It is bright afternoon in late June and Coun. Leif Wergeland talks about the bees that ping about his backyard.
More specifically, he is talking about their homes, a stack of rectangular cuboids fastened to a pole sitting in his garden that invokes the image of a skyscraper for bees. A carpenter by training, Wergeland created these lodges himself with some wood and a drill to carve the nesting holes after a neighbour had raised the possibility some two years ago.
Intrigued, Wergeland went to a local hardware store, where he found one selling for $40. “Me being me, I thought I could make one. But of course, once you make one, you might as well make six.”
True to the theory of ‘they will come, if you build it,’ local mason bee populations have since taken to Wergeland’s creation.
“I was amazed how the bees were attracted to it,” he said. “It was a big increase. Because we have a lot of flowers, plants, fruit trees, and what not, you notice the activity.” His neighbours has also reported a spike since the shelters went up, he said. “In general terms, they have said that it has made a big difference in their yard.”
For Wergeland, this effect neatly illustrates the ability of individuals to make a difference for the collective by showing initiative and summoning their sense of self-reliance. “Sometimes, things are so simple,” he said. “I have a saying, if everyone does a little, together we can do a lot.”
Wergeland finds himself in a long tradition of drawing philosophical inspiration from bees, whose symbolic reach extends far beyond fables and fairy tales.
Plato used descriptions of bee society to work out ideas about human politics. While often speculative, Aristotle’s observations of bees advanced scientific understanding of them. Bernard Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees straddles the fields of sociology, economics and philosophy.
Bees have also served as symbols of economic and political power. They appeared on Roman coins. Napoleon and his nephew Napoleon the Third placed bees in their respective royal arms. Seven bees adorn the crest of Manchester, once the centre of the Industrial Revolution.
While Wergeland was not necessarily thinking along those lines, he nonetheless believes that his own departure into apiculture holds some larger lessons.
“As as residents, we sometimes say, if only the municipality could do this or that,” he said. “But there are lots of things individuals could do themselves, be involved themselves.”
Municipalities in turn often make similar demands upon senior levels of government, often ignoring areas, where they could act themselves. “There are some things, and yet we so often fail to see what we can really do. If we have the political will, we can do it.”
Individuals, he said, do not need to wait on government to make a difference, he said.
Such areas include learning how to plant and grow a garden, beneficial lessons that future generations would then pick up, he said. What ultimately matters is not the size of a garden, but the realization and knowledge that individuals can grow one and reap the benefits from it.
“It can start small and it can grow from there,” he said. “And what you plant in a kid’s mind will grow forever.”