Deadline Extended to March 15th

Dear friends,

Winged: New Writing on Bees has been awarded a grant from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council!

Due to this change, the timeline for Winged has altered. We are giving the project new scope, and extending the submission deadline to March 15th, 2014.

We are thrilled with, and humbled by, the submissions we have received so far. As a reminder, the submission window is currently open for poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and mixed-genre work. We will happily consider both new and previously-published work, as long as the author holds full rights to that work. Profits from book sales will benefit pollinator conservation organizations such as The Xerces Society.

  • Please share information about Winged with friends and colleagues, either through social media, in classes, or by downloading our press release and informational flyer. Spreading the word means so much to us, and so much  for the project.
  • Submit your work! We offer the following considerations to help generate topics or concepts: the honey bee in history, bee symbolism in art, the European honey bee and native pollinators in North America, honey in ancient civilizations, communication via dance, the sounds of and in the hive, personal bee encounters, the bee in sacred literature, humans as pollinators, beekeeping around the world, declining bee populations, the future of beekeeping, a survey of bees in speculative fiction…

Winged is a project with a broader purpose: to create a literary and artistic record of this perilous moment in the relationship between humans and bees. Writers have employed bees and bee imagery for thousands of years, and we are now watching these important muses and symbols ailing, and declining.

No book like Winged currently exists, and much like a colony of bees, we cannot accomplish our goals alone. Whether it is by spreading the word about Winged, attending one of our upcoming events, or submitting your work, we hope you will take this opportunity to help cultivate our growing project, one we believe in, and one we feel is vital for all.


Melissa Reeser Poulin and Jill McKenna Reed
Editors, Winged: New Writing on Bees

First Sting(s): Part One

By Jill McKenna Reed

The first time I got stung by a bee, I can’t be sure it was a bee. In retrospect it was likely a yellow jacket, but I can’t know. I remember it was a hot, mid-western summer day with insects screaming out their songs: “scKzzzzssT… scKzzzzzssT,” and I was small – probably six or so.

I was standing in our narrow garage which was opened to the driveway. Likely I was deciding which vehicle I was going to take out for a spin: the Big Wheel, the pickle car (don’t ask), or the Green Machine. I was not a bike rider. My siblings’ bikes were always too big for me and I was fearful of the heavy frames and the extreme distance to the ground once seated; I wanted to be able to bail out with a soft tumble if need be, not take the hard fall on the concrete, yielding stinging, scraped legs and arms.

Even at that raw age, friends and siblings had long warned me about the possibility of getting stung by a bee, so I wonder if I didn’t just want to get it over with. I had been promised by my friend across the street that the pain would be like death, that I would probably want to die. So that day when a bee flew into the garage and began inspecting me to see if I could possibly yield nectar or pollen, I panicked. I eschewed the instruction that had been drilled into me by my wise, experienced friends and siblings, being: Don’t move, and it will go away.

Naturally, I moved. A lot. In a remarkable, small-child’s dance motivated by fear of an unknown pain. And I began swatting, a lot. From what I can remember, the bee or wasp stung me on the right arm.

Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween
Me, dressed as something scary for Halloween

Growing up in suburban Chicagoland, there was almost no authentic relationship with nature; everything was abbreviated. The bug-spray truck drove down our street every summer night and we deeply inhaled that spray while trying to fall off to sleep. Our yard was chemically treated so no dandelions ever appeared. The corn fields at the mouth of our subdivision were sold and built up with houses before I was 10.

Despite that, some of my most vivid and important memories are of the few verdurous natural spaces I could find. I was fascinated when we studied milkweed pods in the first grade – the way they broke and gave up white fuzz.  We had to wear rain boots that day which I didn’t have, so the teacher put garbage bags and rubber bands over my shoes and secured them up my legs.

My best friend had a Macintosh apple tree in her yard. I was charmed. That the tree could swell small green fruits into the ripe red ones I plucked off on warm days and immediately begin gobbling– this was thrilling. (The humble Macintosh remains one of my favorite snacking apples for this reason.)

The same friend once insisted I borrow her extra pair of ice skates so we could go skating on a pond near our houses. It was the first time I had ice skated and with the snow coming down, it remains a favorite memory. That solid pond, the snow, layers of clothes, no one else around, the gray sky and the pond ringed with dry straw weeds and tall brown grasses frozen into place.

But by the time I was in high school, nature had become a foreign locale. Social life had long since taken over as the all-consuming, enthralling focus of my life. At one point my group of friends got really into camping and going away for the weekend. On one trip to Devil’s Lake, everyone decided to go hiking which would involve some basic rock climbing. I eagerly set out with them. Looking down at my shoes, my friend Nick asked, “…are you going to wear those?” I shrugged. I had no idea that black and white patent leather wingtips (with leather soles) might not be ideal hiking wear. I somehow managed to hike like a champ with those lovely dress shoes on.


Jill McKenna Reed

Jill McKenna Reed 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.

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.