Four students came over yesterday to help "hive" our second package of bees. (That's beekeeper lingo for shaking bees out of a shoe-size box into a book-size box.) I'm learning the lingo fast, hoping it will give me confidence. When we learned last summer that the bee population was in decline, my husband, Mark, and I decided to become beekeepers. We spent the year reading, took a beekeeping class for beginners, built our brood frames and supers, and ordered our bees. Mark was out of town when the gentle but weary travelers arrived in Portland, so I hived Lucy, the first "package," to figure out how to do it. Amy, Hannah, Sara, and Allie, who have their own love affair with bees, came to watch and help hive Emma.

"The bee is more honored than other insects, not because she labors, but because she labors for others," said John Chrysostom, archbishop of Constantinople. For Mark and me, beekeeping is less about the honey (though we will enjoy it), and more about preserving the pollinating labor of bees that yield us food. Hives have been hit with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). No one knows for sure what's causing it, but guesses include pesticides, genetically modified foods, effects from transporting bees across the country, cell phones, mites, and disease. The effect of CCD is being discussed in scientific journals, agricultural circles, on NPR, and in Congress.

One theory says that when the bees die, humans have four more years of life on earth. Another suggests that bees are not actually in decline at all. Neither of those lies close to the truth, so I won't grant either credibility by suggesting the truth falls somewhere in the middle. Bee populations are in decline, and the 100 or so fruits and vegetables that need pollinating (like apples, tomatoes, and broccoli) are threatened, but honeybees are not the only pollinating insects around, even if they are the most industrious. Hopefully we won't have to live without them. The recent rise in backyard beekeepers is a collective effort to help bees to help us all.

Keeping bees keeps me mindful of things I don't want to forget. Like that I need worms (that is, the kind that live in the soil) and trees to turn CO2 back into oxygen and rain fall and healthy ice caps in the North and South Poles. Keeping bees reminds me that I need God's good earth to be healthy so that I, and all human and non-human life, can flourish. Second, bees have a community life that reminds me of my need for others. They give each other directions to the sweet peach nectar two miles north over the hill, to the east three miles, then down into the canyon by the creek. They communicate these directions by dancing. I find that lovely. Bees keep each other warm in winter and cool in summer. They share nectar, and take care of each other.

I'll be drawing on bee metaphors for a long time. Here's my final one for now: Like bees, we, especially women, live life in chapters. Bees start working in the nursery the day they hatch out. They become housecleaners (keeping their homes extraordinarily clean), guards, and finally, when they are mature and ready, the pollinating nectar gatherers. Their life cycle grants grace for mine. We, especially women, live life in chapters. Embracing my current chapter as a full-time professor, part-time beekeeper, mother of adult children, and wannabe farmer renews and restores my sense of purpose in this season.