A few years ago I was reading bits and pieces about the mystery of the disappearing honeybee when it came up in the news, though as with most things t...moreA few years ago I was reading bits and pieces about the mystery of the disappearing honeybee when it came up in the news, though as with most things the idea of yet another thing going horribly wrong just kind of overwhelmed me and I let it slide by lest my head explode…
Fast forward: upon reading a random article on beekeeping the other day and finding myself fascinated with the whole affair I decided it was time to pick up a few books on the creature. I really didn't think I'd enjoy this - admittedly I've read way too many books of the variety in which a journalist tags along and reports on someone's life and their role in the focal subject and I've been shying away from that style lately. But once Nordhaus sets the context of the primary beekeeper, John Miller, he is only drawn upon to supplement the wider story of bees and beekeeping (And with great effect. His term for the aggressive Africanized bee had me giggling - "behavior challenged bees", as I imagined the bees akin to toddlers running amok, in need of shots of ritalin (joke!!) and social skills classes…).
In fact, this is currently my favorite style of non-fiction book when I want to learn something while also hoping to really enjoy the subject. At first I was eager to read about JUST honeybee science and behavior but Nordhaus covers all angles expertly. She takes a broad scope, covering each topic just enough before transitioning into yet another fascinating aspect. Beekeeping history, science, the environmental politics surrounding pollination (monocropping, pesticides, the contracting of what in nature is a completely natural event) the difficult life of a beekeeper, bee health (or lack thereof), the recent scourge of the varroa mite (destroyed all feral bee colonies in the US), colony collapse disorder, honey types, means of quality identification and the lack of US government regulation and classification ("pure" honey may be up to 80 percent corn syrup).
In addition, the history of the bee is an example of how we meddle with and try to control nature for benefit and profit, only for it to backfire spectacularly. From bringing them over in the first place (they are not native to North America) to the effort by seedless citrus companies in California to institute bee "no-fly" zones as pollination results in seeded, "ruined" fruit. Efforts over the centuries to impregnate queen bees, from clamping the vagina open for insemination to crafting a tiny silver penis (I cringe, I cringe… and I can't help but be slightly affronted for the bee, whether in gender solidarity or the lengths they went through to accomplish this, I do not know..). Inbred varroa mite resistant drones that can head off infestations but suck at everything else a bee should do… Lawns, "green deserts", monocropping, and feeding bees corn syrup while robbing them of honey and the theorizing that the result is malnourished bees that are more likely to die en masse.
My semi-obsession with becoming a beekeeper may pass, but I'll certainly be paying more attention rather than vaguely deciding I like the flavor of clover honey over that of "desert bloom" honey. In addition, I'll never look at my endless tubes of Burt's Bees chapstick the same way again.(less)
Ah well. I probably should have payed more attention to the title, "FOWL Weather". While it is still quite funny at times (I really enjoy Tarte's humo...moreAh well. I probably should have payed more attention to the title, "FOWL Weather". While it is still quite funny at times (I really enjoy Tarte's humor), it was difficult to feel lighthearted given the number of animal injuries and deaths, as well as the account of the steady decline of Tarte's mother into Alzheimer's. I picked this up to take a respite from life's stresses and instead found myself feeling stressed out by someone else's continuous bad fortune!! In addition, there is this strange theme that runs through the book that has to do with Tarte's supernatural encounters. I wasn't sure if some of these things were merely for laughs or actual anecdotes. It didn't quite gel with my expectation of a book chock full of stories about animals.
Though it's hard not to love Linda Tarte, his wife - just reading about her makes you want to know them both. They seem kind of nutty in a truly wonderful, life enriching way, ha! I really admire Tarte's honesty about his struggles with depression and anxiety and that was at least one welcome and pleasantly surprising element in this book.
The idiosyncrasies of the Tartes' animals and their dealings with them are the best parts of his books but there just wasn't that much here in this one. I'll probably pick up his first book, Enslaved by Ducks and read it again - it is one of my "must read" nature books.(less)