Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mama & Bees

The heat of summer has arrived and with it, the honeybees are busy fanning themselves all day long, just to keep cool. I watch them congregate at the entrance to the hive or along the bottom mesh in the late afternoon, as if to catch a breath of fresh air. In the heat of the day I can even smell propolis and honey wafting up into the garden. It is honey season.

I would be 6 months pregnant right now, if I hadn't lost a baby in April. Floating in the river and complaining of the heat. Instead, I am starting a business and drained with grief. You see, I became a mother, but I have nothing to show for it. Still, the bees are on the lavender every day, singing away, and I find comfort in the sight.

A few weeks ago I opened the hive to see if they were producing any honey. Sure enough, there along the top rim of the combs were little white caps. When bees bring flower nectar into the hive, they deposit the nectar in the hex comb and begin to fan it until the water content reduced to 20%. At that point the honey is considered "ripe" and is capped with wax an left for the winter. First season bees in a new home usually don't make enough surplus honey for the apiculturist to take for human use, but this hive might be different. They are full to the brim with comb, where as the its sister hives on other local properties still have plenty of space to fill. I have yet to ask or inspect again, but if I am going to be taking honey it will have to be before mid august.

During my bee inspection in early July, with mother and sisters watching, I very delicately stuck my pinky finger into some capped comb and tasted an every-so-tiny bit of fresh honey. It's true. There is nothing like it. It tasted of herbs, fresh cut grass and early spring all mixed with a sweetness that was almost unbearable.

Since then I have not opened or spent much time around the hive. They are creatures of bliss, but I have not felt my energy "matched" the hive's in any way, so I have only visited for short periods. I have been experiencing a greater and greater sense of loss around my miscarriage this April and have been unable to cultivate the joy and wonder I usually feel around bees. Instead, I worry I may upset them. When feeling especially low, I go to the hive and cry, because I still remember (sometimes) that I am supposed to keep talking to the bees, no matter what. It is a difficult passage and I believe I am beginning the take the initial steps out of grief and depression by allowing myself to work within the grief.

Writing has not been much on my mind, but I did name this blog Honeybee Mama because I though I would be raising bees and a baby all relatively within the same year. Now baby has been postponed to some unknown point in time and I am left with a gorgeous full hive of bees thriving above the spot where I buried the tiny remains of my 11 week placenta. It is beautiful and deeply confusing.

Our culture does not know how to hold miscarriage. For some women, the loss of a baby is the loss of a fetus and a potential life and although sad, not a major trauma. I honor that form of experience around miscarriage, but I had another. I am experiencing the loss of a child. A family member who I have been waiting for since I was a teenager. I recognized the spirit instantly. So, while I understand on a spiritual and intellectual level that the spirit may come back, my body, which became the body of a mother, is grief-stricken and confused. No only that, but women who have had a miscarriage can still experience postpartum depression, a form of depression that sometimes hits when hormones take a dive after birth. Another thing nobody talks about.

While this may not be the most uplifting or bee-centered blog I've written, I hope that someone reads this and is able to reach out and help and friend, a sister or a mother who may experience pregnancy loss. It is more common than I ever knew and it is almost never the mother's fault. Us mamas grieve over every loss, no matter how short lived and no matter if it was our conscious choice to end the pregnancy or the great All That Is. Some women will always remember that little life and where it could be now: birthing, growing, loving. As they heal from a loss like that, it helps to have friends to hold you, make tea, listen, bring you food (and remind you to eat), take you to nature and make you laugh. It is not a loss that shows on the skin, nor does it receive the support given if someone dies, but there is a death and an empty womb and a loss of purpose.

Honeybees always have a purpose. They are part of a whole. A community supporting and living together. One being, many parts. They register emotion and they feel emotion as a being. When a beloved beekeeper dies, some hives have been known to let out a moan for hours on end. They are not so very different from us, they just remember, in every moment, to continue to move toward bliss. Maybe that's why they came so quickly after I lost my baby. Or maybe it was just the season. Either way, the honey they make will be the honey produced from my own season of grief and it will be sweet, healing and full of life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

With Honey Comes the Sting

I find it intriguing that the girl who sat peacefully covered in bees a year ago has developed a degree of fear and unease around bee stings. I have never been afraid of bees. I've even invited them to sting me of their own accord, knowing the venom is healing and transformative. I have empathized with other's fears around a potentially deadly creature, but never felt any threat from the honeybee myself. My animal fears are generally all wound around the good old rattlesnake. A frightening early childhood experience with a rattlesnake has led to a lifelong phobia, and thus a lifelong opportunity for facing the shadow and addressing the nature of fear.

As a little girl, I loved to catch butterflies on lavender and red racer snakes under stones in my front yard. I held the little black snakes until the wriggled their way out of my hands and back to their dark corners. When I was four, a rattlesnake appeared in the woodpile. I never saw it alive, but I watched it's life force drain away as its two severed halves bled out inside a large jar placed on the porch. I stopped looking for for red racers under rocks, and a lifetime of nightmares began. I became a child who could not speak of snakes without checking under the bed or hugging my knees to my chest. By the time I was 19, and experiencing bi-weekly nightmares, I knew I had to do something, so I tried therapy.

Therapy is an interesting thing. It only works if you and your therapist make the right kind of connection and develop trust, which I did not experience the first go round. My therapist put me on prescription pills for anxiety. An inefficient bandaid that dulled the senses. The right kind of therapy is a wonderful gift, but since I had not found that, I turned to the gentle and effective mentorship of my elder and friend Auntie Mara. With regular sessions in hypnosis and guided imagery, Auntie Mara helped me discover the rattlesnake as ally, sacred medicine, and gateway guardian to the mysteries of the divine feminine. She addressed fear directly, unafraid to delve into the gifts of the shadow realm. As we progressed, childhood memories of my connection to animals and the natural world re-emerged and I found and increasing number of neighborhood birds and cats watching me through the windows each time I came to visit.

My relationship with snakes deepened, and I even went so far as to fix an ankle injury with surgery, so I could confront my snakey fears by backpacking through the wilderness. As a result of deep wilderness time, dream work, vision quest and mentorship, the rattlesnake has become a strange type of ally, a totem for transformative work, sacred medicine and the divine feminine. I still experience some moments of lock-up fear in snake country, but I have learned to be welcoming to the lessons of the snake and grateful for my encounters thus far.

In many ancient cultures the serpent represents the energy of the sacred feminine, the raw power of creation: that which is known as Kundalini in Sanskrit, the serpentine energy that sits coiled at the base of the spine and rises up through the chakras like a cobra in moments of energetic activation or awakening. In dreams, to be struck with venom often indicates an infusion of sacred wisdom or prophetic power. I began to see my nightmares as moments of being followed, surprised, awakened and infused by my own source of feminine power.

It is no coincidence that the Oracle of Delphi was known both as the "Delphic Bee" and as the Pythia, or Pythoness. Bee and snake become one and same, creatures of prophetic wisdom accessed through the dark caves of inner mystery traditions. The Delphic Oracle was classically believed to get her powers of prophecy from the God Apollo who conquered Delphic when he vanquished the great Python living on Mount Parnassus. However, Delphi was associated as a goddess site long before the new order of Apollo. The Python was considered sacred to Gaia and in some myths she is an Earth Goddess of her own right, known as Pythia. Many of the oracles of ancient greece were named Pythias in honor of their connection and embodiment of this goddess. Apollo's vanquishing of the Goddess as represented through the Python, thus becomes a symbolic myth depicting the shift in power from Goddess-based culture to the inherited model of Patriarchy we live today.

John Collier's Priestess of Delphi (1891)

I am not trying to make a pro-feminine, anti-masculine argument. It is simply fascinating to discover the myth behind the myth, the history behind the story. We live in an imbalanced time, and have for thousands of years. Patriarchy is not evil, but its imbalance has provoked evil acts. I see the arch of Patriarchy as a necessary lesson for humanity in working toward a more sustainable future. The Goddess culture of the ancient world was heavily suppressed, and at times, all but lost. It is through the unraveling of myth and story that we discover the threads of the Divine Feminine weaving her way through history despite persecution. As an active seeker of balance and temperance in this age, my hope is not to restore Feminine over Masculine, but to seek union and alchemy between the two.

If the Divine Feminine is recognized across time and culture as the Earth herself, the great Gaia, Mother, Life-Giver and lover to Father Sun, then in our disconnect from her, we invariably find disconnect with nature and the "wild". In doing so, a great, grief-filled cavern has erupted between ourselves and our place in the natural world. No wonder there is such fear and misunderstanding around the Earth's venomous creatures. They no longer carry wisdom, they only carry evil, pain and death. Death itself becomes a process we no longer honor as sacred and life-affirming. It is the great specter. The Grim Reaper, haunting us from car to store, youth to adulthood, wellness to disease, seed to plate.

In confronting fear of the rattlesnake, I had to ask "what are you afraid of really?" Moving beyond the psychological possibilities of loss power, fear of pain or fears, sexuality, etc., my answer is Death, of course. By addressing the snake as ally, I am becoming more intimate with death and the transformative powers of death or near-death experiences. Similarly, with the sweet honeybee, I find the possibility of death suddenly on the mind.

Why now? Why after all my calm assuredness and grace with the tiny venomous creatures? Because of my stings. Six in total since April. Three to the face, two on my hands, one on my leg. Each stings has become progressively worse, swelling my face or hand to a degree of cartoonish comedy. The reactions are localized, but growing in size. I was expecting this. I have done my research. I know this is not an allergic reaction, as so many falsely assume. In fact, many beekeepers say increased swelling is normal and part of the initiatory road to desensitization. Bee Venom is even used medicinally by beekeepers and apitherapists alike. In ancient China, bee venom was used as special form of acupuncture. Today, Bee Venmon Therapy is wide-spread throughout China and is growing in popularity in the states. Apitherapists use Bee Venmon to address a number of ills such as MS, arthritis and tendonitis, while prescribing honey, pollen and propolis for a number of other health benefits.

There is a small percentage of a chance, that one can develop increasingly worse reactions to stings until eventually experiencing anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock is when the bee venom effects the body systemically, causing hives, dizziness, shortness of breath, closing of the airway and possible death. As my bee sting reactions intensify, so do the fears and reactions of others. Susceptible as I am to those I love (coupled with my own concerns) I find myself smack dab in the middle of my reoccurring challenge: Fear or Trust. A choice. Every moment, every day. A dance between the fine line of practicality and fear. Do I carry an epi pen? Do I wear fully protective clothing every time I near hive? Do I stop sitting near the bees in the afternoon? Do I sting myself in hopes to acclimate to the venom? Do I worry? Do I ignore it? Do I let it go? Can I trust? Fear or Trust? Fear or Trust?

And guess who's been sitting on the edge of that choice? My baby. The spirit who left my body two months ago and watches as I ride the waves of doubt, anger and grief. How do I find my way back to the divinely inspired trust I felt while pregnant and while experiencing miscarriage? How do I move through grief that rises fresh and new, haunting me with fears? There are days I trust the spirit will be back when the time is right for her and us. There are times I fear I've missed my window. There are times I feel the spirit near. There are times I feel nothing.

Last week I opened hive. I wore my veil, but left my hands bare. It was the first time I fully inspected the hive since moving them in, and it is not something I intend to do often. What beautiful creatures! Twelve panels of comb fully drawn out, brimming with brood, pollen and tiny amounts of nectar. I never saw the queen, but the bees were so many, even in the heat of the day with many out foraging, that I doubt I could have easily spotted her. They never even gave an aggravated buzz. They were the most calm I had ever seen them. They crawled on my hands, danced on the comb and continued their work building, feeding, storing, as I raised one bar after the other into the welcomed sunlight.

Bee chains!
Bees holding onto each other with their legs as comb separates.

Second and most recent hive check, because i do not have photos of first.
Bee's energy was different yesterday so I wore
gloves this time because I was concerned I might
react to a sting by dropping the comb! No stings either way.

I had been hoping for at least one sting, simply to address my fears directly (yes, I have an epi pen for precautions). It seems my humming and gentle approach to the bees on a newly warm spring day (after two weeks of rain), resulted in a very benevolent exchange for both of us. I closed up the hive and chose, finally, to sting myself. Since the sting kills the honeybee, I have been reluctant to try, but my hope is that my approached and gratefulness to the bee is felt by the bein (hive). I feel it is necessary to truly tune into the animal and ask permission. I waited for a bee to land on my hand, and then, as carefully as possible, I held her by the wings and gently pressed her to my right hand until I watched her sting emerge and pierce my skin. Immediately I scrapped the stinger away and thanked the bee. A day later I sit with a Popeye hand and a continual question mark around bee venom and my body.

normal hand

bee sting hand :(

I think it would be quite ridiculous to develop a life-threatening allergy after all the magic that has surround my relationship to bees, but I know it is entirely possible. I will continue to practice stinging myself, but currently, I do not feel any resolution around my body's relationship to venom. However, I do feel a tiny bit closer to that sense of trust. The trust that says bee venom is medicine, grief is necessary, bees came to you for a reason, your baby will return.

Snake season has arrived again, and so has the start of honey flow. In the dance between fear of and peace with the natural world, I am reminded to go toward the dark corners, for in them you may find many unexpected treasures. Welcome the honey, welcome the sting. Both will give you exactly what you need.

I leave you with the phrase shared by guides from the School of Lost Borders while on Vision Quest in the desert five years ago:

"Always remember, the greater the wound the greater the gift."

- Honeybee mama

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hive Update

Happy Summer to you all! (Finally)

The bees are doing quite well. I am now involved in three hives on three different properties, so I have the opportunity to watch how different colonies develop.

A bee hive is so much more than thousands of individual bees living together in a box. While they show us a great deal about community living, they are much more than a community of individuals, they are a superorganism. As Rudolf Steiner illustrates, the comb is their tissue, the wooden box, their skeleton, the bees, individual cells. They are completely dependent on the survival of the whole. In winter for instance, they greatly reduce their numbers to help control honey consumption through the cold months, but the organism as a whole stays intact.

Furthermore, each hive or "bein" (as Michael Thiele refers to them) has a personality. I have experienced this first had through the two swarms I caught in April. One swarm lives with my friend Mistery up in the land of Scotch Broom and Oaks. They are the sweetest, calmest bees I've ever met. They land on you freely and have a soft little buzz. My hive, on the other hand, has a much more intense energy. I would not call it aggressive, but they can be very moody. They are incredibly active and are quick to let me know if they don't want to be bothered. I am still waiting for them to tell me their name.

Spring Cold Front:

We had a terrible cold front right at the end of May which sent most beekeepers funning to feed their bees. Rain and cold temperatures in early spring are often deadly for new hives because they do not have enough pollen or nectar stores to feed all the new bees emerging. There were a number of nectar-happy sunny days right after I installed my swarm, which means the bees got right down to building out a bunch of comb and collecting pollen and nectar. The queen went ahead and laid a whole bunch of eggs, so by the time the two weeks of rain came, there were hundreds of new, hungry bees being born. It's hard to tell if my bees had enough stores because it was too cold to go into the hive to inspect (bees need to keep the hive warm at all times or the brood will die).

Feeding the Bees:

Finally, when another week of rain was predicted at the end of May, I decided to feed the bees one jar of honey water. I can hear a thousand beekeepers scoff. Honey water? You're not supposed to feed bees honey!! This is true. The reason you don't feed bees honey is because the honey may be carrying disease such as foul brood, or toxins that will reduce the immune system of the bees. Sugar water, on the other hand, greatly reduces the immune system and natural survival mechanism of the bees and is something I just can't ever get on board with. At the suggestion of local permaculture beekeeper Neal, I chose a trusted local honey and mixed it with a 2:1 ration honey to warm water and installed in in a bottom-feeder jar at the back of the hive. There is no easy way to feed bees in a top bar hive, so I had to open up the follower board (a solid wood divider used to control space in new hive) and place the jar just inside with a few extra top bars to cover the width of the jar.

You should have seen the bees the following day. We had about 45 minutes of sun in the afternoon and the bees exploded out of the hive. They were everywhere! Landing on railings, bushes and leaves. Sitting on the roof, sitting on the ground, just absorbing the sun. (note: the bees don't "sit", they forage with purpose every day, all day). I still don't know what this behavior was about. Perhaps they were considering swarming, but then the rains returned? It was truly amazing. I went around back to check the wild hive living in the wall of the house and they were doing the same thing. Bees just perched up and down the wall of the house while about a hundred buzzed at the entrance. Maybe they were simply celebrating the emergency of their solar life source!

My sweet intrepid bees (they're not really mine) continued to forage in the rain and when the sun finally came out last week we added 5 more top bars to complete the hive. They now have full access to the hive and boy are they using it. Comb is turning dark orange with propolis and new comb is being built at a rapid pace on the new top bars.

Swarm Preparations:

I am watching the bees closely because I believe they want to swarm. I can see a few swarm cells at the top of the hive, but they have not been completed. When swarm cells appear, it means the bees are feeling a bit overcrowded and begin to create cells to raise a new queen. My job it to watch and see if they close of the cells. If so, then it means they are raising new queens and I have 7 to 8 days before they are born. Once the new potential queens hatch (only one of the them will ultimately win out), the old queen leaves the hive with about half the hive in tow. They will land on a nearby branch or post while scout bees look for a new home. What I wouldn't give to watch this happen. It can be in a matter of minutes, so unless I sit outside day in, day out for the next week, I probably won't see it.

Think these ladies might be a little crowded? In the other hives I've seen you can almost always see comb under the bees, here it's just bees bees bees. This is the most recent panel of comb they've built, all the way at the back of the hive and it's still full of bees.

Glorious Raspberries:

Since I was a little girl, my mom has grown raspberries in a bed off the side of the back deck. It becomes quite a competition to see who can get the the fresh berries first: birds? dad? mom? sisters? friends in the know? There are rarely more than a few berries at a time, and we used to glory in the sight of a tiny bowlful.
This year, there is not a moment of daylight which you don't see bees on the raspberry blossoms. They are everywhere! And now, I can see bunch after bunch of tiny green berries ready to burst into red delicious abundance in a matter of weeks! Yay bees! It's the biggest raspberry crop I've ever seen! What to do? raspberry ice cream? raspberries dipped in chocolate and honey? raspberries in salad? Raspberry torte? Eeeek! I'm excited.

It's so gratifying to see the effect of honeybees on a garden. The berries give them nectar and pollen, and they give the berries prolific life! Perfect. Nature is good at her job.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why Bees?

People have been asking me, why bees? What's my plan? Why do I want to become a beekeeper? Let's start there. I don't want to become a beekeeper. While frequent slips of the tongue may be misleading, I am not interested in keeping bees. Nor am I interested, at this time, in selling honey, propolis, pollen, tinctures, candles or any other bee product, no matter how yummy the prospects. I am interested in Living with Bees. Or, to sound all the more professional, Apiculture.

Apiculture is derived from the Latin word for bee, apis. For some, it may just seem like a fancy name for beekeeping, but I see a subtle, yet significant difference. There is a great deal of power held in a word. Words carry a resonance, a history, an intention, a charge. Words spoken from one pair of lips, can easily be received with a completely different meaning by another pair of ears. If everything I do must be done with intention, then I need to set the record straight on this whole Beekeeper concept. As so many beekeepers are apt to say, I don't keep bees, the bees keep me.

My path to bees was such a strange, labyrinthian unfolding. It began with a broken heart and a book. I was living in San Francisco in December of 2007, miserable. Unbenounced to my sorry self, I had just dovetailed into a good old-fashioned Dark Night of the Soul. I hated the city. Don't get me wrong, San Francisco is an incredible city. It's my city. Most of the time I love it. However, as a broken-hearted, job-hunting, rent-paying, tree-climbing, river-swimming nature girl, I was drowning in concrete. I cursed the number 27 bus that e-braked outside my widow all night long. I cursed the pink, starless skies. I cursed my inability to embrace the city and just get over myself. I aliviated this daily horror with three things: self-toucher via romantic comedies, self-care via solo dates at the wine and dessert bar, and escapism via the golden gate bridge toward the eternal hills of mystic Middle-Earth (what regular folk know as West Marin).

At some hazy point in January, a dear friend gave me the book The Shamanic Way of the Bee by Simon Buxton. I knew very little about bees. Most of my life (this is a serious confession) I didn't even like honey. But my spirit was hurting, so I opened the pages to see what they might reveal. I devoured the book. I got lost in the apiaries of Britain, Vitamin Pan, the Serpent Flight, Nightshade Isle, the honey liquor of Lithuaian, and of course, The Melissae. The book was feeding me like fresh sap to a brittle tree. It spoke to me. It actually spooked me out. On the day I heard the exact words the author would write before even turning the page, I took the book and chucked it across the room. Seriously, a full on Bastien moment from the end of "The Never Ending Story". I left the book crumpled on the floor and drove straight to Marin. I parked on Bolinas ridge and walked out to a cold, rocky perch to watch dusk sea-mist crawl inland over the hills. My breathing calmed, my mind began to slow. A herd of white deer grazed in the distance and everything was rose-colored. In that moment, with the words of the bee shaman reverberating through my mind, I came to a stillness. I became a part of the rose light, the mist path, the mother sea. I felt a radiant beauty descend over me. In the growing night, I drove back to the city, stopping at the Fairfax market for dinner. A well-dressed and unimposing man ran after me as I left the store. "Sorry to disturb you," he said. "I'm not usually like this, but I saw you in the store. Don't worry, I don't need anything from you. I just wanted you to know you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, and I wanted to give you this." He handed me a red tulip and walked away before I could even say thank you.

What on earth does any of this have to do with bees? It was the beginning. Not because a man said I was beautiful, but because in that moment, I knew I WAS the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. The book had opened something inside me and I was literally vibrating with Goddess essence. I picked up the thread of my life and was following it out of the labyrinth. I had to know more.

Lucky for me, Simon Buxton had opened the The Sacred Trust, a school teaching courses in Shamanism and the Path of Pollen (an ancient lineage of Bee Shamans). Unlucky for me, the Sacred Trust is in England. Lucky for me, I happened to be going to Italy the next summer (2009). Unlucky for me, the class was already full.

I went to England anyway, to visit Glastonbury for three days before heading to Tuscany. This was my third visit to Glastonbury, home of sacred springs, Glatonbury Tor, thousand year oaks, The Holy Thorn Tree, and a host of other powerful sites. It is the legendary home of the mythic Isle of Avalon (Isle of Apples), and remains one of the places where the veil between this world and the Otherworld remains thinnest. It resonates with the Heart Chakra and is imbued with Goddess energy.

Glastonbury Tor crowned with Michael's Tower.

On the second day, I paid homage to Wearyall Hill and ancient The Holy Thorn Tree. The Holy Thorn is a pilgrimage site for Pagans and Christians alike. It is a direct decedent of a 2,000 non-native Hawthorne tree from the Middle East, which blooms (unusually) twice a year, at Christmas and Easter. The tree is said to have sprouted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea (Jesus' uncle) upon his arrival to Glastonbury after the Cruxification. It is even rumored that Joseph bore the Holy Grail to England and buried it beneath the sacred springs of Chalice Well. The Divine Feminine aspect of the Holy Grail brought me to Avalon with the intention of paying homage to the land. I gave the tree an ribbon offering and a prayer for the arrival of my future child. When I turned, there sat a tiny cottontail rabbit, not ten feet away, watching me in the evening light.

The ancient oak Magog, over 1000 years old.

Chalice Well

On the last day of my visit, I took an afternoon nap in the low arms of a British Hawthorn tree on the side of Glastonbury Tor, a dominating hill with a 7 circuit earthen labyrinth winding up to a central tower. The Tor is a powerful site where the Michael and Mary Ley Lines cross on their intertwining journey across Europe. You feel a strange pull from these two earth energy lines as you ascend the slope to its visit of the Summer Country. As I slept, I traveled into the Tor and visited the inner labyrinth and underground spring. Each interior level presented a message or vision until I reached the crown and woke with a start into a strange, thick mist. In the half-light, I felt my heart drained of all grief and heartache, and refilled with an overflowing, all-present Love. The energy was deeply feminine; I felt as if the Goddess of the land had restored my heart to fullness and gifted me with the awareness of true Self-Love.

In the morning, as I drove away in the pre-dawn light, Glastonbury Tor rose in my rear-view window and I was filled with a sudden and sure knowing: I would be back within the year. Sacred places do that. They tell you things, if you listen, and The Isle of Avalon told me I would be back next summer. I agreed, but my bank account indicated otherwise.

Fast forward to February 2010. I had recovered from my time in the Shadow Cave and was focusing on the release of my first Album, Waterkeeper. My pilgrimage in 2009 brought me to new heights of spiritual awareness and self-renewal. I had trust again. Trust in the exact and divine timing of all things. I was living back home in the Sierra Foothills and trying to decipher the music industry. One day, out of the blue, I got a call from my close friend, Cheyanna. She was planning a pilgrimage to Europe in the summer and needed advice on pilgrimage sites. Since Cheyanna and I share much of our spiritual work and ritual together, I had passed her The Shamanic Way of The Bee months before, knowing my Mead mistress would love a glimpse into the world of the honey-makers.

Over the phone, I rattled on about Avebury, Avalon, Chartres Cathedral, Stonehenge, Scotland, Ireland and the like, until Cheyanna became quiet and giggly and said "Ari, Ben and I have a proposition for you." ???? "We would like to invite you to join me on part of my trip to Europe and help plan a pilgrimage." Confused, I barked out a strange laugh and began blubbering until she explained. Her husband couldn't go, but he wanted her to have company and a friend who understand the spiritual significance of the trip. He would pay my part in exchange for my help with planning and logistics, as well as some dedicated girlfriend galavanting. And, then they dropped the question that made me set down the phone. Would I also be interested in taking The Way of the Melissa workshop at the Sacred Trust?

England called me back. Just as promised, against all financial obstacles, the land said Yes. We began making plans, pouring over maps of France and England, discussing cream tea, french cafes and driving on the left. Cheyanna signed us up for the Way of the Melissae, but came back with bad news. We were 13th and 14th on the waiting list. I told her, plan our trip as if we were going to the Sacred Trust for a week and have faith that it would happen. I contemplated what to do about this problem and it hit me: go to the bees. I typed in "Melissa California" hoping for some sign in the right direction, and up popped The Melissa Garden, in Healdsberg, CA, just north of Marin. It's a honeybee sactuary full of happy bees and flowers, and they just so happened to be teaching an upcoming Rudolf Steiner inspired class on Connecting to Bees through the Heart.

Photo from the Melissa Garden website

The Melissa Garden is a true jewel. It is one of the most progressive, forward thinking, earth-centered places I've been. They teach from the heart, with great reverence and understanding of the hive. The garden is prolific and filled with bee forage that changes from season to season. The class was held on a warm April day. Michael and Barbara taught using a combination of discussion-based and experiential learning. At the end of class, Michael opened the HangerKorb, or Hanging Basket Hive.

Photo from the Melissa Garden website.

We sat in silence while the bees buzzed all around us, encompassing us within their vibratory field. Then Michael said, "lets make the bees rain" and took the bowl-shaped lid of the hive off the ground and tossed it into the air. All the bees lining the inside of the basket lifted as a clump into the air and started to fall to the ground. At that moment a gust of wind came up and blew the bees two feet to the left where they fell, as one giant clump, all over my body. For 15 minutes I was covered from head to toe in drones and females. I held my arms out so I wouldn't crush them and moved in slow arcs as repeatedly alighted on my skin. I had no concerns. Simply an ecstatic grace, filling my being, erasing all sense of fear.

Photo from the Melissa Garden website.

When I returned home I called Cheyanna and told her we were going to get into the course. I just knew it. Two weeks later she phoned me with the news, the volcanic eruptions in Iceland had effected travel plans for most of the women signed up for the class, and there was suddenly two slots open. It seems the Queen of Synchronicity was a work. The Bees were sending us to England! Not only that, we were going to prepare for the workshop by visiting Glastonbury and the Avebury Henge. We were beside ourselves with joy.

After all the build up around the Sacred Trust and the Way of the Melissa, it would be nice if I could delve into an in-depth description of the course, but the workshop doesn't unfold that way. If you go to the website you will find a vague, enchanting description of the week-long workshop that leaves most asking, "but what is it really about?" Cheyanna and I did not know. Couldn't even guess. We were simply compelled like little honeybees Bee-Lining it home to the hive. The Path of Pollen is a Mystery Tradition. It's work is individual, communal and deeply rewarding. It is not my position to describe the workshop, but I can describe it's effect on me. If you are still curious when you are done, read The Shamanic Way of the Bee, and hopefully my vague references may come into a more refined focus.

The Way of the Melissae was less a workshop and more an introduction and resounding yes to life's calling. I remember having the profound sense that everything I had done in my life had led me to this moment, these women, this land, this lineage. In the same sense that one longs for a soulmate, I had longed for my spiritual home. I did not even know how deeply I longed for it, until I felt those introductory words pour into my ready ears on a cool July day in Devon, England. Within the first three minutes of the course, tears were streaming down my face. The Sacred Trust provided me with a homecoming to a tradition that reside both within and without. Even if I never set another step on the grounds of The Sacred Trust again, I will not have lost my place on Path of Pollen. I wept tears of grief and joy for finding a tradition that spoke to the very core of my being. It was not a religious awakening, but more an embodiment, a return, a discovery of a self long in the making.

We left England for the wine, eclairs and legends of France. We journeyed through late night Paris, the heart of Chartres Labyrinth, enigmatic Rennes-le-Chateau, the burning heat of Carcassonne, and the sanctuary of Rennes-le-Bains. More wonderous experiences unfolded along the way, opening us further to the realm of Mary Magdalene, Divine Union and Self Love. I experienced memory of past lives in the Languedoc region, a complete surrender to the inner beloved in Chartres and a self-knowing that surpassed all other personal awakenings to date.

<------Chartres Cathedral and a Vienna Coffee

Bathing in The Fountain of Love, Renne-les-Bains

Three tiny weeks and I came back utterly changed. So different that I no longer even had the language to speak of it. This is the first time I've even attempted to write of it for others, and still it is only scratching the surface. To help my self reintegrate, I took six days at a beautiful property called The Hinterlands in Mendocino County, CA. There is nothing like the wilderness to bring one back to presence.

I returned to my home on July 22, the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene. In the morning, my mother took me into the backyard of my house. She said they had arrived 2 weeks ago, while I was still in England. She said they had made a home. A colony of honeybees. A swarm of wild bees living in a hole in the side of my house. My mouth fell open in sheer disbelief. Is it possible? Can the world be that synchronistic? That validating? Could they really have moved into my home WHILE I was in England taking my first steps down the Path of Pollen? A July swarm when bees shouldn't be swarming at all? A late swarm that shouldn't even have survived the winter?

So you see, I did not choose the bees, the bees chose me (a common phrase to be sure). I am not a Beekeeper. I am Living with Bees. I speak to them. I hum with them. I cry with them. I love with them. They are woven into my blood and teach me of ancient mystery traditions, deep wisdom, ecstatic joy and the essence of creation. They were there when I conceived my child. They were there when I miscarried. They came when I called. They answered my grief with abundance.

Why Bees? Because bees are living in my heart. Because bees are dying all over the world, and I am choosing to give them a home where they are free. A home where they tell me if and when I can take honey. I am here to watch and listen and be transformed by all the bees have to share. Perhaps they will give me honey, but that is not my goal. My hope is simply to exist with bees and watch the garden bloom around them.

To the ancient and living Bee Priestesses who walk an arcane path on this sacred earth, I honor you. Thank you for holding the thread of tradition alive through the dark times and the light times. I remember you. I remember us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Typical Mama

Quote of the day: I was busy writing an upcoming bee blog on the patio of a local raw food cafe when one of the owners passed by. I said hello and before I knew it I was showing him bee photos, telling him stories and acting like the mother of a newborn. Keep in mind, a year ago I knew hardly a thing about bees or bee behavior. He I was acting like it was the only thing I do with my life (which is kind of true at the moment). His dad is also a first year beekeeper and talks obsessively about bees as well. They get under your skin. It's ridiculous. I mean, how many people decided to eat breakfast sitting next to their goats or chickens? But eating breakfast with the bees? Simply logic. The owner walked inside and I heard him shout good-naturedly to his sis, with a nod in my direction, "Another bee freak."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New Rule

Sitting next to entrance of hive and calmly hanging out with bees is good. Digging up an old tree root directly in front of hive in order to plant lavender (bee fav) at full sun hours of the day = bad plan. Not because the bees are angry, but because trying to dig something up in front of their flight path is very disorienting for bees. As a result I received a very disorienting bee sting in the ear. Yes, inside my ear. It has yet to swell up, but should be interesting. It made my whole head feel like it was spiraling outward. Bee medicine in the ear....maybe it will cure my current headaches. New rule: don't garden in front of bee hive entrance at busy bee times of the day.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

Lavender - a bee favorite
(photo by John Daly)

After a plunge back into the stormy depths of winter, the sun has re-emerged and so have the bees! I'm so happy to see the ladies out and about today. They seem busier than ever, reinvigorated by solar warmth and fresh nectar flow. I found this little lady (see below) crawling around the base of the hive and gave her a new surface to explore.

I live in the Sierra Foothills of California, where we are experiencing a particularly late spring. True, mountain weather is unpredictable, but usually by mid-May the grasses begin to hint of summer gold and river swimming appears somewhere on the distant horizon. This year, I will be surprised to see a safe and swimmer-friendly Yuba River before July. The rain has made everything green, green, green, sending an oddly nostalgic feeling of the Englsih Summer Country across my skin. Watching the weather out my back door, as well as the weather across the globe, has helped to illustrated on a physical level that we truly are living in a time of planetary change.
Good morning to me!

I am so glad the bees are coming back to help guide us through this time of uncertainty and opportunity. I know the buzz is all about Colony Collapse and the disappearance of the bees, as it should be, but I think bees are showing up in the mass human psyche for another reason as well. Bee are teaching us a lesson of stewardship, collective consciousness and love. Bees have been dying off at an alarming rate without much explanation or understanding. Scientists and beekeepers alike have jumped to the forefront to discover the cause and the remedy. Their conclusions are as diverse and varied as each honey source, but there are some very convincing arguments that the basic "back to nature" and "listen to the bees" methods are what we and these solar beings are in need of.

Commercial beekeeping is detrimental to the honeybee. The sudden decline in bee hives over the last ten years threatens not only the honeybee, but also 80% of our food source . The little creatures are showing us they can not withstand monocrop culture and pollination. Commercial practices are harsh and taxing on the species, but have become the accepted method for most modern beekeepers, both commercial and backyard. Bees are being carted across the country on semi-trucks, incessantly disturbed through home/hive inspection, forced to accept foreign artificially inseminated queens, forced to build off uniform pre-made plastic comb, made to live without drones (since drones are not profitable) and weakened through over-use of antibiotics and sugar feed.

Some may say I am a neglectful beekeeper for refusing to feed my bees sugar water, but I believe in the rebounding strength of the species. I know what sugar does to my body, why weaken the bee through a sugar diet as well? I listen to my bees and ask them to tell me what they need. Perhaps they wont make it through the winter without antibiotics, sugar or regular hive inspection, but then again, they have already drawn out 11 panels of comb and are near bursting at the seems. I did not feed them when I first caught them, and they are abundantly reproducing, happy and strong.

Honeycomb seen through the window of my hive.
During the last warm spell they finished 3 combs in just 7 days.

It is a true joy to join the explosion of backyard and urban beekeepers across the globe who are choosing to live with bees again. From city rooftops to country gardens bees are humming through our days. What better teacher for Unity, Love and Community than the superorganism known as the honeybee hive? Just look at them!

Who knew a Honeybee had a heart over it's heart?
This is through the glass window viewer. It has a cover to keep in the dark.
When you open it it lets in a lot of light, so I don't open it too often.

Honeybees are completely dependent on one another. Each bee, through various life stages, performs a role. Each bee is needed. The comb becomes their tissue, the hivebox, their skeleton. One can not survive alone, and thus they are truly one being, many cells coming together to create a whole:

1) Queen - Goddess, mother and life source of the hive. She who chooses gender and brood size. She who serves and is served by her hive. There is never a moment that the bees in the hive do not know where the queen is. As the queen moves around the comb, she brushes up against other bees, passing on her scent. These bees in turn, brush up against other bees and within in minutes the entire hive knows not only the location of the queen, but also her health and well-being. She is a teacher of Divine Source, always giving, always protected, always loved.

2) Drones - Necessary for procreation with other queens from other hives. Drones do this amazing thing in the spring and early summer: they congregate. On warm days they fly out to some mysterious aerial location and congregate with other drones from all the nearby hives. They fly around in the sun waiting for a queen to fly by. When a queen bee flies through the congregation the drones take after her like a tiny comet. The queen mates with multiple drones in one afternoon, and after 1 -4 flights she permanently returns to the hive to lay and fertilize eggs for the rest of her life. Some drone congregation sites have been documented with returning drones for the last 200 years. There are many guesses as to why they choose these sites, but the one I resonate with, is the theory that drones congregate around hotspots in the earth's magnetic field.

Returning bee with pollen collected in little sacs on her legs.

3) Female Bee - Popularly known as the Worker Bee, the female has a multitude of tasks. Throughout her lifespan she will build comb, make bee bread, defend the hive, forage for pollen, forage for nectar, nurse the young, make propolis and make honey. Yes, she works hard, but it is not work as we see it, slaving away day in day out. She is a sister of joyful service to her body, her community. After taking classes with Michael Thiele at the Melissa Garden Honeybee Sanctuary, I am more aware than ever, that our language around bees much change. I will write of Michael Thiele and the Melissa Garden in a later blog, but for now, allow me to follow suit by choosing the label "female bee" over "worker bee". In the words of Michael Thiele, “Living with bees is such an opportunity to study our mind and our heart. Once we start down that path, we’ll discover the language we use is such a problem, such a limitation.”

Entrance to the Melissa Garden

Today I sat inches from the hive entrance and took photographs. (Well, just to the left really). The bees buzzed all around me, landing on my hand or head occasionally, but never stinging. For a moment, I took a break from the viewfinder and turned my face out to the bees coming home with pollen or new information to share. Each bee that approached the hive flew directly up to my face, within an inch, giving me a face to face flurry of wings before continuing inside. Perhaps they were assessing whether or not I was a threat. Perhaps that is the proper and scientific way to decipher their actions. But then again, bees can recognize the face of their "keeper". Maybe, just maybe, today, they were simply coming up to say hello.

Oh, how my heart does sing.