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).

Layne and the bees commune in my bee yard.

Many 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 in August, 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).

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RAISING A THANKSGIVING GLASS … to the bees

by Debra Roberts on 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 or cat or horse or tree that ever dies in our care as we move from our first awkward years of stewardship, towards competence then grace. And it will bring us to our knees the first time this “sacred other” goes silent, when we simply can’t believe they died because we loved each other so profoundly.

One of my beloveds, Tusacarora elder Ted Williams, always reminded me of the importance of our good thoughts. He said we really only have four things in life: our good thoughts, good feelings, good words and good deeds (and that they are important in that order). Good deeds can be challenging enough but we all know what it is like to try and herd our cat-like thoughts on any given day. Whew.

Our thoughts have power. Remember that wonderful 100th monkey thing? That phenomenon in which one (usually very simple) thought or behavior passes from one individual to another and eventually suffuses a group, achieving critical mass and catalyzing a seemingly instantaneous change that is then available to the rest of the population? A new norm is born and takes up residence in our minds and lives, like it’s always had a room in our house.

It can be extremely humbling to live within the monkey-filled field of the small sacred things, because we don’t always see the change we are part of, manifested in our lifetime. My grandfather told me that he knew he wouldn’t live to experience equal and civil rights in our country. And he didn’t. But he believed in them and acted accordingly. I believe we all see some of the effects and fruits of our labor in our lives. And at other times, I think we are asked to faithfully offer our thoughts and actions up to the great great grandchildren we will never see the faces of. So much of this requires just simply doing the right thing (and especially what feels right to us). Many of our efforts will be un-thanked. But I don’t think we are ever confused about what matters if we are really paying attention. In our heart of hearts, the welfare of all life, bees and all, matters.

I believe love is the ultimate form of activism, the ultimate good thought, embodied through action. Because when we love someone (two-legged, four-legged, winged, rooted or finned), there will always be times when that love is challenged. We will disagree, misunderstand, insult, mistrust, irritate, betray, get bitten, hooked … and stung. And sometimes our beloveds will die. And then (big Medicine of all medicines) we can (and I believe have to) choose to love again … and again. And we do so because well, we love this other and like how that feels back. When I look back on years of talking about bees with children, I would say the single thing that most impressed them was my love for honeybees. That an adult could stand up in front of them and publicly and passionately love honeybees as much as they love their dogs, cats or grandparents, was a revelation (especially an adult bedecked with antennae and wings).

So love the bees or at least love who you love so passionately that it wells up and out of the cup of you like a great, warm, honey-ed libation, pouring over all of life (which happens to include the bees and everyone you care for). Prepare to fall in love more than ever you thought you could, for love will do its work and love will bring us home sweet home.

Blessed be. Blessed bees.

 

 

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Tulip poplar blooms

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 has lived here all his life, told me he has never ever seen a spring like this. My bee yard looks and sounds like rush hour in L.A. Bees are coming and going from the hives in an explosion of winged traffic; Sam Comfort calls this flying with purpose. It is astonishing to sit and watch. I have been in the yard, on and off, throughout these past weeks, reveling in the divine revelation of it all.

New queens were born in Fern, Muriel, Sacre Coeur, Rinpoche and Guadalupe nucs (short for nucleus or small starter colonies). These precious souls join Crow, Ganesha, Hanson, Madonna, Never Forgets, and Milagro hives. What a family, eh? And, wonder of wonders, I saw the virgin queen from one hive step out and take her mating flight. Virgin queens have no hips, but all being well they soon become voluptuous (and I’ll confirm that soon when I go in and check for eggs).

Blackberry blossoms

I’m in a bee delirium. I go to the apiary each morning and I can hear it even before I enter it; the bees have gone utterly Dionysian with their precious spring-imbibing selves. It is so full of life here! I put my ear to the hives and the Milagro and Ganesha colonies roar like honeybee-powered engines. The bees are bursting out of their britches. And some plants and trees that normally bloom in succession, are blooming at the same time (which really is odd as socks). I can’t think why a single human being in western North Carolina could be anything but happy right now. All our sap is rising …

Pollinator couple on the Pieris bush.

There are four Pieris (Lily of the Valley) bushes outside my home office; one is by my window at eye level. We have 4,500 pollinators in our area and I swear that most of them were on that bush this spring; it is a pollinator orgy over here and every winged one of them is in a good mood. It was like the Star Wars bar scene every day … and the most interesting sighting was a very odd-couple pairing of a large bee with a much smaller “hitchhiker” bee on its back. I apologize for the picture quality (it’s blurry), but it was the best I could do in that moment.

For days, I saw this duo on those bushes. The smaller bee looks like a honeybee, but with my glasses on (!) I realized it was too small for a honeybee. I posted this on my Facebook page and other circles and it sparked conversation and interest from here to Australia. I have been in touch with various entomologists from around the U.S. and the consensus is that the pair is either southeast blueberry bees or carpenter bees, but no one is absolutely sure because while some solitary bees (which these are) have smaller mates that can do that on-the-back thing, everyone needs to see a clearer photo to be sure of who’s who. I tried to get a better picture for days but “dating season” was over, even when I looked around on other blooming plants. This is a next-year thing. The rhythm and calendar of my life is now marked by bee-ish events and that fills my heart with gladness.

What else? At this time of year, I am constantly (and happily) answering bee-ish questions by phone and email. I field other calls like an air traffic controller, connecting people spotting swarms with friends who want to catch them. I visit some yards and do post-mortem sleuthing. I’m volunteering for a research project for The Center for Honeybee Research that has two yards of hives at the WNC Nature Center (some overlooking the red wolves and the others, the bears). And I continue to do remote teaching for the College of the Melissae: Center for Sacred Beekeeping that is growing at the pace of its own frenzied spring … they are a wonderful community to bee-hold.

New colonies delivered to Start's farm.

This week marks the third and last occasion of helping some friends with 600 nucs that are delivered to a farm. A small bee-sotted team of us join Stuart, Jon and Carl (the nuc biz guys) to check each colony to be sure it is whole, hearty, queen-right, and all-ways-right before being picked up by the bee stewards who paid for them. We are knee deep in bajillions of bees … for hours of humming hours. The nucs are chemical-free, full to bursting, healthy new daughter colonies that take the pollen for great queen / genetic lineages. Doing the “bee math” and estimating about 10,000 bees per colony, I will have personally met around 1,200,000 more bees by the end of this adventure … I am a wealthy woman.

New daughter colony bursting with bees.

I am in such an altered state after this happy work each year that it feeds my soul like a fine time-released feast. I think, talk and dream about bees, smell like bees, am stained with propolis, have farmer girl’s nails, my favorite bee yard clothes are turning into comfy “blankies”, and I have constant hat hair.  What more could a girl want?

Comfy bee clothes slowly turning into "blankies" ...

So, my friends, Caveat Bee-ster (made-up Latin for bee-lover beware): This kind of great good fortune could happen to you. If I am incoherent the next time I see you … if I am just staring at you blissfully and wordlessly, just know that I have continued to have the most amazing bee spring ever and that somehow you’ll be able to receive darshan from the bees through me, one way or another. I remain at the feet of the Sri Sri bee-jis (all six of them). This surely is a path to enlightenment.

Til next time beeloveds … Carpe bee-um

Blessed be. Blessed bees.
Debra

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DEAR GRANDPA ROY … the bees got me

by Debra Roberts on 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 … and I often think of you both.

Roy Bateman in his soybeans. (Illinois, 1952)

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, your farm (always “The Farm” in my remembering) was a magical destination for me … a whole world I was free to roam and the first place I traveled to, by myself, as a child. Dad put me on the train in Chicago, along with chewing gum and abundant magazines, and off I went (to you) like the queen of the cosmos. I adored the farm and I adored you both. I ranged and rambled like a free-range chicken … and everywhere felt safe.

I know you weren’t a beekeeper but you farmed all your life, your land tucked between Farmer City and Mahomet … corn, soybeans, cattle, chickens, and some pigs being the mainstay of your life. Mom told me that you pretty much never left home except for when a war borrowed you for a few years. You loved that land and I believe it loved you.

I found a photo of you in your soybeans, flowering like a sturdy plant in your own fields. I particularly love it and have a copy in my study. Cousin Nancy and Aunt Amy discovered this caption on that same photo: Pop wanted to show how high the corn and beans got in the Summer of ‘52. That, apparently, was a summer of epic growth (and since I was conceived and born that year, something must have been in the air).

Back in the day, in a sea of many cousins, I feel like I was probably one of the least likely to take up beekeeping … everyone else seemed to have far better (what I would call) earth skills, which I so admired. But the bees got me and when they did, I started thinking even more about you and Grandma Ruth. And just so you know, after getting my undergraduate degree in college, I never did get my Ph.D. In 1974, I went to Europe for three months and stayed 11 years (I was in England). Life had better plans for me than the ones I was making … and my Ph.D. became a BEEh.D.

The honeybees have been struggling. They are up against a mite called Varroa destructor, a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, and a whole host of effects from modern pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and (in my opinion) other poor human choices. I am trying to help. As an educator, speaker and writer (and an everyday, devoted beekeeper), I have brushed up against some amazing bee-ish movers and shakers … the Bee Illuminati (as I call them). I want to introduce you to them through this series of ongoing articles; they offer great insight on important territory and talk about things I don’t hear enough about (or even at all). [click to continue…]

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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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