TO SYRIA, THE BEES … AND LOVE IN OUR MIDST

by Debra Roberts on April 21, 2017

It is full-on spring here in Appalachia and the bees are rocketing in and out of their hives like tiny cannonballs. Wild cherry, apple, pear, plum, blueberry, and other blossoms beckon. Soon the tulip poplars, black locust and black raspberry, the heart of the honey flow plants, will bloom in this astonishing season. The pulse, hum and vibration in the air, this sacred sound and feeling-scape, is palpable, pure and revitalizing.

Spring in the bee sanctuary.

 

I am very blessed by invitations to teach and travel in the world on the Good Bee Road. I meet remarkable people (two-legged and wing-ed) and one of the greatest pleasures of my life is to explore the many respectful, reverent and benevolent ways that people choose to express their relationship with bees. Last year, I returned to Turkey to share my bee-loving heart in Istanbul (my most favorite city in the world) and also to join a small constellation of extraordinary people from England, Estonia, Greece, Iran, Germany, and Turkey. We converged as one hive and collaborated in the seeding, dreaming and emergence of Simorgh Wisdom School. We also celebrated Nowruz together, the Persian New Year, which marks the beginning of spring.

The Simorgh hive … I often bring antennae when I travel.

 

A man who lived locally was also invited to join us for some of our meals, a Syrian refugee who had cobbled together a life in that small town near the Aegean. Over tea one afternoon, I asked him about bees. I am always curious about people’s practices and I wondered about Syria. He replied that while beekeeping was not his family’s main focus (they had a lucrative business in a city before the bombings), they had some land in the country and had kept hives there in the past. Every spring, he said, beekeepers moved their bees to the Black Sesame flowers, which he also called Love in the Mist, and the honey that bees made from that nectar was particularly treasured. And now this tradition has been fractured. Many beekeepers can no longer move their bees at all because of the war.

When we consider some of the challenges bees face these days, we often think about diseases, mites, encroached habitat, and the increasingly toxic environment bees try to survive in … one that has become saturated with “ides” (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides), neonicotinoids, glyphosate (think Roundup), GMOs, and other unfortunate human choices. But there is another threat to bees that came into my consciousness last year. War. The war in Syria is utterly devastating all life there, including the honeybees.

The field of me shifted with his stories. Syria began to have a face and I could feel her broken heart. As I asked more questions, he came to understand more of my own call, that I am a free-range bee lover who shares inspiration with others from my journeys. I recall how heart-stoppingly still he became at one point in the conversation. He conveyed that he was fine for his stories to be passed along, but to please not reveal his name nor show his photo, because his life might be endangered. I cannot describe how sobering a request that was nor how carefully I have honored it ever since.

As the tea flowed amongst us, his story poured out. He had to flee Syria (through a minefield, at night) to avoid being conscripted into the army to fight a war he doesn’t believe in. He hasn’t seen his wife and children for years. His youngest daughter was about four months old when he left and is now, I believe, four. His children have not attended school for the last five years. So many schools have been destroyed, so many places in Syria are unsafe, that many children have suffered this same fate. His successful family business was destroyed in a large city and later, their home was directly bombed (within hours of the family fleeing to a more remote location in the country where they own a tract of land). He and his wife agreed that he would leave Syria while she and their children would stay on the land, the only thing left that they owned. They hoped it would be a safe rural refuge for his family and that he would join them to rebuild a life together there, once the war is over.

One of his lifelines was a collection of family photos he carries on a thumb drive, pictures that are years old that he brought another evening. The precious united nations of us sat on the floor, gathered around a laptop. We met his family, image by image. We asked for each of their names and he called them out … aunts and uncles, parents, cousins, nieces and nephews, his wife and children … naming them, one by one. At one point he was overcome by emotion. I don’t think anyone had expressed interest in his family in such a way since he had been parted from them. And it was humbling how un-bitter he was. Immeasurably sad, yes. Sorrow had settled into his life, adding years to his face, but not bitterness.

I met some of the sorrows of the world on that trip. I saw lifeboats being confiscated in the Aegean to prevent other refugees from fleeing to safe harbor, to the more receptive islands in Greece. A new friend in Istanbul told me that some of the people from the village he grew up in, who are traditionally fishermen, have found it more lucrative to deliver Syrian refugees to places they hope will let them stay … and to take them for a fee. Two other friends in Turkish cities had lost people they cherished in suicide bombings. I felt the anxiety of other beloveds of mine, some professors and one in the entertainment industry, who had signed a petition for peace in their country (something many of us have done hundreds of times) and are now on a list to be investigated.

And every single day, I also met the most heart-opening, beautiful people, tending to the sacred in the ordinary tasks of living, extending themselves through greetings, gestures, smiles, eye contact, time in their bee yards, stories, music, food and (the inevitable) tea in the most welcoming and generous ways. If ever there were a true eco-green-holy-hearted-sustainable choice, I believe it is to compost many of our thoughts and fears about each other and to tend that compost pile as if our life depended on it, because it does.

I raise a glass to a man I cannot name, whose face I cannot show, and who will probably never read this … and to the beekeepers who cannot move their bees to the black sesame flowers and other nectar sources because it is unsafe … to those who have left their bees (and everything else) because they are fleeing for their lives … and for the people and bees who have already perished (may peace be upon their souls). My heart feels the sharp edge of broken-ness that such things should ever happen to anyone. Anywhere. Ever.

Amongst the epic events of this last year, we also lost our home to fire while I was on that trip to Turkey. We are just now on the threshold of getting back on our feet. Our local and world community responded so generously to us that we remain on our knees in gratitude. And I am ever mindful that we did not have to flee to hostile borders and our home wasn’t destroyed because of an intentionally aggressive act. Challenging things happen in life … and then there are tragedies. Ours was not the latter.

I have felt so many things across this last year as I follow what is happening in Syria, Turkey, Standing Rock, Flint Michigan, Washington DC, North Carolina, and other places and spaces. And despite the monumental hardship that is so much in evidence in our world, as well as the chaos we experienced with our own hallowed house fire, I have also felt a heightened awareness of that which never changes, ever. There is a strange river of peace that runs beneath everything, that the bees enliven and help me re-remember every day of my life. Heart-breaking and heart-opening events strangely coexist, stretching my capacity to abide with such extremes and turning me inward towards the only shore that makes a holy difference … that of my heart.

Photo, courtesy of Walker Silsbee.

 

When I returned from Turkey, my friend Walker Silsbee was sculpting a Syrian man fleeing his country. It is now completed and I am immensely moved by it. I think of our friend. He didn’t take a sheep with him when he left Syria nor did he escape through water. He did disappear in the night, miraculously making his way through a minefield with a tiny thumb drive tucked in his pocket, carrying pictures of the people he loves most in the world.

Through the peculiar and brilliant quantum physics of the heart, I feel your presence and preciousness in the world, my friend. You extended an invitation to us to come visit your pistachio orchards during the harvest time, once the war is over, and I carry that possibility in my heart as a prayer for peace. This is for you, from my heart to yours, my family to yours (two-legged, four-legged, root-ed … and wing-ed). Here’s to Love in the Mist and the love in our midst, now and always.

Blessed be. Blessed bees.

Debra

PS I invite you to The Sacred Path of Bee if this journey speaks to your heart. I invite you to consider anything and everything that speaks to your heart.

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THE SACRED PATH OF BEE SERIES … is launched!

by Debra Roberts on August 9, 2015

Screen shot 2015-08-06 at 8.32.39 AMIt is a full fat summer’s day here in Western North Carolina. The bee sanctuary is fragrant, humming, thrumming and bursting with more health and vitality than ever before. My heart is full. These wing-ed beings bring me such joy.

At long last, the Sacred Path of Bee online series is completed. I am profoundly grateful to all the many patient, beloved friends from around the world who have kept gently prodding me to complete this.

Screen shot 2015-08-06 at 8.33.01 AMI want to express my thanks to some people that made this strange creature called an online series possible and for the fertile field of nectar and pollen they are in my life. And I want to begin with Layne Redmond. We fell into friendship from the moment of first eye contact, there in front of the Fine Arts Cinema in Asheville, just as she was about to join her fabulous students in drumming to open a documentary that included an interview with Layne. She and I picked up some ancient, comfortable and familiar thread from the second we met. I probably would not have done this series at all if she hadn’t kept saying, “We should do this!” (meaning the series) so many times, in her bright chirpy cadenced voice that I can still hear in my internal soundscape. I swam in the Ocean of Yes with Layne, as I do with a handful of beloveds in my life. When she passed in late 2013, I felt like a baton got handed to me in the softest and most compelling way … not to be her, but to continue stepping out as the bee-sotted soul that I am. Thanks to Layne and others, I’m out of the sacred bee closet now … and what a lot of fine company I have in this world.

IMG_1044(a)I also want to thank my husband Joe for his generous and loving patience. This series took almost two years to complete (I thought it would take four months). I am so supported by this beautiful man in every way. Joe told me when we were dating that he has known all his life that he came into this world to support the feminine. And he has and does … with his grandmother, his mother, his sister, his many women friends … and with me. I thank my lucky stars the day I met you, Joe Roberts.

And to you, the ten amazing beings who took time from your incredibly busy lives to bless us with your voice here, I salute you as the Bantus greet one another at night … as walking stars … with gratitude for your presence in our lives. To Larry Cammarata, Laura Ferguson, Jacqueline Freeman, Horst Kornberger, Mekare, Glenis Redmond, Tracey Schmidt, Jeff Scmitt, Filiz Telek, and Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees, I raise my glass. My life, this series, the world, and the honeybees are infinitely enriched by your beautiful bee-ingness.

IMG_1507And to you, Apis mellifera, the sweet honey-bearing bees who I love and adore, you have colonized my mind, heart and consciousness … called out the nectar of me and transmuted it into honey. For this and a thousand things more, I am eternally grateful.

This series is for anyone and everyone, from my heart to yours, to inspire you on your own path of bee love, whether you have bees or not. No beekeeping experience is necessary, just your appreciation of bees.  This is not a technical series.  It is a journey to deepen your own relationship with honeybees and the sacred life we all share. All the ground covered here … the stories, the wisdom, the insights, the experiences … everything ultimately relates to our relationship with all life and whomever we care for. I have long believed that love is the ultimate activism. Come one, come all.

You can find out more information about the series here:

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Have a wonderful summer.

Blessed be, blessed bees.

Debra

“The souls of people, on their way to earth-life pass through a room full of lights. Each takes a taper–often only a spark to guide it in the dim country of this world. But by rare fortune, some souls are detained a little longer. They take time to grasp a handful of tapers, which they weave into a torch. These are the torch-bearers of humanity, its poets, seers and saints,  (beekeepers and bee lovers) who lead and lift the race out of darkness toward the light. They are the teachers and saviors; the light bringers, way-showers and truth-tellers. Without them, humanity would lose its way in the dark”. ~ Plato (and Debra Roberts).

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It is almost Valentine’s Day and every year at this time, millions of beehives will soon be trucked from holding yards and commercial apiaries to pollinate almonds trees, which are completely honeybee-dependent. California’s almonds are central to the largest managed pollination event in the world, unique to the US because of how much of the almond market we have. With over 800,000 acres of these trees, this state produces about 80% of the world’s almonds. This crop is one of California’s most lucrative agricultural exports. Approximately 60% of all the managed hives in the United States are needed to pollinate these trees. The bloom lasts for about two weeks, beginning around Valentine’s Day (which I find ironic, given that the stresses and strains on the bees is a complete and utter un-valentine for them).

Many years ago, I attended a honeybee lecture given by my dear friend Diane Almond (yes, that’s her real name). It was there that I saw my first photo of a flatbed truck with more than 500 hives stacked on it, enroute to California. I sat in the back of the auditorium and sobbed. I just could not believe what I was seeing. It has taken me years to compose an article about this annual American ritual, because I have been sorely un-composed. I needed time to simmer down, restore balance in my soul, find the high road, keep my heart engaged, and to be quiet enough in my bee yard, the sanctuary I share with the bees, to really listen … and know how to respond. And ah, if The Good Bee Road didn’t reveal herself. I flowered into a honeybee educator, speaker, mentor, advocate, artist, steward … and finally finished writing this piece (at long last). So here it is, THE HIGH COST OF ALMONDS … FOR BEES: The Great Elephant in the Room of Modern Apiculture. It is time to get this issue fully out of the bee closet and into the light of day.

I am grateful to Wendy Stancil, Bhramari Devi Dasi, Jack Fischer, and others who have been tending the fire of this same conversation. And infinite thanks to Rowan Jacobsen for writing his seminal book, Fruitless Fall.  The chapter called “The Almond Orgy” eloquently describes this largest of all annual pollination events in the world … and its effect on bees.

I offer this article up into the world conversation and consciousness. And I raise a glass to you, the precious honeybees, who I love with all my heart. This is for you, m’dears.

Blessed be, blessed bees.

Debra

PS  I will launch The Sacred Path of Bee online series by the end of July. Thanks to everyone for your patience (and especially to Maria, Rebecca and Wann, Zeeva, Wendy and so many others who keep gently knocking on the door). Stay tuned.

 

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LIFE, LOVE, LAYNE and the SACRED PATH OF BEE …

by Debra Roberts on January 21, 2014

Happy new year everyone from the mountains of western North Carolina. It has been especially cold here this winter and the bees are tucked in, singing their winter songs. I continue to put my ear to each hive daily: listening, expressing my love and recalibrating … to the key of B(ee).

beeyardMany of you know I have been working on The Sacred Path of Bee webinar, a project my beloved friend Layne (Redmond) and I were planning to launch in the summer of 2013. She and I discovered, in our unfolding friendship over the years, that many of the experiences I was having in my sacred-in-the-ordinary bee-tending life were resonant with some of the ancient ways of the bee priestesses that Layne had been exploring while researching what later became her seminal book, When the Drummers Were Women. Neither of us called ourselves bee priestesses, but nevertheless, those words help describe a sacred territory that was so enlivened in our lives. Last April, we stepped out with a free webinar, which was going to be followed by a multi-part series beginning last July. Many of you know that Layne’s health started to seriously slip and slide not long after the summer solstice. By late October, she laid down her sweet body, continuing her indigenous soul journey towards her Sacred Next.

With her blessing and the blessing of her company, Goldenseed Productions, I have been working on The Sacred Path of Bee with the intent to launch the series this winter (during this very week, in fact). But the series got bigger, as good things sometimes do. I am also about to continue my own sacred path of bee: teaching (and learning) blessed-bee in Turkey, Malta and various destinations in the U.S. So this series will now be born in August, when I return from my travels. I know in my bones that some of my coming adventures will also inform and bless the content of this webinar, hopefully making it even more of service to participants (and to the precious honeybee).

About the getting bigger thing … I have invited ten spectacular guests from around the world to join me for the series. Each are and have a world to share. We are almost done recording all their interviews. I was so personally inspired by each person that the webinar content expanded another couple of bee suit sizes. You are going to love spending time with these people.

Also, the launch date got tai-chi’d because of the mysterious way that life sometimes (wo)manifests. A group of us (nicknamed The Hive) had gathered across last year to take care of Layne as her health started to go out with the tide. I was with her during the last twelve hours of her life, including as she passed. Someone asked me later about a favorite time with Layne. It was this: spending most of that last night, holding hands (a sort of precious girls’ sleep-over, with a serious sacred undertow). There are many things that happened and got expressed by Layne that night as her spirit started to straddle the worlds. One of them was this: Layne knew that I was going back to Turkey this year. She also knew that she was dying and would not be alive by the time I left. At one point in the middle of the night, she sat bolt upright and looked me in the eye and said, “Debra, you are going to see me in Turkey, right?” And I answered, not missing a beat, “Yes, Layne, I am.”

Recently, I woke up in the night, recalling that moment. It wasn’t like Layne’s spirit was in my bedroom; it felt more like her spiritual breath. I realized I needed to postpone the launch of the series until I returned from my travels, so I could “meet” Layne in Turkey and then let whatever-that-means inform and infuse my offerings to the webinar. I will be bringing a little bit of her ashes to Ephesus, Turkey and also to an ancient temple in Malta. Somewhere on the road, I know we have a date, and from that will come something more for you, too.

In April of 2010, Layne birthed a lovely CD called Hymns from the Hive, Music Made With The Bees. The sound of bees (sacred technicians of sound as Layne called them) weaves through every track. Layne asked me to write something for the CD liner and I want to share a little of that with you:

The sounds of bees that find a home in every track were recorded in my apiary two summers ago. Most of those hives perished the following winter and most of the reasons why were mysterious. It was a time of immense heartbreak. These are the voices of colonies that were lost and of one hardy lineage that survived and still proliferates in my bee yard into its own seven generations … a hive I have come to call Old Faithful. Apis mellifera, the honey bearers, the honeybees, these sustainers of life … are struggling. We are living in a time that will determine whether our music will be a requiem for the bees or a celebration of the continued life of these precious winged beings. Hymns From The Hive is a vote for Life.

Since then, Old Faithful passed away … as has Layne. So I ask myself, is this Sacred Path of Bee series a requiem for or a celebration of the bees and of Layne? I think the answer is, both. That Layne and Old Faithful have died is still something I feel very tender-hearted about. That this webinar will see the light of day, with her blessing, is a continued celebration of life, love and the sweet honeybees.

I want to give a nod to the amazing Daniel Sabio, someone I met through Layne. He is a young, free-range genius and the man who is completing the film Axe Orixa: Dreaming Awake the Gods & Goddesses of Brazil which Layne began many moons ago. She entrusted the completion of this work into his care and he hopes to premiere the film in the late spring or early summer of this year. Daniel is also blessing me with his genius by guiding me through the mysteries of webinars, editing guest interviews, and creating the architecture (the techy bones, if you will) of this experience. I am infinitely grateful to him.

If you want to follow some of my bee-ish travels, you can find me on Facebook. When The Sacred Path of Bee launches, I will let you know through Facebook and also by way of this blog. If you haven’t done so already (and are inclined), you can subscribe in the right hand column of the blog / home page.

These coming months will ever-change us all. By the time Joe and I return from our travels, I will have talked-and-listened-bee for months in places like Turkey and Malta (my idea of heaven); we will have spent spring equinox in the temples and ancient places of Malta; and we will have distributed some of Layne’s ashes with our full hearts. The first maple pollen will have primed the spring pump in western NC (great news for the pollinators). Joe’s gardens will be waking up, then jumping.  The bees will prepare for May’s burst of blossoms, then the spring and summer honey flows that follow. It is in this holy field of time – the wild, full fat summer – that I will humbly offer this Sacred Path of Bee webinar to all of you who have so patiently waited.

Til then, my friends. Blessed be, blessed bees … and blessed Layne.

Debra

PS Infinite thanks to The Hive (you know who you are).

PPS To everyone, the series will be launched by end of July (2015). Stay tuned for an imminent launch!

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RAISING A THANKSGIVING GLASS … to the bees

November 22, 2012

In this season of giving thanks, my heart is full of honeybee love, which makes my world go round. Love suffuses everything we do and guides us. It calls out reverence and devotion in us and shines a light on our essentially benevolent and generous nature. It is why we grieve any bee or dog […]

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BEE DELIRIUM … the bees are bursting out of their britches!

April 26, 2012

Our honey flow has started here in the mountains of western North Carolina … about a month early. Blackberry bushes, tulip poplar trees and black locust are throwing out blooms like there is no tomorrow, offering up the best of their best in this wildly vibrant spring. An old timey bee guy I know who […]

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DEAR GRANDPA ROY … the bees got me

March 28, 2012

You and Grandma Ruth have been on my mind. I’m in my 60th year and a beekeeper now, married to a man named Joe that you both would have liked a lot. We have 15 acres north of Asheville, NC, in the southern Appalachians. I am in my bee yard daily, watching the bees … […]

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DECEMBER VALENTINE … an Epic Tale of Bee Love

December 19, 2011

Love, it is said, is a many splendored thing. And I believe that love expressed is a wildly potent thing – percolating out into the wider world in its organic exponential fashion, pollinating in the oddest places and spaces. In this holydays season, let me share a Tale of True Love … 2011’s amazing bee-ish […]

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DESCANSOS FOR THE BEES: Kaylynn Sullivan TwoTrees’ memorials commemorate the loss of our honeybees.

April 12, 2011

When a hive dies, thousands of bees … sometimes as many as 50,000 or more … pass away.  Across my years of beekeeping, it could be said that I have only lost 30% of my hives and that statistic is not uncommon.  But I don’t think of my honeybees as so many numbers.  They are […]

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HOLY BEE PRESS

March 14, 2011

WELCOME TO HOLY BEE PRESS!  We are a crossroads of honeybee conversation and world bee salon.  You’ll find some wonderful articles and bee-ish products here … and books will follow later this year. Please join this bee-appreciative community by subscribing to our email list in the right hand column of this page.  And invite friends […]

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