!!
“If honey bees become extinct, human society will follow in four years.” Albert Einstein said – or rather warned us.
ARTEBY: So are these bees living somewhere in your garden or do you keep them in a commercial hive?
How to provide wild bees with a home
BG: Let’s look at a recent example. We’ve been cutting out dead wood and branches and stapled it to be chipped, when I noticed that a swarm of bees had started to build a nest at the bottom of a huge pile of wood. While bees are deaf – they have no ears – they are very sensitive to vibrations, they sense through their hair and their antennae. So when the wood was removed above their nest and chipped in a major machine, they weren’t too happy. However, we left all the major branches they had used for their nest, and I covered it with the upper part of my boxer’s travel box, for protection against storm, possible overdoses of heat and rain, predators from the air – like eagles and bussards – and from the ground, like the wicked mongoose.
Then we met two knowledgable and dedicated bee conservationists – Jenny Cullinan and Karin Sternberg – who are working on a scientific project in the area, which includes recording existing bee colonies, as well as raising awareness about bees and the importance of keeping wild bees within their natural environment with a minimum of human interference. As our nest was rather large, it was difficult to find a suitable natural home – like the tree stump we thought would be ideal, but it was far too small to hold a swarm of that size. Finding nothing really ideal, we settled for the travel box! A sheltered place close-by was chosen, where we dug a hole big enough for the bottom part of the large box, which was then laid out with pieces of wood and branches – inside and along the edges outside – to keep the environment as natural as possible. The next task was to cut the bee hive free without disturbing them too much, to carry the bulk of the swarm over to their new home, place them as well as possible, and then remove the overhanging branches for a perfect fit – and, finally, to close the lid of the box on top and attach it. It actually worked perfectly, with a safe entrance and even some ventilation inside!
As the place where the bees had been was full of pheromones, many bees stuck around, forming new clusters. These had to be gently collected and carried into the new home to join the swarm. While there was a wild buzz around us all the time, there was no haste – it was a wonderfully peaceful, caring and almost meditative process. No one was stung – and I did not wear any protective clothing apart from simple gardening gloves to handle the logs.
Discovery of the Pseudoscorpion
While we were collecting the remaining bees in the blazing midday sun, always trying to provide them with some shadow, Jenny made an amazing discovery, which Karin immediately banned on her camera (see photo above): There were a number of tiiiiny and very speedy little guys running around in the debris left from the original nest, which play a significant role in a healthy honey bee’s nest, the Ellingsenius fulleri! Called a ‘Pseudo-scorpion’ as it really resembles a microscopic scorpion (2 to 4 mm long!) but lacks the typical stinging tail, it is believed to feed on small mites and other arthropods in the honey bee’s nest, hence playing a vital role in the nest microfauna and the health of the bee colony. WOW!
(See their article on Facebook on “The Microfauna of a Honey Bee Nest“.)
Although they are extremely difficult to spot, we could capture a few and added them to the new home for the bees. The little lattice gate was closed – very practical, too, as while the bees could easily fly in and out, it protected the nest from predators from the air and the ground. Who would ever think of their dog’s travel box as a home for bees?
Just before we met for this interview, I went to give them some water . . . it’s been such a boiling hot day. As they weren’t expecting me, some of the buzzing homecomers promptly bumped into me and one fell into the water bowl. I reached out with my finger . . . the furry being climbed up, whirred its wings, and buzzed off into the nest, just as the sun was setting behind Chapman’s Peak.
ARTEBY: Clearly, you trust them! No fear?
BG: No fear, no, that would change my vibration and attract the same within them. This whole procedure just showed the perfection of Nature, how everything is connected and interdependent. Whole and yet very fragile, too, if we interfere. I’m happy that in our part of the woods the bees are happy and – thanks to the ‘pseudoscorpions – healthy, too. It’s all a matter of vibration. It truly is.
ARTEBY: Another example of a wonderful human-animal bond. Will you be posting a video on YouTube?
BG: If and when I get time, I will put a short video together – we’ll see!
ARTEBY: As a tribute to the bee?
BG: Absolutely! That’s exactly what motivated Pippa to record her video in my story, ‘The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’ – it was to be a tribute to the honey bee!
ARTEBY: For anyone who loves metaphysical fiction – this book is for YOU! Thank you!