Here in the uplands of the Northumberland National Park, the heather is flowering at its peak. The fells have taken on their full stain of purple, great pools of deep colour, like cloud shadow passing over the landscape. In the recent fine weather, I took some moments to watch our bees flying at full capacity, to-ing and fro-ing from the heather on the fells above our house. Our six hives are situated at the edge of deciduous woodland, facing south and to the moorland above. A shepherds hut overlooks the row of hives, which also serves as a kind of observation hide, from which I can closely observe the bees’ activity throughout the year. But on this glorious hot afternoon, I have pulled a bench out in front of the hut, so I’m sitting directly behind rank of the hives at a short distance, getting as close as I can, looking out over hives to the meadow, a sea of tall, moving grasses.
There is something deeply thrilling about watching the bees, as they are today, at the height of their activity. From deep within the hive, a huge swelling hum resonates – the intense sound of thousands of honey bees active on the combs and frames ranked side by side within the boxes, in a throng of concentrated activity. In this afternoon heat, the air in front of the hives is a kaleidoscope of flight paths, the zig-zagging of bees in and out of the hives to and from their various trajectories on the heather and meadow flowers. The colonies are united in purpose and working to full capacity while the weather conditions permit.
Heather is the bees final and essential crop before winter and there is a urgency in their activity, to build vital stores while they can. The flowering period of heather is short and weather dependent. When the bees are working on the heather, it is best to leave them uninterrupted to get on with it. Even the most mild- natured bees get especially irritable and agitated if the hives are entered for any bee-keeping procedures during this vital period. It is not wise to thwart the bees unnecessarily. Today, in the warm, late afternoon sunshine, they are focussed and unfussed by my presence sitting quietly behind their ranks. An occasional bee buzzes lazily before me, checking me out, but I am completely safe sitting here, facing outwards behind them.
It is inspiring to be so close to this hub of purposeful activity on this late summer’s afternoon, each bee contributing to the health and well-being of the hives, each flight an expression of their united intention, serving the colony as a whole. Today the cohesive organisation of these communities is manifesting in its maximum glory. At the peak of their activity, the fullest potential of the colonies is being actualised from within to without and there is a sense of complete harmony witnessing this climax of their productive endeavour. The air hangs with the scent of honey, gold bullion locked up in the vaults of the hives.
Watching the bees, I am fascinated and humbled by the wisdom of their levels of social co-operation and organisation, their ability to align so completely with the prevailing weather conditions, their absolute presence and focus in the moment, drawing from nature what is there to be drawn upon, each bee following its own flight path and completed journey to and from the hive, over and over, as long as the weather and flying conditions hold.
I reflect that as humans, the gift of mindful awareness similarly has an agency of purpose, and allows us to actualise our fullest potential as human beings, bringing us conscious connection with the world we inhabit and are part of , the breathing in of experience through the senses and the mind’s clear mirror. With mindful awareness we engage with the world responsively and with choice, opening to the limitless possibilities of life’s unfolding, in a million consciously lived moments, like the million flights of the honey bees to the heather this hot August afternoon, making the most of it, and returning with gold.
Gwennie Fraser lives in Northumberland National Park and teaches mindfulness in North-East England, including Northumberland and Newcastle upon Tyne.