Beekeeping in the End Times is a book that explores the close bond between people and bees in one corner of the world now that beekeeping is on the verge of unsustainability. Focused on honey and other hive products local beekeepers persevere at keeping bees even as the honey flow is diminishing. The missing honey is more than a local complaint: it is a telling sign of the effects of strange new weather trends upon plant-insect ecologies.
To the local Bosnian Muslims, vanishing honey foreshadows the waning of the world itself. In Islamic sources, honey is not only sweet and known for medicinal properties, but is also replete with deeper meanings. Honey is said to be the fruit of divine inspiration. That God intimately addresses bees, and all other species of beings and things, but holds humans (and jinn) alone responsible for the Earth’s ultimate ruination, is the starting premise of an Islamic ecology. This ecology is inseparable from an eschatology: teachings about death, the End of all things, as well as the myths of salvation, eternal bliss, and the misery of living forever in God’s distance. Eschatology as a lived sensibility that shapes everyday aspirations and practices is not so much focused on the ultimate apocalyptic catastrophe—the skies falling—but on living well through the protracted, disastrous present known as the final times (ākhir-al-zamān). Written by the side of the bees, in beekeepers’ footsteps, and in a companionship with a Sufi elder, a son of a beekeeper, the book forwards an eco-eschatology: a way of doing, feeling, and thinking while the End is not yet.
The story of beekeeping in Bosnia is relevant for beekeepers and bee lovers, world over, though its context and featured human-apian relationships may be very particular.
Small-scale beekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina tend to have a special connection with honeybees. Many have turned to beekeeping at very inauspicious times. They invested last bits of family savings into new hives in the midst of the 1990s genocidal war or shortly after the uneasy peace ushered in an era of economic depression, financial speculation, and political prospecting. If the beekeepers are mostly male, it is the women in the family who keep up the tradition of talking to the swarming bees and who pick up their share of apiary tasks, not least the harvesting of honey.
Moreover, honeybees’ local forage grounds are often far from industrial agriculture and so relatively safe from the usual environmental pressures upon the pollinators, such as pesticides, monocultural food sources, and the loss of habitat. Land devastated by the war and neglected since the peace is now rewilding and nurturing diverse, native as well as invasive species of bloomers. These forage sites are nearly idyllic, except that the impacts of climate change are increasingly felt no matter how far the beekeepers travel in pursuit of honey.
Climate change is a profound and sweeping global trend but, short of catastrophic weather events, its implications are often very subtle and easily missed. Beekeepers, however, are keen observers of nature and their apiary diaries and itineraries offer rare insights into the puzzling and fast-paced alterations in the relationships between bees and their partner plants.
To grasp the nature of routine pressures that are mounting against bees, the book travels cross-country, honey hunting at the most promising forage places and past the sites of quiet, ongoing disasters. Road trips in a post-war, developing Balkan country like Bosnia offer a particularly honest snapshot of the trends that are dooming the planet more generally: fossil-fuel development, budding consumer economies, toxic and extractive industries, and the unbeatable optimism of the climate future planning.
Beekeeping in the End Times, in a word, is a tour of the near-end ecologies. The insights and feelings inspired along the way are as intense and varied as are the flavors of wild, raw honey. Some aromas—like chestnut—are bitter, others—like honeydew—are almost too strong to take in. But honey-minded pursuits and contemplations are never bleak, even though the End may be looming.