Friends, this is a bee blog and more than a bee blog.
Because humanity is at an intersection, I feel I must speak heart to heart. Please bear with me. More than the words, I hope you will make sure and listen to each video posted here.
One of my heart teachers is wise elder Joanna Macy. She speaks to these times. She speaks from a Buddhist perspective, but it is no different for any religious tradition— including the teachings of Jesus which I embrace. She says now COVID is a our teacher. It is bringing us deep pain and suffering as a human species. It is unveiling, revealing what delusions or illusions we have lived under for too long. Our lifestyle is killing us and the planet. It is also calling us to our deepest humanity.
Macy teaches about the web that reconnects even in the wretchedness. She calls us to deepest humanity. How we care for one another. We are all interconnected, earth and humans. Our future fate is woven together.
Recently I was on a call with the Pachamama Alliance. It is a worldwide movement to return to the Indigenous spirituality and worldview that has sustained a people who have lived through extermination. It is the only sane way forward. To remember that all our relatives are not just human. Our tribe is non-human as well.
We were split into breakout groups. From Ohio to New Mexico to Minnesota to Washington state, though we all had different politics and religious beliefs, what united us was the fact that we saw this Indigenous worldview as the way forward.
It is a powerful time to be alive. If we can tap into a vision that is both ancient and universal perhaps there is a breath of a chance for humanity—a vision that calls us beyond our own small fear of our demise to COVID.
No matter what culture, religion or color you are, we have all been colonized by the Western mindset.
I participated this summer 2020 in a 4 week Dismantling the Doctrine of DIscovery webinar, part of a coalition collaboration that I’ve been involved with for 10 years. We partnered with the people of the Iroquois nation/Haudenosaunee confederacy for content.
The “Doctrine of Discovery,” better described as the “Doctrine of Christian Discovery and World Domination,” established the worldview that not only brought devastation to the natural world, but also impaired the ability for human beings to live in proper relationship with the Earth. 15th century Papal Bulls, issued by the Vatican, justified the assault upon Indigenous Peoples as an artificial justification to take possession of their bodies, lands and resources in order to finance their New World Order. This worldview advanced the Age of Discovery as an extension of the Crusades, and was the conceptual framework behind the Protestant Reformation, the establishment of Nation States around the world, and later secularized to define colonialism, white supremacy and global capitalism.
Essentially, what defines Indigenous Peoples is their relationship with a living landscape that includes the soil, water, air, and all other non-human being co-inhabitants. This orientation to land is distinctly opposed to the European concept of owning land and the process of colonization. Indigenous scholars have discussed these two opposing orientations as being one of habitation and the other, of occupation. Although the violent seizure of Indigenous lands was initiated with “discovery,” corporations today, continue exploiting Indigenous Peoples and their land all over the world. The Doctrine of Discovery is the root of the problem, and the reason that it is discussed at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
This current pandemic and the escalating climate chaos clarify to everyone that there are consequences to the devastation humans have perpetrated upon the environment. As Oren Lyons has pointed out, Natural Law will reestablish balance, and these climate changes will not destroy the Earth, but will most likely destroy the human beings who abuse her. The earth will rebound in its own time. If we are to survive as a species, we must reorient to an Indigenous worldview acknowledging that we are first and foremost, co-inhabitants with this Earth—not in charge of it. These Indigenous values, along with the acceptance of traditional ecological knowledge, will transform future technological innovations possibly resulting in a viable future for our species. Religious concepts of imperial thinking urgently need to be re-imagined; messages from Indigenous Peoples need to be heeded; and environmental justice needs to be restored. Racist ideologies of conquest and domination are directly connected with domination of the Earth and other non-human beings.
This conference will connect the dots between our current pandemic, environmental devastation, the Doctrine of Discovery, and a way forward….
One of my deepest griefs during this pandemic has been the inability to sing with others in a room—working out difficult patterns, rhythms, textures, dynamics and notes with other voices. My choir master, Matt Greer, and the Board of Quintessence quickly made the difficult decision to abort our March concert 2020 and suspend our choral singing for now—based upon ACDA recognition of the science of singing as a super spreader event. Singing alone is nothing like the life-giving sustenance of singing in community.
I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say there is also a silver lining. Time. Much more time for writing, day dreaming, resting. As the rug has been yanked out from under all of us in our day jobs and part or full time passions, we have found new ways of being resilient and adaptive. This is one of the good qualities of human nature. Hobbies are always there for the picking.
One thing I am taking up is gardening. Alongside my beehives, it seems to just make sense. Growing my own food seems to be my own little resistance to the damaging, destructive Big Ag practices of spraying poison on everything that moves in our food system. This is not only causing a bug apocalypse, but it harms our essential migrant workers. Then off it goes to market and into our mouths. We must boycott this senselessly grown food in our stores.
I want to know where my food is grown and how. Thank you to Ian, my trusty Solar Punk farmster, I will still get some veggies from local organic growers and the CSA (community supported agriculture) that honors our farmers, pollinators and healthy soil, air and water.
Because of my new garden project in collaboration with Kenneth and friend Catherine Joy, I have been dancing on air! I’ve already begun my marigold seeds. I visited Bern-Co Broadway branch library recently to get my stash of FREE, yes, FREE organic/non-GMO, heirloom seeds! What a fabulous program this is! Kohlrabi, radish, broccoli, onion, cabbage, lettuce, snap peas, red Russian kale, basil, spinach, arugula, morning glory, calendula…
These days I have been thinking alot about modern life and our economy’s vacuous stranglehold on everything. Some people are willing accomplices, allowing insanity to run amok, electing people who relish this destruction for the god of money, their profit and jobs, jobs, jobs. No one ever tells us that this scarcity driven and destructive narrative is totally wrong. Occupy Wall Street author, economist and activist for “We are the 99%”, the late David Graeber knew we had become enslaved to the plantation— killing the living world and us. As Graeber penned, “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”
How do we become a more compassionate, altruistic humane people? If we are to surmount our rapidly increasing violence against the earth and exploding cultural/racial divides, to get off this death train, which our double speaking politicians in power say is the way forward, we must stop honoring all the things of this idolatrous system and dream for our children’s future.
Beginning with the belief that we are one with each other and this magical, wondrous world we inhabit. Our fortunes are inextricably woven. Recently I joined an international zoom event with Nigerian teacher, philosopher, writer Bayo Akomolafe. He was speaking with the Green Sabbath Project, founded by Professor Jonathan Schorsch, who poses the question, ‘Is there nothing you can do about the environment? Nothing may be one of the best things you can do!’
Bayo piqued our imaginations with his poetic use of words and images:
Because modernity centralizes rationality/human experience, and instrumentalizes the nonhuman world as resource for human ends (that is, refusing to see the nonhuman world as powerful on its own terms), power and enchantment are always in short supply relative to deepening demand. One has to make a great effort to leave the homogenizing lull of suburbia for some distant, exotic location in order to feel alive, for instance. As the deadening rationality of modern civilization spreads, and as its circumference expands, the intimate magic of a relational world becomes even more contraband and expensive, reduced to a ‘high’ on a street corner….Isn’t the material world (the one we in our hubris seek to save) infused with agency, power, longing and electrifying possibility – which the Yoruba people of West Africa that are observant of the Ifá nature religion call ‘asé’, a matrixial web of change that enlists human and nonhuman bodies in the co-production of reality? Cannot the world speak for itself?
What if, we just stopped our mindless, endless, distracted human nonsense and went out into nature and listened? What if we sat with an ant? A plant? a stone? A river? What if we began to hear that the world IS speaking for herself. The earth has agency and will prevail, with or without humans. Joining her would be a much more joyful and pleasant ride. Intimacy with bees and tomatoes, coyotes and squash worms, cedar trees and vast skies, soil teeming with bacteria…this world awaits our reflection and relationship. Intimacy after all, is a close familiarity, affection, friendship, closeness. We need one another, earth beings all. Living, respirating beings all. As Eric Whitacre’s stunning 17,500 voice virtual choir (see below)reminds us, We Are One. It is time to join our voices across time, space, continents, cultures, race.
This Friday, I will be speaking at the Green Sabbath Gathering. I want to hold up this vision of the urgency to connect to the web of all life now. More than ever. Sabbath Wisdom from the Soul of the World. Join us!
Due to my work to co-produce a Rio Grande Watershed documentary in 2018 —citing the critical importance of water and habitat for saving our pollinators— I felt this article should be recounted in full.
We have no idea that we live on the brink…our beloved overused river is sick. It’s not going to get any better folks. Climate change. Does the Rio Grande have any tricks left to survive?
In a crinkly government report from the 1920s, two photographs show what the Rio Grande looked like south of Socorro near the town of San Marcial, the remnants and memories of which are submerged today under the sludge and sand of Elephant Butte Reservoir’s northern extent.
Taken from a bluff above the Rio Grande, the photos show a wide, meandering river that has overflowed its channel and engulfed the lands beyond the bosque. The glossy black-and-white photographs are stuck to the report’s pages, and the typeset words read: High Water June 1, 1922. Discharge Old Channel 1,800 S.F., New Channel 7,100 S.F.
The “S.F.” refers to what we today call cubic feet per second and it’s a way to measure how much water is flowing past a certain point.
According to that report: “From time immemorial the Middle Rio Grande Valley has been subject to periodical floods that have at one time or another repeatedly submerged all of the area between its bluffs.”
We’ve changed all that.
Ninety-eight years later, I’m looking at a stretch of that same river—which in Spanish reports from the 1500s is called Nuestra Señora—and watching fish die in the tiny puddles still standing along the river bank as the channel has dried and cracked into an empty, sandy wash. What someone almost 20 years ago told me they called the “Rio Grande highway.”
Almost every year since 2002, when the Rio Grande has dried, I’ve reported on it.
I’ve ticked through all the facts: how many miles are dry, why and how the climate is warming, what biologists are doing to protect rare fish as the waters heat up and evaporate or sink into the sands, and through time, what agencies and irrigators have done to deny, ignore, or nowadays, try to alleviate the drying.
Today, I’m not telling you anything new.
I’m just telling you again.
Our river has dried.
As I type this in mid-July, about 50 miles of the Middle Rio Grande are dry within two stretches south of Albuquerque. Upstream, the Buckman Direct Diversion in Santa Fe warned it might soon turn off its municipal tap from the river due to low flows.
At the end of June, the water utility in Albuquerque had to stop drawing water from the Rio Grande and switch to groundwater pumping. And New Mexico, Colorado and Texas agreed in July to let the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District use water meant for other downstream users to “avoid catastrophic crop losses.” But that water will need to be replaced somehow, which means next year’s conditions will be even more dire.
It rained last night, and even though that cool water felt miraculous on my skin, it wasn’t nearly enough to revive a river and kickstart an ecosystem.
So, again. I’m not telling you anything new.
I’m just telling you again: Our river has dried.
On the first day of June 2020, I peered down into the undulating sands of the Rio Grande from the edge of the Highway 380 bridge in San Antonio, New Mexico. Before heading back to my truck and driving to a different spot where I could traverse the bosque and hike up the riverbed, I heard a wet glug.
The noise came from a spot where 13 months earlier I’d seen the biggest beaver I’ve ever seen. Following the line of small silvery fish shining flat in the sand, it took a few seconds for my eyes to focus on the interweave of light and shadow at the edge of the channel. There, a golden-scaled carp was trying to flip over in the mud; its refuge puddle had evaporated in the morning’s 90-degree heat. I snapped a few pictures and left the bridge.
This is normal.
Normal for New Mexico’s largest river to dry—not every summer, but more summers than not since the mid- to late-1990s.
According to records from across the state, New Mexico’s average annual temperature has increased by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 50 years. In a recent issue of New Mexico Earth Matters, the University of New Mexico’s David Gutzler lays out the gritty details. Again. (He’s been at this a long time: Studying climate change, writing academic papers, talking to reporters, and teaching generations of students.)
In April, I talked to him about snowpack. At the time, Rio Grande was running about 20% of its historic average through Albuquerque. Those were rotten conditions, even though snowpack in the watershed was close to average last fall and into February, when conditions started to warm and dry.
Globally, April was the warmest April on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts that 2020 will be one of the five warmest years on record—and there’s a 75% chance it will be the warmest year since scientists began tracking global temperatures in the late 1880s.
“This year was more along the lines of what I anticipate for the future, to happen more often,” Gutzler told me then.
Warm conditions in the already-warm, already-arid Southwest affect forests, orchards, wildlife, rivers—everything. When it’s warmer, plants need more water. People use more water. And rivers lose more water, even when we’re not in a drought and less snow or rain is falling.
Hydrologist Shaleene Chavarria has been paying attention to declining snowmelt and streamflows in the Rio Grande for a while—and I keep coming back to her research. In a peer-reviewed study she co-authored with Gutzler, she found that between 1958 and 2015, the river’s flows have declined, particularly in March, April and May. Though she called what happened this year “scary,” she wasn’t surprised.
“You get snow in the winter when it’s really cold, but then things get warm and dry—which is the long-term outlook for springtime in the Southwest—and the snow just melts away faster than our historical statistics would suggest,” Gutzler said of this year’s conditions. “This is more like a global warming-style of a low streamflow year, as opposed to a drought year [like 2018] that started off bad and stayed warm, and was just bad for the whole winter.”
In 2018, the Rio Grande dried in early April. Typically, over the past two decades, it has dried at the start of irrigation season, when its waters are diverted into ditches and canals. Two years ago, though, that early spring drying happened right when the river should have been ripping with spring snowmelt.
Then, the winter of 2018/2019 boomed. Spring waters roared down the Rio Grande, filling up side channels excavated to slow waters for rare fish and restoration projects—built to mimic the river we destroyed when we hoisted up dams and filled up reservoirs for farms and cities, straightened and channelized stretches of the river to no longer braid and meander.
The spring of 2019 was marvelous to behold, especially after the previous spring, summer and fall, when the state’s largest reservoir, Elephant Butte, dropped to 3% capacity.
That’s when a friend and I saw that fat, happy beaver grab some willow leaves, flip over, and float off downstream under the San Antonio bridge.
This June, staring down at the dead and dying fish, I wondered where that beaver was. I wondered how and where it found water, what happened to its spring kits.
Initially, when it dries, the Rio Grande can feel like a raucous, busy place.
The dying fish thrash and glug and splash. Birds seem manic with song. Coyote and raccoon prints pace up to each shrinking puddle. There are so many easy meals to snatch that they leave fish with just a few bites out of them in the middle of the bed.
Things quiet down pretty quickly, though.
This year, when I returned to the dry riverbed three days later, it was quiet save for flies. The only birds I see are turkey vultures who soar and descend. The fish I watched struggle in the last of the hot puddles—those that haven’t been eaten—are now heaving masses of bone and maggot.
In 2002, I met some fisheries biologists.We used to drink a lot of beer and whiskey and talk about books. And I’d listen—incredulous—when they talked about their work on the Rio Grande. The river was drying up? I couldn’t believe that could happen. The Rio Grande? Plus, I’d never seen anything about it in the news.
If the state’s largest river were drying, surely that would be newsworthy.
Later that year I started working for High Country News, and could write about it myself, instead of waiting for someone else to notice.
At that time, there were minimum flow requirements during irrigation season—a trickle of water was supposed to be left in the river for the survival of the silvery minnow, a rare fish listed in 1994 for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
But the minimum flow requirements appeared to be an irritation for anyone beyond the biologists who had called for their implementation the previous year. And at the time, as the river’s flows dipped below those minimums, officials at the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation—this was during the administration of George W. Bush—told me a gauge was out of whack, that the streamflow numbers I was watching on the US Geological Survey’s streamflow website were wrong.
Then 7 miles of the river dried. Agencies leased some water and tried to send it downstream. Biologists seined pools and plucked out rare fish.
Now, decades later, the river dries most years—even in 2019, with its high spring flows, fat beavers, and spawning minnows. That year, the Middle Rio Grande dried in September.
Now, it dries so regularly it’s not newsworthy anymore.
It’s normal. Just like those floods were normal more than a century ago.
Riffling through a 1947 report about plans for development in the Middle Rio Grande, I read about floods of “great magnitude” between 1870 and 1890, “though no official records exist.” Newspaper reports, however, chronicled that the “damaging flows” continued for 90 days and “several competent engineering groups” estimated flows from 45,000 cubic feet per second to 125,000 cubic feet per second.
In 1920, floods lasted 64 days and peaked at 28,800 cfs. In 1941, flood conditions stretched across 61 days and hit 24,000 cfs. The flows in 1922—that I saw in the photographs—don’t even merit a mention.
So far this year, the Rio Grande at the 380 bridge has spiked above 1,000 cfs just once, briefly in April. Even 2019’s beaver-delighting flows weren’t much to brag about in comparison, though they jumped toward 4,000 cfs twice in May and June.
That 1947 report is all about the need for development—to control floods, dampen down a rising water table, control sedimentation and aggregation of the riverbed. To meet demands, revamp old irrigation infrastructure and to save the valley.
“Unless measures are taken to rehabilitate the project and protect the lands and present development against flooding, the existing [Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District,] which includes the metropolitan development of Albuquerque, the irrigated economy of the area, and the non-agricultural economy dependent on it will virtually disappear in an estimated 50 years,” according to that 1947 report.
The urgency of the language strikes me. People were not messing around back then.
Now, the river dries and dries. And we hope next year’s snowpack will be better.
On June 1, when I hopped down intothe sandy riverbed and hiked cautiously toward the deeper cuts in the channel to look for water and fish, I kept thinking about a book I was reading about the transformation of the Bering Strait over the past century.
“The death of one living thing becomes life in another,” writes ecological historian Bathsheba Demuth. “An ecosystem is the aggregate of many species’ habits of transformation, their ways of moving energy from its origin in the sun across space and condensing it over time. To be alive is to take a place in a chain of conversions.”
The drying of the Rio Grande—despite how accustomed most of us have become to ignoring it or dismissing it—represents a vast transformation. And we are caught within that chain of conversions. It’s a transformation that we’re responsible for, on many different levels.
We colonized this river. We stole its floods. Pinned them back behind diversions and dams. Built reservoirs to retain water and attract Anglo farmers and settlements. Sucked away the river’s waters from its channel to foist it upon dry soils where creosote and mesquite scented the desert, replacing them with chile, onion, alfalfa, pecans.
And if you think I’m using the word “colonize” too freely, recall that as recently as the 1970s, the sacred lands and farm fields of the Pueblo of Cochiti were nabbed, then sacrificed to a reservoir to protect Albuquerque from floods.
Congress authorized Cochiti Dam in 1960, and despite outcries from many tribal members, the US Army Corps of Engineers built Cochiti Reservoir between 1965 and 1975. The pueblo “lost” about 30,000 acres. What that really means is they lost farmlands, hunting areas, sacred places, ancestral grounds, connections to their past—and lost their own stretch of the Rio Grande.
We also coughed and spat up so many greenhouse gases that the climate changed, the globe heated. Australia ignites, the Amazon ignites. Temperatures in Siberia soar to 100 degrees. In many places, including within our own state, the future will be uninhabitable—in some instances because of rising seas, in others because they’ll simply be too hot, too dry for humans to survive.
Early in my reporting career, I thoughtthere were good guys and bad guys.
I thought that if I researched hard enough, asked enough questions, talked to enough people, I’d find one agency, one person, one action to blame. (That inclination toward villain-seeking might have something to do with being lied to while reporting on my very first story about the dry riverbed.)
Now, I know it’s the system in its entirety. The system we built to transform the desert, encourage and sustain white settlements, and provide certainty to our cities and ways of life.
I want to point to bad guys, here and now. But the truth is, the people working on these issues are the ones who care the most, who worry about rain and snow, and who’ve likely ceded a great deal of personal happiness to meetings, reports, arguments, litigation and agreements.
Over nearly two decades, I’ve seen how agencies and people have changed, and how hard people work to cooperate. How federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as some conservationists, work together to try to meet everyone’s needs, to jiggle water in the system to try and keep some in the river.
But we can’t keep pretending that everyone’s needs can be met. We can’t keep hoping for a robust winter and hearty snowpack; we can’t keep hoping next year, the reservoirs will fill.
Remember that 2019 was a lustrous year for snow. But still the river dried. And reservoir levels on the Rio Grande remained far below capacity. Elephant Butte, for example, hit a high of about 29 percent capacity last July.
The other day, I received an email update from the Bureau of Reclamation about projected reservoir levels for Elephant Butte and Caballo—two critical reservoirs that supply southern New Mexico and Texas, and are a pinch point for litigation between the two states over distribution of the waters of the Rio Grande.
Right now, Elephant Butte Lake is 11.7% full, holding back about 230,000 acre feet of water. By this time next month, it will plummet to 124,000 acre feet.
“Unfortunately, our worst-case scenario is playing out with very little sustained monsoon activity, and increased temperatures driving demand,” read the email.
By the end of irrigation season, the reservoir will likely be down to where it dipped in 2018—about 3%.
Last spring, upstairs at the Universityof New Mexico Art Museum, six singers spaced themselves out across the floor, each standing in for a spot on the Rio Grande: the headwaters, Albuquerque, Elephant Butte Reservoir, El Paso, Big Bend and the mouth of the river at the Gulf of Mexico. On a screen, the year flashed for the audience, as the singers interpreted the streamflow data in song.
The six began their individual songs in 1974. They roared through the wet period of 1984 through 1993, a time during which many people moved to New Mexico and the state’s population begin inching upwards.
Familiar enough with the data from years of reporting on it, I waited for the ebbs and flows. Likely, I gripped my seat in anticipation of 2018. I didn’t want to hear the river screech to such a halt as it did, didn’t even want to hear Elephant Butte descend to sandy depths and stir the ghosts of its inundated lands.
Once the singers finished embodying the recent data—one of the three composers, Marisa Demarco, explained to me later—they each improvised a possible future for their point.
Listening to them then, I heard the chaos of the near-future. We know temperatures are rising. Scientists like Chavarria keep telling us, repeating again and again, that river flows are decreasing even in wet years thanks to the warming. Scientists like Gutzler keep telling us the warming trend keeps heading upwards, and water pressures will become tighter and tighter.
I listened to the singers’ voices tell the story of rising temperatures, quieted flows, uncertainty and fear. I imagined the chaos as we failed to heed the warnings, failed to make changes and plans, and kept clinging to outdated systems—systems that obliterated ecosystems and species and that had harmed some people to benefit others.
Then, notes emerged in the chaos of their voices that laid bare a different future. A future that left me in tears, but not because our river was gone.
This isn’t a eulogy.
Believe it or not, it’s a love letter.
Every news story I’ve reported on the Rio Grande—for this paper, for radio, for television, for magazines and online outlets—has been a love story. I’ve laid out the facts, asked you to see our river. And I’ve secretly implored each and every one of you to love our river.
Love can coast with the medians and averages. The regulated flows. But there’s banality in trudging through days unrecognizable from one another; there’s a certain dullness to water that’s moved from one reservoir to the next, depending on who needs it, what lawsuit is pending, what capacity there is for volume, and what tolerance we have as a society for dry riverbeds, extinct fish species and dead cottonwood forests.
In bouncy spring flows, however, there is wild, mad love.
And, I’ve learned, there’s love in the bitter quiet of a sandy river channel.
We’ve trapped this river, by our needs and within our laws. We’ve trapped this river by clinging to a colonial past, by failing to heed warnings, by lacking the imagination to change.
But Nuestra Señora, I know she still has tricks up her sleeve. I’ve listened to her voice. And she will outlast us all.
Laura Paskus is an environmental journalist and producer of the New Mexico PBS monthly series, Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future. Paskus was a 2019 Leopold Writing Program Resident and her book At the Precipice: New Mexico’s Changing Climate, is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press in September.
This lady blog is about one enchanted night spent with my spouse up on the Sandia Crest, overlooking the twinkly lights of Albuquerque, NM. Before your mind races to Camelot and other places…Think ladybugs.
My partner’s birthday wish was that we sleep on the mountain top. We hiked in under the starless mantle of a very dark night, escaping the stifling, smoky heat of the city. We set up our tent in a ring of pine trees, near an old camp fire circle. After we were settled, we walked to the very edge of the ancient, lichen covered granite before sleep claimed us.
The wind was howling and fierce along the edge, cleansing us of any residual corona virus stress, partisan politics and urban misery. Tucked away on our bed of pine needles the wind sang like a mighty ocean tide. Our weary bodies and treacherously overworked minds and hearts were lulled to sleep.
I awoke early the next morning. It was first light. Trowel in hand, ready to perform my daily business, I stumbled through the forest. Suddenly, I began to notice in the crevices of tree bark, on fallen branches, in nooks and crannies everywhere, piles and rivers of lady bugs. The trees surrounding us were literally wrapped in ladybugs!
It was as though they had flown in as a cloud and fallen on the forest like a quilt. Their hallmark red-ochre color accented with black heads, alerted me to their presence. They were everywhere.
I ran back to our camp to tell Kenneth. We grabbed the camera and marveled, following their tell tale trail. I found myself humming from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof,
Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles…
We had no idea we had slept with ladybugs, snugged in and enveloped. It was a very special birthday gift from the insect world.
Back in town, I went hunting. I wanted to find out more about ladybugs. What was their beneficial purpose in the garden. What meaning did they have in the mythical/archetypal world. What was the meaning of this particular fractal of magic we’d just experienced?
Animal Speak (Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1996) was my first go to. Ted Andrews invites us to experience nature firsthand, notice it, examine it, orient yourself to creaturely habitats. He writes, “nature speaks to us constantly, through it’s shapes, colors, textures, smells and varied expressions of animal life, it communicates to us about the world and our life. The symbolism of nature will vary according to it’s context, so you must know it’s natural context”. (P. 46)
I wondered about the importance of Ladybugs in our ecosystem. I found out that Ladybugs are considered a beneficial insect because they eat insects known to destroy plants in backyard gardens and agricultural crops. The blood of a ladybug is yellow and has a very strong smell that acts as a repellent, to predators.
From the larvae to the adults, all enjoy a diet of insects that are small and soft bodied. During the pupal stage, a ladybug can eat about 400 medium size aphids. Ladybugs live for about a year, but some can live up to three years. Within a year [one ladybug] will usually devour over 5,000 aphids. Larvae consume about 25 aphids a day. Adult ladybugs consume about 50 aphids a day. Their voracious appetite helps them play a vital role in the management of pests that attack agriculture.
I found out that as the temperatures drop, ladybug beetles (the family Coccinellidae) will fly en masse into canyons or assemble in great numbers and go dormant—something called diapause. Perhaps this was the phenomenon we saw.
Historically, the name “ladybird” originated in Britain where the insects became known as “Our Lady’s bird” or the Lady beetle. Mary (Our Lady) was often depicted wearing a red cloak in early paintings, and the seven-spotted ladybird (the most common in Europe) were said to symbolize her seven joys and seven sorrows.
In the human world of myth and culture, beetles have been associated with resurrection and metamorphosis. I perked up. Many spiritual teachers see this time of disruption, pandemic, and institutional failure as the beginning of a new epoch, an initiation for humanity for what must be birthed. The transformation of the cocoon. Animal Speak reminded me that the symbolic message from this most ancient creature, the beetle, might be my metamorphosis, as well as ours. Here’s the insect wisdom of beetle:
Stick together. Rest when you can. Prepare for change. Remember you are in the midst of a metamorphosis. What do you need to shed in order to welcome the new? Change is inevitable and only becomes more difficult when you resist its natural flow.
Ted Andrews (Animal Speak, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1996)
If you wish to learn more about ladybugs and beneficial insects, you can visit this wonderful site by the Xerces Society/Bee City USA in partnership with New Mexico State University. They are bug experts and entymologists who are exploring all things bugs this summer.
As a bug geek, I urge you to allow yourself to be drawn into the wonder and mystery of the insect world. Pick one species and learn about it. Apprentice yourself to its fascinating intricacies and oddities. Invite beneficials into your backyard by providing plant habitat. Insects are basic to our ecosystem’s building blocks. We must avoid a bugapocalypse if we are to survive as human species.
Blessed be the ladybugs, bees, butterflies and all things beneficial!
It has been hideously hot here in New Mexico this past week. Ninety eight degrees at the height of a New Mexico summer is not unusual, but 105 degrees Farenheit?
I’ve been harvesting and processing honey during this time. I regret not doing this at earlier cool, summer temperature of 90 degrees F. In triple digits, the comb is like butter, it melts off the bar— literally. The honey becomes a river, pouring through the hive. It aggrieves the bees, and I am crushed when this happens. Tomorrow I go at 6:30am, when the temps are still in the 80’s, to the organic farm in the South Valley, and remove this heat holding, insulating honeycomb, packed with the sweet elixir.
So, all this to say I have honey for sale. $15/pint. Unfiltered, raw, light floral honey. You will not regret a penny after you taste this!
If you want a square of chewy honeycomb dripping with honey, I’m selling this delicacy for $20. Delicious.
If you are local, contact me at email@example.com or call me at 505-514-4982.
These days, to stay sane in these times of spiking COVID 19, I pull out happy memories of travel. In May 2019, Kenneth and I made a pilgrimage to our holy honeymoon grounds in southeastern Utah— Red rocks country.
Bluff, Utah is home to a year round population of about 320. There’s the locals, fiercely committed to this land. Then there’s a smattering of river guides, archeologists, anthropologists, artists and students who scrabble out a living on the edge of Navajo country.
In Bluff we stayed at the Recapture lodge, renown as a hospitality center for the stories of legendary western writer, Tony Hillerman.
We visited Comb Ridge Eat and Drink restaurant. Our favorite fare. We visited Liza at Calf Canyon store, filled with beautiful Zuni and Navajo jewelry, fetishes and art. Liza was a favorite character in Bluff, and we could always get the low down on recent developments between conservationists and the fossil fuel industry, hellbent on acquiring as much land as possible. Our admiration for Liza was deep. She was a can-do woman, sturdy, cheerful, sun tanned and a lifelong voice for the land and waters. Her deceased husband, James Ostler, an anthropologist with the fabled Zuni fetish makers, left her the business and she was now taking care of their son with special needs, full-time. Her gourmet restaurant had long ago closed.
This year there was a new kid on the block. Bears Ears Visitor Center. An interpretive and information center for this sacred place of the Indigenous people. It told the story of a national land monument carved to smithereens by the trump administration, then served on a platter to oil and gas interests.
#visitwithrespect is the hashtag. My t-shirt and a bumper sticker remind me of this very special place, and to keep the faith for a return of this land.
Seems to be at the bottom of a lot of problems in our country today. Or perhaps I should say… the lack of.
Those who refuse to wear a mask as ICU’s are overflowing and medical workers are dying from COVID. Those who brutalize brown and black people. Those who drill and destroy sacred indigenous ancestral lands for a profit. Those who believe their religious belief and skin color is supreme.
Last week, I learned a hard lesson with my bees. Again. I waited too long to harvest honey. With the intense temperatures, some of the honeycomb had collapsed in the hive. I had neglected them. Now, I was raiding their stores. In my usual manner, I did not don gloves before I put my hands in the hive. I know my bees. I rarely get stung. But as the collapsed honeycomb split and spilled open during removal, the bees began to drown. Frantic to protect their community…let’s just say, I sustained damages.
Because the distance between a bee’s stinger and my hands in the hive is so short, I usually am very respectful. But this time I failed them. They got my attention.
Bee friends, tired of being “sheltered in place”? Have you watched tv until you can no longer digest all that information? Are you sick of puzzles, games, twiddling your thumbs, quarreling, sitting in your own backyard and living room? Expand your horizons! Join us in the garden and backyards of many people and places. Spark your imagination and give your family a treat! THIS WEEK is the 4th annual Pollinator Week festival for Burque Bee City USA. It’s extra special because it is all virtual this year! Albuquerque is the only Bee City USA certified in the Southwest region.
Yes. You can tune in to any of the sessions from far and distant lands! See the event calendar here— with a worm’s (or bee’s?) eye look at the each of the events happening daily!
To kick us off, tomorrow first thing, Wednesday June 24, Dr. Olivia Carril, New Mexico’s very own native bee specialist, will talk about these beautiful, magical, most excellent pollinators that are often not seen. Fairy bees. Carpenter bees. Sweat bees. Long horned bees. Bumble bees. They come in mesmerizing colors, with very specialized functions. They are shy creatures. All but the bumblers don’t sting!
Think Like A Bee will be live on Saturday! Hands in the Hive! with Amy Owen, live footage from her honeybee hive check. Followed by the Documentary about the importance of watersheds and protecting them. Come and visit Lorenzo Candelaria’s farm, where his family has lived continuously for over 300 years, to learn about food and bees and water. In New Mexico, water is precious. Water is life.
Special flashlight version of night pollinators in the Garden with Kaitlin Haase of Xerces/Bee City USA, Lara Lovell in the backyard with bees and showing you bee art! Pollinator tours and all things bugs both at the Bio Park and Open Space Visitors Center.
And music! BéBé La La, an Americana Folk group on Friday night, and Saturday afternoon with Seth Hoffman, live from Haifa Israel!
Bee Geeks Unite! Come on down in for lots of family fun, entertainment and education of all things pollinator!
This weekend is Solstice! On this auspicious day, June 20, 2020 10am Mountain Time, come and join a virtual interview from the Bachechi Open Space with Director, Marnie Rehn, and Anita Amstutz of Think Like A Bee. What are watersheds for and why are they important for bees and food?
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”
In the wee hours of the morning my husband and I drove slowly up the east back of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. Halfway up, I spotted a tiny rainbow colored figure along the side of the road. “Oh no!”, I cried. “A Western tanager”. Just the week before, my friend and I had hiked through this area, marveling at the brightly colored plumage disappearing into the tree canopy, their call indistinguishable from the common Robin.
As we always do, when we see a limp and lifeless or hurt creature on the side of this mountain road, we pull the car over and move the little being to safety, try to offer kindness. With a heavy heart I approached the broken body, it’s eyes already glassy and it’s beak barely moving as it tried to swim to the surface for oxygen, it’s neck broken.
I held this still warm, magical and magnificent being in the palm of my hand, sobbing inconsolably. Somewhere from deep inside, I offered compassion, a prayer of thanksgiving for this brilliant little bird and it’s short sojourn on the planet. Clearly it had collided with a fast moving car.
We had not started the journey like this. Eager for a day away from “sheltering in place”, I was reading to my husband from the recent Summer 2020 issue of Parabola: The Search for Meaning. We wondered and chatted about the stories, “On the Way to Presence”. “When I went from my head to my heart everything was Love“, wrote Ram Dass in his final days. It was a relaxed and joyful way of being together.
And suddenly this.
Life is like that. Constant portals, moving us between life and death. Death and life. Suffering and joy. Peace and fury. Love and despair.
As I hiked, I found my feet pounding the soft dirt trail, as grief gave way to blind rage. All the ecosystems destroyed and dying from human ignorance, darkened imaginations and profit-driven greed. The orangutan orphans in the forests of Borneo, Indonesia and Malaysia, their terrified mothers shot as the saws rip down their forest home for fancy furniture or palm oil in our fossil fuel drenched western lifestyles. Massive windowed skyscrapers full of unnatural light in Dallas at night, millions of tiny bodies of migrating birds littering the streets at their feet—caught in their strange reflections. Native bees disappearing before our eyes as Caterpillar machinery gobbles up native plants, paving over the high desert as wealthy Texans move to New Mexico suburbs. The genocide of millions of soft furry bodies beside our national roads as speeding cars blindly run over them, ignorant of their immense suffering and slow moving lives.
My furious rage and grief over this one tiny creature spilled over and suddenly became all the untimely human deaths in the past 3 weeks. Of two beloved women in my circle— sensitive beings of light, art, song, poetry and compassion. And the pandemic, still claiming millions of lives.
Though human suffering is untold, my task it seems, is to grieve and honor the voiceless, silent disappearing non-human species, even as the humans weep for their own. So much loss.
Walk through the world with care, my love And sing the things you see Let new names take and root and thrive and grow And even as you stumble through machair sands eroding Let the fern unfurl your grieving, let the heron still your breathing Let the selkie swim you deeper, oh my little silver-seeker Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home
Spell Songs/The Lost Words(based upon the brilliant and ancient Carmina Gaedelica, a Celtic book of nature prayers, poems, songs and liturgies)
Even so, in this season of weeping, hope comes to me in the form of a what I think is a rusty patched bumblebee in the mountain altitudes. My Xerces friend says my rusty rumped bee is not exactly this extinct bumblebee. Yet, I imagine that there is still one or many in the wild. I will believe.
So as death rises around us like a tsunami, we all are called to weep. To lament.
My friend Phyllis offers this beautiful prayer/poem for humans as they suffer loss and weep…
3 AM Mountain Standard Time
Stranger—You in the lighted window
on the third floor.
Did virus dreams nudge you awake?
Young mother in Iowa-
This isn’t what you imagined.
Your infant, cradled,
as you long to share the smell of her sweet head
with others you love.
Your fears are closing around you,
the virus only third on your list
of pressing concerns.
So many in the house, you alone awake.
Your ancestors come to you with soft murmurings of
past pandemics. So much weight.
You fall asleep at last to the heavy breathing of your cousin’s child.
Capitol City politician-
With vague unrest at 3 am,
Pondering where you missed the boat,
the heavy touch of your bad judgement.
Dairy farmer in Wisconsin-
Too early to get up now,
too dark yet even for the birds.
Who will buy your milk?
The smell of spring comes through your open window.
At least there’s that.
Young teen in the city-
Was it the siren that awakened you?>
You wonder if this is the sound of your future.
Will you never have the chance to drink too much at a crowded
party—bodies dancing, pressed together?
A light in a cabin in Alaska-
no one to see it but the wandering moose.
You’re good at isolation.
But you worry if you will ever be touched again.
You in Baton Rouge-
Sleep is just returning to you in the moist heat of night,
accompanied by cricket sound.
Would you ask the crickets to send some sleep my way?
Now it’s 5 am Mountain time.
My poem has been written.
The restless ones on East Coast time
have started their day,
nighttime worries dissolving in sunlight.
I will take myself and my poem back to bed.
And wait for the coming light to
bleach my dark hour
and birth my hope again.
Phyllis Bergman, May 2,2020
I will continue to hike in the mountains, pound off the rage burning in my thighs, bring oxygen to my grief filled lungs, bind up my hurt heart with trees and birdsong and sweet perfumed scents of Ponderosa pine. I will continue to look for the lost and dying in the creaturely world and mourn them…
And I will expect to see the extinct rusty patched bumble bee someday.