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Posts Tagged ‘beekeeping’

And am I born to die? To lay this body down!

Easter is not a holiday I feel much of an attachment to. However, I was reminded this week of a specific time in my life, a new friend I once had, her life and death.

8 years ago, I began singing Sacred Harp every Tuesday night at the Helen Hills Hills Chapel on the Smith College campus in Northampton, Massachusetts.

I got to know Mirjana Lausovic at the Tuesday night sing a few years later after she moved back to the area from Minnesota with her husband and 2 young children.

Minja, as she was known, was one of the strongest women I have ever met—happy, practical, full of joy and life, big in presence and physicality; loved her kids, huge heart. Everything about her was open and present—she was buxom, full-lipped, had big eyes and a big smile, and of course, a powerful voice. Formidable was the word that came to mind the first time I saw her. She was easily approachable and had a humility I draw from to this day.

Minja had beautiful silver hair and it was cut short. I, too, kept my hair short and we joked together about haircuts, how it didn’t really matter who cut it or how: no muss, no fuss. I never knew why her hair was short and gray; she was, after all, a couple of years younger then me.

When I began to sing in the Sacred Harp group, in 2004, I had a difficult time socially. If it hadn’t been for my fierce love of the sound, my determination to add a creative endeavor for myself after years at home raising my daughters; if it hadn’t been for my training as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I would have bagged out. I found the group strange and clique-y; I didn’t understand the social dynamics. I heard a lot of talk of “welcoming the newcomer,” but my presence seemed less than welcome. I was baffled and spent many a Tuesday night filled with the joy and satisfaction of learning a new, powerful way of singing, but with an undercurrent of my own sadness and anger at feeling on the periphery of a group [supposedly] dedicated to a communal tradition of song.

Minja was a remedy for all of that, a breath of holy spirit.

She died less than 2 years after I met her. It was a shock to me because I didn’t know her history—she had had breast cancer and pulled through several years earlier and this was apparently a recurrence. They left town one day in July of 2007 and she died 2 weeks later, on my birthday, something I recognize as a great gift.

I remember the evening before Tim and Minja and the kids were leaving town. I had prepared a little card and a bundle of ribboned lavender from my garden. When I handed the card to her, my instinct was to walk away so she could open it at her leisure, no pressure to say she liked it in case she didn’t, nor to respond to the words therein. But she said, emphatically, “Can I open it now? I want to open it NOW.” It was so much her, living for the moment, taking a bite out of whatever life presented.

♦ ♦ ♦

Today, I watched as my daughter’s Agricultural Arts teacher introduced 5 new colonies of bees to the existing hives on the school’s campus. Nicki told us that the worker bees, all of whom are female, do not lay their own eggs, in deference to the queen’s laying.

I saw the first tulips open in my side garden bed.

I am preparing a dish for dinner with eggs from my neighbor’s chickens, a salad with greens from a local farm.

Sometimes I receive emails from a fellow parent at my daughter’s school and they close with the statement “Walk in the light, wherever you may be.” Some days I begin to know what this means.

Today is Passover; tomorrow is Easter. I know I have been delivered, here and now, to the center of a swirl of abundance that I call home, the earth.

♦ ♦ ♦

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I’ve already gushed about this on Facebook, but I’ll repeat:

This was a fantastic movie and it is where my gratitude goes today. I suppose I can be silly and say thanks to the bees. Thanks, bees. Thanks filmmakers, thanks women, thanks men, thanks beekeepers, thanks organic farmers, thanks to those who refuse to use pesticides on anything whatsoever, thanks to brave, stouthearted folks who are willing to defy the odds and understand complexity and interdependence.

Wow, Thankful Thursday just began to feel suspiciously like a rant in reverse. Sorry. I really did love the movie and it really made me happy. I am blessed, too, to live in Western, MA, the “Happy Valley,” next door to “Paradise City,” first state to legalize same-sex marriage, some of the most fertile soil in the US along the Connecticut River, and home to many small, organic farms, fruits, vegetables, and livestock included. Raw milk, local honey, local maple syrup, local eggs from my neighbor. HUZZAH!

Happy that my kids learn beekeeping at their school. A new calf was born 3 weeks ago to Heatherbell. He has a white heart on his forehead. It reminds me of the Cat Stevens’ song “Boy with the Moon and Star on his Head.” Remember that one, flower children?

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On the last Friday in May 2010, I was able to accompany and photograph Hartsbrook’s 8th Grade students during their final Agricultural Arts class.

It is customary for each Hartsbrook class to begin a study of Beekeeping with Nicki Robb in the fall of the 8th Grade year.

Beekeeping is a complex art, combining ancient farming techniques and the science of keen observation with a deep understanding of what is natural to the bee. The beekeeper must become a steward of nature in order to reap the benefits of the hive in the form of that most sensuous and mysterious of substances, honey.

The weather on this particular day was the best of the week, not as hot as it had been earlier, but sunny with a slight breeze. The beginning of beekeeping class found the 14 students donning their bee-proof Tyvec suits. After this somewhat elaborate ritual, they followed Ms. Robb to the hives at the back of the campus. The 8th Graders were instructed to be as still and quiet as possible and to approach the hives only from the back in order to avoid interfering with the flight path of the bees. In groups of 3 or 4, the students carefully removed the cinder block weights from the tops of the boxes. Having been taught to listen to the sound of the bees’ humming in order to assess the mood of the hive, the teenagers were transformed from chatty and excited to quiet almost immediately. Next, they carefully pried up the frames to observe the combs: to see if there was honey, to observe its color and quality, and to notice if any chains had been created. After their observations were complete, the frames and boxes were put back in reverse order. A final “bee check” with a brush was performed on each student and the space-age suits were stripped off with happiness and relief.

Having never been near a living hive of honeybees, I was in a state of awe for the 45 minutes or so that we spent there. Time was suspended in the sunshine and whispering breeze of the morning. The frames oozed with a liquid, golden light. I was never afraid of being stung, but rather soothed by the hum and buzz all around us. Nicki stood in front of the boxes and I was astonished at the hundreds of bees flying halo-like around her, to and from the hives, both as if none of us existed, but also as if they were there simply for our pleasure and beholding.

After I removed my own bee suit, I spent some time in the Great Room looking over the class’ final work displays—the material “honey” of 8 years of a Hartsbrook education.

I spent about an hour paging through Main Lesson books, poring over poems about the animals of Africa, reading about the properties of light and atmosphere, drinking in the splendor and colors of dozens of watercolor paintings, and admiring the wooden toys and handmade dolls. I was amazed at the material declaration of knowledge and beauty and at the incredible amount of industry that went in to each child’s work. It is more than I can contain in my mind at once even now.

When I ventured back to join the class, they were gathered in the shade of a huge tree, listening dreamily to Ms. Robb. Once her lecture was complete, Nicki asked the group which of Hartsbrook’s resident farm animals they would most like to visit for the remainder of the time. The resounding answer was, to my surprise, “THE GOATS!” The 8th Graders rarely, if ever, have a chance to visit the animals during the school day and this was obviously a final gift from their teacher.

In the presence of the goats and our resident donkey, Francesca, the class was transformed from a group of sophisticated teenagers into young children again. I watched as their hearts lightened. Tenderness and joy overtook them as they fed, petted, and played with the goats and Francesca.

Hartsbrook’s 8th Grade Class of 2010 had an educational path that was forged by not one, but three, different Class Teachers. This provided them with unusual and unforeseen challenges but also opportunities for flexibility and growth. Ultimately, the situation allowed the class to become intensely bonded to one another and to have a strong spirit of perseverance in the face of external pressures. I thought about this during my final time together with them. This class did become a hive unto itself, as any of its teachers could tell you.

The day was certainly blessed and I knew it was a gift to be in their presence as a group for the last time. While I overreach to apply metaphors, I still have this wish for them: May your days forever ooze with golden honey as you fly from the geometry and industry of your Hartsbrook hive and venture into whatever awaits you.

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