Tuesday 10 August 2010


Last week I gave a talk about bees and flowers for the Bungay Community Bees with Eloise. She spoke about nectar and pollen and garden flowers and I spoke about the year of the bees and wild flowers, how it falls into three parts: the spring rush of blossom, the June gap, the rich high summer blooming that lasts until September. I laid out some leaves on the table and asked everyone to recognise the trees that bees seek out – cherry, blackthorn, willow, sweet chestnut.

Then I showed slides from the year I followed the track of wild flowers for a weekly exhibition at the Southwold Museum. I’ve been studying wild flowers and plant medicine for a decade now, but I never looked at them from the perspective of bees. It totally shifted my focus. Now I see bees everywhere. How come I never noticed them before?

"The bees have five eyes," said Elinor, who heads the project with Gemma from Sustainable Bungay. Three of the eyes are on the top of their heads. "They deal with the UV," explained Hugh, one of the group's beekeepers. Bees see a completely different colour range than human beings. A vibrationally different Earth.

Imagining the future the novelist, Tom Robbins called the next age The Age of Flowers. The ancient fight and tussle of our mammal and reptilian brains would cede to the new leadership of the neo-cortex. The neo-cortex fits like a swimming cap over our heads and it receives its impulses and information directly from sunlight, like the flowers. All inspiration happens in this third brain. All evolutionary vision.

How many flowers does a bee have to visit to fill a jar of honey?

That was one of the questions I’d asked the children when Tom Harper and I gave a bee class in Catton Grove this Spring.

Two million.

That’s a lot of flowers. If we want to get the bees back on track, we’re going to have to do something about those plants we keep chopping down and mashing with pesticides. We’re going to have to love dandelions and thistles in our gardens. And start noticing what’s growing by the roadsides and riverbanks. Opening our eyes. Start tapping into the neo-cortex that fits over our head like one of those swimming caps covered in flowers people used to wear in the 60s.

Malcolm told me a story about bees last week when we went to collect our veg box. We were standing by a lavender bush covered in bumblebees. Every time we looked at the bush we saw another type of bumblebee. There must have been eight different kinds working those purple heads. In one of the poly tunnels, he said, a swarm of wild bees had taken up residence, busily building combs. Malcolm eyed them for several weeks, and then he thought about rotavating. I’ll start at the other end, he thought. The next day they were gone. And the extraordinary thing was, he said, they had taken everything with them.

You can’t rush to see the bees. You have to be still and tune into a certain frequency. The flowers will take you there if you let them. They will shift your attention, so you can see another earth taking shape in front of your eyes.

One of those attention-shifting flowers is skullcap, named after the shape of its seeds. Skullcap is a lovely little plant. An elegant plant. Fine ladder of leaves with small snapdragon-type flowers of an incredible blue. You might not notice it, down by the river where the big showy waterland plants are now in their high summer glory – hemp agrimony, great willowherb, wild angelica, purple loosestrife. However it’s a star medicine plant, most famously in America, where the Virginia skullcap is a premier nervine. Nervines are plant medicines that take you down. When you’re high-wired they’ll calm your agitation, your frayed nerves, your anxiety. Plant nervines are the poppies, valerian, limeflowers, hops, chamomile. Some are mild, the sort that help you get to sleep at night. Skullcap is the business. When I made a tincture of wild skullcap in Arizona and proved it, I ran crazy around the room for an hour. That’s how I knew it was a strong medicine (proving a medicine shows you what it cures).

So if I had to choose a Nervine for Resilience it would be skullcap. You just need to sit down beside that plant and immediately you unwind, take a deep breath, the sky opens above your head and you feel a sense of possibility inside. Mostly in this world we are high-wired to the max, bred to be in a state of emergency, our bodies revved up, inflammatory, in a constant drama. 911, 24/7. As a result the world we perceive and take account of is very restricted. We are not using our flower minds, our bee eyes. When you relax you can see things the way the bees see the earth. You make different moves when you are in that state of harmony, the kind of sure-footed moves we need to be making, looking at the way things are sliding in Transition - peak oil, climate change, economic collapse.

The Empire keeps everyone in a state of hostility: we’re bred to be aggressive and competitive, cold, calculating, territorial, ritualistic, obsessive. Our attention narrowed by battles and big business. This is the reptilian, dinosaur brain in command. We’ve been trying to work out our difficulties with our mammal minds, with our psychology and emotions, our sense of loyalty and kinship, but we need to get to a different level. Only the neo-cortex can deal with that dinobrain. All shifts of consciousness happen in a moment of enlightenment. That’s why we need to tap into the intelligence of ourselves that connects directly with the sun, the way bees and flowers do.

We write about a lot of subjects on this blog, as we find ways in our ordinary lives to deal with Transition. but one label stands out: Reconnection with Nature. Even though we live in cities, work in offices, live in houses, drive in cars, watch screens all day, think about diets and film stars and everything going horribly wrong, something in us knows otherwise. We’re not going to weather this evolution on our own. We've got to connect with who is with us, all the way.

Flowertalking: skullcap flowers in the Hen reedbeds; purple loosestrife by the River Thames; honey jar with bell heather in Southwold Wildflower exhibition 2004; toadflax with bees by the road 2010; wild angelica by the pond; Taramahara sunflower in the garden.

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