The Boy Who Could Bee

The Boy Who Could Bee by Rowan Gordon

After I published THE BOY WHO COULD BEE under the pseudonym Rowan Gordon, I wondered if an artificial intelligence bot could invent a better story than the one I created. This is how it launches a story using the keywords: boy, monk, beehives, Devonshire monastery.

Once upon a time, there was a small boy named John who lived in a small village in the Devonshire countryside. He was an incredibly curious and adventurous young lad, and he was always looking for something new and exciting to do. One summer day, John stumbled upon a monastery situated in the hills of Devonshire. He was immediately drawn to the peaceful atmosphere and he decided to explore the grounds. As he was strolling around, he noticed a monk tending to several beehives. John was fascinated by the monk’s work and he decided to approach him and ask what he was doing. The monk explained that he was looking after beehives to help ensure that the bees had a safe place to live and make honey. He asked John if he wanted to help him and John eagerly agreed. For the next few weeks, John and the monk worked together to tend to the beehives. They would check the hives for disease or pests, and make sure that the bees had plenty of food and water. They would also clean out the hives and make sure that the bees had enough space to move around and build their hives. John learned a lot from the monk about beekeeping and he was very …

It’s a very different story from the one I published, although an impressive start and is grammatically perfect. I am glad I let my imagination flare rather than use a bot to trawl the internet for themes. I pasted below a synopsis of the book I published for middle-grade and older children. It is available at Amazon and on order from booksellers.

A Devonshire monastery garden looks serene on a summer day where an old monk is pottering around his bee yard. He strives to breed perfect bees with a reluctant helper, the village boy, Joe. But the bucolic scene is about to be disrupted. The boy has more to cope with than grouchy Brother Adam, stinging insects, and his older cousin, Emily, from London. Brad, the village bully, is desperate to uncover a medieval secret buried on the grounds. Meanwhile, the monk’s prize hive is in turmoil after the birth of a mutant queen and two broods struggle for supremacy. The fate of the monk’s favorite hive and its secret hang on an unlikely alliance as the boy and the insect seek peace when all seems lost.

I doubt AI will replace a writer’s creativity for long while, though it may help when stuck for ideas.

The Boy Who Could Bee

Published September 2022

Why should anyone care about my debut novel for middle-grade schoolchildren? THE BOY WHO COULD BEE was inspired by poring over my beehives and written under a pen name. When I recalled my uncle in England visited the famous monk-beekeeper, Brother Adam, I turned the monk and his Devonshire abbey into fiction and sent a village boy, Joe, to help breed perfect bees. His cousin, Emily from London, became curious about the legend of treasure hidden by medieval monks before King Henry VIII closed the former monastery, but the village bully’s family lays a claim. Only the bees in Brother Adam’s favorite hive know the secret, told from their point of view in alternating chapters. Presented recently on BBC Radio and for book festivals and school readings, the book is published by Jamestowne Bookworks and distributed by Amazon internationally in Kindle, paperback, and hardcover formats and is coming to bookstores. Illustrated by a Cornish and an American artist. Recently presented on BBC Radio and scheduled for book festivals and book readings in schools. Profits from sales are pledged to children’s cancer research for professional and personal reasons.

“The old mystic symbiosis of honeybee intelligence and hive-keeper husbandry told through the viewpoints of both species—what a lesson!” James Alexander Thom. New York Times bestselling novelist.

Waxworms make Holey Shopping Bags

A shameless boast, I take fewer than a dozen plastic shopping bags home from the grocery store each year (a trillion are manufactured). Discarded in garbage for burial in landfill, this non-compostable stuff awaits a post-Homo sapiens archeologist who learns how Anthropocene people trashed their planet. But beekeepers have another option for disposing of polyethylene. A dead hive. Not really practicable, but the idea connects with a new channel for Earth care.

When a bee colony deserted the hive, I saved the frames containing honey, boarded the entrance, and didn’t return to clean the interior for several weeks.

I was gobsmacked when I opened the boxes. The combs eaten to shreds were festooned in silken threads. Wax moths had snuck inside.

Galleria mellonella
One hungry waxworm (Pixabay)

Greater wax moths (Galleria mellonella), originating in Asia and now worldwide, depend on beehives to reproduce. Their eggs turn into plumptious caterpillars gorging on beeswax, and only a strong colony can beat back the invaders. Along with mites and hive beetles, wax moths are the bane of beekeepers.

A few years ago, biologists noticed holes appearing in plastic bags used to collect waxworms. Trained to be inquisitive, they set up an experiment, finding the plastic was eaten at a rate of 2 holes per worm-hour. Their results were published and another paper appeared in Current Biology.

They spun some in a blender to test the effects of caterpillar mush on plastic. It degraded. So, the plastic was digested, not just chewed. It is likely that bacteria in their gut were responsible, and the process probably benefited them by generating energy for metabolism. The long chains of hydrocarbon that make polyethylene turned into ethylene glycol, a substance used as an antifreeze in automobile radiators that is rather toxic to us, although it degrades quickly in soil.

There are unrelated bacteria that digest plastic, albeit slowly. Neither they nor waxworms can consume the mountains of plastic we generate, but that a synthetic compound formerly thought to be stable for eons is biodegradable gives hope that genetic engineering will develop a more efficient agent. Perhaps that can soften absolutist objections some people have toward GMOs.

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