Honeybees! Corvallis Event Recap

Corvallis ReadingFrom top left: editors Melissa Reeser Poulin & Jill McKenna Reed, contributor Lois Leveen; 2nd Row: contributor Adrienne Flagg, the Corvallis audience, OSU Honey Bee Lab research assistant Ashrafun Nessa; 3rd row: contributor Kristin Berger, contributor Sarah Marshall, and contributor and event host Charles Goodrich, director of the Spring Creek Project at OSU. 

What an awesome night for honeybees! On November 14th, an energetic crowd joined us at the Corvallis library for a sampling of readings from Winged, a presentation from OSU’s Honey Bee Lab, and a viewing of an observation hive with 10,000 live honeybees. Honey-tasting and conversation followed.

We’re grateful to Carly Lettero and Charles Goodrich of the Spring Creek Project at OSU for hosting this dynamic event. The Spring Creek Project’s mission is “to bring together the practical wisdom of the environmental sciences, the clarity of philosophical analysis, and the creative, expressive power of the written word to find new ways to understand and re-imagine our relation to the natural world.” They do so through a wide range of events, programs, and projects. Check them out!

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Prairie Gold, by Chris Wiewiora

Last summer when my fiancée Lauren and I pulled up to the prairie, bees boilingly hummed around our bee club’s hives as our wedding planning swirled in my head. We had driven to the prairie to check on the bees’ honey production. From the gravel lot, the bees danced from the adjacent alfalfa field to their hives that we would open up.

Earlier, in spring, I had proposed with my grandmother’s ring. The simple silver band with a diamond stud fit Lauren’s finger perfectly. Around the same time, we had joined the bee club and took a class with Arvin, the apiarist at the horticulture farm for the university where I teach. For several Saturday mornings the club met in a room with a radiator that pinged. During the meetings, I thought about the countdown until the wedding and all the planning to do.

Lauren had a yearlong list that we were checking off. The list noted things to do months (dress and tuxedo), weeks (rings), and days (marriage license) leading up to the wedding. Lauren and I were planning on inviting both our families in Florida, more than one hundred people, and that meant a band, catering, venue with enough parking, and ordering cards for RSVPs and Thank Yous. The ceremony had become more for our families than about us.

We had already been together for several years but knew we wanted to commit to being together for the rest of our lives. We met where we had grown up: Central Florida—multiple cities that sprawled over orange groves and swamps. It took either 15 minutes or 45 minutes to drive anywhere, and mostly via toll roads. Nobody made eye contact in the suburbs as owners’ dogs left turds on lawns. My boss chewed me out in front of customers at the restaurant where I worked, and Lauren filed accounting and blueprint plans for a construction firm that paid her as an intern. Lauren had moved with me when I entered grad school. We came to love our quiet, simple life in the Midwest. From the sidewalks, our neighbors said, “Good morning.” Lauren rode her bike to work for a non-profit. People on the bus gave their seats to older folks. In class, my students shook my hand. We belonged to a co-op grocery store and made meals at home each night.

In the prairie, I considered that we probably wouldn’t have discovered—let alone had the time for—a bee club in Central Florida. At a shed, Lauren and I put on bonnets and then walked over to the white boxy hives. Throughout summer the club had added levels of “supers,” stacking the hives into miniature towering apartments. Lifting the roof, I squeezed a smoldering smoker’s accordion-like pump filled with smoldering burlap. Lauren used a beebrush to wipe off the frames with “the ladies” (as Arvin called the all-female workers). I scraped and pried the gluey propolis off edges with the crowbar-like hive-tool. I pulled up a heavy frame with uncapped comb oozing honey.

As the bees rose in a smoky stupor, my thoughts on the wedding cleared. We were getting married for the continual days together that would fill with moments: playing rummy at the kitchen table, pouring water along the rows of our backyard garden, watching the green flickers from lightning bugs through the screened windows, huddling under the basement stairs as the tornado sirens wailed, wearing hats inside the house during winter, and dabbing our fingers in the first taste of tens of thousands of flights.

This essay first appeared in Edible Iowa River Valley.

1Chris Wiewiora is from Orlando, Florida but currently lives with his wife in Ames where he earned his MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University. His nonfiction has been anthologized in Best Food Writing 2013 and published in GastronomicaGrazeMake, and many other magazines. Read more at www.chriswiewiora.com

Letter After Achilles, an excerpt from an essay by Stefanie Trout

I.

May 2, 2013

Dear Bees,

I feel I must apologize. I’m new to this apian life, and I regret not thinking of you first when Achilles came to Iowa. The cold air settled on my exposed back this morning, and I awoke from the chill. Snow shrouded the world outside my window, colonizing the tree branches like arctic lichen. Today, the snow didn’t fall simply down. It fell east and west, north and south. It blew up, buoyed by the wind.

Yesterday they warned us this storm was coming. They, who attempt to prophesy these kinds of events. They, who termed this record-breaking storm Achilles. I wonder how deeply they who selected the name understood its history. I wonder if they knew the word’s etymological origin—akhos laos, “the grief of the people.” I wonder if the name made them think of Homer or Brad Pitt. And I wonder if there is a slain hero Hector out there whose wimpy brother Paris will summon all of Apollo’s courage to save us from this storm with his arrow.

I would have been more concerned with you, dearest bees, if I had believed the forecasters, but I was in denial. Impatient. Just two days ago, I pulled the canvas bag out from under my bed, the bag with swimsuits and sandals and other articles of clothing that reveal more skin than they cover, packed with a strip of cedar to keep everything fresh. Two days ago, I donned a tank top and shorts. I bared my pale skin to the bright sun, and I sweat in the eighty-degree afternoon.

I was embarrassed about showing so much skin after having spent so long covering it up, and I have more skin now than I did the last time I wore these clothes. I have more skin than I’ve ever had before—more breasts, more stomach, more hips, more ass, more thigh. I have what I’ve always been teased for not having: meat on my bones. My boyfriend—as much as I hate the juvenile sound of the word, that’s what he is—doesn’t mind the extra flesh. I know I probably shouldn’t mind it either, but I do. I’d had the same body for a decade, and I no longer recognize the vessel that contains me. But I was done covering it up and content to pick up more sun and more fresh warm air on account of my increased surface area.

This morning, however, my body only picked up cold, pushing against me on all sides as Achilles bore down on Ames, Iowa. Sleeping next to the window was lovely in the summer when my boyfriend—just a roommate back then—and I moved in and arranged the furniture. I would wake up to sunshine and, when I left the window open for the night, birdsong and bursts of fragrant foliage. I woke up to the signs of life. It was like a Disney movie or a transcendentalist celebration of the world’s glory. But through the long winter, it has felt like sleeping in front of a walk-in freezer with the door ajar because of a faulty latch.

The air coming off the window tells me how much clothing I will need before I’m ready to face the world. This morning, the cool air told me to wear all of the clothes—or at least all of the warm ones I haven’t grown out of. (It’s a funny thing, “growing out of ” clothes at twenty-eight years old instead of just wearing them out like usual.) The bag of bikinis and skimpy shorts that probably won’t fit anyway will have to go back under the bed for now.

From the window, the snow looks soft and quiet just as all snow appears from afar. It tumbles off the branches more quickly than usual, though, falling fast like fat white tears. Once I ventured outside, I found the snow neither soft nor quiet. The temperature hovers just above freezing, so the snow does not drift as gentle flakes but rather drops as airborne slush, pockmarking the white carpet upon impact. The fat white tears cannonball into puddles on the street. They collided with my head like well-guided slush missiles. Moisture beaded on my glasses; my vision blurred.

And at that moment, I finally thought of you, dearest honeybees. It hasn’t been a week since we in the recently-formed Bluff Creek Bee Club released you into your new hives at the Casey Land. If we had anticipated the arrival of Achilles, we might have waited for calmer skies. But by the time the storm was foretold, it was too late. If your colonies were already well established I wouldn’t be so concerned about the weather. If you survive this storm and the summer that must eventually follow it, you will winter out-of-doors at the Casey Land. By then, hopefully, you will be strong. A superorganism adapted for life on all continents save Antarctica, your species has survived cruel weather before. But right now, your queens are fresh out of the cage. You are all just starting to get to know one another and your roles in and outside of the hive. And I worry.

I want to save you from Achilles, but leaving you alone is the only way I can help right now. I hope you huddle close in your hives the next few days, ranks closed around your respective queens, shivering to raise your body temperatures. I know you can keep warm as long as you have food. I hope you conserved your sugar-water wisely, stretching the reserve until Achilles has gone and the air is safe for us to open your hives again for a top off.

Since you’re probably (hopefully) tucked away in your hives, you likely haven’t had a look at the world outside. It’s strangely beautiful. I hadn’t realized how green and vibrant the grass had become until it was silhouetted against bright white slush. As courageous and ambitious as any Trojan, the grass fights back against the spring snowstorm, radiating the energy of life and thawing the dimpled snow before it even stops falling. Put another way, it looks as if all of Ames has been TP-ed by some angsty teenagers just before a downpour, the soggy tissue torn through by raindrops to reveal glimpses of the verdant landscape beneath. Somewhere, a bird sings. Though I can’t identify the species, I think I know the words to its song.

I promise to write again soon.

Yours truly,

Stef

 

III.

May 4, 2013

Dear Tallgrass Prairie,

The snow melts in the spring sun, dissolving into dewy grass. Good news for bees.

The bees’ home at the Everett Casey Nature Center and Reserve is seventy-six acres straddling Bluff Creek. Five years ago, 1946 Iowa State Engineering alum Everett Casey gifted the land, valued at $201,000, to the English Department for use by the Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing and Environment. Why he did this, I’ll never know for sure. Casey cited an excellent writing class that he took at ISU for an explanation. A single class. I like to think that it was for me and others like me in the MFA program. Casey was from Detroit—not too far away from my own birthplace and childhood homes in West Michigan. I like to think that Mr. Casey knew about my type. That we would need a piece of wildness to be able to make Iowa home. I know it sounds selfish, but I like to think he reserved this place for me and others like me so that we never forget the privilege we have to live on this land.

As you know, the property should be carpeted with tall prairie grass—as should the majority of Iowa. Forty percent of the United States was once covered in you, my dear Tallgrass Prairie, but Iowa led the rest of the union with the largest percentage of its land area devoted to the native grasses. A sea of grass that can be just as disorientingly awe-inspiring as the open ocean or, something I’m more familiar with, a Great Lake. Your beauty has always been subtler than that of other landscapes. You hid much of your treasure underground, in your amazing, complex root system that held the wet, rich soils in place.

Now Iowa leads the race to the bottom—with more than 99.9% of its natural landscape gone, replaced by a system governed by drainage tiles and an excessive amount of chemicals. Thirty million acres of big and little bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass—all plowed under to make room for cornfields. The hardy stalks grow taller than men. Their ears boast hundreds of kernels arranged in tidy rows like widgets on a factory line, packaged efficiently in a husk and swaddled in long blonde silk for safer shipping and handling. Eight thousand years of prairie legacy disappeared, so Americans can get fat on soft drinks and corn-fed cattle.

I prefer to get fat on honey.

I miss you.

Love,

Stef

 

V.

May 10, 2013

Dear Casey Land,

At last, the skies are calm enough to expose the hives to the elements. Emerging apiarists pile into a van and set out to visit you. We must check on our bees—make sure the queens are still alive and the workers are building comb for brood. We must replenish the sugar-water. Soon the bees will feed themselves.

We burn scraps of burlap in the smoker, pumping the bellows to fuel the fire. Standing to the side of the first hive, we puff smoke into the openings. The smoke calms the bees, so they won’t attack us. We lift the outer cover, give them more smoke, and then remove the inner cover to reveal the built-up frames. Right now, the hives are short—with only the lower deep in place. The lower deep is the brood chamber, where the queen lays her eggs. Soon we will add the upper deep—the food chamber—and a few weeks after that, a queen excluder and a shallow honey super. We don’t expect to harvest much honey this year, but we’re optimistic that we’ll each get to taste the sweet products of the humming hives. For now, however, we just hope our colonies survive. Between Varroa mites, the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, and now the bizarre weather, our bees face much adversity.

We pull out frames for inspection and find our girls have been busy despite the chill. They built extra comb between the frames, too much comb in places, and a large piece of the hexagonal wax breaks off and falls into the hive. A brave beekeeper sticks her gloveless hand into the depths of the chamber and pulls out the fallen chunk, covered on all sides with bees. There’s no way to glue the brood comb back together, so we gently brush the bees off and back into the hive. We save the piece as a souvenir. Later, on the drive back to Ames, we’ll notice the tiny rice-like eggs the queen has laid in each cell. Since we will be too inexperienced at this point to recognize the queen among the crowd of workers and drones, the presence of eggs serve as our proof that Her Highness is alive and performing her royal duties.

We shift some frames around, moving the heavily built-up frames toward the outside and moving the barer frames toward the middle, the heart of the hive where the queen lays her eggs—as many as two thousand per day. We refill the sugar-water, close up the hive, and proceed to complete the same tasks with the second hive.

The business of our visit taken care of, we decide to enter your lovely forest to look for blooming wildflowers. Evidence of the early prairie restoration efforts is apparent—most of the invasive species we lopped off in the fall have failed to sprout back. We all wish it could have been accomplished without the aid of Roundup, but unfortunately it’s our only effective weapon against the intruders. If we want you to look natural again, we will have to take some unnatural measures. That’s what I’m told anyway, and though it feels wrong in my gut, I listen to those with experience because I know they hate how toxic our environment is too.

We hike down the steep hill, the trail newly widened, through invading cedars and into the oak forest, past the agricultural field recently converted from corn rows to oats in preparation for alfalfa planting—your only source of income and now on its way toward becoming a much better source of nutrition for the bees—until we reach Bluff Creek. The fast water fills the channel more completely than we’ve ever seen. Our feeble rock bridges have been submerged by the snowmelt, creating exciting riffles.

No longer a stagnant, desiccated remnant, the creek rushes nobly. We straighten our spines, pull back our shoulders, and beam like proud parents. We made this, we think, but like proud parents, we’re wrong.

As you well know, Bluff is a meandering sort of creek, and we follow its winding way downstream to the sandy point bar that demarcates the edge of the property. Though our English Department holds your deed, we stewards don’t like to think of owning you. You aren’t our property. You’ve been home to all varieties of native and invasive flora and fauna, and now that includes a pair of honeybee colonies, but please don’t get the wrong idea. This kind of colonialism is rather different than the kind you might be apprehensive about.

On our way back to the van, we lose ourselves in your woods. We unknowingly follow what is most likely a deer path forking off our main trail. Hopping the barbed wire fence could be our first clue that we are losing track of where you end and the neighboring land begins. An arbitrary line, yes, but still legally significant.

We emerge from the woods on the edge of a freshly planted field and follow it toward the road hoping to see our hives just around the bend. We don’t.

So we reenter the woods, no longer on any path at all, blazing our own trail that includes crawling under and climbing over fallen trees. We shinny down a gully, hop the muddy bottom, and scramble up the other side. We scale another barbed wire fence—a promising sign—and emerge from the woods again. This time, we see the white hives and know that we are home.

On the van ride back to Ames, we find ticks all over our bodies. Another souvenir. Thanks for that.

Respectfully,

Stefanie Brook Trout

IX.

May 31, 2013

Dear Bees,

This morning we—my boyfriend, Lily, and I—are finally running. For me, it’s the first time in seven years. Seven years ago, I ran the Detroit Marathon on a relay team to raise money for a summer camp for kids with heart problems. My leg was only six miles, a lazy day for a marathon runner, but it was longer than I’d ever run before, and I found out later that it could have killed me.

I ran for my nephew Dominick, who was too young to attend summer camp yet but had needed two heart surgeries in his first year. I knew I had a congenital heart problem too, but I hadn’t known how serious it was when I had agreed to run the relay. I found out four years later, when Dr. Sheik diagnosed me with an atrial septal defect, a hole in my heart two centimeters in diameter that allowed the blood from my left and right atria to slosh back and forth at will, sullying up the whole system of veins and arteries and valves and vena cavae that work diligently to keep oxygenated and deoxygenated blood from mixing.

Dr. Sheik plugged the hole in my heart without taking a scalpel to my chest and, after a few months, cleared me for strenuous physical activity. But I was terrified to ever run again. I’ve gained twenty-five pounds since the surgery. I blamed it on my new birth control, my busyness with graduate school, my laziness. Now, running through Ames with my boyfriend beside me, Lily leading and wishing I could go faster, I feel my heart rate quicken and the subsequent anxiety, and I know that it was fear that kept me inert. I had a new heart, and I was afraid to stress it too hard. I didn’t want to go through all of that again.

Running, I feel my heart beating, thrumming its chord of life through my body, awakening my senses. My heart might have been faulty at first, but my skeleton is built for running. All that I am rests on two long legs. As a teenager I once wore hot pink skinny jeans to the zoo, and my sister, who lives in California and hasn’t seen me in the past year, still calls me a flamingo. My thighs never used to touch, but they’re rubbing now, which is inconvenient but really not a big deal. The fresh air fills my lungs with a forgotten power. The extra flesh is cold, but I am warm.

I will come for a visit tomorrow.

Faithfully yours,

Stef

This excerpt appears with permission of the author. “Letter After Achilles” appears in its entirety in the anthology Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland (Ice Cube Press 2014). Purchase a copy here.

 Images via: Unsplash and Beekeeping Wikia

StefStef at Caseyanie Brook Trout explores the dynamic interactions between people and their surroundings through all genres of writing. A candidate in Iowa State University’s interdisciplinary Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing and Environment, Stefanie is the communications assistant for the Leopold for Sustainable Agriculture, the MFA student coordinator for the Everett Casey Nature Center and Reserve, and a member of both AgArts and the Bluff Creek Bee Club. She co-edited Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, which was published by Ice Cube Press in July 2014. More at http://stefaniebrooktrout.com

Stefanie writes: “I wrote “Letters after Achilles” during and in the immediate aftermath of a snowstorm that hit Iowa May 2, 2013–less than two weeks after the Bluff Creek Bee Club had established our first honeybee hives. Our colonies survived that storm. Unfortunately, they did not survive this past winter–Iowa’s coldest in 35 years–so we [started] all over this spring. “

Osmia Messiah, a poem by Gregg Kleiner

Osmia_ribifloris_beeOsmia Messiah

What must it feel
like 
to be puttied over
in such a small space,
sealed off by your mother’s kiss
of saliva and clay
from the elements and sunlight,
tucked in tight
through winter dark
inside a hole so ordinary
it might well be overlooked
or misconceived as a miniature tomb
until something—

the planet’s tilt and turn?
the blooming of brighter light?
the pull of pear blossoms in warm rain?

somehow tells you the time is right
to emerge from this plugged place
and take flight
on your still-damp wings
oh shiny black mason bee
no larger than a housefly,
oh solitary pollinator
with no bold yellow bands
or loud buzz,
oh patient and humble savior?

Kleiner-Author-Photo-webGregg Kleiner‘s novel Where River Turns to Sky (HarperCollins, 1999) was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award and the Paterson Fiction Prize. “Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!,” his first book for children – and their adults!, is about climate change and asks the question, “What might happen if we could SEE CO2 in the atmosphere?”His work has appeared in OrionThe SunOregon Quarterly, and elsewhere. Read more at greggkleiner.com

Image: Wikimedia Public Domain

Worth Looking At, A Found Poem by Sonja Johanson

Redo

 

Laughing –
she opened her mouth.
The sun,
a tousled stand of yellow
climbed
in oratorical motion.

The first clear night after
the storm
presaged a kind of change.
Alder buds
began to burnish green; it was
bee season.

Source text; 1935 Pulitzer Prize novel Honey in the Horn, H.L. Davis

Sonja-14SmallSonja Johanson attended College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, ME. She currently serves as the training coordinator for the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association. Her work appears in journals including the Albatross, Dandelion Farm, Referential Magazine, and Shot Glass Poetry, and she was a participating writer in the Found Poetry Review’s 2013 Pulitzer Remix Project. Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine.

The Beekeeper and his Promiscuous Wife: A Poem by Travis Dolence

The Beekeeper and His Promiscuous Wife

By Travis Dolence

 

Tonight, I drink on the recommendation

of ten thousand voices that know me,

that see me

 

for who I am, settled deeply into the

geometry of life, small migrations,

patterns of sleep.

 

Best not to cry for loss, keep moving

forward, they say, fly forward to the next

sun torn blossom laid bare to touch.

 

Shadows of branches hold no

rest for us, they say, the material

world is all we need.

 

I hold my mouth to the landing board

and speak to the nucleus

speak in a clear hive voice

 

I wait for answers cast in the lost

wax process, gold and black,

clear and constant warm voices.

 

Dolence TravisTravis Dolence is a  librarian and MFA candidate at  Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he composes poetry when he’s not answering reference questions. His work has appeared in the chapbook The Lyrical Librarian: Verses from the Stacks, published by Consortium. Travis has taken the University of Minnesota’s excellent beekeeping course – taught by the bee expert Marla Spivak. Growing up, Travis would accompany his grandfather while he tended his hive. He hopes to pass on this experience to his three children.

Travis is currently in the early stages of compiling his poems for his thesis. In addition, he is working on a young adult verse novel set in Northern Minnesota and loosely based on Eastern European folk tales.

Fox Contemplates the Nature of Bees, A Poem by Kathryn Machan

Bee Fascinated Print By Debra Hall

FOX CONTEMPLATES THE NATURE OF BEES

Let’s talk about them, bees.
Let’s talk about the honeycomb
that keeps them going, keeps them buzzing
around the queen who is their Core

huge and pure and full of sweet
so full and pure and huge she lives
to shape existence in the hive
that hums its own true universe

beyond lungs’ breath, beyond tongues’ taste,
gold and gold from hot sun’s gold,
the center of their conversation,
bold firm bodies, busy wings.

Image: “Bee Fascinated” by Debra Hall, via Grey Pepper Art. Appears by permission.

“Fox Contemplates the Nature of Bees” first appeared in The Ithaca Times in January 2013 and appears by permission of Kathryn Machan.

 
MachanKatharyn Howd Machan, Professor of Writing at Ithaca College, holds degrees from the College of Saint Rosethe University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. Her poems 
have appeared in numerous magazines; in anthologies/textbooks such as The Bedford 
Introduction to LiteratureThe Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013, Early 
Ripening: American Women’s Poetry Now, Literature, Sound and SenseWriting Poems
and in 32 collections, most recently H (Gribble Press, 2014) and Wild Grapes: Poems of 
Fox (Finishing Line Press, 2014)Former director of the Feminist Women’s Writing 
Workshops, Inc., in 2012 she edited Adrienne Rich: A Tribute Anthology (Split Oak 
Press).  

 

The Bedroom that was a Beekeeper’s House: An Essay by Amy Wright

Vgu1RUfKT3WN1ZYxSWaR_14672519443_13d8873062_kJim was given custody of the bees in his divorce. Not knowing where to go with them when he moved out, he housesat for a woman in her seventies who needed someone to look after her hives while she summered in Canada. He integrated his bees with hers in the backyard, fed them sugar water, and—barely—saved them from hive beetles.

When Judith returned, Jim, a frugal freelance photographer and handy man, suggested he convert the tool shed out back into living quarters. Having had both hips replaced, Judith liked having an able-bodied man around and agreed. He cleared out truckloads of hoarded items and hauled them to Goodwill. It was as much work convincing her to part with the stuff as to move it, he told me two years later when we started dating.

Jim had plumbed the shed for a sink, built a closet, laid a hardwood floor, installed a mini refrigerator, but until he dug a trench for a composting toilet, he used the backyard or Judith’s bathroom. At night, I would pull on my shoes, part a mosquito net that served as a screen door, and make my way by moonlight to the grove of hemlocks behind the cottage to squat in the grass.

Sometimes when I climbed back into bed he folded my night-damp body in his arms. Other times, he merely stirred, leaving me to look for warmth I’d left under the sheets. Jim wrestled in college. He never lay on top of me that he wasn’t conscientious about knees and elbows, distributing his own weight. The sound of rain on the roof was romantic. I could deal with muddy sneakers.

In the early days of the relationship Jim showed me a photograph of three Russian Queens he had ordered on the Internet. These winter-hardy Constantinovas arrived in a neon green envelope that read: LIVE QUEEN BEES // FIRST CLASS MAIL. He placed a straight razor beside the tremulous pouch in the image to foreshadow the next act of slicing it open, situating each colony’s ruler inside a cage plugged with marshmallow, which would protect her long enough for the drones devouring the candy to accept her. I liked that a replacement for the locus of a hive, for whom all honey is made, might be delivered. My grandfather also kept bees but relied on natural methods—feral finds in barns and trees or captured swarms.

As we started to close the windows against November nights, to leave a fleece within reach of the door, I knew I had to end the relationship. Summer rain or sleet in February, that one-room cabin wasn’t getting any bigger.

It wasn’t the inconvenience I minded so much as how the arrangement allowed him to keep sealed the other chambers of his heart. I might hum around all I liked, industrious as any worker bee, dancing clover nectar off my feet, but I would never be taken to the queen.

Now, months later, my memory does not return to the futon where we often woke to find Judith’s pet hen poking her head around the screen to remind us of her pellets. What stays with me instead is the sensation of leaving the shed in the middle of the night, crawling away from the honeycomb of his body to trust my inherent navigation system. It was the same guidance system that inspires wax-producing workers to carve their cell blocks into hexagons, but it carried me away from my compulsion to gather and store flower pollen.

In late fall bees start clustering at night to pool their body heat, only leaving the hive during the day for cleansing flights. When I came back from my last starlit foray, Jim remained on his side, a single knot facing away from me. I turned toward the window still charged with the largeness of night, which he in his soft sleep, alone with an incredible loneliness, could not fathom.

Image: “Sunset Girl” by Leon Biss via Unsplash

“The Bedroom that was a Beekeeper’s House” was first published in Brevity, Issue 44, Fall 2013, and appears here by permission of Amy Wright.

 

faculty_photo Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and the author of four poetry chapbooks. She received a Peter Taylor fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, an individual Artist’s Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission, and was recognized as an Emerging Writer at the Southern Women Writers’ Conference. Her work appears in a number of journals, including Brevity, Diagram, Drunken Boat, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Passages North, Quarterly West, and Tupelo Quarterly.

Excerpt from “The Bien,” by Michael Thiele

The eyes of bees are quite different from our own eyes. Due to their particular makeup, bees are unable to focus or zoom in on objects in the outside environment. We humans can turn towards any object in the world with the help of our flexible lenses. Our consciousness can move from within to the outside world of light, colors and objects. Bees, on the other hand, solely receive the light. The light streams through their open eyes into their body, almost as if they were merging with the visual world.

Their breathing organs have a similar quality. Human lungs are an interface between the outside environment and our inner organs. Bees have a tracheal system which enables the outside air to reach every single organ and tissue directly through small channels within the bee’s body. The ocean of the air reaches every part within. In these examples of air and light we find that there is no substantial separation between the bees and their environment. It is as if they are one and the same, as if the outside world is an extension of their inside.

Christopher Down

Just as we come to realize how intimately the bees are connected with their environment, we discover that the colony as a whole is organized as a separate individual entity. All physical life forms are defined through a membrane separating the inside from the outside world such as our skin. This membrane makes life in a physical form possible as it enables all life forms to control their inner milieu. A bee colony portrays these same features. The bees as a single organism control all aspects of life in the hive and maintain a constant temperature within, summer and winter alike in any climate.

Due to this homeostatic environment, we can imagine an invisible membrane surrounding the core of the hive. The colony’s embodiment is within this virtual and functional membrane. That space is inhabited by individual members, the bees. The colony becomes one entity; it becomes one animal. 50,000 individual bees constitute one body. They equal the somatic cells of multicellular beings. The biological term for this is super-organism: the super organism goes beyond the individual parts and is more than the sum of its parts. This is evident in that a single bee is not able to survive by herself. The old German word bien is an attempt to describe this oneness and define it as one being. The bien is one being in countless bodies. The colony is both a society of thousands of individuals as well as one super-organism, one bien. What is so fascinating is that there are two fundamentally different systems which merge and depend upon one another. The multitude of all the single bees creates one being with capacities far beyond those of each individual bee. The bien, on the other hand, enables the vast number of bees to excel and thrive on more refined level of life.

The bien’s largest internal organ is the comb. Bees are able to create wax out of themselves and form wax comb where they spend about 90% of their life. The comb is the location for various functions and physiological properties. It is the skeleton of the bien, it is the place where pollen and nectar are metabolized into honey and beebread . All the individual bees are raised in a social uterus/womb. It serves as a communication platform, the comb-wide-web, for the famous waggle dance. Comb is part of the immune system of the bien. It contains microbiologically active propolis, and it also has symbiotic fauna as in our own intestines. And, last but not least, comb is a memory organ of the hive. The entire life of the bien is documented in the construction of comb and all the scents within. Even as the bees move on the comb in darkness, they know exactly where they are by the scents within the wax. The wax and comb are a reflection of the environment of each individual bien. The variety of flowers and trees, soil quality, climate and sun exposure will have a unique imprint on it. It is a sculpture of the surrounding flora, a sculpture of the particular place on earth where the bees live. Comb is essential and co-evolved with the bees. It is their birthright to build their own comb. Once I began to understand the importance of natural comb, I could no longer move frames of comb the way I once did. How could I change what was created by the bien in a certain order?

honey-bee

(…) On late spring afternoons when bees are flying in large numbers, I sometimes approach them carefully and move right in front of their nest entrance. Within a short amount of time, an increasing cloud of bees is forming and hovers all around me. Simultaneously the flying sound of many hundreds of them becomes almost like music. It feels like being within this being. It can bring thinking to cease. I close my eyes and just listen and surrender – surrender to a wordless world.

The bien presents us with the opportunity to become quiet and to listen. Listening can be a part of being with bees. And in listening, we can practice non-knowing. Not to know presents us with the possibility to learn something new. Our mind can be very receptive to the effects of the bien. It may open our mind to a magnitude and oneness of life, with a new sense of our own true nature. The bees can show us that our life body does not end at our skin but extends into the environment. This sense of self can change one’s life and have a radical impact on the way we walk on the earth.

Apiculture can become a spiritual path, a journey into the great fullness of life, and it can deepen our personal practice. The bien can be a kind of apitherapy for the soul and inspire us on many levels. Rudolf Steiner in his bee lectures describes the bien as being permeated with life based on love. To touch them on that level and to be touched by them will show a new way of being with bees and a new way of being in this world. To ensure the harmony between bees and apiculturists, historically living with bees was ritualized. In our de-ritualized world, we face the challenge of finding the means to reconnect with different aspects of life and of finding guidance for being with the bien.

Life on earth is in transition on all levels. In this pivotal time, the bees enter our awareness worldwide through their struggles. Honeybee sanctuaries such as The Melissa Garden are marking a change in our cultural, emotional and agricultural landscape. Apiculture is beginning a transformation towards a wholesome way of living with bees. New voices are emerging. The bien is calling.

In his bee lectures, Rudolf Steiner concludes that “we need to study the life of bees from the standpoint of the soul”. In the end, the world shows us whenever the soul element is missing in our lives. The current plight of the bees is showing us the repercussions. As our life-long allies, the bees mirror our own struggle to live in this world. Their encouraging message is to wake up– to wake up to this fragile, wonderful and precious life. May we all wake up!

Image 1: Copyright Christopher Down
Image 2: Wikimedia Commons

This excerpt appears with permission of the author. The Bien: Oneness of the Honeybee Colony appears in its entirety in the companion book to the 2010 film Queen of the Sun. Purchase a copy here.

michael_joshin_photoMichael Thiele is leading an innovative approach within the biodynamic apiculture movement and teaches in the United States and abroad. He founded Gaia Bees (www.gaiabees.com) to create an educational platform and resource for a new approach to living with bees. Through Gaia Bees, he provides set up and care for “landscape apiaries” and offers seminars and presentations. He promotes alternative and bee-centered bee hive/nest designs.  In 2007, Michael co-founded “The Melissa Garden” (www.themelissagarden.com) in California, which was one of the first Honey Bee Sanctuaries in the US (now a pollinator sanctuary), and his work is documented in various (inter-) national magazines, books and film documentaries (“Queen of the Sun”).  In 2013, he began working as a consultant for the USDA in the Dominican Republic. He lives with his family in CA, USA.

“Just to be a bee”: An Essay by Jo Vance

Humans have set the realm of nature too far away. Emily Dickinson teaches me this. She sits beside me on the bench and tells me to look down at the bees in the grass. She points to the housewife in the ruddy sky.

Emily tells me that we have set a boundary at the space where the wall meets the outside air, where the door opens to the porch, where the shelter we have built keeps us from the elements we do not control. But her poetry defies this imposed line between humans and nature. By blurring the distinction between outer and inner worlds, natural and domestic, her lyrics disorder our definition of home. What does it mean to dwell within the world as a human being who is only a part of a whole? What does it mean to consider that it is a home for more than humanity?

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I am a single bead of water on the “trembling web of being.”

Denise Levertov wrote that line in her essay on poetry and prophecy. Love of the world means openness. It means expansion rather than constriction. It means writing poems that are not necessarily welcome in your cultural milieu. It means acting out with your life what you say on the page. It means “a poetry of peace, a poetry of protest, of lament, of praise for the living earth; a poetry that demands justice, renounces violence, reveres mystery.” In order to write out of this engaged stance, the poet must be willing to trace “the interdependence of all things” in order to “reveal that unity, that trembling web of being” that underlies the world in which we live. And his or her poetry must reflect that web of being, working to connect, to manifest belief that there is no separation between humans, our actions, and the world we call our home.

Emily was a prophet. Quiet, volcanic, drawing connections between this and this in order to see. Although she wasn’t standing in the town square of Amherst, making her proclamations, she was writing a long letter to the world over the course of her life. And she meant for us to read this letter. It was her life’s work to discover and ponder the world; it was her life’s work to be faithful to her visions, which she left for us in her bedroom: all those tiny books, sewn up with thread, ready for discovery.

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One vision of Emily’s that stays with us is her fondness for bees, which must stem from those countless days spent in her beloved garden. Bees appear again and again in her poems – from the bee “shod with Gauze” and helmeted with gold to the bee brewing “a honey’s weight.” Even the bee is invoked as a member of a holy trinity, one familiar to all who sit outside on a spring day: “In the name of the Bee – / And of the Butterfly – / And of the Breeze – Amen!” She writes that “Of Nature I shall have enough / When I have entered these / Entitled to a Bumble bee’s / Familiarities.” Emily desires to be a member of the world that we often overlook – to meet the intricacy of a flower’s pistils, to bump against the underside of a tulip’s petal. To enter this world is the greatest union she could wish.

Throughout her poetry, she seeks out the particulars. To take part in the small means everything. Nature is not a grand spectacle, or somewhere out there far away. Nature is as close as the bee in the flower next to her hand; it is as close as her desire to become the bee that enters the flower.

I look to Emily as my guide, she who prophesies and explores the consciousness not only of human beings but also of flowers, bees, bodies of water, hills, storms, and trees. Her work underscores the truth that the world of nature is ours and that it possesses us, too. There is no separation, no boundary.

And if no separation, I must imagine myself in many places and as many creatures, and wish, like Emily, “‘But just to be a Bee’ / Upon a Raft of Air / And row in Nowhere all Day long.” And if I imagine myself differently, if I see myself as possessing a bee’s consciousness, alive in the wind, ready to visit the clover – then I can finally understand that to destroy a bee, or anything of this earth, also destroys me.

 

Photo on 2013-01-24 at 19.21 #2

 

 

Jo Vance lives and writes in Seattle, Washington, where she also strives to have a garden like Emily’s. She received her MFA from Seattle Pacific University’s creative writing program, and is currently at work on a book of essays.

 

 

 

Images

Top: Yard at Emily Dickinson MuseumPhoto by Jo Vance.
Middle: Wikimedia commons
Bottom: Photo by Jo Vance