Water is Life

Fracking has come to many of our backyards here in central New Mexico. Rio Rancho and Sandoval County commissioners are getting ready to pass a fracking project without citizen consent. Follow the money. Apparently it speaks louder than the people.

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Time to stand up for our water. Water is irreplaceably precious.

Here in New Mexico, everyone lives downstream from someone else. Our lives are  tied together by a ribbon of life—the Rio Chama watershed— and a series of rivers and aqueducts refueled by snow pack. All are threatened by drought, development, agricultural and industrial run-off and overuse in the land of enchantment. The Rio Grande River runs out of water somewhere in the desert of Southern New Mexico.  It never makes it to Cuidad de Juarez, Mexico. It is an ongoing feud.

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Curiously, those who make the big bucks in the fossil fuel industry and those in office who benefit continue to ignore the lesson that includes them—when the clean water is gone we cannot drink oil.

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Without ordinances that keep these projects out and strictly prohibited, we will be living with the sickness of air, land and water pollution in all of our backyards. Water is heavily used to “clean” and process oil and fracking gas. In a drought ridden state there is precious little water to spare for processing the heavy metals and chemically laced natural gas pumped out of our water tables to the tune of millions of gallons of water.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry, which has been in New Mexico for over half a century or more, continues to swindle the public and pump money into protecting their interests. In the land of endless sunshine, there is a battle brewing for dominance of the energy future. And the citizens want clean energy. Don’t be fooled. Natural gas is NOT clean energy. Solar, wind, geo-thermal, bio-mass and many other forms are the future.

If we learned nothing else from Standing Rock, it was that water is life itself and it is worth standing up and fighting for. I am thankful to all Indigenous brothers and sisters who came together with the Sioux nation to teach us.

Click here and I will share a recent letter I sent to multiple local papers of which a portion of this was picked up by the Albuquerque Journal. Here’s some of the places to send your letters:

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I invite you to flood the media and offices of these commissioners and pass this along to friends and family, neighbors, workplace and organizations. As down -river dwellers our health will be irreversibly impacted by fracking. Ask the Navajo nation in the Four Corners. They live wrapped in a Delaware size cloud of methane from off-gassing by the fracking industry.

Commissioners are located in Rio Rancho at the county seat at 1500 Idalia Road, Building D, Bernalillo, NM 87004 and here is the mailing address: P.O. Box 40 Bernalillo NM 87004 and phone #505-867-7500  Fax# 505-867-7600

This is our moment to stand up for New Mexico water. Your water. Our water.

Water is life. For all living beings.

Mni Wiconi.

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Needed: Young Farmers

Please apply.

Evidently, arable land is shrinking and the average age of farmers is about 57 years old, with 1/4 of farmers over 65. That’s not good news for tomorrow’s food.

The Rio Grande Community Farm is an incubator for new farmers. According to Sean Ludden, Executive Director, this year’s batch in the Las Huertas farm training program were women. We mused about this at the last Albuquerque Community Foundation meeting. Why are women coming in droves to shore up farming—a quickly diminishing vocation? The same holds true for beekeepers. More women than ever in this formerly male dominated field.

Perhaps it is because women are generally the gatekeepers for the well being of their children, the family and community. No surprise that they are being drawn into the profession of tending small plots of land and the husbandry of animals. They want a healthy food system.

We need less industrial farming and a war sized effort of expanding small farm — employing boatloads of people, not one or two old men at the helm of massive farm machinery in air conditioned cabs.

We need less square acreage of animal feedlots, dumping methane and the stench of suffering into the air, and foul waste into the water tables of communities.

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Satellite view of a feedlot

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Cows packed in feedlots for miles in Dalhart, Texas

We must vote with our dollars when it comes to food—avoiding the cost of so much environmental, animal  and community suffering. We need to support small farmers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said this, back when they were not villianized by Washington D.C.:

[The] growing scale and concentration of [Animal feeding operations] has contributed to negative environmental and human health impacts. Pollution associated with AFOs degrades the quality of waters, threatens drinking water sources, and may harm air quality.

My friend Deb is a case in point for the new face of farming. Unexpectedly she, as the daughter of a farmer, was the one who took over the family farm. Not a son. Deb’s facebook posts nourish me. I love visiting her farm via facebook! Her place is full of the beauty and the living experience of real food. Village Acres Farm and Foodshed is all color. Robust health. Organic and life affirming. It is full of animal whisperers.

 Here’s a recent post:

Chandler‘s poor sheep are apparently attention starved!

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Or this:
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Lovely morning spent in my pepper sauna!

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See what I mean? This is what #realfood looks like. And everyone on the planet should have access to this. Not the dead stuff, devoid of vitamins and minerals, grown from depleted GMO saturated, fertilizer and chemical ridden soil whence most food hails.
So, if you know an entrepreneur, itching to get their fingers in the soil, but need support and a piece of land, send them to Sean Ludden at Rio Grande Farms.
They aspire to to launch farmers from college to middle age into a new vocation!
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Real food

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I am putting in a plug for my farmer friend Lorenzo Candelaria, whose land has been in the family for over 300 years. Every day, he and his crew cultivate, tend and harvest beautiful organic food to eat. It is the food that comes to us gratis from bees, soil, sun and water. He offers CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes. Cornelio Candelaria Organico hand delivers to your door. Who does that these days?

Organic1-2Not many people know about his small farm, tucked away in a corner of the South Valley, Albuquerque. Most farmers tend small plots. Lorenzo has 4 acres. Like many farmers,  they produce  massive amounts of food—way more than they can even sell or give away. Mama Earth is like that. Abundant. Productive. Prolific. Especially if you treat her right. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Lorenzo is a mystic farmer. He has a special connection with the land and understands that our human dependence on mother earth is like an umbilical cord. It is a sacred, nourishing relationship. We humans cannot live without her generosity. Yet, unlike a baby in the womb, Mother Earth requires our mutual care. Under Lorenzo’s tending, Mother Earth flourishes. She is happy. So are my bees that live on his farm!

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Lorenzo and Dora have space for more CSA box customers. Fresh produce to your door every week, or however often you want to receive one.

Sign up for gastronomic delights and joyful foodie journeys, week by week. Call Dora or Lorenzo today 505-382-5447.

 

Low Fertility

Seems that bees are in trouble on more than one front. If mites don’t get them, infertility will.

This past year I’ve had an alarmingly low rate of healthy mated queens. I’ve made some mis-steps and a few decisions to split a hive a bit prematurely, but either way, the virgin queens I put into the hives came back with poor to no ability to lay eggs after mating (or not) with drones. They looked perfectly beautiful and healthy. But they were laying nothing at all or only drones. A hive will quickly die without it’s worker girl bee force.

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Low fertility in the human world is not so different from other species. I’ve read that when the survival of species are threatened, certain evolutionary mechanisms will kick in to effectively curtail reproduction. God knows, humans and all creatures are faced with dire threats to life these days—generations to come are facing massive problems which would cause fertility problems in any being. External factors that influence internal include habitat that is compromised by threats of increasing climate unpredictability, stress, polluted environments leading to poor health, immune problems, genetic defects and inability to create a healthy fetus.

Bees will die due to “a thousand small cuts”— coined by Mark Winston, in Bee Time, Rather than one pinpointed catastrophe, it’s the multiple and cascading issues which are dooming bees to extinction. The domino effect. Could it be happening with humans also?

I began to research what other beekeepers are saying about sperm counts and mated queens and fertility in the bee world. What do the old codgers say? What do the veteran beekeepers know? This blog post— from Roger Patterson, who keeps bees in the UK— hit home:

I started keeping bees in 1963 and at one time had 130 colonies, and have always raised my own queens on a regular basis. For a number of reasons I had a spell where I had no bees myself for about 15 years until restarting in 2002, but retained interest in my local Association, and continued to attend meetings. At one stage I could expect a success rate of getting queens mated from a sealed cell well in excess of 90%, but since returning to active beekeeping that success rate has dropped alarmingly, in my own experience to 50% or less.

When restarting I obtained 5 colonies from various sources and rigorously culled the poorer queens. In doing this I realised there was a problem in achieving the level of successful matings I had previously enjoyed.

In the Dec 2004 issue of BBKA News I wrote an article on my experiences, and asked if the problems were related to varroa[mite]. I received several replies and these fell largely into two groups, those who had kept bees for around 15 years or more, and agreed with me that there was a problem, and those with less experience who indicated that my experiences were “normal”, which is understandable if that is all they had known. One person who regularly raised a large number of queens appeared to have a success rate as low as 15%.

I received references to research work that had been done abroad, and there were indications from what I considered to be reliable sources that varroa and it’s treatment may be a contributory factor, and in a variety of ways.

Drones that were parasitised by varroa as larvae may have reduced sperm and lower viability if, indeed, they managed to survive to sexual maturity, and it appears that some treatments may accumulate in beeswax, and possibly cause the following problems:-

  • Reduced sperm count in drones.
  • Reduced queen mating success.
  • Reduced queen weight.
  • High queen mortality.
  • Physical abnormalities in queens.

So, varroa mites. The culprit in almost every aspect of collapsing colonies these days. These creepy, draconian specks of a beast are destroying bees. And we as beekeepers stand by almost helpless, watching the demise of our bee colonies.

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I will be treating my bees this year. Sometimes it seems the treatment is more deadly than the disease, kind of like chemo for cancer.

But it must be done.

God save the queen.

God save us all.

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Dancing Moon Woman

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The sun went all shadowy today.

For at least 3 minutes

the flames of

Too much bright

Too much heat

Too much “big man” war energy

and posturing

Eclipsed

By the lunar face

of the feminine moon

and her traverse across the sun.

Sun was eclipsed for a moment

Missing in action.

 

Healing dark

Secret womb energy

Fierce bone circle

A messenger from the night

Grabbing our attention

In the middle of our day’s

Freight trains of busyness.

 

Maybe she is birthing

Something new

Exposing our shadow side

Covering the frenetic

Flames of a culture

Burning down

From its hubris

Of earth rape

Plunder

Greed

Power

Racism.

All the “isms”

 

Emptied out

for a moment by

Dancing moon woman’s

Mercurial

Powerful

Gravitational force.

Usually only waxing

And waning

In cycles

During our dream time.

 

But here she was

moving across the sun’s field

A marriage of light and darkness

In full view

Maybe a shift took place this day

From a human epoch

Bankrupt in its excess

and imbalances.

 

Maybe a new consciousness

Took root

For an age of authenticity

No more illusions.

 

I sat on a hill in Northern New Mexico

among the sage bushes

and Fall flowers

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a stunning display

of Autumn’s glory

At least 15 varieties

Crowding

Around my feet.

I felt the the moon

Dancing,

Her eclipse

Seeping

Soaking

Into the fiber

of my being.

 

Her moon dance

Felt

Not so different

From the bee dance

Honey Bee in Flight
That vibration of happiness.
Aliveness.

Bumblers and Other Fancy Bees

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Native Bees number over 4000 in the U.S. alone. Six of the major families of natives live in New Mexico—including bumblebees, bombus terrestris. These native bees, from a few millimeters long to the stout bumblers, are sadly overlooked. They aren’t viewed as the food economy’s workhorses. Instead, honeybees have become the new movie stars, hailed everywhere they go. Honeybees have been good poster children—signifying everything that’s gone wrong with our industrial food system and chemically burdened planet.

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But native bees….these little pollinator dynamos are worth learning about and attracting to your garden. Now that honeybees are collapsing, these self sufficient, independent native bees have caught the attention of  the commercial food industry agriculture, especially almond growers, alarmed by the disappearing honeybee.

I get my share of worried homeowners wondering if I can come over and pick up their bumblebee hive. I would if I could. But beekeepers are specialists in apis mellifera (well, we think we are), not bumblers. I can pick up a honeybee swarm since i know their docile nature when they swarm. But bumblebees, or so I’ve heard from first hand encounters by beekeepers, are a different beast all together. They do have a colony, usually found in an underground burrow. If they are too close to human activity or animals they may become aggressive and protective. But usually, if far enough away from the action, they will just mind their own business.

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But I would never ever in my right mind try to remove one. They do sting if aggravated, and the sorry bloke who tries to dig them out will not fare very well at all. The good news is that the colony completely dies back each season. The queen will lay her next years brood of queen eggs to replace herself. But the rest of the workers are toast. If you really don’t want them to set up residence in your backyard, I usually counsel covering up the hole, after it gets cold and goes dormant, and putting a cover, rock, boards, etc. over it. Any emerging queens in the Spring will likely find another home for their brood.
But don’t take my word for it. Call your local Cooperative Extension service. Here in New Mexico, check out the New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Ask their specialist about native bumble bee behavior. With all native bees in decline, killing them has become a non-negotiable. Don’t do it.

 

 

Metallic Green Bee (Augochloropsis metallica) by Clay Bolt

Most native bees are solitary creatures. There are the yellow faced bees, squash bees, digger bees, long-horned bees, mallow bees, cuckoo bees, carpenter bees, plasterer bees—all with special and unique abilities. See my June 2016 blog post on all the amazing varieties of native bees, of which over 1,000 of them live in New Mexico alone. The first remarkable thing about native bees is that they live in the dirt, in excavating tunnels that can reach a foot or more beneath the soil, in dead wood or hollow plant stems, plugging the entrance with mud or other chewed plant material after laying their eggs in unexpected places that humans don’t expect to find bees. So leaving undisturbed areas in your lawn, or buying a native pollinator house (google it) will ensure that their progeny continues. The biggest threat to native bees is the use of chemicals and insecticides on dirt and on your plants, and loss of habitat. These lovely little natives have co-evolved with plants for millions of years and have a special relationship with certain plant species that are being wiped out as “weeds” or paved over by housing developments. For instance, native digger bees have a long tongue to extract nectar from certain native New Mexican Penstemon species. Honeybees, imported from Europe, just don’t have the anatomy to get into certain flowers. Bumblebees are great for pollinating tomatoes.

Here is a sweet little trio of native long-horned male bees over-nighting in my sunflowers. They literally just drop where they stop. Like Jesus, they have no place to lay their heads, so they rest in the faces of flowers—the sweetness of nectar and the softness of the pollen line their beds.

 

So next time you go to purchase plants, make sure you add in native pollinator plants and leave some space fallow in your yard for these lovelies.

Blackberries in August

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The blackberries at Cornelio Candelaria Organico, where I’ve spent the lion’s share of my summer with young farm interns, are succulent and delicious. There are at least 10 somewhat straight rows packed with brambly, curly branches dripping, literally, with midnight sweetness. Of course, I never forget that all this is a provision made possible by not only the farmer’s hands, but a collusion between our darling bee friends, the soil, sun and water.

I remember picking blackberries on sultry summer days in Ohio. We would set off with Grandma Amstutz and her assorted and asundry buckets and pails. Following the defunct railroad ties along the back forty of our farm, we would be swaddled in our long sleeves, pants and tennis shoes to ward off the pricks and stinging bugs. Those blackberries were always bitter, their survival DNA allowing them to eke out an existence…just barely.

Not these. They are a plenitude of extravagance. An ode to late summer abundance.

As a celebration of August, my birth month—late summer being my most favorite season of the year— here is a poem by Mary Oliver.

AUGUST

When the blackberries hang

swollen in the woods, in the brambles

nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high

branches, reaching

my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming

the black honey of summer

into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what is. In the dark creeks that run by there

is this thick paw of my life

darting among

the black bells, the leaves;

there is this happy tongue.

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#HoneyTime

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The only reason I have so much honey this year is because I did my bees a dis-service.

They were a mean hive. I admit, I wanted to break them. I was thinking like a human, not a bee. So I took their queen away and made them start from scratch, right at the moment of the honey flow. It knocked them back alright….but only the baby brood, which disappeared altogether.

The queen that replaced the one I stole away was either infertile or poorly mated. When I checked on her progress, all I found was wall to wall honey and a few drone eggs. The imposter queen was merrily pretending she was royalty—but sorely lacking. The girls were still mean. They seemed happy to tolerate a “less than” queen rather than have no queen at all. Desperate to survive, but a little misguided in their efforts, they had put away enough honey to feed the entire ‘hood.  Ferociously they guarded their massive storehouses. Sadly there was no future generation on the horizon. They were doomed.

So, I took out the lackluster queen and gave them a freshly mated, mite resistant, weather resilient queen— recently emigrated from Canada. I have yet to see if she “took”. Meanwhile the girls have been busy gathering nectar and pollen beyond belief.

This year will go down in history (or her-story, as the case may be) as the biggest honey flow in my short 8 year beekeeping career. I’ve always heard that it’s possible, but it never happened to me.

And processing honey is hard work. Terribly hard work.

First one must wrest the comb away from the girls who stick to the comb like….well…honey. Then, when one shoos enough of them away in order to whisk the dead weight of elixir to the car, there will still be stragglers buzzing around. They are insistently waiting for even a glimpse of skin so they can take revenge for this honey heist.

At home, the honey must be crushed by hand through a large stainless steel colander into a bucket.

 

Meanwhile, if not completely sealed, ants and bees will swarm into the bucket causing drowning by honey. Not a bad way to die.

This potion will sit in the sun for days while the solar wax and honey separator does its good work.

Finally, the thick, viscuous honey will be strained at least twice through cheesecloth into jars. A messy proposition. The kitchen becomes a magnet for every insect known to humankind if not cleaned immediately and properly.

This year I am left with about 2 gallons of honey.  I am amazed. Lest we take this for granted, remember that honeybees make only about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in their short 45 day lifespan. Two gallons is a breathtaking amount of bees.

I will be looking for venues to sell my sweet, organic elixir. $10 a pint.

Honey anyone?!

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Inextricably Bound—Bees and Humans

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In the interconnected web that we all are a part of, it is impossible to discount the mystery of honeybee and human relationship throughout the centuries. We have been inextricably bound to a common fate, dependent upon the honeybee’s free pollination services. Our whole food system relies on this gift.

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And then there are our human stories, religious ritual and myths intertwined with the lowly honeybee.

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A honey stained vessel was found buried in a tomb over 5, 500 years ago in the Caucasus of Russia—some 2,000 years older than the honey found in King Tut’s tomb in Eygpt.  Packed for the afterlife, honey represented the bee as a symbol of resurrection. Christianity adopted this ancient symbol and even today, at Easter tide, the honey bee is celebrated in the Great Vigil, on the eve of Easter, calling forth the risen Christ by the lighting of the candle made of beeswax.

But nothing could be more telling of the relationship between bee and human, co-evolved over centuries, than the following story, recounted in Best Friends Magazine January/February 2008, from an article by R.B. Ogden in the March 2007 issue of Bee Culture—about a beekeeper in the UK:

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On October 19, 1996, a quiet, dedicated and much loved beekeeper passed away in the seclusion of his East Devon home. Each day, for the three days prior to his passing, a lone bee flew quietly around the room, leaving the room and returning to the hive as daylight faded, only to return at first light the following day.

The beekeeper, William Mawson, Bill to all who knew and loved him, died peacefully during the evening. Early the next morning, Bill’s grieving widow, Annette, walked slowly and thoughtfully to the nearby apiary to tell the bees of his passing, thus keeping faith with the ancient tradition. She spoke softly and slowly as she said, “Poor master has passed away, but he is still with us in spirit”.

Four days later, in the tranquility of the old Offwell Parish Church, his widow and family were joined by close friends and beekeepers to celebrate Bill’s life, give thanks for his friendship, kindness and achievements, and pay their last respects to a gentle man.

As the funeral cortege entered the nave of the church, it was followed silently and almost unnoticed by a host of bees, which settled quietly toward the rear of the building in the south side.

As the rector began his eulogy, the congregation became aware of the sound of bees on the wing. The rector stopped speaking as the bees hovered above the gathering. And then, as spontaneously as it had arisen, the sound of flying bees declined before dying away into the distance.

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Did the bees come to say a final farewell to their faithful departed friend, Bill? We can only ponder the mystery of the story.

There is still so much I do not know about my bee friends. But I do know one thing.

Bees and humans. We are kin.

Some Days are like that….

Some days are like that…messy, anxiety producing and hard. In the bee and human world alike. On those days I don’t wonder what bees think, I wonder what I was thinking when I took up this little hobby in a moment of passion.

My spiritual teacher calls bees my muse, a source of artistic expression. I would agree with that. Even if my bees never make me any honey money, they have truly inspired me in so many ways.

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Muses of any kind are the substance of our spiritual journey on this planet. I see this life as a sort of spiritual boot camp. We are spiritual beings equipped with amazing bodies, trying to find our way through it all—often a wilderness of choices, tribulations, grief, joy and uncertainty. Bees have been amazing little sherpas in regard to my life the past 7 years.

In April when my bees were busting out. I needed to divide two of them. Pronto. Or they would elude me by swarming off into the wild blue yonder of our neighborhood— potentially causing mischief by setting up housekeeping in someone’s attic or rafter or canale.

All was set. I had alerted a few friends who wanted some new bees. After hours of combing through my seven hives (way too many in one yard, I know), I separated out two bee travel containers filled with bees and swarm cells. I awaited my husband to come and chauffeur me down to the valley where a new home awaited them.

Irritated that his promised grocery store run for lunch took more like 30 minutes, I groused about my bees, worried that they would overheat as I waited on him—packed into cases with one little hole, taped down so none would escape. I myself was overheating in my bee suit.

Finally my husband showed up, apologetic. He had a good reason, but my mood only deteriorated from there. His timing was good as gold, but I was beginning to melt down around the edges with the thought of transporting livestock in the heat. As my father, who once transported pigs to sale told me upon hearing my story, “Now you know what a farmer feels like”.

Once in the car, we headed towards the interstate. Bees began to leak out around the invisible cracks I had failed to see or seal. As we came to the Right Lane entrance for I-25, suddenly the car stopped. It didn’t even shudder. We were stranded in traffic with two boxes of bees, the sun beating down on the car whose electric function had totally been derailed. So, I climbed out in my bee suit, flinging the doors and hatchback open. Bees flew everywhere. I was sweating profusely.

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Fortunately, my cell phone was not dead. My husband passed the AAA New Mexico card to me and I called the tow truck. Next I called Stephen, my friend whose precious cargo we carried. Within ten minutes that good man was at our car door, loading up boxes of bees in his mercifully air conditioned Prius.

Thanks to friends who sometimes pose as angels, the no good, very bad, terrible bee day became better. That day my bees taught me gratitude. Patience. Kindness showed up.

Some days are like that.

What is your passion? How do you define your life by your muse? Or not? What is your muse teaching you today?

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