to bee or not to bee…

That is the question and it is not a misspelling! It is the question when you have a bee nest in the cavities between the thick stonewall of your house! Are you going to “let it be”, or are you going to have it destroyed? That is the dilemma that we find ourselves faced with as we spent a week in our old stone house in the countryside in the South West of France. The bees have comfortably made their home through a crack in our outside wall, which is a very thick wall as houses used to be built to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The bees are constantly busy, as busy bees are, flying in and out of the crack in the wall.

 As the nest is about 3 metres high, the bees are not getting in our way, or we in their way. However, we are conscious that the summer holiday is soon starting and the village will get busy and an annual fete will take place in August. Is it responsible to leave the nest? We asked our neighbour, a French farmer. “No problem”, he said, “the bees will not trouble anyone”. He pointed out where he thought the bees have come from: a tower of what used to be an old monastery. He shared some of his knowledge about bees, about the queen bee, the workers and the guards. He certainly seemed to think that we should keep the nest. We agree that bees are precious and becoming an endangered species in some parts of the world, so neither are we keen to destroy the nest. And to allay our worry about the bees becoming a nuisance in the village he told us that bee stings are actually healthy (that is if you are not allergic to the stings)! Another neighbour joined in. He shrugged his shoulders. “What are you worrying about? Do you want to get rid of the bees? Just smoke them out early morning!” Yes, right! Leonora and I could not see ourselves rising up early and risking the ire of the bees as we amateurishly produce smoke in a crack of a wall! Another neighbour told us to be in touch with the pompiers (Fire Service) which we did.

 At the station we explained that we have a little “problem” with a bee nest. Promptly we are given a telephone number of an apiculteur (bee keeper) who may be able to rescue the nest and locate it elsewhere. We phoned the bee keeper and, even in a region where the pace of life is much slower than in other parts of France, let alone the UK, the bee keeper arrived within 30 minutes to have a look. He cannot do much, explaining that in a thick wall such as ours, the nest can be buried deep inside and he was of the opinion too that we have nothing to worry about. Just let the bees “be”! “And how long will they stay in our wall?” “Perhaps a year, perhaps 10 years, depending how comfortable the bees are in the nest!” We are happy to go along with his advice and we thanked him for having come to see us so promptly, and not wanting any compensation for his effort.

 A few days later and a lone bee, guarding the nest thought that we are getting a bit too close as we were painting the shutters of our windows. Always having health and safety in our minds (indoctrinated as we have becoming so safety conscious over the past few years in the UK), we started to have second thoughts again. What to do? We called the pompiers again who, this time, gave us the phone number of someone who can destroy the nest. We phoned the number and expected the man to jump into action. But his immediate reaction is the same as what we have encountered all along. “It is a shame to get rid of the nest. What height is the nest? When did we first notice the nest? No reason to worry. The bees will not trouble anyone. Are you worried what may happen when you are not there? Give my phone number to your neighbour and, if necessary, he can phone me and I will come.” And so the ball is now in the court of our neighbour, the French farmer, who is a most kind and sensible “son of the French rural soil” whose judgement we wholeheartedly trust. And we enjoyed hearing the buzzing of the bees, happy that we have been guided by wise and nature-friendly counsel into protecting their nest, rather than destroying it! For how easy it is to destroy, yet how much better it is to keep and protect God’s creation! The words of the psalmist serenading the wonders of a generous creator rang in our ears: “How varied are your works, Lord! In wisdom you have wrought them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24).

 copyright © June 29, 2011

[with credit to Leonora Jagessar-Visser ‘t Hooft]

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