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Bee longing in Hillcrest.

Bees are social insects. Their hive contains a single queen who is served by tens of thousands of her daughters who work from cradle to grave caring for the queen, her brood, building honeycomb, harvesting pollen and nectar, and making honey. The male bees {drones) can’t feed themselves, and only exist to fertilize a virgin queen. Unfortunately, most drones fail to do this and are then kicked out of the hive to die when they start consuming valuable food. So, bee society is incredibly brutal and everything that the individual does (including dying as needed) must be for the good of the hive and bee-kind. Scientists have shown that bees have a kind of individual and communal intelligence that they use to share and process information about the location of food sources and to make important decisions. You might think then that if bees were truly sentient, they would realize that they have no individual rights and free will but perhaps also recognize that they could not survive as individuals without the support of the colony. Are bees happy? I like to think so because they have friends, safety, and security and most importantly a clear purpose in life which are all well known to be important for human happiness.

Bees also make me and a growing number Hillcrest residents happy because we have been learning about beekeeping from our neighbor Lauren Anderson. Lauren is an Arkansas native and educator who started keeping bees as a school project when she worked in Tacoma Washington. She came back to Hillcrest to care for her grandfather during COVID and started her extraordinary business “Calm and Confidence” with the goal of teaching beekeeping to promote relationships in the community and build life skills including anxiety awareness (more of that later), problem solving and observation skills. Lauren also sells honey and bees wax products, and you can often find her at the farmers market on Saturday mornings. Lauren and her team of apprentice beekeepers manage more than 100 hives in Pulaski County. There are six hives in residential locations in Hillcrest and one at Mount St. Mary Academy. I moved to Little Rock a couple of years ago for work, without knowing anyone here or frankly anything much about the city and neighborhood. Being part of Laruen’s beekeeping group is one of my favorite things about living here. Calm and Confidence is an egalitarian initiative and I now have friends from all over the city and from different walks of life. Beekeeping is a practical skill so learning from others by seeing and doing is much more effective than reading a book or watching YouTube videos. Like us, bees also live a fragile existence although in their case heart disease and cancer are replaced by mites, wax moths, hive beetles and other parasites. As a first-time beekeeper, Lauren’s show and tell approach to learning about things that can go wrong gave me parental anxiety and “beehive hypochondria” but despite all of the things that could go wrong, my hive survived the winter and is now growing and thriving. This week we opened the hive for an inspection. We wear veils to keep the bees out of our faces, but I feel confident enough not to wear gloves because the increased dexterity makes it easier to avoid squishing bees when inspecting the hive. And as the bees became increasingly agitated and buzzed around us, I kept on working I felt surprisingly calm and thought about how much I have learned in the past year and about the power of bees and beekeeping to help us cope with anxiety.

So, if you see beehives in the neighborhood, now you know where they come from. Bees are endlessly fascinating. Bees and their fellow pollinators are responsible for about a third of the world’s food supply. But there is so much that we still don’t know or understand about bee biology and behavior. On a more puerile level, how can you not like an animal with a name that lends itself to a limitless variety of puns. Bees and people like Lauren Anderson who champion them are un-bee-lievable and I am so grateful for the sense of bee-longing I feel when I watch my bees going off to work every morning.


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