Book Review: ‘Beekeeper’s Lament’ is fascinating read
“The Beekeeper’s Lament” (Harper Perennial), by Hannah Nordhaus
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
No doubt you’ve read at least one article about the global honey bee crisis; namely, that vast numbers of bees are dying or mysteriously disappearing. It’s the stuff of science fiction, but the reality is assuredly more disturbing. Hannah Nordhaus gets to the heart of the myriad possibilities of what’s threatening our bees, and why we should all be concerned.
The subtitle says it all: “How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America.”
Nordhaus centers her account on John Miller, a migratory beekeeper who hauls truckloads of bees from crop to crop to help farmers who don’t have natural pollinators. Honey bees are crucial to American agriculture, pollinating crops of 90 different fruits and vegetables. We would lose our almond crops almost entirely without bees, for example.
Nordhaus meticulously details this process, demonstrating how modern apiculture affects everyone from keeper to bee to farmer to consumer. She carefully explains all the dangers that honey bees face in a given season: While bees are remarkably hardy — they have the ability to protect, adapt and repopulate — they are also extremely fragile. One varroa mite has the capacity to take down an entire colony almost instantly. Nordhaus also calls into question, if not outright debunks, a few conspiracy theories about the bee crisis.
But the crisis is just part of the story — bees die all the time, and beekeepers must steel themselves for massive losses, season after season. And while pollination is a natural process, mass-pollination is a business, one that poses an additional threat to the livelihoods of both bee and keeper.
Nordhaus provides an almost overwhelming amount of information in a relatively short amount of space, but it’s a fascinating read from cover to cover, and Miller makes a genuinely likable American hero, despite the repeated mentions of how much he is not a “people person,” instead preferring the company of bees — and as the bees themselves come across as brilliant creatures, it’s not at all hard to see why.