Saturday, January 30, 2010


Last year, I began keeping bees. After years of anxiety and internal conflict over it, I just decided to do it. Actually, what happened was that one morning I woke up and thought, "Okay. I'm ready. It's time." Really. That's how it happened. Like a message from beyond or something. So, I signed up for an organic bee-keeping seminar. The morning of the class as I drove south through the never-ending construction at the edges of New York state, I felt a sense of calamity growing inside me. The hideousness of the landscape made my heart clutch; living in my rural-ish bubble, I had forgotten the ugliness of the highways and super-suburbs of New York City. For years I had allowed myself to believe that the lovely, pastoral scenes of my daily living were the larger reality, too. I had been lulled into a sense of peace and complacency by my pond and woods, assumed that the winding, tree-lined, barely-paved country roads that I traveled to get to my various activities were largely representative of modern living. This nearly pathological denial of the world outside of my own experience is hardly limited to me and it might help to explain how it is that we have to come to the brink of ecological disaster without batting an eyelash.
We are in the midst of a mass species extinction; the worst in 65 million years. 65 million years. Go ahead, deny it. Do what I know you want to do. Say to yourself, "That's not possible." "They can't be sure of that." "It's a lie." "Where's the science?" These are all things that I've said to myself. To my husband. To whoever would listen. But the facts are there. The science supports them. It IS true. The worst die-off in 65 million years. This includes plants, insects by the score, reptiles and amphibians and mammals. Large and small. Furry and smooth. Ugly and beautiful. Seen and unseen. This could include us. It certainly includes some of our most familiar creatures; frogs. Bats. Butterflies. Bees. Harassed and overwhelmed by mites, mysterious fungal infections and viruses, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and a warming earth caused by human expansion these creatures are at the end of their coping capacity. And because of our role in this debacle, we simply will not or cannot grasp the scale of the loss that we are experiencing. This kind of ecological implosion has energetic ripple effects that even we desensitized and television dulled humans are capable of sensing, if not interpreting. Even though we are fatally distracted by our mechanical devices, we cannot completely disengage from our position in the natural world, we are still pulled by the ancient instincts which have served us so well; they propelled us upright, moved us in front of the fire and out of the cave, allowed us to create grandeur and beauty and war and murder. We are still connected, by these same instincts, to the grid of existence that overlays the world. So. Do we feel the loss of each creature? Do we grieve on some unexamined level? Is that why we distract with machines? Drink? Gamble? Shop? To avoid the grief?
I realized, at some point, that the way to combat the feelings of hopelessness and despair over this state of affairs was action, and lots of it. Not mindless, numbing action but the kind that creates satisfying results. That being said, there are definitely situations in which a stiff shot of bourbon is the only sensible recourse; like the day that I found out that the Northeast has lost 93% of its bat population, for instance. During the course of this last year, I decided that I could do nothing less than to make it my life's work to somehow, some way create a sanctuary for as many living creatures as I possibly could, right here in my own backyard. It seemed a natural extension of the life we were already living, just more of it, somehow. We already have a very large garden with vegetables, fruiting shrubs, medicinal plants and flowers. We herd chickens, ducks and guinea hens. We tap our Maple trees and harvest our wild berries and our own wood. In short we are stewarding this little plot of land to the best of our abilities. What would it take, really, to add a bee sanctuary? To add bat houses to the property? To mow less lawn and grow more milkweed? Nothing, it would take less energy and personal investment than cooking. And so, I got bees.
They are beautiful and magical, these bees. They are furry and golden and they cluster together in their dark, natal cave and sing to their queen as she lays untold thousands of eggs in their hexagonal wombs. Through a secret alchemy known only to them, they create the elixir that humans and non-human animals have loved and sought for centuries. They are of one mind, connected by strands of consciousness that radiate from the queen and extend throughout the hive. They waggle and dance and pirouette their pollen maps to each other. They fly for miles in search of the perfect plant from which to draw their sustenance. They work from birth until death and they nurture and feed and clean and undertake all in the span of a life that lasts only weeks. They are perfect and watching them makes me feel hopeful and complete. It makes me think that maybe, if we spend more time observing the natural societies that exist around us, like that of the bees, we might learn from them. We might grow to love and respect them, we might want to protect and save them and in doing so, save ourselves.

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