If Bees Are Few
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
This brief poem by Emily Dickinson reminds us of the importance of reverie in our lives. Contemplation. Dreaming. Clear, cold thought. It’s all important.
So is the clover. So is the bee.
There is a saying about the importance of bees, attributed to Albert Einstein, still floating around on the Internet: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left.” While it’s uncertain and pretty unlikely that Einstein actually said this—it’s out of his field, rather precise, and not attributed to him in the scientific literature—it’s true that the loss of the bees would be devastating, and has been. Bee colony collapse continues to be studied, with a link to pesticides confirmed and disputed, and with much at stake.
It reminds us of Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, who alerted us in 1962 to the dangerous effects of pesticides in our world. Carson inspired many people, including Sandra Steingraber, whose book Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, is out now in its second edition, with updated science. In Having Faith, Steingraber has also written about the presence of environmental toxins in breast milk, once the safest and most perfect human food, sadly showing that we did not fully heed Carson’s earlier wake-up call.
When Carson was testifying in Congress about the ill effects of DDT and certain agricultural practices, she was dying of breast cancer. Likewise, Steingraber battled cancer at a young age, growing up downstream from agricultural and industrial toxins, and she has survived to keep on researching, writing, and calling us to wake up to how we are poisoning our world, and urging us to change our ways.
Slowly but surely, this is happening.
March is Women’s History Month in the USA. In honor of Rachel Carson, please visit the wonderful website created by Linda Lear, and read more about Carson’s life, her work, her love of the natural world, and her battle to save it.
You can also link to Sandra Steingraber’s website below, and learn more about the documentary film, Living Downstream, based on her book. A poet, Steingraber testifies as a cancer patient and survivor in her poetry collection, Post-Diagnosis. A mother, she protects her children and ours in Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.
Also in honor of Rachel Carson, you might want to visit the E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, with a mission of education about interdependence of species on our earth. Edward O. Wilson is a biologist and entomologist who has actually said about ants something similar to what Einstein apocryphally said about bees. Wilson phrases it in reverse, noting that the earth could survive the extinction of humans but not the extinction of the ants.
And, for more reverie, visit Prairie, an art and sound installation by Shawn Decker at the Cultural Center, pictured above. Or read about Prairie here at EIL.
Or visit the actual prairie, what’s left of it. And think about that.
Rachel Carson Website by Linda Lear
Post-Diagnosis by Sandra Steingraber
Living Downstream Documentary Film
E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation
Poetry in (Eco)motion: Prairie by Shawn Decker at EIL
Chuck E. Bloom, How Many Times Will It Take?
Chuck E. Bloom, Appreciated From a Distance
Good post and links! I did several pieces on Steingraber quite a while ago. Her documentary is sobering. Love her poetry and essays.
Damned scary, the bee die-off.