Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Uncle Fred kept bees on the smallholding on which he and Aunt Tilly had built their home, a neat and tidy little cottage on a large plot of land deep in the country. As a child it seemed to me to be miles from anywhere. Certainly it was well hidden from the road surrounded by fields for as far as the eye could see. It had no mains drainage, gas or electricity supply, the water came from a well in the yard, whilst the toilet was a chemical affair down the garden (!) but it was a warm, welcoming, loving home for all that. There always seemed to be something cooking in the kitchen, Aunt Tilly loved cooking. She was a large jolly lady, one of my grandmother’s sisters; there were six in all, plus at least three brothers. Fred and Tilly had first met at the village school as children; eventually they got married and brought up their family in this cottage where they had spent the whole of their life together. When we were young Dad would sometimes drive us over to see them. It was a fantastic adventure to play in the garden; not carefully manicured like ours at home, but to a child, wild and exciting. The geese could be very territorial but like the chickens had free run of the garden, so it was fun collecting eggs from all sorts of hidden places.
Uncle Fred had always kept bees so that what he did not know about them was not worth knowing. And he was always ready to share his knowledge with anyone who asked. I remember him telling me that one of his hives might contain around 35,000 bees in high summer dropping to 5,000 in winter. Each bee had his or her own particular task depending on its age, he said. A worker bee, (female, of course), would spend the first half of her life in the hive before flying out to pollinate plants, collect pollen, nectar and water; then she will only live for another 20 days. There was always a good supply of honey in the house; Uncle Fred reckoned he got 40-60lb a year on average, so that their neighbours, friends and family were well supplied and there was always plenty for their local Church Summer Fete. Aunt Tilly attended the village Church regularly each Sunday but could never persuade Uncle Fred to go; except for his wedding and that one last time.
The old cottage was pulled down a while back to make way for an estate of expensive new modern houses. The bees too are long gone, yet looking back, I find it quite remarkable that 35,000 tiny creatures can live and work harmoniously together for the common good, each performing their allotted task when we humans cannot.
There is a lot we can learn from these tiny industrious creatures that God created with the same love and care that He created you and me.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years