Friday, November 09, 2007

All the buzz - Chico-based California Nut Festival selects its featured book for discussion groups


The California Nut Festival, which will take place Feb. 16-23 in Chico, is sponsored by the Far West Heritage Association, stewards of the Chico Museum and Patrick Ranch.

Planned are art exhibits, almond blossom tours, a mall walk (in partnership with the American Heart Association), merchant events, special speakers and more, all in celebration of bees "and their tremendous value to our almond trees in Chico." They even got Jerry Seinfeld to release a movie about bees — at least that's the rumor I'm spreading.

In advance of the festivities, discussion groups are being formed to talk about the "city-wide book" which this year is "Letters From the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind" ($14 in paperback from Bantam Books) by Stephen Buchmann with Banning Repplier.

Buchmann is a Tucson, Ariz.-based associate professor of entomology and amateur beekeeper, and Repplier is a New York writer.
The book is an homage to all things bee-utiful as it tells the story of prehistoric honey hunters; the craft of beekeeping; secrets of the bee; honey in myth and legend; varieties of honey and its medicinal uses (honey contains hydrogen peroxide that can kill bacteria); cooking with honey; and how to make mead ("water sweetened with honey and allowed to ferment").

"Letters From the Hive" was published in 2005. A year later, reports began to surface from the United States and other parts of the world that honeybees were abandoning their hives. The syndrome was named "colony collapse disorder" and, in a recent article in the New Yorker ("Stung," by Elizabeth Kolbert) and a PBS documentary ("The Silence of the Bees") it appears that a virus is the culprit. Not only is the beekeeping industry threatened, but so are the crops that depend upon pollination, and that includes almonds.

"Letters" is especially valuable in taking the reader into the world of the bee. "If we could shrink ourselves down to bee size and enter the inner world of the nest, we would find it an alien place, dark, crowded and oppressively hot and humid. But bees are not humans, and presumably they feel comfortable in the hive, which is home to a queen, tens of thousands of her daughters, and a few hundred or so of her sons. Double-sided hexagonal combs line the walls, floors and ceilings of the nest. ... The waxen cubicles serve a multitude of functions, from storage pantries and nurseries to dance floors for the waggle dancing of successful foragers."

It's a honey of a tale.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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