Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bee-donkulous: lessons learned from bugs this year

We've been spending a lot of time in yoga lately talking about the coming close of this year, the opportunities presented by the start of the new year. What's your vision? Who do you want to be? Where have you been this year?

This has been a crazy year for us for sure, more ups and downs than I am prepared to list here (though that list is coming, you have my word), but today's cold honey harvest is really making me think a lot about some of the big lessons I learned from bees this year:

- keeping bees entails managing conditions. The bees will do what bees do naturally - all the beekeeper is really in charge of is ensuring that the conditions are right: that the hive is dry, sizable, cozy enough. The bees do the rest. Honey just happens. This is a lesson we learned a long time ago with compost - that with the right conditions, it's something that just happens. Honey is the same deal. Actually, everything is the same deal. In yoga, when you create the conditions - set up the pose, align yourself in it, feel it -- then grace happens, illumination.

- keeping bees requires getting comfortable with death. We discovered the death of our first hive this week, but long before that we learned that beekeeping involves a little death almost every time you open the hive. Every time we approach the hive, open it up to ensure conditions are good, our intention is to do as little harm as possible, but it's virtually impossible to work the bees without crushing a few unwittingly while moving frames in and out, back and forth. Losing an entire hive (the queen died late in the season, well past when the workers could make a new one) was hard. Opening what was previously a thriving (though not our strongest) hive and hearing quiet, the place empty, was rough. Not long after the queen gave up the ghost, the entire colony died. Boy, have we lived with death this year. Three cancer diagnoses in the last twelve months -- my sister, our Jasper, our Joe. Death is always there: how much grace can we muster when we face it? That's another lesson learned from bees.

- keeping bees means letting go of what you learned from a book or a lecture and really learning through doing. No amount of classroom preparation can really teach you what you need to know - the actual Doing, the experience itself, suiting up, stoking the smoker, repeatedly opening the hive and observing -- builds the life-experience that is the real learning. As our beekeeping teacher said one day while standing in a cloud of bees, "you have to let go of knowing."

- keeping bees involves making errors (sometimes fatal) and recovering. We managed conditions to the best of our amateur ability on Hive #1 - we checked them weekly during the summer, supplemented their food in June when it was clear their stores were empty, reduced the entrance when we were concerned they were not strong enough to withstand the incursions of yellow jackets and other robbers. We watched them and did everything we could think of to keep them strong. But clearly we made errors, mis-read the signs, didn't re-queen in late summer, and now they're dead. And we recover, pouring what we learned into our attentions to the two remaining hives.

- finally, keeping bees allows deep drinking of the nectar of life. The addition of bee hives to our garden has brought us so many gifts. We are still struck dumb by how beautiful they are, how remarkable their society, how perfect their comb, and how tasty the fruit of their labor. Living with bees we sit down more often, stop and watch them as they go about their busy bee-ness, marvel at their labor of love, their ecstatic rolling in pollen. And now with a late, unexpected honey harvest, we are savoring, in the dark of winter, the bright taste of sun and flowers.

I am grateful for so many things this year, but deeply, deeply grateful to these bees, the living, the dead, and those yet to come. Without them I would have missed so much beauty this year, beauty that is literally right in front of my face. With them, I see more and more clearly, on a diet of honey and delight.

1 comment:

alan said...

wonderful picture and it fits the mood of what you wrote. have been also thinking about death, impermanence, uncertainty, care, beauty, and wonder... as you have learned, if we pay attention, bee beings can reminds us of what is important. will be offering a workshop in february 27, on bees and these topics. would like permission to add your picture on my web page...will give you credit. noticed pem chodron on your book list and have found her instructive and comforting. alan