Beekeeping in the End Times is due to be published by Indiana University Press in March, 2024. The book explores effects of strange new weather upon local honey ecologies.
Local beekeepers are keen record-keepers of local weather and local places. Being attuned to their insects’ appetites and to intimate connections between hives’ inner rhythms and the weathered lives of plants, apiarists have been noticing effects of climate change that are at once subtle and profound in their implications.
The book conveys apiarists’ records of alterations within and beyond the hives. Beekeepers’ observations, in many ways, resonate with concerns put forth by climate biologists and ecologists, namely about the future of pollination under the conditions of changing seasons. Divergent responses of insects and plants to earlier offsets of springs, biologists worry, may result in uncoupling of the former insect-plant partners. The assumption is that wild and specialized pollinators are most at risk.
The honeybee, on the other hand, as a human-managed, highly adaptable, generalist pollinator (that is, the kind that is capable of harvesting nectar from a variety of flowers) is presumed to be more resilient. On the other hand, honeybees worldwide are endangered by forms of intense human management that alters their biology as well as their social lives. Monoculture, pesticides, and loss of habitat ensure that honeybees forage in highly hostile environments. Global colony collapses proved just how fragile is the modern honeybee and, by default, how precarious is the global food industry that leans heavily on an overworked, overused insect.
By contrast, bees across Bosnia and Herzegovina forage in nearly ideal conditions. Apiaries are small in scale and oriented towards harvesting of honey and other hive products. Local apiarists tuck their apiaries in villages and forests, far from pesticides, away from industrial pollution. They passionately plant flowering species that yield nectar and pollen for their bees. Mobile beekeepers travel cross-country to their favorite coves in pursuit of seasonal forage. Some of the best forage sites are sought across the former battlegrounds of the 90s war, now lush and rewilding with the native as well as the invasive species.
And yet, local beekeepers are increasingly struggling to keep the honeybees healthy and alive. Landscapes well known for honey flow are now altering beyond recognition. “Everything has turned around in the atmosphere,” Ferid, a veteran beekeeper, complains, “things we used to know—weather, duration, calendar, and climate--have changed the angle.” As a consequence, this versatile beekeeper, an author of a dozen of beekeeping manuals, concludes: “The life of the bees and the beekeeper’s know-how are now coming apart.”
The book’s chapters describe what beekeeping looks like in this coming apart of local knowledge and bees’ and plants’ lives. How do you care for the beloved insects through scrambled seasons and under the conditions of unpredictable, odd, and extreme weather. Across the country, beekeepers read signs of a quickening ecological disaster. Compared to extreme weather events, which are becoming the defining feature of climate change, shifts and surprises in apian and plant habits do not register as catastrophes. But it is precisely such subtle ecological signs that beekeepers are highlighting as their honeybees recurrently depend on emergency, sugar-based food to survive.
Honey seems to be vanishing. It is highly a complex substance that defines the honeybee, that comes through the flowers’ and bees age-old, love-making, that founds bees’ famously complex culture. Honeybee as such, is no more. For the local Muslims, this is a statement of gravest concern, for honey is not only a vital food for the bee and a cherished medicinal remedy. It is the fruit of divine revelation bestowed upon a bee, sweet, rich bond between God and the world. Put simply, in the local Muslim ecology, there is no world without bees.
The book proceeds from the assumption that every ecology presumes a cosmology (and modern ecologies are no exception). What is more, the book argues, at the time of global environmental and climate catastrophe every ecology will have to duly consider finitude and frailty of species and resources as well as the possibility of the world’s bad end.
Chapter by chapter, the book explores the signs of the times blending together ecological and eschatological meanings and sensibilities. It reads closely Islamic eschatology—teachings about death, world’s end, and the afterlife—while showing the ways in which Islamic sources and Bosnian Muslim bee-minded and gardening practices are thoroughly ecological.
The book as a whole makes a case for an eco-eschatology while suggesting that little known features of Islamic thought and Muslim practice hold deep insights for living in the present as it were the end times.