Home Sweet Home

Dear Friends,

Here’s the last journal entry from my time at Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary! Thank you so much for all your encouragement and support, and sharing this adventure with me. The first half contains a little bit about my transition from Sanctuary to city, and near the end you’ll find a few more practical updates about what I’ve been up too and where the future of my beekeeping work (with your help) is taking me. Enjoy!

Home Sweet Home

It’s been a little over three weeks since I came down from the Blue Ridge Mountains and into the wide-open arms of the Midwest prairieland.

In the weeks leading up to my departure from Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary, I wondered how I would feel about leaving. In addition to all the learning and experientially-transformational work we did with the bees and with the land, I made some truly nourishing connections and friendships at Spikenard, and felt a sense of belonging that I can’t say I’ve ever experienced before. Home is indeed where the heart is. Yet even with all the sweetness of life at Spikenard, something in me knew it was time to leave. Perhaps this is what it feels like, on some deep and unconscious level, to be born; within the safe, warm, nourishing and comfortable environment we trust, we also sense its limitation, and we know that it’s time to venture forth into an unknown world, full of risk and possibility, somewhere that the true destiny of our lives can unfold.

And so it was as I was saying goodbye to Gunther, Vivian, Alex, Gypsy, the community, the bees, the gardens, the river, the land and the whole being of Spikenard that have given so much more to me than I can possibly understand at this point in my life. The last few weeks at Spikenard were infused with a sense of completeness, of rightness, of gratitude and excitement, with several last suppers and hikes, packing and cleaning and putting the final touches on a few projects I had started months earlier. Each moment in the Sanctuary and with my new friends felt like a confirmation of this new and unexpected direction my life has taken…not an ending at all, but only the sweetest of beginnings; tender shoots finding nourishment from above and below, sending down roots to discover, uphold and carry out their great and unknown destiny.

The 13 hour drive home was beautiful, even with a heavily-loaded pickup truck, a broken muffler and 3 hours of sleep the night before. I left somewhere around 6am, and the rising sun found me far away from the small hilltop Sanctuary I gave my head, heart and hands to for the season.

I had plenty of time to think on my way home, to reflect and to dream. I went to Spikenard full of visions of the future, but after getting my hands in the earth, a few good stings, and being in the presence of wisdom far more mature than my own…my visions didn’t make as much sense anymore.

I left with the idea of starting a natural beekeeping endeavor, and, like many youthful dreams, it was rooted in the illusion that more is the secret to happiness; more bees, more hives, more honey, more success. Sure, it was easy to focus my attention on all the good that might come from such an endeavor, but after spending time with people who have cultivated a very different relationship with the Honeybee, it was obvious that my original plans had less to do with the well-being of the bees, and more to do with my own success. Like the rising sun that illuminated the winding road before me, during my time at Spikenard I slowly, but inevitably, realized that the relationship we can have with the Honeybee is far more valuable than any physical substance she can offer us; the gifts of the hive – honey, wax, propolis, pollen and sting – are not to be ignored, however, and are surely medicine for our increasingly distressed world…so where is the balance point?

As the miles flew by and the mountains faded into the distance behind me, it became clear that education needs to be the focal point of my beekeeping career. I feel that the future of beekeeping will not be in large, commercial operations with hundreds or thousands of hives, but simple backyard beekeepers, families, and communities who want a deeper connection with the bees, the gifts they give, the land, and each other. In this increasingly disconnected world, working with the bees is medicine for the body, mind, heart and soul. Beekeeping is even becoming a popular, successful, government-funded method of rehabilitation for veterans, prison inmates, disabled children and adults, and people struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. I don’t foresee an end to the need for this kind of healing in my lifetime, and the sooner we stop exploiting the Honeybee and her generosity, the better.

With this piece of the puzzle falling into place, the bigger picture has started to become much clearer. As the winding road straightened out and the flat Midwest prairieland embraced me, I felt all the gifts, experiences and seeds that Spikenard had given me coming to life inside me. Some of them I recognized, could put words to, and helped give my dreams structure, form and gravity as I drove towards my Chicago home. Others were planted much deeper, beyond my ability to touch and articulate. But I know they are there. Waiting.

I approached the city from the Southeast, the steady glow of her restless heart illuminating the night sky and low-hanging clouds from many miles away. I arrived in Chicago at rush hour. I chose to take Lake Shore Drive and found myself, for the first time in 9 months, crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic with road construction, exhaust fumes and horns blazing. My drive up Lake Shore Drive to my home in the northern neighborhoods of Chicago took an hour. Minutes after I parked my truck and started unpacking, it began to snow. I was in love. I was home.

These few weeks back home have been both exciting and challenging. It’s been wonderful to see family and friends again, to enjoy some of my old city comforts and conveniences, and to spend time with our dear Lake Michigan. It’s been challenging, however, to come from such a solid, natural rhythm – and a community who lives in pretty much the same rhythm – to a city where everyone and everything has its own independent rhythm, divorced, for the most part, from the land, the sun, the stars, the soil, the night, silence and the seasons.

I anticipated that this would be a challenging time of integration, and it has been. Yet every day I find myself seeing and appreciating this city life in new ways, and finding a more intimate connection with the impossibly resilient heart of nature to survive and thrive in the midst of our modern, chaotic, concrete culture. I’ve also become more aware of all the amazing work that does go on here, and all the individuals and communities that are doing their best to restore and live in harmony with the land, and create the most home-grown, sustainable lifestyle that they can have here. I’ve mostly kept to myself since I’ve been home, working on a few small projects and listening to get a sense of what the next few steps are, but I’m excited to reach out soon.

The first big step I’ve taken is to re-vision and recreate my natural beekeeping intentions and website. Searching for the right words to describe the way I work with the bees, I settled on, for now, holistic beekeeping. It also turned out that www.holisticbeekeeping.com was available, so I forged ahead and rebuilt my website from top to bottom. The new site features an ever-growing list of beekeeping resources that I’ve enjoyed and benefited from, as well as my own observations, experiences, projects, educational programs, mentorship work and newly-designed handmade beehives. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Another big step is that I’ve started to put together a 5-week introduction to natural, holistic beekeeping. This course is going to bring together everything I’ve learned and experienced at the Sanctuary, as well as a few of my own insights, inspirations, and surprises. I’m really excited to teach this class, and I’m hoping to have it ready sometime in January.

I also opened my holistic wellness practice again. After 9 months of constant outdoor physical labor and community engagement, the one-on-one, focused stillness and silence within my sessions feel deeply nourishing. I’ve also been receiving some much needed bodywork, taking care of myself, and trying to get as much (though it never seems to be quite enough) physical exercise and fresh air as I possibly can. Mostly I’m trying not to look too far ahead, and to let the next steps and opportunities present themselves in their own time.

There’s always so much more happening than I can share or remember to share, but I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my adventures as much as I’ve enjoyed having them. It’s been a real joy to know that you’ve keeping me company, learning and growing alongside me. I’ll keep writing on a regular basis, which I’ll post on www.holisticbeekeeping.com, and I invite you to share the rest of this journey with me.

I’d love to leave you with a verse Gunther often read to us and his classes. It’s from In the Light of a Child, a book of poetry written for children (and inner children), with a new verse each week that reflects the seasonal changes in both our outer and inner world. Coincidently, this was the verse for my last week at Spikenard. May it touch you, as it touched me:

The world I see
A frozen, empty, barren wasteland it would be
Without the work my head and heart and hands can do
To heal its pain.
All things must die and then be born anew.
To help in this great task, that life be not in vain,
The world needs you.