A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

The Promise Of Spring

Pollen Starts Flying Into The Hive

By Grai St. Clair Rice

Why does the promise of spring feel so darn good?

Though winter is not yet over, the renewal of spring beacons our spirits and draws us into the lengthening daylight.  In the cycle of life, spring holds out the promises of youth, as if all things are possible. Our failings fall behind us, melting into the bare, nascent earth to feed the soil, as we move faithfully forward towards growth.

Our beautiful blue planet, and the sun we circle, can’t promise us anything. We expect the Earth to turn and the sun to rise and the rain to fall and the wind to blow and the plants to grow so we can live. There are no foolproof promises, yet always the promise of spring feels so real and true.

Sun warms the face of our beehives on a late winter day. Around the neighborhood, there are no discernible signs of spring from the muted branches, fields or flower beds, yet honeybees are coming back to the hives with pollen packed onto their hind legs. The busy bees are feeding their young the rich protein from the pollen—a joyous sign that the hive’s queen is alive and well. The colony has not succumbed to the wrath of winter, although there is danger until the dandelions bloom.

As a beekeeper, I learned that maple trees have flowers high on the tips of their branches, both male and female flowers, that provide the season’s first real nectar and pollen sources. Willows also provide early pollen. Now, my eyes scan the treetops as I pass through the landscape for further hints of spring, an experience that connects me to both the season and the surroundings.

Vibrant colors of pollen coming into the hives—ranging from deep orange to bright yellow to brilliant green—feed the imagination and display nature’s oldest collaboration between plants and pollinators. This symbiotic relationship has been instrumental in the course of evolution, and developed our world as we know and love it. The seed comes from the flower by way of the pollinator, and together they can create abundance. This relationship represents the ultimate promise of growth.

In the 2011 film Queen of the Sun, Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian physicist and environmental activist, explains it beautifully: “The beauty of the seed is that out of one you can get millions. The beauty of the pollinator is that it turns that one into the millions, and that’s an economics of sharing. That’s the real economics of growth, because life is growing.”

The dynamics of growth seem to hold out promises we often take for granted. We become complacent with expectation without responsibility. We all know that promises can be broken.

Last year in the Hudson Valley, the stone fruit crop was wiped out by an extremely late freeze, and the deep drought of the summer and fall compromised most flora and fauna. In step with the season, our hives went into the winter without an abundance of honey or bees, and our colony losses have been deep as a result. We are not in isolation. On this spinning planet of ours, we are really all connected.

Our environment is more fragile than most of us are willing to admit, or it becomes too overwhelming to think we can have any effect at all on the course of nature when we are just trying to pay the rent. Envision the poster of the galaxy with the arrow designating, “You Are Here.” What do we do with that?!

Bee a pollinator. Embrace the spring with your own hopeful and educated promises. Find sustenance where others may see nothing discernible. Environmental protection needs our help right now. Consider taking action to protect the further degradation of the environment by chemicals—plant good things for pollinators, both native bees and honeybees. Bee an advocate, either silently in your backyard or vocally with your neighbors and elected officials.

Galileo Galilei spent the end of his life under house arrest after the Roman Inquisition, in 1615, concluded his work heretical in his support of Copernicus’s theory that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and that the Earth in fact circled the sun.

Since the promise of my youth, I have had this quote on my bedroom wall: “The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” –Galileo Galilei 1564-1642

You are the promise of spring.


Grai St. Clair Rice is a Co-Founder of HoneybeeLives, teaching beekeeping in New Paltz and New York City.  www.HoneybeeLives.org