Learning from the Bees: Reflections

It’s a drizzly day in Southwest Washington, with much needed blessing of tender rain. My luggage is unpacked (including the start of a rye skep that customs let me keep!), my emails answered, the house cleaned, and the garden tended.

These days since returning from the Natural Beekeeping Trust’s gathering in Holland, “Learning From the Bees,” I’ve been letting myself take the time to absorb, digest, and begin to sort the enormity of the offerings—and the profound implications— of those three very precious days.

The Trust will be assembling the videos of the presenters, so we will all be able to access the wisdom of so many, many innovative bee people and scientists. So rather than focus on the particulars (which we’ll be doing for the coming year in blogs and special classes), I want to share my perspective on the event as a whole.

The conference has impacted my bee-ing in three significant and very personal ways: First, I can finally consider myself a “weaver” after spending delightful days with skepper and bee wonder Ferry Schutzlaars. I have have all that I need now to start a one-woman skep revolution in America!

An impromptu “weaving class” sprouts up during breaks. Seeing this, I sense how deeply we humans connect with these straw hives. I believe this shape and the coils are embedded in the collective unconscious.

Second, Jacqueline and I were able to bring back many, many new tools and strategies for keeping our colonies healthy. From bee masters, scientists, and the bees themselves, the tools, tricks, and mysteries brought to that collective table in Holland will be feeding our local bee club for many, many moons. And I’ll be rewriting our beginner beekeeping series from the bottom up.

For example— and some ticklers—did you know that:

  • Mold is deadly for bees.
  • Corners in hives are a bad thing.
  • Drones travel to different hives after they hatch out. The drones you see in your hives are often not yours!
  • Bees are able to distinguish “Royal Lines” within certain bee eggs. These eggs are rare, and the only ones selected for supercedure queens. We have no idea how the bees determine this.
  • Book scorpions are millions of years older than honeybees, and have been a working member in hives for eons. But they can’t survive in managed, boxed hives. In fact, they are considered extinct in beehives. What can we do to bring them back?
  • Wax made for worker cells is different from wax made for drone cells. Or is it the larger hexagon that gives the wax a different property?
  • DNA in Seeley’s Arnot bees have revealed more than 600 changes brought about by natural selection in only 30 years’ time.
  • Propolis wicks water out like gortex. Who knew?


Thank you, Tom Seeley, for putting on paper what we have felt and sensed for so long.

The third gift from “Learning from the Bees” was helping us to better define who and what Preservation Beekeeping Council is. We sit at a huge table now of international natural beekeepers, each of whom has their niche. Some groups are global activists. Some are creating local sharing programs of bees and techniques. Some are producing bee art and literature. Others are hosting salons of inquiry and “deep beeing.” Some make bee research available to all online.

We realized that our contribution is “beeing local.” We are doing our teaching and outreach in one small town, helping change the bee laws, getting hives onto school grounds, and now envisioning a local bee sanctuary and food forest where foods grown with the help of our blessed pollinators would be donated to local food banks. Our website and FaceBook pages connect us to the international community, and infuse us with new ideas each day.

A bee weaver on one side, and a bee scientist on the other. I’m in such good company!

Another powerful intangible of the conference was the joy of sharing with like minded bee lovers. No one at this event needed to justify treatment free beekeeping, or organic beekeeping, or skeps, or logs, or rewilding bees. Thus, no energy was eaten up with self-defense. We were all able to share openly, freely, and were assured that our ideas would be respected and considered. I wonder just how much life force we give over each day to protecting ourselves from a sense of being under siege because of our way of being/beeing.

The energy of the conference was electric. Simply put, I believe it was swarm energy. Anticipation, preparation, exaltation, exhilaration, minds like colonies swirling up and coming back down into newly invigorated forms and gestures. We all felt this each day.

Here is another very personal takeaway for me: On the first day of the conference, Heidi Hermann gave a keynote speech that deeply struck my heart. Heidi is a wonderwoman of one-liners—simple sentences that keep you reflecting for days, weeks. Heidi said:
“Crime is the result of excessive selfishness.” and…
“No one will leave a prison a better person. Unless the prison keeps bees.”

Since coming home to the insanity of America, I realized that we are all criminals, even the best of us. We each sink daily into various pits of excessive self-interest and selfishness. We suffer the crimes of arrogance, cruelty, and greed. And we will not come out of this self-made prison better people—Unless we bring bees into our own personal dungeons of fear and deep despair. Here, in the personal purgatories that lie, bubbling, in the shadow if each heart, the bees work their magic. They have the power to bring us out of our cells where we can stand in the sunshine and listen to the voice of the bees on summer flowers.

Now, more than ever, we need this Learning—this Healing—from the Bees.