Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bees If You Please

WILD THINGS by Ruth Ann Angus
You've probably heard of it; it's been in the news. Bees are in trouble.

I watch the busy bees every day in my garden and I find it hard to tell what might be going on with them. First of all, there is more than one kind of bee. My big succulent is flowering and large black and yellow bumblebees are all over it. The rest of the garden, with a variety of colorful flowers, is visited by smaller black and yellow bees that I identify as honey bees. There appear to be a lot of them, so what's the problem?

Honey bees have been declining in 35 states and in Europe and South America. As many as 200,000 colonies may have already disappeared. The disaster is a mystery because no one knows what is causing the decline. One day a hive may be full and active and the next barren, with the bees literally disappearing overnight.

"The bees just take off from the hive and never return," one beekeeper said. "We don't even find any carcasses."

So far one-third of honey bees in the United States have disappeared. This phenomenon first came to light in 2006 and has grown worse every year since.

Honey bees are critical to agriculture. You may have seen the white beehive boxes set out in local fields. Commercial beekeepers transport the hives to farmers at their request to pollinate their crops.

One-third of all the food produced in the United States is pollinated by bees. Corn, wheat and rice are not affected but would provide us with monotonous and unsatisfactory nutrition if they were the only crops available.

Because of the needs of agriculture we rely on bees for more than what nature needs. As agriculture calls for bigger and bigger harvests, it bears the question, are we overworking our honey bees and other pollinators, possibly to death?

The life of some of the honey bees in a hive is limited. Worker bees live only 30 days. Some of them become foragers when three weeks old. At this time they communicate with other bees in the hive by performing a special dance using movement and sounds to relay specific sites where nectar may be found. In some cases new foragers are setting out but never return to perform the dance.

If a bee falls ill it leaves the hive to die in order to prevent the rest of the population from getting sick.

There is a name for the mysterious decline now, colony collapse disorder (CCD), and scientists are frantically trying to find out its cause. Everything from malnutrition to AIDS has been suggested.

Bees are adversely affected by toxic pesticides and the Varoa Destructor mite also kills them. But in this case the dead bodies are found. With colony collapse they just disappear. It might be that pesticides, parasites and poor nutrition could all be the cause.

Certain viruses are being explored and one type called IAPV (Israeli acute paralysis virus) has been found in the Israel, the United States, China, and Australia. But whether this is the culprit is not known.

The more hardy Africanized bees appear to be resistant to CCD and beekeepers are now encouraging them to interbreed with honey bees. In the meantime many keepers are using Australian bees to build up their depleted hives.

A new four-year research project will start soon with multiple universities taking part. If the cause of colony collapse disorder is not found soon, it is estimated there could be no honey bees in the United States by 2035.

Busy as a bee freelance writer and nature
photographer Ruth Ann Angus makes her hive
in Morro Bay. Wild Things is a regular
feature of The Bay News.

Monday, July 7, 2008

High School Reunion

Forgotten But Not Lost


Ruth Ann Angus

Reunion. The letter said I would be interested in finding out the details of my 45th high school reunion. I wasn’t.

But something nagged at my mind.

Five of my former classmates were listed along with their e-mail addresses. I kept going back to the letter to stare at those five names. “Who are they?” I asked. “I don’t recall any of them.”

I put the letter aside. I didn’t throw it out. Days passed and I kept shuffling the letter around on my desk. “I really should throw this thing out,” I thought, “I’m not going!”

The reunion is in New Joisey. The Garden State that is not really a garden spot. The class of ’58 graduated from Clifford John Scott High School in East Orange, a town that has definitely seen better times. I know this because I returned there in 2001, forty years after moving away. The street where I lived and the house I grew up in are relatively unchanged and it seemed as if I had stepped back in time. Kind of eerie in comparison to the rest of the town that is barely recognizable in its decay.

More than a year previous, a phone solicitation from Texas came in from someone trying to obtain interesting factual information about moi. Why? To sell me a book listing all my former classmates, where they are and what they are doing. I declined. Why would I want to know?

But now I did.

“My God!” I wrote in my e-mail, “It’s been 45 years since we graced the halls of good old Clifford J. Scott. Amazing! Some of us would just as soon forget those days. But I’ve looked at the names of the committee and, duh, I don’t know any of you! Who are you?”

The three women never replied. The two guys did. It seems I was not forgotten.

“I was in a few of your classes as a quiet underclassman who sat in the back and kept my mouth shut,” one of them replied. He signed it Dave “what’s his name” and attached a photo of himself and another classmate nicknamed “Chops.”

Oh yes, I remembered them! Especially Chops.

Carmine De Gennaro, alias Chops, my nemesis, a sex-crazed adolescent. His obsession centered on the budding protuberances most girls between the ages 14 and 17 develop on their chests. I can still hear the nickname he had for me, which he often loudly called out in the corridors. “Hey, triple A!”

In high school I was five feet tall and weighed 98 pounds “soaking wet” as they say. Nowadays I would be considered anorexic. I wasn’t, but I also wasn’t developed.

It did my heart good to see what he looked like now. “Chops” indeed.

I couldn’t resist a reply. “Tell Carmine I’m a double C now. It just took me a little longer to blossom.”

The e-mail from the other guy was even more interesting.

“We were in Andre Townsley’s French class together as well as several other classes,” he wrote. “I always remember that you had a pretty wicked sense of humor and a great laugh. I went through CJS with one name before one name was fashionable – Archie.”

How could I forget? Of course, Archie, from the comic books. But what did he mean about my “wicked sense of humor?” I thought I was demure and shy in high school! Guess not.

Down memory lane he took me, telling me who lived where and what they were doing and who was no longer with us. Sal Battiato, a Fonzie character, who along with the aforementioned Chops, terrorized me not only all through high school but previously through three years of Catholic grammar school – I think I smacked him a time or two – is now a hair dresser living in North Carolina! Huh! Thought for sure he’d end up in the penitentiary!

Jay O'Neil, who has passed on. Yes, I certainly remember him. We had a good friendship back then. His Mom knew my Mom. Yes, I remember. He became a father before graduating high school. Too much, too soon.

Archie mentioned a few gals who also live in California and yes, indeed I do remember them, Mary Reese, Cathy Dwyer, and Joan Attalla.

Well, now it was all coming back to me and I was getting a bit nostalgic. Was I going to change my mind and go to the 45th reunion? No.

Instead I had Archie send me a copy of the 40th Reunion Program and loved looking at the photos and trying to match names with faces.

Now here it is, 50 years since graduation and another reunion is upon us. Am I going? No. But my reasons aren't quite the same. This past year I battled with breast cancer and am just not in the position to be able to do a trip east. Besides I've developed a "thing" about flying what with the screwy stuff going on with the airlines.

I was saddened to see the names listed for classmates who have passed away. As I read their names I see their faces. Since cancer, I daily check the obituaries to make sure my name is not there. Seems to me we all should have been able to reach the time of our 50th reunion.

Good greetings to you Class of 1958! May you enjoy reminiscing those grand old days. Kiss the New Jersey ground from which we sprang and salute our teachers, long gone now, who tried their level best to make us what we are today. I will be with you in spirit!