Being Queen is a lonely thing….
I visited my bees on Sunday and they’re all doing well. I have currently three colonies: one hive that is quite populous, one that is less so and one that is tiny. The tiny one is one I created about three weeks ago when faced with the hard choice of what to do with a couple of queen cells that needed disposing of.
(A little bee background: bees basically consist of three kinds. Workers and queens are female and drones are male. Drones do nothing but wait around in the hope that a virgin queen will emerge somewhere in the vicinity and they can mate with her: it’s a great life while the sun shines. They get fed by workers, do no work and just buzz around all day waiting for their chance with a queen. Incidentally, they die straight after this. They die in the winter or the workers kill them off. But bees exist to make more bees(the honey is just their winter stores) and the problem from May onwards is swarms. You let your bees swarm and you lose half your colony. We lost half of ours because they waited till we went away on holiday and then buggered off. So one of the things you need to do to try and avoid swarming is to knock out queen cells. A queen cell is a long tube of beeswax, where the workers rear a single egg by feeding it with royal jelly until after 16 days a new queen emerges).
We found two queen cells when we opened the hive that day. One hatched in my hand and I accidentally dropped her; I have no idea where she went. The other felt warm and alive in my hand and I couldn’t bring myself to do what a seasoned bee-keeper would have done and thrown the queen cell away. I made a sudden instinctive decision and took two frames of brood and nurse bees to our spare hive and gently mashed the end of the queen cell onto a corner of it, shut the hive up and walked away. Bees will always rear brood and eggs and they will always minister to a queen so there was a good chance that I had started a new colony in doing so.
I felt a little odd about it because I had simply felt that what I held in my hand was what you might call, “a good ‘un”. I had no evidence or logic for this: just pure feeling. However, it appears I was right. The new queen had emerged, mated and begun laying when I came back a week later. For a few weeks she was the only one of our three queens who WAS laying. On Sunday, in my inspection, I actually spotted her, swift as a little greyhound and the frame was filled with eggs and brood. A real good ‘un. I am glad I obeyed that tingle in my hand and mind that said “Let her have a chance”. I suspect that over the next few years, she may more than pay me back.
But this evening I had been pondering over the model of the bees and it occurred to me that being queen is terribly lonely. Bees sense when a queen is failing and they “supersede”: that is, they rear a new queen and quietly let the old one go. Sometimes they kill her. Sometimes a bee keeper decides a queen is not what he wants and replaces her. Either she’s getting too old, or she’s not laying enough or the temperament of the colony isn’t right. Bye bye Queenie.
I could draw parallels with the book world (and they exist all right) but I won’t labour the point, because writers create stories(honey) and Queens lay eggs to make more bees. But what I really want you to understand is that those who are at the pinnacle of what they are or do are in a precarious place. They won’t be the best forever. They won’t be at the top forever. And coming down, they may meet those they may have climbed over to get to the top.
So, let us be kind and gracious as we make our journey through the world; everyone we meet has private battles and sorrows of their own. Their life might look sweet and honey-scented from where we are but we don’t know what it cost them to get there, how hard they must work to stay there and how easy it is to lose.