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Sacred Recipe, Wood, strung and wrapped sacred texts, 12” x 5.5” x 6.5” by Daniella Woolf

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Patrice Vecchione

A LOVE OF BEES

An excerpt from Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination & Spirit in Everyday Life,

                  The Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, was imprisoned for speaking out—writing out—against Stalin, and died in Siberia before he was fifty, yet had the tenderness to write, “For our joy take from my palms/ a bit of sunlight and a bit of honey . . .” Mandelstam’s wife, Nadezhda, memorized most of her husband’s poems—there’s no flammable paper in the mind, so a memorized poem can’t be taken away and destroyed…
                  When she was five, Ella, a neighbor child, said, “It’s okay to pet the bees, but they don’t like being held.” She found out the hard way, and now she knows and won’t forget. There’s an old tradition from a time when people recognized and cherished the centrality of bees in their lives, called Telling the Bees. Beekeepers would share news with their bees. If there was a wedding or a birth, the keeper would leave the bees an offering—such as wedding cake or, for the birth of a child, small sweets. If the beekeeper died, the bees would be told this, and on the day of the funeral, their hives would be covered in black cloths. Bees were also known to show up at the funerals of their keepers; how they got the directions and the time, nobody knows.16
                  I’ll bet on the day Ella discovered bees don’t like to be held, she, too, was telling them what she wanted them to know, what was important in her life. That a bee would need to know such things matters to the human spirit and imagination.
                  Poet Carol Ann Duffy, in her book, The Bees, wrote, “bees/ are the batteries of orchards, gardens, guard them.” Only a poet would say something like that (notice the gurgling, alliterative guarding of gardens.)17 To whom, other than an artist, would the idea occur? Might the scientist think that? Sure. But she might stop herself from writing it down. The poet sprinkles her words onto the paper, then shakes the page like a picnic blanket to free it of the crumbs; the words that stick, the ones that shine, are those that belong.
                  My friend Jim was a very large man; he towered over and around me. He was as large in his body as he was in his kindness. A bee- keeper, he invited me along once to attend a pollination. When I arrived at his place, I saw stacked white boxes on the back of his flatbed truck, ready to go. Alive! Inside those boxes was bee busyness; the boxes buzzed with it, honey-makers inside. Jim and I drove a few hours southeast, outside the town of Los Baños, to deliver the bees to their place of employment, an almond orchard, newly in bloom—those spindly trees anointed in white-pink blossoms. The bees would take their fill of pollen, stuff it onto their legs, make love to the flowers and make honey—all, more or less, at the same time; and they made Jim some money too. Writer William Longgood said, “The bee is domesticated but not tamed.”18 Handing me a crude metal contraption in the fading light of late afternoon, Jim taught me how to smoke the bees into docility. They smelled good. I never knew that the smell of honey is in the bees and their hives, but it is. Jim’s laughter was like a buzzing hive; it was that good, making me think of these words by Eloise Greenfield: “Oh, Honey, let me tell you that I LOVE the way he talks . . .” Oh, honey, indeed! 19
                  Consider that the honeybee has been around for thirty million years—what a lot of honey that is. Each time bees go pollen hunting, they’ll each visit a lot of flowers. When a bee returns to the hive after pollen-gathering, it communicates the location of the flowers it found by doing a waggle dance! If the bee waggles facing up, it means the flowers will be found in the direction of the sun. The speed at which the bee dances informs the others just how far away the flowers are.
                  Beekeeper Lynn sells honey at the farmers’ market. Once upon a time, she was an opera singer. Her voice has a force and beauty to it that makes me wonder, but does not let me ask, why she stopped singing. When I ask Lynn about the problems with the bees these days—colony collapse and more—there’s a deep, dissatisfied sigh in her words. “The bees, bees, bees. Well, GMOs, systemic pesticides, and fungicides are the culprits. Then, to keep them alive, we human idiots give them more chemicals. And then, there is no nectar, because there is no rain and the flowers are dry, so they get fed high fructose corn syrup. Just poison on top of poison.”20 Lynn knew my friend Diana, who died last summer. Diana bought honey from Lynn as I do, and always stayed long enough to visit. Diana’s hair was the color of honey. After Diana’s death, Lynn sang me a plaintive song; she sang like honey, like honey from the very bottom of the jar, always the best part.
                  I pay homage to the fruit of the bees’ labor: the almonds, apricots, and plums. Here’s to sunlight in a jar, languorous gold on my breakfast bread; the ultimate sweetness that reaches our most sensitive taste buds; honey’s good medicine when you take it on a spoon if your throat hurts, especially laced with a bit of cayenne pepper. It also has an uncanny ability to dissolve sadness, even for a little while. Who can turn down the tawny thickness of it? Even its name reverberates with tenderness and protection, “Oh, honey, I love!”

 


Photo by Michelle Magdalena Maddox

Patrice Vecchione’s new book, out in spring from Beyond Words/Atria, Simon & Schuster, is Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination & Spirit in Everyday Life. About it, poet Jane Hirshfield said, “Step into Nature illumines the intimate connection between inner and outer, contemplative and wild, and shows the reasons those connections matter.” Patrice is also the author of Writing and the Spiritual Life: Finding Your Voice by Looking Within and two books of poems. She’s also the editor of many acclaimed poetry anthologies for children and young adults, including Truth & Lies and The Body Eclectic. For 35 years, Patrice has taught poetry to children through her program The Heart of the Word. She offers writing workshops in Santa Cruz, Monterey, at Esalen Institute, through the Osher program at CSUMB, and elsewhere. Also a collage artist, her work appears on book covers and she teaches collage-making workshops in her studio. This essay is adapted from Step into Nature.

Fiction
Wallace Baine
Elizabeth McKenzie
Jill Wolfson

Nonfiction
Carolyn Burke
Patrice Vecchione

Poetry
Stephen Kessler
David Allen Sullivan

Artwork
Daniella Woolf


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