Spring Reading at St. John’s Booksellers

You are invited to join us for a spring reading at St. John’s Booksellers!

When: Thursday, April 16th

7:30 p.m.

Where: St. John’s Booksellers

8622 N. Lombard St., Portland, OR 97203

What: Six of our contributing writers will read from Winged: New Writing on Bees, in celebration of the beauty, mystery, and absolute necessity of honeybees and other pollinators. Kick off the start of spring by connecting with people who care about great writing and the continued health of our human relationship with pollinators.

Following the reading, we’ll offer a free tasting of mead and honey from Bee Thinking.

Enjoy an evening of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, then pick up a signed copy of Winged— all proceeds benefit pollinator education and conservation organizations. So far, we’ve donated $2,000 to the Xerces Society and Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary. Be part of the giving! Your purchase goes toward our spring contribution to Bees for Development, which provides training, information and advice to people in 122 different countries, helping them meet their basics needs through beekeeping. Read more about their important work here

About the Readers:

Berger_KristinKristin Berger is the author of a poetry chapbook For the Willing (Finishing Line Press, 2008), and former editor at VoiceCatcher. She has been awarded Writers Residencies at The H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and at Playa, Summer Lake, Oregon. Recent poetry and non-fiction has appeared in, or is forthcoming, in Camas, Cirque, Forest Log (Spring Creek Project), and North Dakota Quarterly.

 

Guzman Dena Rash

Dena Rash Guzman is the author of Life Cycle—Poems (Dog On A Chain Press 2013.) A chapbook is forthcoming from Reprobate/Gobshite Quarterly Press in summer 2015. Her work can be found online and in print at The Poetry FoundationThe RumpusThe Nervous BreakdownLuna Luna Magazine, Ink Node and elsewhere. She has had her poems anthologized several times, including by publishers in the People’s Republic of China where she has performed her work for thousands. She is a beekeeper and lives in Oregon.

 

Marshall SarahSarah Marshall grew up in Oregon, earned her MFA at PSU, and continues to write and teach in the area. Her essays have most recently appeared in The Believer, The New Republic, and Lapham’s Quarterly, and she is at work on a book about female victimhood narratives in American culture.

 

 

 

Otto LynnLynn Otto is a writer in residence at George Fox University, Newberg, OR. Her work has appeared in Raleigh Review, Plain Spoke, Triggerfish Critical Review, Strong Verse, and Centrifugal Eye.

 

 

 

_SLC9295Melissa Reeser Poulin (Co-editor) teaches English and creative writing in many settings, working with the elderly, high school students, and adult English language learners. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, and she was a 2014 Pushcart nominee. She lives with her husband, a metal artist and blacksmith, in Portland, Oregon.

 

jillkeepingJill McKenna Reed (Co-editor) is a poet, writing instructor, and beekeeper in Portland, Oregon. She is co-owner of Bee Thinking, a beekeeping supplier specializing in foundationless hives. When she is not writing or teaching, she can be found catching swarms or helping new beekeepers around the Portland area. Jill earned her MFA in Creative Writing – Poetry, at Portland State University.

About St John’s:

St. Johns Booksellers is a family-owned neighborhood bookstore located in the historic heart of North Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood, offering new, used, and remaindered books in a wide range of subject areas. Store co-owner Nena Rawdah is a bookseller with 14 years of experience in all areas of the book trade.  Partner (and husband) Adam Robins is a construction consultant and history geek.  They opened the store with another partner in June 2005, on a shoestring budget consisting of a pinch of cash, a microloan from Mercy Corps, and a whole lot of sweat equity.  On the day they opened, they had fewer than 2000 books on hand.  They now offer an ever-growing inventory of over 13,000 titles that changes daily.

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Making Winged: Our Visual Artists

We’re grateful for the many people who worked behind the scenes to bring Winged to life. This week, we feature short interviews with two of our visual artists, Charlotte Clement and Megan Newell. Here’s what they had to say about their interest in pollinators, their work as visual artists, and why they chose to join our team. Thanks, Charlotte and Megan!

Charlotte, 2012 Charlotte Clement
Cover Illustration

I’m an artist and beekeeper based in Portland, Oregon. I was born in Rhode Island and studied fine arts at Drew University. I became became involved with Winged through Jill McKenna Reed. I work with Jill at Bee Thinking. I am excited to be a part of Winged because I’d like to do whatever I can to help bees. I started working at Bee Thinking and became a beekeeper around the same time. I’ve spent the past year having long conversations about bees, their dire state, and the impact their state will have on all of us. Winged was a great opportunity to contribute to a cause I care for through a means that I am very familiar with: drawing.

Charlotte 1 Charlotte 2
Honeybees have in some way shifted my art and creativity. I am inspired by their comunity structure and architectural skill. I used to make a lot of vessels using latex and paper mache. My projects were quite similar to the aesthetics of a beehive.  In addition to managing Bee Thinking’s retail space, I also assist ceramic artist Kim Murton. These interests continue to inspire my art, which is recently focused on textural drawings of bees. I usually work in graphite and charcoal.
Apart from their environmental implications and communal living, I find the movement of the bee most interesting. I am fascinated by their ability to travel for so long on so little and how their wings are simultaneously invisible and luminescent. I tried to capture a moment of that speed and delicacy in my work with Winged.
I am available for commissions. You can reach me by email: cclement128@yahoo.com or phone: 401-556-1750
Megan Megan Newell
Web and Publicity Design
The opportunity to design for Winged is exactly the reason why I design–to support an issue I believe in by helping create the visual storyline. I also value the coming together of writers, poets, artists, photographers, readers, and bee lovers to create a piece that celebrates the beauty of life, and more particularly, one small and important creature. I want to help bring attention to declining honeybee populations, and I am honored to have been a part, although just a small part, of the creative response to this serious issue.
I feel my purpose as a designer is to make others’ lives a little lighter and brighter, even if for a moment. This often influences my work to be vivid, multi-colored, fun, layered, textured, and engaging. As someone who prefers to listen than to speak in conversations, a design becomes my voice to the ideas that form in my mind as I observe others’ passions, histories, issues, concerns, and humanity. I am available for projects and/or collaborations! You can reach me at megz.newell@gmail.com and view previous projects at www.megannewell.com.

This January: Prison Book Program Matching Gift


PBPJanuary matched buying program! Buy a book, we’ll give a book.

This month, when you order a copy of Winged, we will donate one book to the Prison Book Program.

The purpose of Winged is to spark conversation about human dependence on pollinators by connecting a wide range of readers through the power of story. We’re determined to make the book available to readers of all kinds, through donations to libraries in schools, cities, and prisons.

The Prison Book Program is a grassroots program that has been sending free books to prisoners since 1972. Here is its mission statement: “[We mail] books to people in prison to support their educational, vocational and personal development and to help them avoid returning to prison after their release. We also aim to provide a quality volunteer experience that introduces citizens to issues surrounding the American prison system and the role of education in reforming it.”

The Prison Book Program collects and distributes book donations to people in prisons all over the United States, except California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and Texas. If you’d like your matched book to be sent to a prison book program or library in one of these states, please look into requirements and contact editor@wingedbook.com with the program information.

If you’re a non-profit or librarian interested in acquiring a copy of Winged for your collection, please contact editor@wingedbook.com

A gift to help pollinators

Honey bee by Daniela Molnar

While you’re drawing up your final holiday to-do list, maybe whipping something up at the sewing machine or on the stovetop, consider adding Winged to your shopping list.

It’s easy: all you have to do is click on the PayPal link to the right. If you’re in Oregon or California, you can also find Winged at these locations. And we’re now available on Etsy.

This book makes a great gift for the people in your life who love bees, gardening, good food, sustainability, and most of all– great writing.

Plus, it’s a gift that gives back.

Any profits from book sales will be donated to the conservation efforts of these three pollinator-friendly non-profits. Please visit their websites to learn more about their important work.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Protection

Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary

Bees for Development

Thank you for supporting Winged and telling your friends about it! Enjoy the holidays!

Luna’s Gold Honey: An Interview with Gerry Ehrmann

HoneyPot by Sonja Langdon

Gerard Ehrmann is a longtime beekeeper and founder of Luna’s Gold honey in California. After a mutual friend introduced us via email, Gerry was kind enough to respond to my questions about his work with bees. He wrote by hand, on several sheets of yellow legal paper. The letter arrived with a jar of San Francisco blend honey–  some of the most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted.

Thank you, Gerry.

 

When and why did you begin beekeeping?

I first became interested in it while in grad school at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR. I had a housemate who had been a beekeeper in high school and seemed to really enjoy it. He told me many stories about the bees that sparked my interest. A year later while living in Seattle, I met a friend of a friend and he showed me his two hives in his backyard. This time I was able to see the hives in action.

It wasn’t until seven years later, in spring of 1983, when I was reading my first and second grade hearing-impaired students a book on bees (while using sign language) that I knew I had to do something about my interest. I bought a couple of hives and kept them on my third story balcony outside my flat. There was the start of my caring for honeybees as a beekeeper. The hobby was launched.

I believe it will take years and many generations of bees to improve and change their genetic makeup to combat some of these ills. Also, man has got to stop doing so much destruction to our planet.

What are your methods as a beekeeper?

When I began beekeeping, I bought a couple of hives. As I lost a hive, I would generally buy a new one or if I was lucky I caught a swarm. I used to get two to four years out of a hive before it would die out. These past seven years, due to tracheal and varroa mites (which have been here since the late 80s), viruses, fungi, pesticides, CCD, and others, I find it very difficult for a new hive to make it through the winter and into the next spring. Some of this is my fault, for I have refused to medicate my honeybees. That is because a lot of these medications can contaminate the honey or wax or both. I also feel that, like other diseases, the honeybees have to find ways to combat the mites. I believe it will take years and many generations of bees to improve and change their genetic makeup to combat some of these ills. Also, man has got to stop doing so much destruction to our planet.

This year I am trying something new. I have bought some new hives that are very strong, and with some of my remaining hives from last year, I am making small hives called nucs. That is, I’m having my hives make new queens, thus new hives. Hopefully they will develop into strong hives.

BottleBrush

How has beekeeping changed you?

All my life, I’ve had a love of nature. Trees are one part I’ve always had a fascination and fondness for. Beekeeping has helped me zero in on these highly productive little insects and how much we depend on them for our food. It’s opened my eyes to other insect pollinators and how all of nature is intertwined. I find myself always looking at flowers and trees that honeybees are attracted to and I enjoy spending time watching the bees forage on different plant species.

I also studied birds of North America for many seasons and I believe this was a result of studying honeybees. I think all in all, beekeeping has given me a keener sense of nature and the interdependence that is essential.

How does the honey change over the course of a season in taste and color?

Honey can actually change over the course of the season depending on what the honeybees forage on. Some nectars are lighter, some medium, some dark, and every shade in between.

Frames of honey in a beehive will often have different flavors depending on the nectars that have been foraged. For example, part of the frame may be apple honey while another part may be made up of rosemary or blackberry. Some frames may be made of many different nectars. When the frame is extracted, the honey mixes together and you get a blend of its own.

I have found the darker nectars tend to come later in the season, but I don’t believe this is always true. Also, the mixing together of all the nectars can make the honey darker in the comb.

Comb can also darken as the season progresses just because of the additional pollen that’s placed into cells to feed the young. Comb will definitely darken over the season, especially if there has been brood in there.

I think all in all, beekeeping has given me a keener sense of nature and the interdependence that is essential.

In terms of plants worked and resulting honey, what is unique about your corner of the world?

Well, I have hives in four places in California: Pescadero, two properties in Sebastopol, and my backyard in San Francisco. The Pescadero property is an organic vegetable farm with fruit trees nearby. The bees there can forage from strawberries, rosemary, wildflowers, berry bushes, and eucalyptus. The bees in San Francisco have access to the Golden Gate Park Arboretum, some backyard fruit trees, bushes, blackberries, ornamental flowers, some wildflowers, Australian Christmas Tree, bottlebrush, lavender and may other herbs. The bees in Sebastopol get wild mustard, blackberries, apple and other fruit trees, ornamentals, wildflowers, eucalyptus trees, madrone, and many backyard flowers and sages.

All of these places share some nectars but have different tastes. It’s the combination of all these nectars that give each honey its distinct taste and color.

Australian Christmas Tree
Australian Christmas Tree

Do you farm other foods?

For the past 28 years, I have attended three apple trees and one pear tree that I planted in 1986 in my backyard in San Francisco. This is as close as I’ve gotten to my adult dream of owning my own apple orchard. All my life, I have grown vegetables in my yard, and some strawberries as of late. The apples I collected over the years have been enough to share with my 4th grade class that I had been teaching up to last June when I retired. The students enjoyed them thoroughly and it gave me great pleasure. I also grow plants that attract the bees and help give them something to forage on.

Do you feel hopeful about our shared future with pollinators, including native bees?

I feel somewhat hopeful that humans can share a future with pollinators such as the honeybee, but I’m not sure of some of the others. I say this because in the cities, there are way more hobby beekeeper than there were when I first started. Bees in the cities, even though still subject to all the diseases, they get a much healthier diet of nectar and pollen because there’s a greater diversity of plants, bushes, and trees to gather pollen and nectar from. Whereas on many farms, there is a monoculture and bees can;’t get all they need from one food source. I believe more of the public is aware of the problems of honeybees, though solutions are slow to come forth.

Humans have to look at the environment as interconnected, and to realize that when they break the chain of life they are doing mass destruction on many other forms of life. Greed has got to stop!

Farmers have got to stop spraying pesticides that disorient and kill beneficial insects. They have to diversify their crops and leave corridors of native plants, bushes, and trees which honeybees and other pollinators can gather food from. They need to plant more plants that pollinators need to survive and give them enough food for winter.

Man has to leave large parcels of land to the nature species of the area for pollinators to survive on. We have to stop developing every space we can for malls, parking lots, housing, industrial buildings, etc, etc., etc. Humans have to look at the environment as interconnected, and to realize that when they break the chain of life they are doing mass destruction on many other forms of life. Greed has got to stop!

I know there are many bright scientists studying ways to rid honeybees of the problems they face. There are also bee breeders who are working to develop or breed honeybees that can combat mites in a holistic organic way.

I am sure it will be a very slow process. Banning dangerous pesticides and GMOs can be a great start for pollinators.

On Gerry’s bookshelf:

The Hive & Honeybee, Dudant & Sons.
Natural Beekeeping, Ross Conrad.
The Wisdom of the Hive & Honeybee, Thomas Seeley.
Honeybee Democracy, Thomas Seeley.
Fruitless Fall, Rowan Jacobs.
A Book of Bees, Sue Hubbell.
Bee Culture (monthly magazine)

 

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!

October 30 Book Launch Recap

Thanks to everyone who joined us to celebrate the book’s release! What an amazing night to honor pollinators and art. Thank you for turning out in numbers on the night before Halloween. We shared wine, food, books, and lively conversation about bees.

Best of all, we were treated to a wonderfully varied lineup of readings from Winged. For us editors, it was especially moving to hear these writers’ words come to life, after a year spent editing and organizing the contents from afar. We didn’t think it was possible to love the book and the writers more– and yet, we do!

Congratulations to everyone who has made this book possible. We share our joy and our gratitude with you. Here’s a selection of images from the evening, courtesy of Literary Arts.

A big thank you again to our sponsors: the Regional Arts & Culture Council, Literary Arts, Whole Foods Pearl District, and Sokol Blosser Winery. And be sure to join us with at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, November 14th, for a reading at the Corvallis Library in Corvallis, Oregon. Hosted by the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University.

Event

Perusing the book table before the reading

Event 4 A warm and attentive crowd

Event2Jill and Melissa welcoming the audience

Event 3Paulann Petersen kicks off the reading with “Wax” and “A Sacrament”

Event 8George Venn reading “Down the Colfax Grade”

Event 6Lois Leveen with an excerpt from her novel Juliet’s Nurse

Event 5John Beer with “Beekeeper”

Event 7Kate Gray gave a beautiful reading of “When the Dead Visit Dreams”

Event 9

Leni Zumas reads “Mellis Dentem”

Event 10Annette Fisch joined us all the way from New York to read from her novel-in-progress, “Uncontrollable”

Event 11Portland writer and performer Adrienne Flagg closed the night with “Free Bees”

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

Butternut Squash Soup, a poem by Gwendolyn Morgan

L3APwvISQ7i8XcFsQYwQ_IMG_1820Butternut Squash Soup

Today I will write a poem about Butternut Squash soup
with winter pears, ginger, garlic, carrots, pepper
the woman who was assaulted, how she wept
holding the stuffed giraffe, honey stick and prayer shawl
the week of incessant rain, global warming,
how the dead bees rained on her sun porch,
how she crawled under the car to get out of the rain
when he left her bloody and bruised at the county park
how the soup is blended, smooth, a rusty orange-brown
like the round edges of screws on the Forest Service green picnic tables,
the edges of his silver truck bed. How she wears amber, a round
gemstone from the Dominican Republic, warm light of hope.
How bees pollinate the squash, pears, vegetables, herbs and spices.
How the honeycombs are lit from within, pure chroma color.
hexagonal, the esoteric shape of bees’ bodies.
This poem is about equilibrium in the midst of social media,
how another acquaintance spiraled out, anxiety, depression,
perhaps multiple personalities, or personality disorder
which doesn’t exist in the latest DSM. What would his
diagnosis be anyway? charismatic sociopath? He is
the neighbor next door who mows your grass, removes wasp nests,
when you haven’t asked, and fixes the elderly neighbor’s fence
and how you would never suspect he was a predator
unless you were paying attention, watching the bees and stirring the soup
with a wooden spoon, adding a bit of Mediterranean sea salt.

 

morgan photo by kim salgadoGwendolyn Morgan  learned the names of birds and wildflowers and inherited paint brushes and boxes from her grandmothers.  With a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and a M.Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary, she has been a recipient of writing residencies at Artsmith, Caldera and Soapstone. Her work has been published in: Calyx, DakotahKalliopeKinesisManzanita QuarterlyTributaries: a Journal of Nature Writing, VoiceCatcherWritten River as well as other anthologies and literary journals.  Crow Feathers, Red Ochre, Green Tea, her first book of poems was released from Hiraeth Press this past autumn.   She serves as the manager of interfaith Spiritual Care at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center.   Gwendolyn and Judy A. Rose, her partner, share their home with Abbey Skye, a rescued Pembroke Welsh Corgi. For more information, please visit her website.

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. “