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What bees taught me about building community.
There’s a place sculpted by fire, water, and air over millennia, where chiseled landscapes encircle a long river carrying the source of life from melting alpine glaciers through juniper-freckled canyons and into valleys growing apples, wine grapes, pecans, cotton, and revered chiles.
This is New Mexico—a place where traditions honor heritage but where the disparities of America’s colonial imprint are palpable. This Land of Enchantment is home to my maternal Ancestors. It is where the Pueblo, Apache, and Diné peoples reside. It is where I learned my origins, and where I now create my future as a land steward and beekeeper.
The bees found me 25 years ago and have been guiding my life ever since. Their sound is a melodic journey that invites us to find our inner compass, helping us navigate toward our true purpose and potential. It quiets our anxieties and helps us recalibrate our priorities. It resonates with our own frequencies, connecting us to each other and the land.
Before the bees found me, I was overwhelmed; I couldn’t decide which path compelled me. I had finished high school in a dusty border town and aimed to reconnect with the roots of my Caribbean father by studying marine biology in Miami, Florida. As someone often judged as not Brown enough, Black enough, Red enough, and most definitely not White enough, I turned to the dance clubs of South Beach to lull the angst of warring blood memories coursing through my veins. The vibrations of the music, like a manufactured prelude to the bees, allowed me to feel alive without the oppression of skin color and poverty that confine many of us through the Western “one size fits all” mentality.
After finding and losing myself again in the all-night rave scene, I began to hear my mother’s voice echo in my mind: “Value your education, as it will set you free.” I returned home to find myself once more by studying philosophy at a small liberal arts college in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I read books by a bunch of dead, mostly White people and tried to decipher the role of Western philosophy and its constructs by breaking down what it means to have consciousness. I wanted to understand why society was allowed to manipulate our physical world, how the universal displays itself in multiplicity, and what my role was in it all. I completed college with more questions than answers, which I viewed as a good thing, so I decided to follow in my mother’s footsteps and enlist in the U.S. Peace Corps, where, thankfully, the bees found me.
I was assigned to work as a beekeeping extensionist with so-called “peasant” Guaraní farmers in Paraguay, a landlocked and sometimes forgotten-by-time country in the heat and heart of South America. While there, I began to see the connections between landscape and habitat, food systems and culture, and the importance of community and reciprocity.
The first beekeepers, farmers, ecologists, and scientists were and continue to be Indigenous peoples around the world. And so, again and again, I return to the bees and to my roots, resonating in unison.
In the intervening 25 years, the bees have guided me around the globe, from South America to the South Pacific, to Central and North America, to the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. All the while, they’ve exposed me to the vibrations of the world—the broadcast and reception of living things—from the murmur of rain whispering its seepage into soil, to the swaying of sun-seeking stalks as they crescendo into bursting blossoms full of perfume and weeping nectar, helping to nurture our ever-present cycles of life, death, and reciprocity.
The bees have helped me make sense of an unfair and unjust society that can and shall be reformed into a manifestation of our own design.
The bees have helped me make sense of an unfair and unjust society that can and shall be reformed into a manifestation of our own design. A fair world where cultural diversity is accepted and allowed to nurture individuals who are empathetic, motivated, and driven by reciprocity. If we dream it, envision it, and speak it, then we can make it so.
The bees teach me how to be human and how to live in this world—with other humans as well as other life forms. Humans can be tricksters, manipulating truths for personal gain, emphasizing the haves and have-nots without regard for planet or purpose. The bees, in contrast, have taught me the ultimate lesson: that it takes a community to succeed.
No one bee in a colony can thrive alone. Each is keenly aware of the world and its natural truths. In their various roles and jobs, the bees work together to gather food—pollen for protein, nectar for carbohydrates. Bees learn from their surroundings and from the changing seasons. They sweat together to build honeycomb. They satiate their hunger by pollinating plants so that growth cycles continue. Their lives are the very definition of reciprocity: giving back to receive again.
This message inspires my efforts to collaborate with farmers and beekeepers near and far. I amplify their voices and bring awareness to their stories in order to connect their marginalized and disenfranchised concerns with researchers and institutions that can offer support. If we give in positive spirit and action, and we nurture our interactions and ourselves, our abilities burn brighter and our collective light glows longer, illuminating social incongruities and decomposing refuse into transformative nutrients to create light anew.
Though some of us may not know our role in this universe or how we should go about finding it, the mystery is part of the allure. If we look around to learn from our plant and animal, land and seascape relatives, our passion will find us. We are each a necessary being in this cloud of stardust. We are the future Ancestors, recognizing the importance of place, sense of purpose, and power of responsibility in having and experiencing life. And so I dance with the music of my bees among the blossoms, casting seeds to feed our families and our collective futures.
If you’re someone who’s still unsure about your role, your purpose, I invite you to seek out others who have similar positive passions. Gather like a buzzing colony of bees. Work collectively to forage for resources. Share stories, experiences, and learn from one another. Your efforts will bear seeds that connect the past to the present and to the future.
|MELANIE M. KIRBY is a bee breeder, Fulbright Fellow, NatGeo Explorer, poetess, ceramicist, scientist, educator, and mother.|
First published YES! Magazine. Included in Vox Populi with permission.
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I learned so much reading this…
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