from “Euclid’s Orchard”: a work-in-progress

“As I said earlier, we ran strands of wire covered with green plastic, stapled to 4×4 posts set into earth with great difficulty, some of them fitted onto pins in plinths created with big boulders and cement (these in areas where the ground was too rocky to dig). We ran strands of barbed wire between these after deer kept getting in between the green wire. We ran strands of wire connected to an electrical source after the deer persisted, and the bears. We bought rolls of chicken wire and unrolled these around the posts, stapling the 8 foot high sections as taut as we could. There was that gate, generously wide so we could bring in our truck, with big baskets for when the trees produced the harvests we thought might be possible. I filed recipes for apple preserves, for plum jams, for bottled cherries in exotic liqueurs.

Finally we gave up, though the chicken wire and the green-covered wire still surround the trees, gaping in places where the animals muscled their way through. We returned the battery, almost unused, because the bears didn’t care about electric fences any more than they were afraid of barbed wire. They didn’t give a fig – and when they discovered the fig tree by the house, they ravaged the young fruit until the tree grew too tall for them to reach and because the trunk grew against the side of the house, they didn’t care to climb it. But down in the orchard they’d eat every pear on the trees and then shit out golden pulp as their own parting barb. Some mornings in summer I walk down the driveway and see the lattice of chicken wire strung with dew-covered spider-webs, glistening in the sun.

The chicken wire is composed of cells like the hexagonal cells bees create from wax taken from abdominal glands of the worker bees and softened in the mouths of house bees. The wax is shaped by their bodies into circles which quickly form into hexagons. Mathematicians such as Pappus of Alexandria attributed this to “a certain geometrical forethought” on the part of the bees — Bees, then, know just this fact which is useful to them, that the hexagon is greater than the square and the triangle and will hold more honey for the same expenditure of material in constructing each.– but modern physics suggests that it is less calculated than that. Bees make cells that are circular in cross-section, all packed together like bubbles. Surface tension in the soft wax pulls the cell walls, as the wax hardens, into hexagonal, threefold junctions. I think I am with Pappus on this one, though. Try dropping circles of wax as close to one another as possible onto a flat surface and watch what happens. I’ve done this, several times, dropping wax from a beeswax candle (for authenticity) and the result is not hexagonal threefold junctions.”


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