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To Bee or not to Bee

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart. How, in our modern world, can we find our way to understand the earth as a gift again, to make our relations with the world sacred again? I know we cannot all become hunter-gatherers- but even in a market economy, can we behave ‘as if’ the living world were a gift?” - Robin Wall Kimmerer

Image ©Maria Prymachenko



Reciprocity


Living World


Relations


Sacred


Gift

Whenever I read something that strikes me, I reflect on its significance. Why was that so interesting or important? Then I pick out the words that stand out and reflect on why those words stood out. Finding meaning in life has become theoretical for me... stuck behind a computer 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. We have become so disconnected to the world around us. Reading a quote like this feels far from the societal values we are currently surrounded by. Sacred, living world vs. commodification..........


Cultural identity, traditional lifestyles and connection to nature have always been important to me though, and I find myself driven more than ever to reconnect with the land and my heritage. Having grown up on a farm in the Ukrainian belt of rural Saskatchewan, nature played a major role in my life....bee’s wax for pysanky, honey for kutia (Ukrainian wheat soup), pidpenky (Ukrainian mushrooms), (viburnum) berry picking , gardening, foraging and spending time in nature in general was how I spent every day of my childhood with Baba and Gido. With the ongoing cultural genocide and invasion of Ukraine, I have been reading and reflecting on Ukrainian traditions and connections with nature and reciprocity with the living world.

This weekend marks a special time in Ukraine, a time to make pysanky and celebrate the new life that spring brings with it and the return of the sunshine.


The tradition of writing pysanky dates back to ancient times and has been practiced in Ukraine for millennia. The word pysanky comes from the Ukrainian word “pysaty”- to write. So in the case of what we call pysanky, writing on eggs, the yellow yolk of the eggs represents the sun and pysanky are designed with complex geometric shapes and other designs symbolizing new life surrounding the return of the sun. Each symbol has its own meaning: chicks representing fertility, deer representing strength and fertility or bees a symbol of hard work. In Ukraine, pysanky are believed to have the power of protection. Traditionally, the eggs were placed under beehives to insure good production of honey. They were also believed to protect households from evil spirits, catastrophe, lightning and fires. Pysanky were placed in several places around the home and even in barns. Now more than ever decorating pysanky has become a symbol to protect Ukrainian culture and heritage as Russians continue to ravage Ukraine.

As I prepared to welcome my Ukrainian Carpathian bees this spring, I planned on painting my bee boxes yellow and blue like the Ukrainian flag. I couldn’t wait for their arrival and thought about what it meant to the bees that the Ukrainian farmers would be unable to plant their crops this year. I eagerly awaited their arrival only to learn weeks later that it wasn’t possible to ship them because of the war. Even the bees are affected. (I was happy to hear that 3 Russian soldiers were attacked and killed by bees shortly afterwards and 25 others were badly injured). I suppose those bees had some business in Ukraine. Mother Nature knows.

Reciprocity


Living World

Relations


Sacred


Gift


I’ve been looking forward to making honey for some time. I spent several summers working for a local beekeeper as a teenager. The weight of the honey in the frames, the warmth and stickiness of the honey pouring over my hands as I uncapped heavy frames, the odd sting paining straight through to the heart, the smell of sweet clover, the steady buzz. Working with bees is incredibly satisfying since it is a multi-sensory experience. The smell, touch, taste, feel and sound senses are all awakened. And it doesn't stop at that....


Beekeeping connects a person to nature in ways beyond what most modern humans can imagine. The gift of the relationship between bees and the living world was something that hadn’t ever occurred to me until now. As I prepare for my bee family to arrive, I have to think about forage in a subarctic region. It’s not like Saskatchewan here with fields and fields of crops. Bees, in fact, are not native to subarctic or arctic regions since the summers are short and winters are long, harsh and extremely cold. A person needs to know what blooms and forage are available through every step of the way. I’m surrounded by bluffs, permafrost and evergreens. There are no farms. What are the subarctic wildflowers? Where are they specifically? How far will a bee travel for forage?What other trees or shrubs provide forage? I suppose some of these factors will change every year. I will need a bee diary to support the survival of my hives and certainly I will have to place a pysanky under each one.

Reflecting on this sacred relationship that requires “paying attention to the living world, receiving its gifts with open eyes and an open heart”…..it feels like a step in the direction of understanding the earth as a gift again and my relationship with it.


Beekeeping in the subarctic is certainly an entirely different reality than elsewhere. I have noted for myself the difference between beekeeping in nature in it's pure and natural state in a region with no pesticides and limited human development where honey is pure and free of chemical residues and relies on a reciprocal understanding and respect for the living world.

Reciprocity


Living World

Relations


Sacred


Gift


By the way, the name Melissa means honey bee.


Slava Ukraini!

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