The 1970’s apartment complex I live in sits slightly off one of the busy streets in Central Austin (North Central to the long-time residents). It’s under constant development. I have trouble remembering what was torn up or torn down in order to make room for tall condos with ground floor retail.
Behind my apartment is a slightly older apartment complex. And behind that is an empty lot. Standing up against my own window I can just catch glimpses of it during the winter. Throughout the year tall grasses, ground vines, knee-high bushes, and prickly patches grow. Wildflowers bloom here. On Summer nights, when the dog and I take a walk we stop here just to stand because this field is always noticeably cooler than the asphalt street or the concrete sidewalk. In this field, hidden by grasses, stalking feral cats, Benny becomes the hunting dog that long ago he was bred to be. This is the field he wishes for. Tugging on the leash or stubbornly sitting when I turn in the opposite direction.
On the lot’s south edge is a small business residing in a single story building. Next to that is another empty lot. Bigger than the first, and better manicured this second lot has wooden posts connected with a single cable to keep people out, but it’s just a big step over. Based on the path worn into the grass many people do just this. This grass is kept short year round. I’m sure tiny flowers bloom here on plants shaded from the 2″ blades. Or at least on the sticky weed that’s found a pleasant home. When I don’t feel like playing explorer but still want to feel an indulgent pet parent this is where I bring the dog. He grudgingly accepts the compromise…most of the time.
Dividing one lot from another and each building from the lot is a section of bushy bramble – quickly growing thick evergreen foliage taller than a person’s eye. Trash collects in these areas. Or, it’s left there from teenage rebels and transients. Gaps in the unkempt privacy trees makes it possible to walk from one lot to the next and then keep on as it narrows into a strip that connects it all to the residential street on the block’s far south edge.
I presume that the owners of this prairie consider it more a financial burden than any kind of asset to the city. Last year it, the lot to its south, the large building behind belonging to the state, and the strip of grass were almost turned into one giant apartment complex. Though it was never stated in any of the zoning notice changes mailed to all the immediate neighbors. The neighbors, perhaps fearing the wealthier sort of transients who live in apartments, or all the perfect hiding places teenage rebels find at complexes, or the extra trash that would surely blow out of overfull dumpsters, victoriously battled the zoning change.
The grass and flowers and bramble are safe, for now. Despite all the research that shows how urban green space (or pocket parks) is good for the health of a city and its residents; despite the 2009 resolution by the city and the plans by the Urban Parks Workgroup to have a city where everyone can walk to a park this field helps keep my rent low. While the condos and apartments that are supposed to solve the city’s affordable housing issues make my apartment increasingly unaffordable.
The weeds are also good for the bees.
As an apartment dweller I’m not allowed to keep bees at home. That didn’t stop the non-fiction reader in me from taking an introductory bee keeping class at Round Rock Honey. Like every time I read a non-fiction book my head becomes filled with did-ya-know facts that I will eagerly repeat for anyone who cares to hear or is unfortunate enough to be near me.
In theory, a honey bee can live forever because it only lives as part of the hive and the hive is continuously replaced with new bees.
Feminism received a victory during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. It was at this time that the royal beekeeper realized that the king bees were in fact queens.
Beekeeper suits are white for a reason. Honey bees instinctually attack dark, coarse objects.
Bees evolved from carnivorous wasps.
This is my favorite fact learned from the bee keeping class. When flowering plants began to bloom some of these wasps – the thrill seekers – decided to try out this new food source. And what do you know they liked it. It was addicting. They soon forgot to eat the meat they used to prefer. Cast out by the other wasps – who found this vegetarianism appalling – and unsure where to go a group started to live together. One day they held a meeting where a new name was voted on – they’d call themselves bees.
The fanciful story I started didn’t stop there. Millions of years later, humans rich in resources and monetary wealth started choosing what they ate. Some only wanted to eat the foods that came from flowering plants, others liked to chomp into flesh, others continued to seek after variety. Children learned these eating habits from parents. They started to live in groups. Millions of years later it was a surprise to learn that such different species were once the same. Oh, and one group of new humans developed wings and the ability to fly — cause that’s just awesome.
Or, in the short version, I took the moral lesson and started to wonder about the long-term unintended effects of human actions.
I’ve been a little bit enamored with the honey bee story since I first picked up a special edition pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Since 2008 according to their website. It seems like the fight to save honey bees started just as soon as Häagen-Dazs started donating ice cream dollars to the honey bees at UC Davis. It was then I learned about the role of honey bees in our ecosystem, how I loved the foods pollinated by them, and most importantly how I could feel good about myself and still eat pricey ice cream.
According to the Ted Talk by Marla Spivak that’s not entirely true. Their decline started about 1945. It was about this time — after 15 plus years of rationing, economic, environmental, political, and societal instability — that life changed. Through cash crops, pesticides, suburbs, and more we altered the landscape. A hive was on high alert. They had to fly further to find pollen and nectar — if any was available — and lived shorter because of it. They needed water to keep cool — they needed trees to keep them healthy. The bees starved, they got sick. The bees left.
That said Marla Spivak’s talk, like all Ted Talks, is really about hope. So, no, we didn’t notice 50 years ago. We did become aware around 2007. It took a year from when Colony Collapse Disorder became a concern to when a national company started a cause marketing campaign. If you take a moment to think of the different donation campaigns you encounter at the grocery store you’ll realize how eye-widening this is. It’s also a little scary. Only one year.
As an apartment dweller I’m not allowed to be a beekeeper, but there are always other ways to save the bees.
Central Texas has two growing seasons. Two seasons to feed all the pollinators. That’s another fact from the class.
Sometimes, doing my part, is about keeping the honey bees in my thoughts. Which is easy to do when honey goes so well with so much. I suppose it was inevitable that I would expand the fascination to include honey. When I found this recipe for Honey Ginger Ale I’d have to make it. And write about it in my first attempt at longform. And just maybe make an entire series about that which is sweet — cause this soda recipe doesn’t have any other type of sugar in it. This is part I.