Autumn Etching with Aquatint
I find autumn to be a most fascinating time of the year. Everything seems to pause while awaiting the first frost and the bitterly cold winds out of the north that will signal the return of winter. Plants wither and die, trees begin to shut down causing their leaves to change colour and fall to the ground, songbirds and waterfowl migrate to warmer climes, and insects, having laid their eggs and prepared for a future generation, succumb to the cold.
Afterglow Coloured Soft Ground Etching
As one grows older it’s not uncommon to take a bit of time to sit and ponder, and to ask questions as one did when we were much, much, younger....
We placed a vase of freshly cut bright yellow sunflowers outside on the table of our rear deck and it was almost immediately discovered by a bumblebee, and in short order another dozen, or more, bumblebees. As the days went by and the cut sunflowers, encouraged to continue growing by replenishing the water in the vase, became home to many of the visiting bumblebees. Many spent the cool autumn nights clinging to the sunflowers in a state of torpor as if concerned that another bee would take their place on the flower. Interestingly, none of the bumblebees were at all aggressive. One could sit quite close to the sunflowers, and although one of the bees might bumble close by it was as if they failed to view us as a threat, blinded perhaps by their attraction to the rich pollen of the sunflowers.
Sadly, the reason that the bumblebees were clinging to the sunflowers was simply due to the fact that they were, in a manner of speaking lost, as their home no longer existed and they were without order in their lives. By this time the colony from which they’d come had disintegrated with the death of the old queen and the flight of the new queens, which were now off locating a place to spend the winter only to awaken in the spring to produce a new colony.
This got me to thinking what purpose does this repetitive cycle serve, a cycle that has been repeated countless times in the mist of the distant past? Certainly, the bee is important to the pollination of plants, but to simply do something over, and over again, without, what we humans would call “real purpose”, seems to make no sense. Who, or what decided that this cycle should be repeated forever?
In my reading I stumbled upon someone else who’d wrestled with this question and came to a conclusion of sorts: -
(From Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace: Chapter IV)
“As the sun and each atom of ether is a sphere complete in itself, and yet at the same time only a part of a whole too immense for man to comprehend, so each individual has within himself his own aims and yet has them to serve a general purpose incomprehensible to man.
A bee settling on a flower has stung a child. And the child is afraid of bees and declares that bees exist to sting people. A poet admires the bee sucking from the chalice of a flower and says it exists to suck the fragrance of flowers. A beekeeper, seeing the bee collect pollen from flowers and carry it to the hive, says that it exists to gather honey. Another beekeeper who has studied the life of the hive more closely says that the bee gathers pollen dust to feed the young bees and rear a queen, and that it exists to perpetuate its race. A botanist notices that the bee flying with the pollen of a male flower to a pistil fertilizes the latter, and sees in this the purpose of the bee’s existence. Another, observing the migration of plants, notices that the bee helps in this work, and may say that in this lies the purpose of the bee. But the ultimate purpose of the bee is not exhausted by the first, the second, or any of the processes the human mind can discern. The higher the human intellect rises in the discovery of these purposes, the more obvious it becomes, that the ultimate purpose is beyond our comprehension.
All that is accessible to man is the relation of the life of the bee to other manifestations of life.”
So, I’m back to where I started my pondering, which brings me to the larger and more troubling question, that of wondering exactly what is our purpose let alone the purpose of the humble bumblebee.
Autumn, it really is a most fascinating time of the year.
Autumn Algonquin Watercolour Painting