Thursday, January 27, 2011

Without Bees, Our Nation Would Be Misshapen

Another winter blast for the East again. I traded these e-mails today with an editor of mine based in New York:

Me: Did you make it to the office today? To hear weathercasters tell it, New York has been buried under mountains of snow. But they are an excitable bunch, prone to a little exaggeration.

Him: Yeah, it’s not that bad. A lot of snow, sure — especially in Queens and the other boroughs — but not exactly the apocalypse.

Here on the western shore of southern Lake Michigan, in that region called the Midwest, but which is all part of the North to me, not so much snow today. Maybe an inch fell late this morning and into the early afternoon, just enough to freshen up the dirty snow already on the ground and add a new top ingredient to the snow/ice parfait on certain outdoor surfaces, such as sidewalks. That's not usually a good thing to have underfoot.

The retailer Amazon pestered me with an e-mail this morning, the subject line of which said, " recommends 'Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation.' " I puzzled over that for a moment, then realized that the Amazon Machine had reached the conclusion that if I'd buy one book about bees and honey, I would surely want another. I don't particularly.

Last month I bought A Short History of the Honey Bee, images by Ilona, text by my old friend Ed Readicker-Henderson (Timber Press, 2009, subtitled "Humans, Flowers, and Bees in the Eternal Chase for Honey"). It is, astonishingly, the first and still only thing I've ever bought from Amazon; but I'm a late adopter in many things. Actually, "adopter" is too strong a word, since I still vastly prefer physical bookstores and will do my little part to help a few survive, along with physical books themselves. I haven't read Ed's book yet, but it's in my vague queue for this year.

Bees seem very important, and Bees in America might well be an excellent work, but "shape a nation"? I'm reminded of a skit I saw long ago, on The Carol Burnett Show or its ilk, that involved a traveling Jim Nabors striking up a conversation with another traveler.

Nabors played an earthworm salesman, I think, and went on at some length about how important earthworms were for farms and the nation and the fate of the free world and so on, with the kind of irritating enthusiasm he brought to Gomer Pyle, much to the other character's displeasure. (Tim Conway? Or maybe it was Harvey Korman, trying not to laugh.) Toward the end of the skit, Nabors said something like, "When you think about it, earthworms are the backbone of this country!"

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