Perspiration streams down my back. The air is ash-laden; another day of record-breaking high temperatures smothers and oppresses. Is this what an apocalypse feels like? An apocalypse of global warming.
In my garden I watch honey and bumble bees darting about, alighting on the lacey fragrant flowers of my ilán-ilán tree, their favorite right now. I wonder if this heavy air interferes with their orientation and sensitive sense of smell.
The televised scenes of forests and fields, farm animals and homes being devoured by raging flames feel unreal, more like a Hollywood disaster movie – pine trees converted into flaming torches, unidentifiable carcasses littered on the ground. A farmwoman laments her losses. “Everything,” she cries. “Everything.” Behind her, a scorched washing machine perches atop a pile of rubble. Veterinarians treat the wounds of a horse with a singed forelock. Beekeepers point to their blackened hives and scorched fields.
Firemen, forest rangers, soldiers and townspeople work together to control the flames with hoses, shovels, rakes and chain saws. Those without tools attempt to smother flames with leafy tree branches.
Relief is on the way. The 747Global Super tanker, thanks to a single donor’s generosity, roars low over the heads of cheering country people, releasing its cargo of water and repellant onto the flaming forest. It’s the star of each night’s newscasts. To my surprise I notice painted on its fuselage the words Spirit of John Muir, the naturalist responsible for the naming of California’s Yosemite as the first U.S. National Park.
I feel a renewed faith in humankind watching scenes of hundreds of cars and trucks lining up to take aid to the people of Santa Olga, a town left in ashes. Television and newspaper advertisements provide information for making monetary donations. Beekeepers beg for bags of sugar to make a solution that can keep the bees from starving while their owners search for safe areas.
I know that my garden bees, like all of their species, are well-experienced in cooperation, each performing its assigned task in benefit of the whole hive. Those foragers pollinating our apricot and avocado tree blossoms guarantee our summer harvest. They will return to their hives with their pollen-laden baskets, dance their waggle dance or wave their antennae to inform the others where to find the sweet pollen. I wonder where they’ve established their hives in this city neighborhood. I’m amazed to learn that in winter they instinctively know to crowd together tightly, each bee rotating through the cluster from outside to inside so no bee gets too cold. In hot weather, they fan their wings. Such efficiency. No carbon footprint.
Yet, against wind-whipped wildfires, bees have little defense. They depend upon our care, which we must recognize as a mutually beneficial arrangement. Chilean beekeepers look to move their healthy hives to new lands temporarily, and I wonder how long it will take for the native foliage to recover. One year? Two? Ten? Already a winter of little rain is predicted.
Danger exists that complacency will set in now that the crisis is past. It is easy to forget lessons learned as television and newspaper headlines devote more space to political frauds and the day’s robberies. Yet, the homeless are still homeless; the farmers have no suitable land to farm, and the bees no fields and trees to visit. When will they return to their buzzing, bumbling, pollinating and dancing the waggle as only honey bees know how to do?
This morning I look up to the wonder of an almost true blue firmament. Lightness fills me after the weeks of a grey, smoke-filled sky. I observe the bees’ velvet touch on the delicate blooms, their patient precision, and feel pleased they find nourishment in my garden.