I ask you, can we call a bee “cute”? I stand accused. I have used “cutesy” images of bees for my blog. It seems to appeal to something deep inside us. Something cuddly and accessible that even a child could love!
But does that truly speak to the nature of bees, whether honeybees or native bees? Or is this word fraught with baggage that does bees no favors? Rather belittling, reducing or otherwise making bees “playthings”?
Bees command respect, whether we like it or not. Merely because they sting! But will other living beings that don’t have such a stark survival tactic be respected in the same way?
The late Mary Oliver, rest in peace, left us with a dazzling amount of poetry and prose honoring the natural world. Her love of the creatures, plants and cycles of seasons is legendary. Her work was to observe well and bring back her field notes so that we as her readers might love the wild ones and places too.
But she warned us of the power of language and how we understand and relate to this unspeakably powerful and mysterious universe we live within.
In her book, Blue Pastures, Oliver writes about the language we use for the wild ones, the non-human world.
Oliver calls us to honor, reverence, respect.
“Cute”, “charming”, “adorable”, miss the mark. For what is perceived of in this way is stripped of dignity and authority. What is cute is entertainment and replaceable…diminutive, it is powerless. It is captureable, it is trainable, it is ours.
For it makes impossible the other view of nature, which is of a realm both sacred and intricate, as well as powerful, of which we are no more than a single part. Nature, the total of all of us, is the wheel that drives our world. Those who ride it willingly might yet catch a glimpse of a dazzling, even a spiritual restfulness, while those who are unwilling simply to hang on, who insist that the world must be piloted by man for his own benefit, will be dragged around and around all the same, gathering dust but no joy….
We are all wild, valorous, amazing. We are none of us “cute”.
Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures. ( Harcourt Brace & Co.: New York, NY)p.92-93
Through Mary Oliver’s eyes, I see differently. I will be more careful of my words when addressing the animal kingdom. I will remember her caution. Language defines, paints images, sways opinion, empowers or belittles. Words are important. Choose them carefully. Always.
Her task of asking us to see the world around us differently has taken root over almost a century. I pray her voice will change this generation’s relationship and the next, to the world of nature.
It is dark now, not the first curve of night but the last curve: my hour. The light will soon rise out of this necessary dark.
I go to my work, as I like to call it, being whimsical and serious at once. That is to walk, and look at things and listen, and write down words in a small notebook.
Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures (Harcourt Brace & Co.: New York, NY) p. 119-120.
And of course, my most favorite, quintessential Mary Oliver,
My Work is Loving the World
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
Thank you Mary Oliver, for helping us see the world around us with new eyes.