Pavi: Our special guest speaker is Debra Roberts, a beekeeper, writer, educator and much more who embodies today’s theme of Sacred Path of Bees. I would like to introduce our moderator Lu Ann who is a mother, grandmother, a farmer, a gardener, a lover of nature and a writer who is based in Virginia and she also volunteers with us on dailygood. She will be anchoring our call with Debra this morning.
LuAnn: Thank you Pavi. Our guest today is Debra Roberts. Debra travels around the world teaching and speaking on a variety of topics but particularly about natural compassionate beekeeping. Beekeeping as a sacred practice and stories from her life on the good bee road. She is a master beekeeper and she is founder of Holy Bee Press. She is on the board for Center for Honeybee Research and a bee mentor for Hamaatsa (an indigenous learning center in New Mexico). She was chosen as one of the heroes of Asheville in 2014. She also created the online series, The Sacred Path of Bee for bee appreciators worldwide. She now resides in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband Joe and her cat Habla and millions of honeybees. Thank you Debra for making time for us this morning.
Debra: It is my great pleasure. Thank you.
LuAnn: I know recently you returned from a trip and you are just getting back into your home and your bees. So traveling the world speaking and teaching beekeeping has become the central aspect of your life and I was wondering if you could tell us how that came to be? How you became a beekeeper particularly a natural compassionate beekeeper?
Debra: Hello, first of all from a very wet green plants jumping Appalachia. Where I live, the bees are within sight of the house and they are so strong and vibrant this year and I am so happy about that. Gosh! Where my story started with respect to becoming a beekeeper was like many things in life are not planned. Probably the best things in life are not planned and I have to roll the story back to the nineties when I met Joe. Joe and I met in New Mexico and married and lived there for some years and we moved to North Carolina which is his home state and now mine and in the mid nineties we met a Hopi elder named Thomas Banacyca and Joe and I used to gather with a small group of people monthly and Thomas used to come as a guest with somebody and he became a featured speaker for that night and he was in the seventies or eighties at that time and he told us that he was sent by his elders -- goodness knows how old they were who lived and didn’t move from the Hopi mesa to go out into the world and carry a piece of the Hopi prophecy. What I call as junior elders went out and did that and we have spoken at the UN and conferences and gatherings all over. What he shared with us was to do with women which was part of the prophecy to share and what he said was that from a traditional point of view what he called a fourth world perspective that women was considered to be charge of the table which is a place in home of food, nurturing where family stories and connections happens, sort of the heart of the home. The fifth world which is that shift within our lifetime, Hopi’s consider earth as the table and their prophecy tells them that women are considered responsible for that table which is essentially the whole of the earth and then Thomas quietly addressed every single women of us in that circle eye to eye, “It’s a woman's time to step forward”. It was kind of profound and potent movement and my life moved on and I didn’t think about it until 2004 until I had a huge health crash because I had been burning candle at thirteen ends making documentary (laughs..) and I had to stop my life and I thought I went into a six months sabbatical which turned into the rest of my life. At the beginning of the sabbatical, I remembered Thomas and I had heard that he had passed and what arose in me was to drive across the country to thank his family for this profound moment that I had with him and I took jars of honey with me but I wasn’t a beekeeper but there was an old man around the corner who had honey. So I drove across the country and arrived at his door. It was very easy to find out where the family lived and I came to the door and said that I am Debra Roberts from North Carolina and you don’t know me but I have come to pay respects. His daughter-in-law answered the door and she welcomed me and I said, “May I give you some gifts” and she said “yes” and I presented her the honey and she said that I was just telling my husband Thomas Jr that we were out of honey and I needed to go to the store and get some more. So there was something when I look back about beekeeping and about that moment and in that moment beeish and full of grace quietly slipped under my radar into the heart of my life and at the end of the year, the bees got me wholeheartedly and I saw a flyer for a bee school in Nashville and I didn’t even know what that was and I took the school and I fell madly in love with bees and I never went back to anything else I was doing and over the years what’s happened is a great billboard for do what you love and life will find you there and I have been working in my yard being around bees and someone or other would come along and a friend of ours who was dating a woman went for a walk in our land saw me working with the bees, being around the bees and liked something that I was doing and invited me to teach at Organic Growers School which is a lovely thing going on in this area. Another woman from Turkey, friend of a friend came to visit and she liked about how I was being in the yard invited me to teach in Turkey and that kind of opened my invitations to the world. So really I have been busy with my bee yard which I call my sanctuary, loving all the bees and that opened up into the most wonderful, wonderful path that I feel such a privilege around as my inclination has always been non-chemical in the way I would treat my dogs or cats or organic gardens and when it came to bees even though the best advice in bee school which was wonderful the first year in many ways and I came away feeling that it was almost illegal to not use chemicals on the bees and there was no way I was going to do that. I just stayed with my inclination as were many people and there were more and more people coming out of natural bee club (laughs..). There is lot more people who stand in that place but it has taken up some years to discover each other. Thank goodness for social media and a beautiful online opportunity like this.
LuAnn: I agree, I agree. You mentioned in your writings and teachings that bees inspire mindful, conscious living practices. Would you describe and tell us what that looks like?
Debra: What’s interesting about being with bees if we are paying attention and when we are not (laughs..), one of the ways that they get our attention is stinging but honey bee doesn’t sting casually. It has a barb on its sting unlike every other stinging creature unlike wasps, hornets, jackets which are smooth stingers. When honey bee sting, they sting larger than our skin and they die. So I am never happy to get stung from a point of view of life that would be lost because of my lack of mindfulness. Mostly honey bees don’t sting unless you are a beekeeper and in rare situation you are about to step on a flower or something. So over the years of being with bees what I know is certain ways around them in bee sanctuary it was a better, more balanced situation like if I was very present and focused on why I was there, carrying a clear intent, moving fluidly, slowing down as it is so easy to be in busy in life, busy in monkey minded especially (laughs…) so slowing down and maintaining a positive attitude, respectful attitude entering the humility into their space and not assuming that I know what’s going on any given day and let go off my notion and trying to really be present and holding an intent to be there for the benefit of another which is bees rather than human centric intention asking permission to … asking permission to enter the hive listening to them and all of these things. I am in my yard every day, not in hive but in yard everyday that I am not on the road so when you’re practising and then bringing consciousness to these qualities because they benefit the relationship and help build the relationship and you are there day in day out, week in week out, month in month out and what I realized one day is that if these things were practised and these quality aspect of this practice was same as any spiritual tradition I have ever heard of and in so doing that over the years, wonderful feelings start to develop as come with the practice like appreciation, devotion, feelings of grace, reverence, compassion and everything that is part of living in this benevolent universe which I believe is benevolent. That changed my life. I realize beekeeping wasn’t beekeeping but I was never comfortable with that language but it is also a sacred practice and that bees which is never the livestock with me, were a sacred relationship and my past roots them was to learn and not being a commerce in any way. So that really changed my life as I step forward into the bee world, I started to meet people who were also feeling, when I started first beekeeping and it was a different horizon which was ten or twelve years ago but now there is whole set of people stepping out but it took a whole lot of time to find each other. One of my elder friends, Grandmother Redlea she talked about calling back the medicine and she gave language to something that I would also experience with bees that if you were doing something, chopping wood, carrying water, looking after bees, being mindful with all these different qualities, we create the invitational field where medicinal wisdom can arise in our consciousness and I found that time after time and I think that can be true of anything that we are doing in such a way whether it’s bees or cats or dogs or children or plants or garden or whatever. We have the capacity to call that the medicine depending on how we walk with loving presence in the world and that is one of the things coming into the beekeeping that may not have been on horizon when I started.
LuAnn: I love that calling back the medicine. I have noticed that you have spoken about the people who have influenced you. One thing I noticed when I looked into becoming a beekeeper is that it is very much a male dominated field. When I have gone to workshops, they have all been taught by men and in the documentaries even most if not all of the interviewees are men. This seems to be changing and I am getting a sense that just like what you were talking about, it is moving into a more sacred experience for people that there are also more women beekeepers today. Is this something that is new or has always there been women beekeepers or do you think the feminine aspect that that women represent that is changing the way of beekeeping?
Debra: I think in terms of contemporary times, there is a huge change and there is more women getting into beekeeping than ever and from my point of view it happened around 2006 when economy collapse disorder where this may mean a phenomenon where a lot of bees have died and then lost, disappeared from hive overnight. It is kind of the beginning of challenging times for bees although it has been challenging for a while and kind of gotten more into crisis. I think lot of women stuck into bees not because of commerce because of compassion spots securing spots so there is unprecedented number of women are with bees more than in the history of human and bees. I think before and this is just kind of my take on things that it is not that women were not involved with bees but much more male influenced much more man is predominant beekeepers and women may have been assisters helping with honey harvesting. Back in time, if you look at the book of Layne Redman who was a wonderful, wonderful woman writer, film maker, drum teacher person in the world unfortunately passed away few years ago. She was a friend who lived in Nashville in the last years of her life. She wrote a book called “When the Drummers Were Women” and she does a huge histories of drum and women and histories of women and sacred lineages and Goddess we all have heard of and discovered in her research that a lot of the women that lot of the Goddesses that anybody might recognize and many of them were beekeepers and bee priestesses. When you look into that, history is not my strong forte but if you look at the qualities that I experience and explained that I experience in bee hive that are so sacred and I understand how spiritual lineages of women would have incorporated bees for sure. In these times of colony collapse disorder which come from in my opinion the widespread use of chemical treatments and pesticides in gardens and agriculture, precious swamps which is a very natural reproduction phenomenon of bees. Modern queen gleaning practices where queens are killed and replaced frequently, artificial insemination even where bees live in and even what we have selected for and a lot of these come from a form of practice that didn’t have very much of the women weighing in, in my opinion and women have stepped up. One, it is interested that I get emails weekly, sometimes phone calls, facebook messages, like one I got yesterday. I got one from a woman who lives in Tennessee -- I live in a rural area and most of the beekeepers are men so far the ones that I talk to are pretty reluctant to mentor women, not to mention someone who doesn’t want to use chemicals. So this is widespread and one of the things that I feel and do is connect people like this with other people who can help because there is lot of people who are interested in natural, non-chemical approach to bees but not everyone is finding one in their own bee communities. So with the emerging feminine, with women’s way in the yard it is changing beekeeping and I have wonderful men bee loving friends and I could also say that restoring the balance between the male and female, the masculine and feminine within us so it isn’t just about gender but lot of women are also stepping into beekeeping so the qualities we are bringing in are listening to the bees a little more. There is a tradition of talking to bees that goes back across centuries called telling the bees which is beekeeper talking about the family news, births and marriages and deaths, meaningful human events. When beekeeper dies, black crepe or some marking were made on the hive sometimes to let the bees so that they wouldn’t leave. So that is the tradition of telling bees but there is also the same tradition of listening to the bees that is necessary. When I think, a lot of women are inclined to do that. I put my ear to the hive everyday and I listen for wellness and take in the energy of the hive. There is little bit of asking permission from the hive to get in. Women tend to paint the hives and create something of beauty as a king of adding to the field of welcome and enchanted love. There might be sacred things in the yard and my bee yard is sanctuary which a lot of women would say that there is art too so I have lot of things around that are prayers for people and well wishing for the bee, luckily intentional helpful things. We name our hives that kind of creates intimacy and relationship and puts relationship rather than bee as business. I lay down in my yard in that year that I was really really sick when I had bees the first year that really changed my life to be in the bee energy and I am sure that is very much why I got well. So there is a different presence that feminine always brings and I am seeing almost daily people coming into me and other women I know who are beekeepers who are kind of out there a little bit more. Hearing from women with relief, gratitude and cheers that basically are their inclination to love bees than anything else. It isn’t some marginalized hippy, freaky thing to do -- (laughs)
LuAnn: I like it. It seems like whatever you take care of you begin to actually fall in love with it. The more you take care of it the more love you feel for it but I love telling the bees that women are bringing listening to it. That is wonderful especially in the sanctuary. So you have talked about balancing the male and the female and if that can be a challenge in drawing out the feminine in all of this. But there is a tendency that many of us especially today have where we want to go about acting, but we don’t reflect as much and we don’t have time to process what is going on and I think you are bringing out the listening and it is a good example of how the bees have changed you but there is a tendency also we don’t allow ourselves time to grieve and there is so much going on politically, environmentally, and personally and you have talked about bees in terms of medicine and healing and also grieving the loss of your bees. I would like you to describe this and how we can apply that to our own lives? There is so much loss in feeling and I don’t think we are actually processing that.
Debra: I am so grateful that we can spend some time on this. Grieving the loss of bees is a more a feminine inclination and doesn’t have a place in bee schools. The bee schools are wonderful. There is a lot in North Carolina and there is lot in this country and other places. In the bee school there are wonderful volunteers and are very hard pressed to fetch a lot of information into a weekend or a eight week course or something like that. So I have an understanding of that but to not mention it is a big oversight in my opinion. Nowhere in bee school that I understand how I am going to feel when I lost the first hive. No one in the so called natural beekeeping profession or non-chemical beekeeping -- everyone of us will lose a hive at some point. No absolute guarantees with the path but a committed natural beekeeping practices by more and more people is making a difference, it just involves all of us. When I lost my first hive in the fourth winter of keeping bees, I sobbed for four months and I understand what grieving is for me but I feel like in some ways when I travel the world I give women and men the permission to grieve that they feel and process it as it is very important. In the statistics of bee loss in United States, we gotten to lose thirty percent of our bees, so unbelievably high. That is normal statistics. Three years ago we almost lost fifty percent but I don’t know about this winter’s statistics as I have been away but it is in the forty percent. I am going to be in Canada end of August and I heard in Victoria and on that island, they lost between forty and fifty percent of their bees. One of my most favorite beekeepers in Turkey lost fifty percent of the bees. They are not all dying but the statistics of loss has increased and the grieving to me is one of the most purifying, cleansing exercises that we can have. It is not a waste of time and it is not a grueling marginalized thing to do but it is holy work and so I wrote a piece on my website called holy bee press. On the right side there is a column called Descansos for the bees that describes my first loss of the bees and what I did and that has given lot of people permission again in contacting me a lot over the years and marking the loss of their bees by making a shrine or altar or doing a ceremony and simply giving them permission to cry. When a hive dies, it is a loss in the family which is around fifty or sixty thousand bees if it is type of Italian bees which is what we have in most of America. So there is one bee and fifty thousand bees and in each colony there is a felt sense of presence and being, pretty much any beekeeper will be able to express that. When a hive dies, it is a loss to the family and descansos for the bees discusses that and it also mentions the work of a wonderful Kaylynn Sullivan Two Trees is a friend who created a shrine for the bees that is described in that article. She does wonderful work in the world and the wonderful Sobonfu Somé who passed in the recent years from Burkina Faso in Africa and she was roaming the world doing lot of grief rituals, work and workshops and she taught the importance of grieving and hanging on to old pain kind of makes it grow and smothers our creativity and joy and our ability to connect with others. I think in a broad scale, whether is bees or pretty much any life form: dogs, or cats or humans the grieving the loss of these connections is something that is really important for our emotional, spiritual and physical lives and if I could give permission or create a safe field for anybody to feel ok about grieving then I would feel my work is very blessed that way. It is a natural response that rises among women and many lovely men I know too. One last thing on this is there is a doctor in our area Dr. Chad Krusel and he wrote an article that talked about the causes of death in America which I always thought was cancer because so many friends of mine had died, people with great lifestyle, close friends between mid-thirties and mid-sixties who have had all kinds of cancers and he said that the number one cause of death in America is heart disease and if we really really look at what that is all about that a whole great body of people are dying of heart disease. What does that say about our capacity as a group of people to grieve, the importance of it, the positive expression of grief is healing. I think grief expressed is one of the ways that we can also care for the bees. This is a way of cleansing the environment, the space around them and it is not about buying new bees or giving up but to really mourn loss of who died as a relationship and moving forward with respect with the new lives that we can be part of.
LuAnn: Do you experience the hives, I mean each individual hike because you name them, do you experience those hives as personalities?
Debra: Absolutely. I think any beekeeper, no matter their practice, when they are able to spend time around their hives as opposed to high end commercial people who can have thousands of bees up to sixty thousand hives, I don’t even see how it is possible to be in relationship with hives. Most of the backyard beekeepers are not doing this for commercial reasons. If you spend any time with the hive, I have two of them that I am thinking of that are in my yard that are so different from each other that one get up earlier and the other one will stay out later. One is little feistier than the other and the other is mellow and if you use all your senses and you spend time or build relationship you can understand the differences and the similarities and how do we get to know that entity, that superorganism family of beings is one colony as opposed to another colony that helps the relationship and provides information about their care and how to be around them and to discern what is it that they actually need and what they don’t need from us (laughs…)
LuAnn: That is amazing. Have you noticed when there is a hive that collapses for whatever reason, do the other hives seem to be aware of it? Can you tell if they are, are the other hives now gone?
Debra: I have lost one of my strongest hive last year to a raiding incident which is a freak robbing incident by other honey bees, not in my own yard but from somewhere else. One - these are highly attuned, sensitive, sensitive being so yes the nature of the life in the yard in the sanctuary changes and there is a resilience with the bees, there is a purposefulness with bees that are so inspiring that I don’t see them missing a heartbeat or stopping what they were doing. It was just sort of an accommodation to what is, kind of lovers of what is if you want to look at it from that point of view. So, my time spent with remaining hives is different. My grieving for one hive is evident to other bees so all that is taken in relationship. If for instance you have two dogs in a family and one dies, the dynamic of the family changes. The dynamics of the yard changed but the strongest perception and response to you is that the bees seems to be aware of everything from my point of view, continue without missing a heartbeat in your own purposefulness, resilience as much as they have in these times and intent to have a healthy life, to get the food they need, to raise the young in a beautiful way and to get ready for winter and keep meeting the cycles that are present in everyday and every season and they are so inspiring and they are resilient that way.
LuAnn: I like that. It is nice. You talked about bee colony collapse disorder but you also have an analogy to that of human colony collapse disorder and this really struck me because it seems that that’s what I have been feeling and experiencing personally and then recently especially witnessing this globally but you also have presented sort of an antidote to that and it is queen piping and I don’t know if anyone or many people have heard about queen piping but I know I didn’t until I heard the recording of it so would you explain a little bit about queen piping and then how we can bring that own understanding and practice into our own lives?
Debra: I would love to do that. It is interesting in these times without getting grim and I think so many life forms are challenged and that’s truly because we are all interconnected and it is not actual bumper sticker. We really are, any indigenous tradition, any wisdom tradition points to that. We are all sharing the same field of loving awareness and what’s going on in the world whether it is my life, many friends dying of cancer or I just came back from South Western and a friend of mine, a holistic vet Dee Blanco and she is wonderful. She told me that the statistics on dogs -- one in every two dogs will develop cancer by the end of their life. These are appalling statistics and we have seen a lot of bee death and at the same I am strangely hopeful because a lot of the people that I would have loved to come my way are doing marvelous things and a lot of them are quietly getting along with that like pomp and circumstance. To get on the subject of queen piping, why it has value is that many life forms collapse or challenge times points to is the way that some people are going with practices with the bees that are bringing intent and mindfulness to the relationship and noticing what is going on rather than needing with agendas or the very human centric thing that has been going on for what we need from bees looking at bees as providing honey for us, pollinating our crops and yes we do those things but I don’t believe they were not born to serve us. We are in a field of co-created life together that hopefully involves respect and with the phenomenon of queen piping actually I want to play a recording of 15 secs of it. This is the phenomenon I heard one night in my first year of bees. When I came home from a concert of Omar Faruk who had come to Asheville and who is in Asheville this week. Wonderful, wonderful man, my heart was blown out and I went to the bee yard because I couldn’t go to sleep and I was saying “Good night” to all hives and telling them that I love them and I do and I heard this :
(plays the sound and you hear bee buzzing ….)
Were you able to hear that LuAnn?
LuAnn: Yes, was able to hear the buzzing sound and then the distinct song.
Debra: Yeah, like a piping and then a cracking and again if there is some way I can make this clip available to anyone who want to hear this, please send me. I have never heard this in bee school. The next day I asked my mentor and as it is with many bees whatever the prevalent attitudes or explanations that are out there, there is still more mystery than not. It is when the queens are not yet born, it is usually a multiplicity of queen cells forming queens in them when the hive is about to have a queen succession for all the reasons they do and her thorax is pressing against the peanut shaped cell and it is just the most astonishing sound. Some people would say that it has to do with some kind of territorialism when she is born, some kind of battle cry for competing queens but the thing I found is that they are holy and very very sacred and I call the the song the song of the unborn virgins. When bees communicate with each other, the two of the strongest ways of communicating are vibration which is what this is and also dances. It called to my mind with my time with Uncle Bob Randall who is this unbelievable Australian aborigine elder from Yankunytjatjara. He passed a few years ago. He and his wife came to stay with my husband and I and he talked about song lines and he said that a song line is a song of creation that energizes a belonging, a connection with your place of creation with everyone in that place of connection that you are connecting to include all your family members and that is all the beings and not just humans but all beings including four legged winged creatures. There is also connection to the earth and each child, a tree or bee or animal is born to a particular song line and so when I heard this sound, it brought to my mind the song line and if you are beekeeper what you know is that in modern practices around eight years ago beekeepers were told that it is a good idea to re-queen every year or every two years and the queens can live four to five years natural and the rest of the bees: workers, and drones live for about six weeks so the queens have longer life but the commercial demands on bees and fulfilling the pollination contract that are such lucrative part of beekeeping in America these day, there is this practice of replacing queen bees every two years because of the notion that the young queen is more vital and more successful and what I find more distressing is that it is that things like that and also the practice of dispatching your queen replacing her with one bought from another colony so there isn’t this song line opportunity and it doesn’t always happen and when it happens it feels like it is really ancient way of knitting a colony where there is a mysterious connection present with all that is in my yard and that would be tulip, poplar trees with the ridges and the sunlight and the bears and turkey population and everything that’s around and that would be part of the family of being information connectedness. For a hive that would be a fracture activity in the commerce of things. I think we are doing something that fractures relationships and that is happening all over in our relationship with natural world and queen piping for me is such a kind of beacon for let us approach it in a different way. Rudolf Steiner wrote some wonderful stuff about bees back in the day and it is not this century, it is last century and he talked about bees and love and he also predicted that a lot of the genetic influence could get involved with beekeepers from late 1800’s when bee boxers who created bee boxes that let people get these for the first time and like they couldn't get in more traditional structure that once we got here.
When we got involved in the genetics, we started breeding for tameness of bees and honey producing and golden queens which is a fad for a long time. All these things that are so human centric would be the disservice and I wrote a letter to Rudolf Steiner in my mind that said I felt like with not paying attention to the song lines and to really listening to these as opposed to interacting with them with the agenda that we have that I feel like we're losing the wisdom, the health and resilience and sacred sound and well being that come from bees self determining the succession of their queens and we're forgetting the importance of the select the best day for their future queen candidates for all the various reasons that they do for their own divine purpose and we are diminishing their input about their future. We sort of become hasty and governed by commercial needs put before the welfare of bees. and I would say that there's a lot of poor stewarding practices that we're doing at the speed of light and really asking one of the hardest working creatures on Earth to work harder (sobs..). And of course they're going to disappear I mean they just can't keep up with what we're asking from them and it's breaking a lot of our hearts and that’s another reason to grieve so I think queen piping is interesting and there is a lot of other mysterious phenomena that are interesting that if we could spend time with those things in it from a place of humble, respectful discovery rather than assumption then I think we would learn so much more about what the bees actually need and are asking from us and that’s applicable not with just the bees but also with dogs, cats, eco trees, pigs, animals and anything alive, wherever we love to spend time with them and they will tell us what they need if we're in a relationship rather than in business with them.
LuAnn: I love that. I had recently watched a documentary where they took the queen and did exactly what you were saying but but they were showing how they were impregnating the new queen in order to put her in the hive and I'm not a beekeeper yet I am a beekeeper want to be and was so distressed just watching that documentary and that's what came to me after I had heard the queen piping and I will ask you so that you can go into it. The queen is making this sound and that's what I took it that it was her song and that she was sort of calling the collective and it allowed them to sort of the same thing is when we practice with “Aum” or any other meditative sound, it brings us into alignment with the energy and that's what I felt intuitively that she was doing so when it comes to the other bees and they place the queen the new queen that is not the one that they have learned that song, how do they react? What is their response?
Debra: Well, one of the ways when you introduce a queen from another hive into a queen that you dispatched or killed the queen in, which I’ve never done and never will do but it is the practice specially commercial entities, she has to be introduced in a box. So you take a queen from another hive or where that's been bred in a queen breeding operation and you put her in a small box with a lot breathability with a couple of her worker bees and a little bit of a candy club so that there’s some sugar that the worker bees can feed her and live on and you insert that box on the frame in the hive that's receiving her that doesn't have a queen and you wait till they eat your candy plug. It could be a day or two because if you put her right into that hive, hive that is very governed by pheromones and the the smell of their own queen so they're likely to kill her if they just put her right in the hive. If you put around the hive, it takes a day or so for them to get used to the fact that their queen is gone that hormone pheromone that she emanates has also gone with her and within a period of a day or two they will accept the new queen and they will allow it in and she will lay eggs and it will be a destiny for that colony so that's a pretty common practice in mainstream beekeeping and be who will accept about not right away and that I think there's something to that and so this is an expression called “queen right” in a hive. When a hive is you can just tell that over the years, they're well with the world, they’re doing what they know to do, they're healthy, beautiful smells and sounds coming out and there is this farm life, this is really in my opinion I really haven't heard anybody else talk about this let it be not be a surprise for talking some of my compadres I think I saw queen piping is part of many many ways that we don't even know about how hives sings and creates its rightness and how it is into being generation after generation towards the seven generations unborn and if we can be quiet enough, and agenda free enough around any natural life form that information some of the mysteries revealed to us but it's only when we're in a kind of receptive, humble, respectful place and also I think a great mystery is always with us but a lot of mysteries are there for us to understand if we just spend a quiet or less driven part of time.
LuAnn: And yes a lot of what I have learned about the bees recently through your writings and your resources are aligned with what I believe is true with plants and it just comes from a more holistic point of view so we are getting close to the time when we'll be taking questions from callers and I would like you to give us some advice on what we can do going forward? What we can do to help the bees?
I will admit yesterday I was on the road one of the things that I do is stop and get a coffee and usually a bag of nuts because I try to not eat quite so much sugar. I got in the car and sat down and said I have bought a bag of almonds and I had just promised myself I would never do that again and I will let you explain why and why I should not by almonds anymore but if you would tell us what we can do now and make sure that you mention what your your website is, what you're going to be doing next and even webinars all of it.
Debra: Sure I'm happy to do that and I'll be quick than other as we've got a question time now soon and reflection time soon.
I mean in terms of of my own world on holy bee press, I have a series called The Sacred Path of Bees you can find references on that. And what I'm doing is I will be in Canada end of August is doing a workshop on bees and being and I'll be in India in the fall, I’ll be back in Turkey next spring and all those times are usually on our website. More importantly here is what can people do when my presentations as like sort of what feels like a thousand ways or more keeping bees. A lot of people when they're asked how to help the top two pieces of advice are don't spray chemicals and plant something that is bee friendly and that's great advice but not everybody's a gardener, not everybody is spraying because they're not a gardener or they wouldn't anyway but that I'd like to kind of open it up to what activism is and get people outside of the box. If people can relate to something that actually is a natural inclination according to their own indigenous passion, friends of mine have done things like started Bee City USA and I have started organic parades in our area there's nurseries they're starting to provide plants that don't have pesticides in them. There's a farm to table that's restaurant taking pride in organic bee friendly produce and there are all kinds of entities teaching the children about how to not be afraid be bees, and demystifying things. Then there is chefs that use bees, in Ritz Carlton in New York have bees on their rooftops and using honey and bringing consciousness. Planting covered crops and not getting rid of and dandelions and importing foods. There's art, there's plenty of places I can tell you why people send me a close images all the time. There are definitely and not enough interesting beautiful images of bees on fabric and sock and if you keep wearing those things like I do, people would inevitably start up conversations and check on line and then you can get good information. A friend of mine Elaine created Hymns from the Hive, even compose music you know get a tattoo. But I think that's the most important thing is love is the ultimate activism and even if you're thing is a bee you love and that love pour out because it touches all of life. Love knows no boundaries or borders and if there's one thing I've heard from them hundreds of presentations to children who are some of my highest teachers over the years is I share a bunch of really fun things and they come away with great information -be the single thing that impressed them time after time is when an adult often dressed in antennae and wings and they love bees as much as they love their dogs, cats, best friends and parents and that is that love thing that touches and perfuses people and that is a total game changer and so if you love bees or if you love anyone just prepare to fall in love and let that generosity and gratefulness for whoever that is well up and out of you so overwhelmingly that you're flowing that love out of a basin and just it will touch a life and change of life even if we don't see how that works in the big picture and when loving bees are concerned I mean I think just start planning to say thank you for all the blessings that being around them will be because thank you will never feel adequate. They're just marvelous marvelous beings what we call an angel architected the precious winged bees the bearers of life and they change our life and help us fall in love for life forever possible and they bring us home to ourselves to home sweet home I like to say.
LuAnn: Thank you so much.I have been so inspired by reading your work, seeing what you're doing out in the world and and talking to you just has been mind changing and life changing experience so I thank you very much for spending the Saturday with me. I have new seeds that I'm going to plant and I have now redesigned one aspect of my yard that I had decided was going to go one way in and now it's going to go another way so you know.
Debra: Well, thank you for the privilege and I’m really so grateful for your questions and the lovely way you navigate and I know that bees are going come into your life and that really excites me.
LuAnn: Oh good good. I'm ready for him. They're so precious I had a wonderful spring with the bees in the meadow and so I'm excited ready. I'm ready to have more of them in my life so yeah.
Pavi: Thank you so much LuAnn for moderating this initial part of our conversation and there's a lot buzzing. And just a reminder to our colleagues in the last half hour of the call if you'd like to ask a question you can write in to us at email@example.com or you can unmute and ask a question just press star six and you'll be added to the queue. We have several reflections, beautiful reflections that have come in from listeners and readers. I mean here is one of them Kaylynn Twotrees: So much of the conversation I hear about the bees and the decline seems to be focused on what the loss is for humans, pollinators of our food source. What can we add to that conversation that acknowledges the bees' embodiment of love and their connection to the stars. Their decline on this planet says something about the health of this planet in the whole cosmic system. They link us to the stardust from which we are made. They are the heart of our ancestral remembering
Debra: Thank you Kaylynn. Oh Gosh. Thank you.
Pavi: I had several more but I'm going to take the privilege of jumping in and asking a few questions of my own and at this point and what if we just rewind the tape a little bit and go back to that time when you said you were a filmmaker burning the candle at thirteen and then you completely changed the direction of yours and I find it very clear that you're doing exactly what you're meant to be doing in this world and
I was wondering if you could share a little bit about the trajectory that led up to you becoming a filmmaker and led you to visiting Hopi elder, could you fill in those years for us a little bit maybe and some of their early influences and inspiration from the seeds that were planted in your life?
Debra: I’d be happy to. I have been into art and spirituality all my life. I have had chapters of having theater troupes, being in acting, being in dancing and choreography and some craft things like that and each have come into my life really unplanned and strong enough when John I moved from New Mexico to North Carolina I had sort of for me, I have chapters of whether I remembered my dreams or not but I had for the first month that we were here I had a dream every single night that I was making a film. I had no plans to make films and in a dream I was looking for four million dollars and a crew and a captain. I didn't know what I was doing and it was kind of wearing me out and Joe in his infinite wisdom said Debra if something is speaking to you from your dream time then it is happening in byte size and may be able to integrate it and from that good advice I stopped dreaming about making films and then a week later I met a woman named Glenis Redmond who's a marvelous poet and friend and I decided to make video about her life. And so I did and I learned to make documentaries by making a documentary of hers.
And then at the same time I saw that movie called Starship Troopers which was a blockbuster horrible film few made but it was horrible and it got a lot of the whole Captain perfect and look like they were Malibu and well fed and Americans and went off to kill these poor spiders that it was so on the side of on this planet and I called Sony and I found a producer was willing to talk to me and I can’t remember what it was like some zillion dollars and between the dreams and that movie that I was making and I felt that gauntlet had been dropped in for me it's like well someone can make something really horrible for millions of dollars and I could make better things for way way less. All of that conspired for me to make documentaries and I had a wonderful, wonderful time making a lot of children's environmental pieces a lot of pieces for artists and all stuff that I believed in mostly service to different populations which I’ve enjoyed and with regards to elders one of the things that Joe and I feel the privilege of is we've just sort of stumbled sideways into relationships with people from a lot of different traditions and who become family like Bob and I can't about Uncle Randall from Australia and people from Africa and people from Hindu religion and Native American elders just it's kind of unfolding in our life kind of got magnified when we got married and so we feel the blessing of elders, we feel the profound responsibility that comes from really having lovely elder people to treasure in your life and it came when called an older person old person who is not who's older than me but not an old person it's definitely one of those people who I hope would be the subject of an Awakin call as well. She is one of the astonishing people in my life and her eloquent quote is reminds me of a conversation she and I had about bees where we were talking about the expression the canary in the coal mine which comes from a tradition of bringing canary even to coal mines where canary starts singing and killed over as the miners who put their gear on to get out of the mine and there is an expression that come about colony collapse disorder would be that the bees are the canary in the coal mines is an indicator species for you know how all of life is doing which is like a kind of challenge right now but in my conversations with Kaylynn, our perspective we shared is that it's a great expression to indicate something but how about looking at the canary as an indicator rather than a canary as someone with the right to wellbeing as bees also have the right to wellbeing. So I hope that kind of touches along some of what you wanted.
Pavi: I know absolutely. I am also curious about your childhood, were there any kind of biggest influences in your life as you were growing up and also maybe leading into what your first memorable experience with bees?
Debra: Well, let me answer the last part of that first. I never planned to be a beekeeper but I've always loved animals and it felt like it took me till twenties to get a little bit of the hang of humans and probably till my thirties to feel the privilege of being a spirit in human form. Animals, birds the insect world was always easy for me and my preference. I remembered after becoming a beesteward, I flashed on this time as a young girl, little older than a toddler -- we had a very safe neighborhood my parents let me wander around -- I remember picking up honeybees from our sidewalk -- we lived in a suburb of Chicago. And we had a lot of DDT sprayed in our area. It’s a marvel I don’t have three arms and four legs. We had all kinds of chemicals sprayed in ours street to keep the Dutch Elms alive so between that and probably the bees just naturally being at the end of their lives I would find honeybees sometimes I would pick them up on my finger I had no fear and would go all the way around our block to our garden and put them on a flower. So there was something about my relationship to bees that was just kind of instinctive. And in terms of formative relationships as a child I’d say the two strongest ones were my maternal grandparents who were Illinois farmers who were kind and gentle and never had a cross word ever in my experience with them always deeply appreciative and respectful in their relationship with cows and pigs and chickens. I’m glad they passed before the genetic crops came in -- I think it would have broken their hearts for understandable reasons. My other big influence, my parents had a great acceptance -- especially my mother but also my father of the way I was as a child. And my first playmate was a Blue Man -- I’ve said this to very few people -- a tall Blue Man under our dining room table who was invisible to everyone else. I remember playing with him for hours and hours. My mother would let me get on with playing with him as a toddler. And he was a wise safe being and I remember it took me awhile to get used to human thinking and choices and there was a grounding there in something very sweet and authentic. So there’s an answer.
Pavi: Beautiful that you had such nurturing from your parents and grandparents as well. And it’s a phenomenal story of you carrying honeybees back to your garden. So indicative of what was to come. We have a question that’s come in from Mish Rosen who says: Debra 🐝 : A truly wonderful & fascinating listen. Thank you. I am buzzing with curiosity ..... 2 Questions: - Do you feel Colony Collapse is environmentally caused, or, might it be possible that the turmoil in our world and the energies therefrom might be affecting the bees? - I communicate with the feral cats I care for by sharing eye contact...they respond to my call, they can be affectionate with me. Wondering how this is done with bees...can they be affectionate & if so, how? What are the ways you and the bees share yourselves with one another? Thank you, Mish in NYC
Debra: Beautiful question! I’d like to spend time with everybody over tea. In terms of colony collapse I think all of its true. The obvious answers that people give that I agree with are -- a very polluted environment, the use of RoundUp which is devastating for bees, and also devastating for humans and dogs and cats etc , encroached habitats, current breeding practices with bees that are governed by commercial intent, killing queens each year, discouraging swarms which is a generative way for bees to express themselves and reproduce, and I also feel definitely bees are so so sensitive they are lovers of sunlight, they relate to sunlight amongst many invisible queues to go as far as five miles to get what they need and come back exactly to the hive so these finely tuned sensitive beings in my opinion are definitely affected by the whole field of what’s there including what’s invisible and those are the things that aren’t always given the research dollars which to me ultimately doesn't matter. I don’t navigate my life through “experts”. And so when I go to the bee yard, all those things that I mentioned, the calmness, the loving presence, the being slow, the being respectful and humble all of those things are ultimately an energetic expression, expressions of my energies and intent and those in my experience count more than anything. More than anything if I bring a loving presence and all the adjectives that are around that, all the practices around that, I don’t personally experience them as affectionate like a puppy might be affectionate, but I feel their ease and a seamlessness between where I start and they begin. The seeming edge between species disappears and we co-create, we co-exist in the same space and the felt perceptions of that is unbelievably beautiful and I think we all have a sense of that whether it’s with bees or some other life form that we live. SO definitely I’ve experienced those things. If a bee lands on my hand because it’s come back with a big load of pollen and my hand is near the hive and serves as its resting place, I'm certainly feeling affection, it’s certainly feeling safe and not threatened by my presence, and that so gladdens my heart I can’t even tell you. Lovely questions.
Pavi: That description of feeling their ease where you end and they begin and the seamlessness of that, that’s remarkable, and something that we can tap into in any relationship. And that really is the practice.
I think that’s the only thing going on actually. It’s just our perception of boundaries and human agendas, our fears, our stress that’s manifesting all of these things promote a kind of edge thinking, a kind of territorialism when in fact the natural world is just busy extending itself in all the ways that we do and if we can cultivate some kind of quiet, whether it’s a formal practice with meditation or simply walking or time spent in nature - whatever it is - everyone has an inclination to something, if we can do that and get quiet enough then we can become present enough to then come into relationship which is always on tap and always available if we can show up for it.
That is reminding me of something we do here and in other parts of the world called Karma Kitchen -- it’s a pay-it-forward restaurant where we take over a regular restaurant and bring in volunteers and take all the prices off the menu and the idea is - what happens when we take the transactional element out of eating together. And does that drop us into a place where we are actually able to see the ways we are connected and does that change the conversation, does that change our experience? And it does! We are ten years into it now, and it’s been remarkable. And what I think is really intriguing about the work that you’re doing is that you’ve chosen not to go the commercial route with it. Could you speak a little more about that? [1:14:35]
Debra: Yes it’s been my natural inclination. We fell out of relationship with bees...and into business where bees became like livestock. Many life forms are treated as livestock. It just never was in me and when I started beekeeping which was twelve or thirteen years ago there were not a lot of people out there, who I was aware of, who had the same inclinations. But in fact, they were there, we were all just in the closet and we emerged. I have a list that began - if there is someplace I can add it, post it or share it - of my top beekeepers in the world from the Netherlands to England to a lot of people around the US, who actually were quietly getting on with natural practices - compassionate practices - very much resonate with this conversation. But just kind of off the radar and as I go around the world, I feel like one of my jobs is just too...people come to me all the time and say, "well, I don't want to use chemicals", "I don't want to feed my bees sugar water...take their honey and feed them sugar water" is a predominate thing. "I do not want to kill the queens". I am able to reflect back their compassionate choices as of sane, not marginalized thing. I am kind of mother confessor for beautiful people who have beautiful inclinations who are not able to find that in a lot of - not all - of some of the contemporary practices and mindsets. There are more people out there like that, it is just taking us awhile to find each other. With the strengthening of that, the blessing of knowing that yes, a relationship with bees is the thing, the rest is what it is. That growing and changing beekeeping into bee tending, bee stewarding, bee minding, bee caring all that is an effort in language to reflect what it is that is true, most true, about our relationship with bees that is gaining ground these days.
Pavi: So, with your bees, you don't collect honey or use the wax or anything. You are
holding space for them to just thrive?
Debra: Yes. I am mostly doing that. I only harvested twice in all my years and actually about two months ago was one of the times. I just had an abundance of honey and I let the honey accumulate for the bees. I have what I call a honey bank. I just have the frames available so that when a new colony comes into my life or catches swarm or a low food season, I have frames of honey to give the bees. Then I had such an excess I was able to harvest some as thank you presents for people. You do end up naturally with some excess wax just through life with the bees. Sometimes colonies die. There are things that happen. I am actually in this week going to explore how to make a solar wax melter and use it for something caustic projects and offer to share with other artists who do that. Mostly, I leave the everything for the bees and there are definitely mindful ways you can harvest honey if beekeepers can wait a year. If they get bees in the spring - that is usually how people start - wait until the next spring when, what is called the 'honey flow: really intense nectar times, begin. Then what you have extra you could take some of that for your family and then leave some for insurance purposes for the bees. There's ways to be mindful about that in general, but the mainstream practices could be more mindful than they are.
Pavi: Thank you so much for opening all of these little windows of wisdom for us. I was thinking about how in our world we have such a 'human centric' view of existence and such a value - at least in the mainstream - that we place on human intelligence and it blinds us in many ways to the many many other forms - myriad of forms of intelligence that exist in the world. Can you speak a little to us about what you have learned about bee intelligence?
Debra: To me, there is nothing that is not intelligent about bees. I feel like if I step into their space of the colony or if I tune in - I don't actually have to be with them. If we are around bees we don't have to literally be around them. I am more finely calibrated, if I am really there; again, with all those qualities - being calm and present and loving and respectful and humble, then I have an opportunity to recalibrate as a spirit in the human form, that is palpable. I feel more humming inside, I feel more balance, I feel mind, body and spirit more aligned. It is why my bees are my sanctuary. It is why bees are very holy beings as far as I am concerned. I think that intelligence exists with every life form. So that is why when people say "how can I help the bees", I say well "who do you love" and it fits...if it doesn't happen to be bees. I have friends who love Pomeranian dogs. I think if we align with the intelligence of whoever it is that we love, that is part of the conspiracy of love and the opportunity of love of being a spirit in any kind of form - especially human - is what I have come to learn in this life on this planet. That all the wisdom in the world is around us all the time if we are quiet and spectral enough and intentional enough, loving enough, present enough to receive what is there. It is a holy business, this living. We pay attention.
Pavi: Are there any unique capacities or manifestations that the bees bring about. I think for many of us this is very new territory in terms of understanding the bees life and I was really moved when you were speaking earlier and we were tearing up when you were talking about "we are asking the hardest working creatures on the planet to work harder" and for those of us who may be bee novices, could you share a little bit about the beauty and the magnificence and the wonder of these creatures and what they do?
Debra: Some of the presentations I do are just about that. When I talk about the alchemy and the making of honey which is the true miracle. Or the evolution of the bees and the flowers that came into the world 50 million years ago together or the wonder of the bee making a journey from a flower that’s five miles away, having exquisite capacity to find the way all the way back to the hive with a heavy load of beautiful pollen. When I experience Queen Piping, when I am around - if I lift a frame of bees if I do go into a hive for a particular reason and just - if I am quite enough just being a holy witness to festooning which is the young worker bees making chains which I called lace in a very Cirque du Soleil fashion, because it’s part of the process of making comb, when I smell the virgin wax which is one of the most relaxing beautiful essences on Earth….really if I could myself anything more than an educator, sharing inspiration from bees as to how they’ve changed my life and the marvelous things they naturally do -- if I can do that well it doesn’t matter if anybody has bees-- it’s more that you need to be appreciators more than beekeepers. And if we can just hold an appreciation for the magic and utter mystery and holiness of what these bees get on with doing despite our trashing the environment to their last breath, even when they are not well -- it’s so inspiring that we come away as better people. And I feel like I am a better person because of these six-legged Rinpoches.
Pavi: Six-legged Rinpoches - that’s beautiful! I’m going to go to our next caller here. Thank you Debra!
Wendy: Hi Debra this is Wendy from Half Moon Bay. It’s always such a pleasure to listen to you.
Debra: Thank you and Hi Wendy!
Wendy: So I am also a bee appreciator and I’m just looking at my back yard and I’m wondering how do bees relate to other beings in the yard? How do they relate maybe you could tell us a bit more about the relationship with flowers and how are they relating to butterflies or hummingbirds?
Debra: Well it's a great question. I think the wholeness you refer to, that’s just who they are. Except for the situation if I have a hive and like happened last year it got robbed by another colony -- that happens in the times when there's less food and sometimes it's a freak event that hasn't happened much in my life it does happen sometimes, but that that's just a very particular thing. The bees out in your garden out in the field and the bushes and every other pollinator under the sun, moon and stars are generally very simpatico with each other you know I might have the occasional hornet that is a predator of an occasional honey bee but it’s not a situation in my part of the world. It’s a one off minor thing. Generally, bees, wasps, yellow jackets, beetles, ants -- if you see fields of buckwheat and clover -- cover crops which are great for pollinators and somebody talked with me about this the other day. I set a chair by our buckwheat field once because you can attract hundreds of pollinators we have about 4500 in our region and I swear about all of them turn up and you see how they are working the nectar. It’s not generally a competitive situation in a natural, healthy world. It's actually very inspiring if you can be around the garden like you are and just put yourself in the way of all the beings just interacting in their way, getting on with their intent they're all seeking some kind of nectar and pollen they're pollinators and that includes ants and beetle and moths and butterflies and every kind of stinging and non-stinging creature and it's a real great example of what could be possible of humans if we could you know remember ourselves.
Debra: And if people were listening to the OWL network and the Awakin Calls more we have this opportunity to remember who we truly are.
Wendy: Thank you so much Debra.
Pavi: This call has just flown by. We have one last question that we ask all our guests and that is, what can we as the extended ServiceSpace/Awakin Calls community do to support and further your work in the world?
Debra: Golly what’s been so interesting is that the things that have gotten posted already -- I’ve been traveling and haven’t done Facebook for months -- I had so many people sending me the links to this call that I have to say already -- I’ve heard from friends I haven’t heard from in a long time. I thank you for what you’re already doing and how you are doing it. Focusing on great subjects and doing the work -- the logistics on how this kind of thing actually works how you can call and talk to the world is totally beyond me! So the balance of right brain left brain good hearted people involved in all of this I just say continue to do what you are doing and I am deeply grateful to you.
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