I go to check the beehive and close it up for winter; put up a zinc mouse guard, a strap around the hive to prevent the roof blowing off. The screen base is covered with carcass material; a decapitated head, a lost limb, but I don’t remove them. They will act as insulation through the winter months, in between the ventilation holes, that is. Dead bodies everywhere in the time of Covid-19.
Inside the hive, the bees are perfecting their own form of lockdown. The colony will have formed into its “winter cluster” — a ball- shaped coming together. The outer bees line up side by side, facing into the constellation, so creating a duvet of insulation. It could be one bee thick, but if the temperatures drop there will be several lines of barrier bees for protection. Within the cluster the bees are free to roam around and top themselves up with some honey. Depending on the temperatures, they consume up to 20kg over the winter period.
They will take it in turns to act as bricks in the fortress wall.
Last year when we checked the hives there was the revelation of a plague: the destructor Varroa, little mites scattered everywhere like pinholes. They attach themselves to the bee brood cell and as soon as the cell is capped lay their eggs on the larva. Covid-19 is not dissimilar. Life and death on this Earth of ours has always been a collaboration of parasites and hosts.
A t 4.30pm, the sun is already setting; all that opportunity and promise thwarted. The thrust of things ended. I return to the house. The dying of the light always brings on a kind of depression in me, pandemic or not. As Don DeLillo wrote in his 1985 novel White Noise, it is a time “for a small insistent sadness to pass into the texture of things, Dusk, silence, iron chill. Something lonely in the bone.”
I go back to the kitchen to make some candles from the wax cappings and propolis we have saved throughout the year. They have already been filtered and laid into cake blocks. A glass pound honey jar: I position the wick inside, suspending it on a wooden skewer across the opening and anchoring it down at the bottom of the jar with a metal weight. I break up the wax into little pellets and fill the jars, placing them afterwards into the Aga on a baking tray to melt.
I particularly like the sun that comes off a candle made from bees-wax; it is brighter than any other incandescent flame. It burns cleanly and releases no volatile compounds into the air. It is full of goodness and light and signifies optimism and festiveness, like hanging around someone of ease.
The Catholic Church traditionally prescribed that all candles lit for Mass consisted of at least 51 per cent beeswax. As the New Catholic Encyclopedia notes: “It is opposed to darkness, which signifies sadness, gloom, desolation, death, ignorance, error, and evil in general.”
All those things we now attach to the Covid-19 virus.
According to Catholic tradition, the pale wax of the candle also symbolises Christ’s flesh, his sacred humanity. The wick, embedded in the centre of the candle, represents His soul. The flame, as it burns down the wick, devours the wax to give us light. It burns, expending itself, sacrificing itself, just as Christ sacrificed himself for us. The burning candle is not only appealingly beautiful, but it gives a sweet fragrance as it burns, another reminder of the presence of Jesus in our lives.
Out of the darkness of winter came Jesus, in a time when everything lost is somehow waking again.
Sasha Swire is the author of Diary of an MP’s Wife, published last year by Little, Brown.