The very first “Headmaster’s Thoughts” blog I wrote for our website was in December 2004. It was a short piece on how much I enjoyed watching our students in their gym classes. Our school has these impressive large windows as you enter, and I like to stand there and watch the action.
Now, nearly seventy “thoughts” later, I have a second set of windows from which I like to watch the action. But the players here are small, fat, and have stubby wings. They are our honey bees. We have equally impressive windows to look out from, but these are at the very top of our two staircases and overlook our school’s roof. From there I like to watch the five beehives we now have on the roof. It is like observing five miniature airports. Bees take off, fly smoothly and easily up towards Central Park, and return overloaded with pollen—awkward “cargo” fliers landing clumsily on their hive’s sill, having often bumped into the flowers that adorn the roof. They are busy, these bees. We already have honeycombs and soon will have honey, lots of it; up to one hundred pounds of honey per hive per year. They are also smart bees. When it gets very hot, the swarm rotates creating a natural fan. I have not seen this but I am told this by our apiarist principal, Chris Durnford. I like the idea.
I like the costumes, too. You know, the beekeeper’s silly hat with the netting hanging from the rim, along with the all-covering jumpsuit. It looks like a Victorian outfit for an eccentric Englishman. (At times I have delusions of being one.) Jayme and I used to be camp counselors in Maine where they occasionally had swarms of black flies. How cool it would have been to have had beekeepers outfits then! We could have braved the storm of flies with aplomb.
At York, we have all the bee equipment, including two smokers. Like the costumes, they have not changed in design in hundreds of years. They are supposed to make the bees go very mellow and not buzz around. A sort of Valium for bees. We haven’t used one yet, but I hope I am there to watch when Chris “smokes” them. I want to see those pollen-laden bees, who are bad enough fliers anyway, get hit with their tranquilizing puffs. Do they just lie down and think deep thoughts, or start singing to the marigolds?
I am told that bees swarm to wherever their queen is. So if wearing your costume you were to remove the queen from her hive and place it on your friend’s shoulder (and hopefully this would be a friend also wearing the get-up), the entire hive of over ten thousand bees would settle on that shoulder. I wonder how much ten thousand bees weigh… I’m not a fan of Halloween, but that would be a real show stopper as a Halloween costume.
I tend to anthropomorphize animals (and insects) and so think that we could learn a lot about communal cooperation from our bees. Even if individually they are not smart, the swarm seems to have a collective intelligence. How unlike us! We are the epitome of self-obsessed narcissists compared to our buzzing friends. They willingly sacrifice themselves when the hive is attacked by stinging with their barb and thus committing suicide. But otherwise, they only wish to be left alone. As a species, the honey bee is not aggressive. He, or she, will not attack without reason. They just want to make honey. They pollinate our flowers. They help our environment. And I like watching them.
Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster