For the past few years, in the time between the Epiphany and MLK Day, the pumpkins we set out in the yard after Thanksgiving finally deflate, broadcasting seeds into a corner of our yard for the next year’s patch of potential jack-o-lanterns. We watch as those vines yield breathtaking, bright orange flowers and then, lately, as the next Halloween tricks by us, wither without ever yielding pumpkins.
For two years now, our patch has been quick to tease and slow to yield. Despite the fact that male flowers and female flowers live on the same vine, they have been unable to pollinate each other. The swollen stamen remain unsatisfied by the pistils just inches away.
The honeybees just don’t come anymore.
This sandy coastal ecosystem, victim to the local indirect microaggressions of global climate change, likely exacerbated by the pervasive pesticides that have drenched the planet and plant DNA with a poisonous residue, has left our garden fruitless. Without bees to bring the pollen from one flower to its neighbor, we are left with imported pumpkins and manufactured honey and odd-spiced, orange-frothed, iced lattes.
The recent buzz, repeated around the world this summer, confirmed old-wives’ anecdotes and affirmed what our pumpkinless patch represents: bees are, “The Most Important Living Being on the Planet.” Bees are at the center of every natural community on green Earth. Bees pollinate the flowers that create the fruits that feed the critters that return to the soil that fertilize the trees that process the CO2 that frees the oxygen that fuels the climate that brings the rain that nourishes the plants that bloom with flowers. Some studies show that bee populations worldwide have shrunk up to 90%.
The loss of bees means more than no pumpkins.
The dangerous die-off of these ecological matchmakers has left our republic both bitter and undernourished. High nitrogen fertilizers only make the vines grow more labyrinthine and the withered flowers—the waste of historic potential—all the more tragic. Without bees to bring the two blooms from the same patch together, the loss is more substantial than the lack of Buc-orange in South Tampa.
Our political duopoly—currently over-fertilized, hysterical and pyrotechnically orange-tinged—is shooting blanks. Even as two vibrant flowers on the same Constitutional vine have vied for power since 1776, they were able to support the breadbasket of American ideals. Through compromise and cross-pollination, America’s progress has been the story of our bees: the brave political deal-makers and center-affirmers that brought the flowers of possibility to fruit and seed.
Bees like John McCain and George H.W. Bush have been relegated to nostalgia: as sweet as Halloween candy, American diplomatic leadership and homecoming parades. Bees like Barack Obama and George W. Bush, seemingly polarizing in their time, are having their legacies—unifying achievements like PEPFAR and ACA—re-written in this moment of ahistoricity.
America threatens to wither before our eyes; the world is suffering from a leadership vacuum. We continue to carve dysmorphic scowls onto sterile, non-native fruit and to steal candy from the bags of our children to fuel deficit-induced, economic sugar-highs.
It may be fake news designed to undermine the truth about climate change or some chess-like strategy promulgated by Russian-bots, but a flurry of new reporting indicates that there may be a rebound in bee populations. As I look around, the pumpkin patch in my front yard notwithstanding, I see hope in truth. Governor DeSantis has taken the center-leaning lead on such important topics as environmental sustainability and education. Congressmen like Republican Francis Rooney and organizations like Republic-En have made the argument that we are all better off engaging in a discourse on climate change rather than simply denying it. Democrats like Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg represent a healthy bridge between their party’s extremist fringes and a way out of our current morass.
It may take a while before we cycle through this scorched-earth wave of overheated—Republican Trumpism and Democrat progressivism—populism and emerge on the other side of this fruitless aberration in the evolution of an ever-greater America. Next summer, we may need to take pollination into our own hands. We may need to reach into our pockets to support the bees, those radical centrists whose passion for rational and sustainable solutions will rebound on our ballots. We may need to dip our fingers into the stamen and pistils of flowers on the same vine: to inseminate our future before the bees are all gone and before America is but a withered flower on a fruitless vine.