As honeybees’ numbers dwindle alarmingly, it’s obvious that they’re affected by the ongoing events in the world; but in person, they seem entirely undisturbed. Watching them, you lose touch with the stress of your own life as you observe these tiny aliens thrumming along, utterly separate from the troubles around them. Their blithe business of flower inspection and bustling communal life are the sort of things you’d want to sink into as everything else falls into disorder. And if you can’t literally sink into a honey-sweet bee colony, sinking into Helen Jukes’ A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings: A Year of Keeping Bees is surely the next best thing.
After moving to Oxford, England, for a job, Jukes was grappling with a life of obligation and slow death by cubicle. The hard-driving, unforgiving and often inhuman corporate culture of her work had left her drained and brittle, but still she craved wildness, connection and patterns more life-giving than what her professional life provided. Beginning at a place of exhaustion and tightness, A Honeybee Heart Has Openings unfolds over a year into ease, sweetness, rhythm and flow.
Anyone who has experience with anxiety can identify the tremulousness in Jukes’ voice as the book opens. Then, as Jukes begins keeping honeybees in her garden, she settles into a routine and becomes part of the communal organism of the hive. The bees provide Jukes and the reader alike with a new interpretation of work. Community counts, we learn. Connection, trusting others and trusting ourselves are all part of the true, valuable work of a life. Interacting with the bees—learning the delicate balance between “keeping” bees and trusting their own innate expertise, leaning on the accumulated knowledge of an old art—draws Jukes into community with those around her, and we receive a portrait of a heart opening to pursuits that are truly nourishing.
Still a young voice in the world of nature writing, Jukes joins the ranks of pros like Robert Macfarlane and Helen Macdonald as she brings sharply into focus the details of the natural world that gleams and hums all around us.