The bees are having a glorious week. The mesquite tree outside the door sings with energy and ambition and purpose from dawn to dark. Each mesquite catkin--the long, drooping flower cluster that is the heart's desire of every bee in Burnet County--is made up of hundreds of tiny five-petaled flowers. Each one conceals a precious drop of sweet nectar in its throat, enough to lure a lascivious bee deep inside, deep enough to pollinate the flower. All day, delighted, drunken bees and insects of all sorts, small and large, have been lurching from one catkin to another, fulfilling the plant's destiny in their abandoned pleasures. There will be mesquite pods aplenty in another month or two.
And on the other side of the yard...the chaste trees, another sweetly alluring destination for bees, and delirious hummingbirds as well. Chaste trees (Vitex agnus-castus) are easily rooted from cuttings; we have a dozen, all daughters of a single chaste tree we planted almost 20 years ago. In the summer, they form a lovely hedge some 14 feet high; they lose their leaves in the winter, but their bare branches and gray trunks are a pretty sight. Summer or winter, a fine addition to the garden.
The herbal history and lore of the chaste tree is fascinating--and yes, this lovely tree is an herb, as is the mesquite, since both have been used medicinally and ritually in a number of cultures. As you might guess from its name, the chaste tree was once supposed to inhibit sexual desire, and monastic cooks were in the habit of adding a handful of the spicy chaste berries, or monk's pepper, to the monks' food--something I learned for the first time from a Brother Cadfael mystery!
But there's nothing inhibiting about this lovely plant as far as the bees and hummingbirds are concerned. They're just busy getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner--and ensuring that the vitex reproduces itself. It's all part of the divine scheme of things. And these days when the nightly news is full of unnecessary war (is any war ever necessary?), hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and other natural and unnatural violence, it's a joy to look up and see a tree buzzing, blooming, beautiful, benevolent. For just this brief moment, the wronged world seems entirely right.
Reading note, from Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir:
Light, leaf, foot, hand, and wing,
Such order as we know,
One household, high and low,
And all the earth shall sing.