Honey Bee

“So did the Mayans also learn to enjoy honey, and have apiaries to domesticate honeybees?” I asked Chevo, intently observing two specimens crawl up the window pane. I looked for the sting, which it had concealed hasta que se enoje. We had spent the morning talking about symbols, characters and writing systems, and it occurred to me that in all of Mayan art, there was nothing as regal and humble as this insect.

Abejas…hymenoptera… such fine instruments of production, dignified producers of honey and pollination, with colonies of millions, each and all the same except the queen. To me, the honeybee epitomized dexterity, endurance, efficiency and strength in numbers. I marveled at the mechanical precision of their movement, the complexity of such a simple thing, and it didn’t look like the honeybees I had seen in North America.

Chevo explained. Incidentally, he read once, the greatest producers of honey in the world are China, Israel, and Mexico, far from the Mediterranean that these bees had come from. But the ones which we see are a hybrid of the more domesticated bees of Italy, and an African species, which are more aggressive. The difference, is in the abdomen, which in the Italian form was well-defined black and yellow. The ones which we see here were mottled.

But the Mayans did use bees, a peculiar species of black bees, abejas negras, which were much smaller and lived in the forest habitat. These native honeybees formed massive honeycombs in dead trees and its honey was especially flavorful with nuances of richness found nowhere else. It is only that this completely black bee was difficult to domesticate, and it is rare and nearly extinct now with the migration of the African bees.

For a moment, I visualized a collection of remarkable serigraphs featuring drawings of these remarkable native bees, printed on quality paper, letterpress. A Chiapas collection that was distinctly a reference to the role of the species, that could be ethnic, exotic, and yet homey and sophisticated at the same time. Elements of our global historical heritage, and the humble service of the honeybee. The details delight me. In my own way, with the abeja negra paper collection, it pays retro-homage to the fact that the Chinese nobleman Tsai Lun invented the first mulberry bark paper by observing wasps skillfully spin their white nest.

And thus it is with paying attention and opening our minds to the world around us, that we derive exceptional inspiration and greater ideas. It is to be curious, to see what others find ordinary, to ask peculiar questions, that I find my mind engaged in the world of humble miracles around me.

It is as if God were deliberately careless so that we would notice. The Great Creator leaves His fingerprints of life everywhere, in hidden and obvious places…today, in the buzzing of an insect against the windowpane que me llama la atención… tomorrow, perhaps in the interlocking gears of an antique clock.

Spanish Words of the Day: “azucenas,” daylilies, which sprout all over the countryside | “hinojo,” fennel, used for its bulbs and seeds, with a flavor similar to star anise. | “helecho,” fern. They grow naturally in the damp forest here.

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