Bee Here Now
The email came early in the morning last Tuesday. Someone had a hive for sale in Albion (about 45 minutes' drive from my home). By Wednesday, it was here. We put it in the center of a raised flower bed and secured it to a platform of cinder blocks. It's nestled between a hodgepodge of trees and shrubs that have been here for some time, meaning, they know how to thrive in this place. Surrounding the bees, there is goldenrod, ceanothus, rock rose, and butterfly bush, along with a pear tree, an ailing peach, poppies, and several things I can't name.
The Albion beekeeper said to put branches in front of the hive's opening to slow the bees down as they first flew out to meet their new home, which we did. We blessed and welcomed them before removing the screen that blocked the opening. At first, the bees just tip-toed to the edge and peeked out. Then some of them began flying out and circling back, locking in the coordinates and practicing leaving home and returning. That's a life skill for all of us - recognizing home, being intrepid enough to leave, and then being able to find it again, along with its ancillary skill of finding ways to feel at home in an unfamiliar place, especially for those of us who were uprooted against our will.
The thing that surprised me most about the arrival of the bees was the palpable change in the energy here. The whole place immediately felt sweeter, calmer. Immediately. In the garden and even inside the house. It feels more whole, as if a rightness has settled over everything. Maybe it's that the bees know they're safe here, and that there are flowers and bee cousins - bumblebees, mason bees, and a host of fellow insects. Surely, they are aware that that there are hummingbirds, foxes, ravens, owls, swallows, deer, hawks, and a cranky Blue Heron that sleeps in the cypress trees at night. I wonder if the bees also know that, with their arrival, this place has become a genuine sanctuary, which the dictionary defines as a sacred place of protection from disturbance or attack. In my mind, I add that, with the arrival of the bees, it's now an island of intactness.
Sanctuary is not a static state. It's dynamic, constantly challenged and therefore in need of constant renewal. Sanctuary is proactive: being in a sacred space requires acting in a sacred manner. It requires vigilance, and not just from attack or predation, but from taking things for granted, making assumptions, thinking things will stay the same, or that we can go it alone.
In that sense, Sanctuary is more of a verb than a noun, starting with the recognition that protection can't be selective: we are only safe if all of us are here, together. It used to be that the inclusive all meant the endemic inhabitants of a place and its endemic dangers: yellow jackets, icy wind, honey-hungry bears. Now, the all that we must live with also means glyphosate, and the neighbor who sprays it. It means remembering that bees are not actually native to this place: they originated in the Middle East, spread throughout the Mediterranean, and eventually made their way to northern Europe, to be brought to North American by English colonists. It means remembering that we aren't native, either and that the way we live isn't the least bit natural.
Sanctuary means doing the best we can, given the situation we find ourselves in. It means remembering that we, too, are in danger. Sanctuary is the active recognition that things can and do change in a heartbeat; and the knowing that, for now, we have all that we need just by being who we are, here, in this place, at this moment, with all our mistakes and all our love, together.