I can understand how you feel about needing to wait longer than usual before writing a reply to one of my letters, or taking a break before doing other things which might normally take some form of priority, I do it myself now and then and always have a strange feeling in my stomach about forgetting or neglecting someone or something, even though I know that this is not the case. We often set our priorities around the perceived needs and desires of other people before our own, and forget that we also have a life, that we also have things to do, that without these breaks there could be nothing of interest to talk or write about any way. Or, to put it simply, this is the reason I prefer letter writing over electronic mail: you have time for yourself as much as time to prepare for the next exchange. So you need have no worries about a letter being too late, or me feeling neglected and shoved to one side through other matters; I am happy to receive letters when they arrive and fully appreciate that, no matter what a person’s circumstances may be, they do have other things in their lives besides me.

And Mother Nature is one of those forces in our lives which cannot be simply ignored or put on the back burner and returned to later: when she wants to send a hurricane through the area, she does, no arguing about it. And, as you mention in your message, you’d think that one or another of the manuals on beekeeping might just cover the eventuality that a hurricane could dance through your backyard sometime soon, and help you prepare for it. Funnily enough, where the manuals fail, the internet comes to the rescue as one of the greatest resources we have for discussion and exchange of news and information – along with all the problems which anonymity brings with it, but they can easily be ignored in this case. Not that this is much use when you have no access to the internet or, perhaps, after the horse has fled its open barn, but still. And what amused me even more was that the information I found was on a bee removal site, and not on one of the official beekeeping ones where you’d expect to find such information. There was plenty on what to do to prevent a bear attack, and what not to do during one, as well as how to repair after an attack, but nothing in hurricanes.

The information provided is fairly standard, commonsense information which anyone might have thought themselves – often when it is too late – such as moving low-lying hives to higher ground if possible, or into a higher position with an elevated stand. Then fixing the hives solidly to the ground in much the same way as a truck driver fixes his load on a trailer with a ratchet strap. Then there is the removal of extra honey supers – whether empty or full – and adding an entrance reducer to protect against additional moisture through rain, plus protection of anything which could become wet inside the hive, causing condensation or higher levels of moisture which can kill off a colony.

As to the Queen, there is probably little that can be done from outside., If there is more than one Queen in a hive, the colony will sort out which one survives so that the strongest of the two remains. If there is no Queen the colony will probably ‘elect’ a new one within a short period of time, as sometimes happens over a winter period when a Queen doesn’t survive through the colder weather. This was all written in preparation for the hurricane Matthew in Florida back in October last year, but I’m sure it is good for this year and for many years to come.

The number of articles and discussions on what to do with bears is more than I could possibly read through in one sitting, although I am sure the advice given is much the same, just the stories and experiences of each individual are different. Fortunately I suspect you have fewer problems with bears than most other beekeepers might.

That no one noticed the plight of your hives, or that they considered it so unimportant as to be not worthy of a mention, comes as no surprise to me at all. We saw this out in the civilian population during Matthew, in New Orleans during Katrina and, now, with Irma. And we will see it with the hurricanes which follow this year, next year, far into the future. Family pets which cannot fend for themselves being left in the danger zone, and the material possessions, some of them exceptionally minor and so unimportant, being taken on a journey to safety. I’ve watched saddening video reports of animals being left behind alongside ones of senior citizens deserted by their carers and waiting on the army or other civilians from out-of-state to come and rescue them. There is even a report, verified and covered with photographs, of a senior citizen’s home which was flooded up to stomach level, and the occupants were sitting in the water waiting to be helped. Were their carers still there? And then a video of a dog, sitting on top of the family car, being rescued after having survived the storms and the flooding outside the house, when his family left him behind.

Then I see images from the devastating hurricane and flooding in Bangladesh which took place at the same time and were considerably worse than those in Texas, and see men and women carrying their parents on their backs to bring them to safety. A man with a milkmaid’s contraption – a broad stick across his shoulders and back with a basket hanging on either side – transporting his elderly grandparents to safety, barefoot and with nothing else whatsoever: no extra food; no extra clothing; no material possessions. These are the times when I ask myself where civilisation and social responsibility are, in the so-called advanced nations, or in the third world. And read stories of a mother cat going back into a burning building time after time, and rescuing all her newborn kittens, still blind, from the flames, one after the other. And then I read stories of a church in Houston which did not open to help those in need, and of another elsewhere which turned a badly needed helper away from serving those in desperate need because she was Jewish and a lesbian.

Of course, these are very minor stories when compared to the numbers of people who have helped, are still helping, who have travelled across the country and from foreign lands just to assist at their own cost, on their own time. What would it have cost for someone to check the beehives, since they were out and about in that area anyway? And by this I do not mean a financial cost, since there is none, but a humane, personal cost to just do the right thing and get the right help as needed. A rhetorical question, I know, since we all know the answer, and no one can honestly justify anything other than sadness at human failings, at selfishness, at a lack of social awareness.

Social awareness and doing the right thing can also be dangerous, I am well aware of that, but there are always ways and means to get around danger, a problem, a threat and help someone else – be it a human or a living creature, nature, even the preservation of that which is historically and aesthetically worthwhile. I am reminded of this merely because an instance of civil courage which could have gone very wrong occurred to and with me on Saturday morning as I was waiting for a train in Bremen. A drunk youth decided to sexually insult a young woman sitting close to me: nothing too bad as it happens, and she was able to ignore him. But then he stood up and was going to actually touch her, possibly do something more despite the number of people around – amazing what people do when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There are too many news reports of people being injured, sexually assaulted and even raped in the presence of onlookers, some of whom have even filmed the proceedings, but taken no helping action whatsoever. I pushed this drunken man away, and kept him at bay until he gave up, saw that he could not physically or verbally beat me. In the process he smashed a beer bottle and injured himself, which shows how far gone he was, since he felt no pain and probably didn’t even realise he had done it.

Then the downside as he saw, whilst slinking away, two security guards from the station force and tried to  turn the tables on me. They called the police, then came the interviews and he lodged an official complaint against me for assault with injury – which the police are required to accept and follow-up on – and thought he had won the day. The police officers questioned me, and a few other people who had been present, and the young woman who, quickly, agreed to press charges against her almost assailant for sexual harassment. His gloating laughter changed as he realised something was not going his way, and he was considerably quieter – no more verbal insults or similar – as the police took him into custody. But if I hadn’t reacted, would anyone else have helped her, or would she have been physically assaulted, possibly even injured?

Coming back to bees, I received a short article cut from a magazine from someone the other day, about letter writing, and it also had another piece on bee keeping or, better, on the bees themselves. Apparently researchers at the Queen Mary University in London have discovered that bees are highly intelligent and capable of learning.

The researchers built a circular platform with a small central hole filled with sugar water. In order to access the sweet treat, the bumblebee subjects were required to manoeuvre a tiny ball into the hole. After a group introduction in which the bees explored the ‘green’, one bee at a time was placed on the platform. The bee would examine the hole and the ball, and if it couldn’t figure out how to reap the reward, it received a demonstration in which a researcher would use a crude plastic bee on a stick to push the ball into the hole.

Bees that saw this demonstration learned very quickly how to solve the task […] They started rolling the ball into the centre; they got better over time […] and taught other bees how to play the game.

Surprisingly enough, this article comes from a periodical dedicated to selling garden products, including organic food, and there were articles on letter writing for women as well as the fact that itching is contagious. I wish some of the catalogues I receive in the post had little articles like these, it would give me a reason to check them out rather than simply ditching them for recycling unread. I suppose it could be a similar idea to that of Reader’s Digest: small snippets of interest slipped in now and then to keep the conversation alive; something to distract from ten pages of cheap quality photocopying paper or thirty pages of personalised ballpoint pens.

Normally I wouldn’t have been at the railway station at all, but my plans for the weekend were a little too complicated, and the chance of drinking a few alcoholic drinks too high to risk taking my car. Friday night I was at a charity fundraiser in Bremen, raising money to transport children in need to hospitals where, with other donations, they could be operated upon or treated free of charge. Then on to the town of Gelsenkirchen for an event where I was to supervise – perhaps better to say, ensure that their work is of the standard required and that they follow the text they have been given without adding their own bits and pieces – immediately followed by another event in the same house where, as a high-ranking guest, I was treated to everything they had to offer. Then, late at night, just in time to catch my train back to Bremen through Dortmund and Hannover where, tired out, I waited for a bus to bring me back home again. In the end I had a most enjoyable but very tiring weekend, with good collections for charity along the way, and a distinct lack of sleep, but all worthwhile.

Which is basically my reason for not replying to your message as soon as I received it on the fourteenth. Normally I would take any letters or messages I receive, open and read them, and then sit down to reply to the first one or two on that same day. I had considered writing during my journey over the weekend, but that would have brought nothing worth reading onto paper, as the travelling, the lack of sleep and the constant interruptions to perform my duties would have made any coherent sentence almost impossible, let alone the production of an understandable and meaningful letter.

I can imagine that you have quite a bit of work ahead of you, getting the hives back into working order and, above all, saving the colonies, and I wish you all and every success in that. Perhaps you’ll be able to describe how it goes in a letter sometime in the future, and what remedies for the lack of assistance could be brought into force, the preparations for the next hurricanes, the next bad weather. I would be more than interested to know.