Friday, January 14, 2011

Bee-ings altar

It's been a while since I have written. I have no good excuses, simply that I've been busy and unmotivated to write. Today after I heard Obama's speech on the attack in Tucson, I felt moved to write again, his words summed up what I have been feeling and have not been able to express.

There is a lot to tell about what has happened at the Algarden and what I did this fall. I taught a Foodscaping 101 class at the Algarden, built Zonotopia at burningman, taught a Social Factors in Design class at UC Berkeley Extension. But today I will focus this blog entry on the bee altar for Dia de Muertos that Rob and I built at Garfield park. While an altar might seem like an unrelated post to Foodscaping, I will try to explain.

Last year was a difficult year for me, it was a year of hard decisions that kept me up at night. I had the opportunity to move back to my home town in Mexico and pursue a long time dream of researching the work of my grandfather while teaching Landscape Architecture at the State University, in the very same Architecture Department started by my grandfather and my great uncle. At the same time I was personally confronted with the reality of the devastating war on drugs. Something that had seemed far and unrelated to me became a reality check when my 15 year old cousin, Miguel Ramon "Mike" was abducted by members of organized crime.

As I grappled with this reality and tried to make sense of the situation I realized that there are tens of thousands of people feeling like me, frustrated and powerless against a headless monster, victims of this senseless war and there is nothing we can do.

There is a tradition that bee keepers should always communicate good and bad news to theirs bees, so I have been doing that. I find it therapeutic, and during the most difficult part of my grief, it became a routine, a meditation, I would talk to my bees almost every day. Nothing made sense, but during my time with the bees the world would stop. I could tell them anything and their buzzing calmed me down.
Interesting anecdote: I have rarely been stung by the bees, but on the day I told them I was considering moving to Mexico I got attacked like never before. Coincidence? or can the bees actually understand what I tell them? I don't know...

Then, in July the bees at Hayes Valley Farm were massacred. They were sprayed with pesticides at the entrance of the hive, wiping out two thriving hives and killing about 60% of a third hive. I was quite shocked by the news, I still cannot understand why anyone would do such a thing. It is bad enough to be losing our bees to Colony Collapse Disorder but this saddened me even more as I saw it as a vicious criminal act against innocent creatures.
We had a ceremony for the lost bees at HVF shortly after it happened.

I recently became reacquainted with the term social ecology which holds that "present ecological problems are rooted in deep-seated social problems, particularly in dominatory hierarchical political and social systems." I thought about this as I grappled with the realities of organized crime in Mexico and the real reasons behind Colony Collapse Disorder. It became apparent that they are similar, both my cousin and the bees are victims of corruption at different magnitudes; victims of a big headless monster.

The bee altar was my best attempt at building something beautiful to honor and celebrate the tradition of Dia de Muertos. I wanted to build an altar for the loss caused by organized crime in Mexico and for all the victims of this senseless war. I had a hard time conceptualizing the altar, I had a lot of pain on my heart, but I wanted to keep the festive mood of the celebration. 
And so the altar became a hive, and it was dedicated to bees; to all the bees that we have lost due to Colony Collapse Disorder, and even more so for the bees that were killed at Hayes Valley Farm

One might say, metaphorically, the bees represent the souls of the innocent victims of senseless wars and conflicts.
 We still don't know where Mike is. This altar was built thinking of him. I hope that he is at  peace where ever he may be.   

This was hard to write, it is actually the third time that I have written it. The first time I wrote it, I was cynical and angry, but as I said in the beginning, I got inspired by Obama's speech and rewrote it because "we must speak to each other in a way that heals." I have had a lot of reflection on many fronts and just like Obama, I urge you not be discouraged and I ask you to look forward, to live your life to the fullest even when confronted with things that are beyond our understanding. See the beauty that surrounds us, and nurture the relationships of those who are still with us. Have kindness, generosity and compassion for all bee-ings.  Let's live up to our children's expectations. 

I leave you with this inspirational music made by bees
and I ask you to sign this petition to ban the pesticides that are killing our bees

I wish I had a petition for you to sign that would stop the killings in Mexico...

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