As the Nobles bus rumbles down Bridge Street, AP Environmental Science student Ali Smith ‘15 asks, “Did you know that one in every three bites of food we take is possible because of the work of bees?” That interdependence between humans and our ecosystem is why, for the past four years, science faculty member Deb Harrison has taken her class to visit Bill Bliss ‘48.
Just a couple of miles down the road, Bliss welcomes students, saying, “Bees are social— they like friends. They’re happy seeing you here!” An avid beekeeper, he’s humble about having mentored hundreds of others, Harrison among them. She learned of his expertise when she bought some of his honey at the St. Paul’s Church Fair four years ago, and has been bringing her class to him ever since. “He is so generous with his wisdom and insight into honeybees, as well as with his patience with all of my questions. He got me started last year, and helped me set up two hives at my house on campus. I've learned much more from him even than I could learn from reading about bees.”
Bliss revealed a history of beekeeping dating back at least 4,500 years to Ancient Egypt, when urns of honey accompanied the well-to-do into the afterworld. Because of the importance of honey and wax in Egyptian culture, status, medicine and mythology, bee-keeping was an elevated science. Today, the impact of bees is far less well-known. Harrison says, “Bees are in trouble, threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder. To gain a full understanding of honey bees and the problems they face, we visit Bill.
“Honeybees are a critical component of our ecosystems, food systems and provide essential ecosystem services (i.e., pollination). The kids love learning about bees through this experiential opportunity. It’s a prime example of how our EXCEL program permeates the academic program at Nobles,” says Harrison.
Surrounded by abundantly fruited peach trees, students examined honeycombs and tasted fresh honey, while Bliss described the anatomy and flight patterns of bees. He also explained reasons for the specific depth and angle of the hives. He welcomed students into his kitchen pantry, site of a huge centrifugal bee honeycomb spinner (and no shortage of honeybee paraphernalia!). A tour of his robust vegetable and flower garden showed the direct effects of a healthy ecosystem. And of course, he wouldn’t let students leave without a jar of his own “Bliss Bees Honey.”
Before parting ways, Bliss shared fond memories of Nobles with students, including Caroline and Katherine Putnam ‘15, great granddaughters of former headmaster Eliot Putnam. Of Putnam’s influence, Bliss says, “I owe [him] my life.”