Living With Bees: A Poem

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Sentences About Living With Bees

by David Jacobsen

Two tires roll the narrow trail, raveling a knobbed line of stitches on the curving dirt.
Shafts of sun brush past evergreens.
His legs pump and the bike thrums, barrel-chested, like the colony of honeybees hived inside the wall behind their bed.
Last spring they watched, delighted, as the garden buzzed with activity.
She told him not to mind when drones began to slip past gapped shingles.
The bees had, along with the sweet-peas and sunflowers, taken root.
Once he had called it waste, all that honey hidden far from taste.
She had stilled him with a finger, a flick of her eyebrows telling him to listen.
Her eyes and teeth had flashed in the dark as she grinned at the nearby sound of industry. Now, nearly home, he watches their house snap into substance between trunks.
A child might have drawn it with crayon: square topped by triangle, four windows, gray smoke looping into sharp blue sky.
His tongue rafts the valley between the ridges of his molars.
He touches a flat spot—a cavity newly filled—that remains unfamiliar.
The bike is hung from its front tire on a hook beneath the back eaves.
From the floor—where he sits to tug shoes and socks from dirt-caked legs—he sees her dancing near the sink, slicing greens in time.
He pads past, touching her waist.
When the noise of hot water stops, she pours two fingers of bourbon into two tumblers.
The smell of soap announces him.
Glasses brush.
She asks him to ready the table.
After bowls and forks, he tips flame to wicks, and the wicks coax wax into a heated dance.
They sit.
He unfolds the story of sunlight fingers smoothing, smoothing ponderosa hair.
Once, months earlier, she had said she could taste them tasting it—told him that in her mind she’d mapped the mellow fruitfulness of the brimming cells: each from a different flower, each with a different flavor.
Nine candles burn while she and he dine inside the only light for a mile or more, twinned.
Near their bed in the other room, nectar sweetens unseen.
Who can know what might be established when the darkness is sufficient.

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DavidJacobsen

David Jacobsen lives and writes in central Oregon with his wife and two sons. His pieces can be found in various journals and anthologies, and he is the author of Rookie Dad: Thoughts on First-Time Fatherhood. As D. R. Jacobsen, he is a contributing writer, most recently to The Truest Thing About You. He holds master’s degrees in theology and creative writing and can be reached through his website, jacobsenwriting.com.

Photo Credits
Top image: Dirk Ingo Franke
Bottom image: Tom W Sulcer

The Bees of Kangaroo Island

Approximately 14 kilometres off the coast of South Australia lies an island about the same size as Puerto Rico. For thousands of years Ramindjeri people have known it as Karta, the island of the dead, sacred home of departed ancestral souls. But nineteenth century colonisation gave it its dominant European name when British explorer Matthew Flinders called it Kangaroo Island.

Known to the locals today as KI, the island thrives on a successful agricultural industry and burgeoning tourism. Early immigrants to KI were mostly British, German, and Italian farmers, stockmen, and beekeepers. In 1884 Ligurian bees were introduced to KI from their native Italy (by way of England, and then Queensland) to not only ensure economic survival, but also because of KI’s abundant bee-friendly flora and its geographical isolation that guaranteed genetic purity.

In 1885 an Act of Parliament was passed in Adelaide to proclaim Kangaroo Island as a sanctuary for the imported Ligurian bees. Following the passing of the 1931 Apiaries Act, which allowed for the inspection and confiscation of vessels or apparatus headed to KI, quarantine on the island has always been strictly enforced.

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Photos by Amber Share, Native Food & Wine

Thanks to this legal protection and the inter-generational attention of the island’s beekeepers, KI’s Ligurian bees have remained free of disease since their introduction. To this date they are the only known colony of pure Ligurian bees left in the world, and Kangaroo Island is the only known honeybee sanctuary of its kind.

The significance of this pristine and healthy colony is proven by how Kangaroo Island’s bees are now helping scientists understand the current bee crisis and work to protect the rest of the world’s bee populous, and also, astonishingly, contribute to cancer research. Early studies at the University of Sydney indicate that propolis taken from KI’s bees (an antibacterial substance that all hives make) is high in Reversatrol, which amongst other things has been effective in treating tumors.

Kangaroo Island’s hard-working and reputably gentle-natured Ligurian bees are one of many examples helping us to understand: without the work of honeybees, many food crops will fail. Unless bees are protected, unless the same kind of foresight of legislation passed in 1885 is enacted now, global food shortage is a very real threat, as is the demise of our natural world.

Photos by Amber Share, Native Food and Wine
Photos by Amber Share, Native Food and Wine

All this and I’ve not mentioned the award-winning organic sugar gum honey, or the famous Kangaroo Island honey ice cream.

In essence this blog post is a small contribution to a much larger discussion. What can we each do about the bee crisis? Whether pure-strain Ligurian, or not, a single honeybee does its humble job and in doing so makes an essential contribution to the survival of our planet.

Writers, this is our waggle dance. Winged is our nectar. We must pick up our pens. We must conjure the alchemy of our imagination to awaken, agitate, pollinate, and transform our bee-themed thoughts into the powerful elixir that is story.

We must. This is our humble job.

About the author

HRinglandHolly Ringland grew up on the southeast Queensland coast in Australia. When she was nine her family lived on the road for two years in North America, travelling between national parks, inspiring in Holly what would become a lifelong fascination with different cultures, landscapes, and stories. In her early twenties she moved inland to Australia’s Central Desert where she spent four years working for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and living in the Aboriginal community of Mutitjulu. In 2009 Holly moved to the UK and gained her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. She is now working on her Creative Writing PhD with Griffith University and King’s College London. Holly’s research territory is the symbiosis between the creative writing process, ghosts, place, and memory, amongst other ideas that get left at the door of the garden shed in which she is writing her prose fiction submission for Winged.

More at hollyringland.com.

Grateful appreciation to photographer Amber Share of Native Food and Wine, for her photos of Ligurian honey bees, reposted from original story here.

We Can Do It! Discovering Optimism through Beekeeping

By Katie Boehnlein

Like most teachers, I have come to my profession with a healthy dose of optimism. I hope that, provided opportunities to get their hands dirty, ask important questions, and gain new skills, our students can enter the “real world” more equipped to solve real-world problems. The only problem is, the “real world” is disheartening. Increased world hunger. Increased chemicals in our food. Widespread monocropping. Diminishing species diversity. The list goes on. It is a stretch to be optimistic with headlines blaring so much violence and pessimism. However, I am lucky to work at a school that values optimism and innovation.

Catlin Gabel School, located in Portland, OR, sits on 60 acres of school buildings nestled amongst forestland and 2,100 square feet of organic gardens and orchards. The school has an active garden club, growing food year-round for the campus cafeteria, and continually promotes experiential learning opportunities.

Last April, I got an email from my colleague Carter, who is the School Garden Coordinator and a mover and shaker on campus. He was inviting me and other staff members to register for a beekeeping class, as he hoped to install a hive on our school grounds to enhance our garden and orchards, and to provide more opportunities for students to learn real-world skills. I was intrigued by the idea. I didn’t know much about the organism apis mellifera (aka honeybee) but I knew this would be an opportunity to learn new skills and new information about a species I knew little to nothing about.

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A few weeks later, I found myself sitting in a windowless classroom, contemplating slides projected on a darkened wall. Images of magnified hexagons, wriggling grubs, enlarged insect eyes, a slew of unpronounceable tools, and humans in strange outfits flashed across the screen. And despite the discomfort that is inevitable when introduced to a foreign world, I was hooked. And the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. I wanted to know everything about this tiny creature!

Nuc Bee Close Up

As an educator, I have seen firsthand the educational benefits of learning about honeybees in the classroom, with connections to science, history, and critical inquiry thinking. Installing a honeybee hive on a school campus allows for endless hands-on opportunities for learning. Bees have an innate sense of mission and communalism. They are not selfish, and biologically cannot survive outside of their community. In a world that is constantly connected and plugged-in, what wonderful qualities to emulate and impart to our students.

Trained in the philosophies of place-based, environmental education, I always try to model a sense of wonder when teaching about the natural world. Nature is much wiser than we are. But I have also seen students become teachers when exploring a beehive. Small children come to school equipped with an innate sense of wonder and curiosity. I visited our school’s first grade classroom to talk to the students about the beehive before I took them out to see it in person.

When I arrived dressed in the beekeeping suit, I heard a collective intake of breath and saw 21 little bodies wriggling with excitement. Hands started popping up during my presentation; the questions were endless. I told them that when we were standing next to the hive, it was important to remain quiet and still, so as to not disturb the hive’s energy. A few minutes later, the students stood inside a mesh tent and pressed themselves against the screen walls, eager to get as close as they could. I was taken aback by their quietness and awe. Our students can teach us the quiet and respect so necessary in beekeeping. Through them, I have learned to approach my time at the hive as a slow, methodical, almost meditative experience. It is all about respect.

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I have become fascinated with the idea of stewarding apiaries on school grounds. This summer, I researched school apiaries for CLEARING magazine, curious to learn who else was attempting this activity at their school. I ended up interviewing five inspiring educators teaching in the Northwest who are leaders in the field.

Ryan King has just written his graduate thesis on apiary-based education and is clearly a leader in establishing apiaries as a new place for pedagogical research. Through Ryan, I found Sarah Red-Laird, also known as BeeGirl, who is a champion of honeybee education in Ashland, OR and throughout the United States. I also interviewed Eric Engman at Mt. Vernon High School in Washington, my colleague Carter Latendresse at Catlin Gabel School, and Brian Lacy, a beekeeper in Portland, OR.

From Brian, I learned that our approach in talking to people new to honeybees is so important. I know from experience that kids are naturally more open to the world of bees than adults. Adults are working against years of fear and distrust against bees, sometimes even traumatic events. I visited Brian at his home apiary and worked in his hives without wearing a suit. At first, I stepped back, hesitant, fearful. Would I get stung? But soon enough, I was able to step in without any protection to look in. I held one worker bee on my finger for a couple of seconds. Bees were flitting about all around me, attuned to their roles in the hive and unconcerned with us in their midst. The adult in me was nervous. The child in me was in awe.

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From honeybees, I have learned the value of community. I have learned to slow down. And I have learned optimism. Though our sacred honeybee is struggling in a world filled with pesticides and monocrop fields, as an educator I am optimistic. I hope that our schools and community centers can be places for students of all ages to learn more about stewarding the honeybee, a creature that is completely necessary for our wellbeing as a society. There are lots of ways to participate in creating positive change. We can learn about honeybees with our children, we can plant foraging habitat for them, we can buy local honey, and we can even host our own beehives. Together, we can help save the honeybee.

About the author
Katie Boehnlein is a teacher and writer living in Portland, OR, where you can find her discovering the beautiful natural areas of the Rose City by foot and by bike. She grew up exploring the parks and staircases of Southwest Portland, which fueled her passion for ecology and urban exploration. Follow Katie’s adventures on her blog “In the Midst.” Here, you can read her musings on travel, excursions in nature, and, of course, bees!

Contribute
What’s your perspective on the honey bee? We’d love to hear it. To find out how you can contribute to the Winged blog, please contact the editors.

 

Free to bee, you & me?

A Varroa Mite clings tightly to this doomed lady's back
A Varroa Mite clings tightly to this doomed lady’s back

From beekeeper Jill McKenna Reed’s desk:

Beekeeping is like any faction of agriculture. Just as there are a hundred ways to grow carrots, there are hundreds of ways to keep bees, given the available components and philosophies.  With this in mind, there is a surprising phenomenon people encounter early on when they become new beekeepers. They face extreme prejudice, peer pressure, and mockery if they choose a path other than using commercial-type Langstroth hives and treatments. To explain this further, I need to take a side-step and head down a small, well-worn rabbit hole…

Commercial beekeepers are in a supremely difficult position. The epic issues with monoculture are exemplified by the over 800,000 acres of almond trees in California. It’s only a small exaggeration to say that almost all of the managed beehives in the U.S. are trucked out to the almonds to pollinate them each year in February. The reason bees cannot be kept in the almonds year-round is alarmingly simple: nothing else is planted. There would be nothing else for bees to eat or forage upon during the rest of the year and they would starve. Aside from almonds, the land is a desert.

Aside from the obvious problems with this example of monoculture, the greater issue for honeybees is that they are all trucked to this one area where they then share pests, diseases, and genetics before they are driven back to their home communities, where they are shared again. While the many causes for Colony Collapse Disorder are still being identified, it cannot be ignored that CCD is an ongoing tragedy of shocking proportions. Commercial beekeepers need to feed their families and preserve their businesses. To attempt to keep their colonies alive, they have little other option than to aggressively medicate and chemically treat their bees. As food consumers, we depend upon their bees and as business owners, commercial beekeepers depend upon their bees.

In past years, we have met a handful of commercial beekeepers. I have yet to meet one that doesn’t bemoan how they have to keep, and treat their bees, in attempts to keep the colonies thriving. Commercial beekeepers are in a difficult position. They must balance several loyalties: their livelihood, what industrial agriculture demands of them and their honeybees, and what they wish were the reality as beekeepers. The commercial beekeepers I have met wish they were in my position, as a hobby beekeeper. I can refine my own philosophy by trial and error. I can tow a hard line in that I don’t ever treat my bees, with anything… natural or not; I let my weak colonies die off and repopulate from my strongest and have gotten my losses down to 15-20% over the last 6 years. My livelihood isn’t threatened from every angle by a witch’s brew of pesticides, diseases, and industrial agriculture.

So it is odd then, that when folks begin beekeeping nowadays, they should immediately run into old-guard mockery from side-line and hobby beekeepers. At community beekeeping groups and in forums, this old-guard often attempts to minimize new beekeepers who are seeking to do things more naturally, and differently — from choosing easier-to-use hive styles that give bees an experience similar to what they might have in nature, to choosing not to treat with chemical medications and miticides. We know that commercial beekeepers have little choice about the way they keep bees, but as side-line beekeepers, we are not constrained to box-type hive styles that need to be easily stacked and trucked around the country. If we lose our colonies, our families don’t have to tighten their belts and change their lifestyle.

If commercial beekeepers are envious of the hobby and side-line beekeeper’s many choices and available beekeeping philosophy decisions, why is this old guard so threatened? And more importantly, why are they attempting to qualify and judge someone else’s interest in beekeeping? After all, aren’t we all in it for the bees? And if what we have been doing the same way for the last hundred years is no longer working, isn’t it time to change what we are doing? And quickly?

For further reading, check out this March 2013 article about almonds and bee losses.

“Write to the future”

We really loved Kathleen Dean Moore and Scott Slovic’s recent blog post for Orion, “7 Ways to Write to the Future.”

It’s a call for writers to step into the urgency of the moment, by creating work that both addresses and is worthy of the gravity of global warming. The call to action echoes our own sentiments about the pollinator crisis.

They write:

“..there is essential work to be done also in our roles as academics and writers, empowered by creative imagination, moral clarity, and the strength of true witness. Write as if your reader were dying, Annie Dillard advised. “What would you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” …Surely in a world dangerously slipping away, we need courageously and honestly to ask again the questions every author asks: Who is my audience—now, today, in this world? What is my purpose?

Moore and Slovic lay out seven possible forms this kind of writing might take, and make space for many more interpretations.

We’re energized by this brief, powerful editorial and excited to see how writers respond, in the pages of Orion and elsewhere. Write to the future. Use your artistic gifts to tell this generation and the next why pollinators matter.

MegNewellbeephoto: Meg Newell