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The Bellerive bees in winter

The Bellerive bees in winter

Midwest winters can be hard. The last bit of green obliterated by the snow. The beauty of snow riddled with soot deteriorating into slush. Fierce nights. As I glance out window as temperatures hover around zero I see the bee hives buried in snow. All during the fall I had chastised myself for not getting around to taking the honey from the hives and now I hope that might be a saving grace.

The weather mirrors my life as I find myself in the role of caregiver while a family member recovers from surgery. Even though I know this will pass, patience is increasingly in short supply. Daylight is limited, but it is time to take a moment to see.

Sometimes I need only stand wherever I am to be blessed.
Mary Oliver

  • A handwritten letter arrives, bringing me back to an afternoon spent sitting with a nun in San Antonio who has generously become my friend even tough her days are precious, whisps of words carrying her strong spirit.
  • A blue heron flies over a lake at my friend’s new country house.
  • My daughters call, one during the day to invite me to a spontaneous lunch; the other near midnight just because she knows I miss her so.
  • Sadie gives me a sleepy Labrador wag from the sofa.  I dig my fingers into her rough coat and tell her the story of the first dog who comes to the first fire.
  • I pick up my knitting.

    Sometimes I need only stand wherever I am to be blessed.

    The next day the weather breaks and temperatures skyrocket to the 50s. And the Bellerive bees miraculously appear flying in and out of the hive.

    The Lake, Pat Thibodeau

    The Lake, Pat Thibodeau

    The Mission Is Within

    photo by Grant Gillard

    photo by Grant Gillard

    The primary nectar flow is in full swing and my bees are single-mindedly going about their work. Some guard the hive, others fetch water from the pond, forage for nectar, alert their comrades to new blooms by dancing on the doorstep. They and their mission are one. The mission is within.

    And I think of Sr. Alice.

    I first met Sr. Alice when she was leading a spirituality and arts center in the congregation’s old dairy barn. Alice is a white-haired wise woman, her features sharp, her eyes kind and laughing. She is a tai chi practitioner, tall and angular, moving effortlessly through the world of spiritual traditions.

    Alice’s white barn housed vibrant art and quiet music where the dairy stalls had been. The soaring beams of the hayloft framed a contemplative sacred space. I loved walking past the tall rosemary bushes into the barn, reflecting upon artists’ visions, listening to Alice as she shared her latest spiritual journey. But then it was gone.

    The sisters’ retirement complex was next door and needed more space. The barn gave way for senior apartments to expand the sisters’ ministry to serve older adults.

    The loss touched my heart. I thought of Alice, the scent of the rosemary and heat bouncing off the Texas sandstone that bordered the barn path, the light coming through the square dairy stall windows. The white barn gave way for a high-rise. I couldn’t imagine how terrible Alice felt about losing that beautiful space.

    A few months later I was in San Antonio on the motherhouse grounds walking behind the retirement center. Suddenly, I saw Alice striding toward me, tall and slender in a red shirt and denim skirt. I hurried toward her and blurted out my concern for her and the loss of the barn.

    She just smiled. Then she said that she was fine.

    The barn was just a place, albeit a beautiful place, but a place all the same. She had been given an office in the retirement center and was carrying out the mission in a new way that she called Chispas, or sparks, for the sparks of the divine that are in each of us.

    Alice explained that the mission is within her. The place is unimportant because she carries the mission within wherever she is. The mission manifests itself in whatever she is doing.

    I have thought about that conversation with Alice many times. So often we get caught up in the need to possess something, whether it be a place, a project, our job or another person. To varying degrees these things are necessary for us, but they do not define us.

    Each of us has a mission.

    The bees currently live in a hive box in my yard, but they could swarm and move to a hollow sycamore tree or rotted building eaves. The bees would construct new comb, rebuild the honey stores.

    We carry the mission within.

    The Red Barn

    The red barn, Winfield, MO

    The red barn, Winfield, MO

    A few weeks ago I went with Michael to pick up a package of bees near Winfield. One of my hives had died out after an unexpected snowstorm in March. They were my favorite hive–Carniolan bees, gentler than the Minnesota hygienic Italian bees I usually raise. It was a dreary day with heavy skies and the fields were newly planted with little growth amid the standing water on the Missouri River flood plains.

    I was not in the best frame of mind and wished I could have put the whole trip off but the bees could only stay in their temporary package so long before they would die off. As we rounded the bend, I saw it–a weathered red barn in a field of yellow wildflowers. How could I give in to the gloomy day with this reminder that the world was a good and beautiful place?

    A few weeks later I was on the radio talking about a new youth summer jobs program the foundation had initiated. These programs are common in other large cities but there was currently no organized widespread effort in our community.

    It had been a long haul. We had had some success and two hundred young people would have jobs. Donors had come forward from the business and philanthropic sectors and we had garnered support from the local government as well.

    It had not, however, been easy. The foundation’s motivation was grounded in social justice. The rationale for business’s support related to workforce development and economic growth. The governmental involvement meant balancing political realities. Fundamentally, everyone wanted the project to succeed, but the behind-the-scenes work to develop the actual program, create realistic expectations and manage relationships took an inordinate amount of time and energy. Being on the radio was a piece of cake compared to all of that. I was tired.

    After the radio show a friend texted me and said she had heard the radio program and it was great. And then a colleague sent me an e-mail in which she acknowledged that it must have been tough navigating all of the relationships to bring the program to fruition but that it was worth it; she thanked me.

    A red barn in a field of yellow flowers.

    Joy in the Unexpected

    Tower Grove Park

    On Saturday I was thinking about setting out the leaf lettuce in the studio garden and on Sunday I awoke to a day-long snowstorm. Ten inches of snow later, my plans for gardening are postponed indefinitely. It’s time to take joy in the unexpected.

    Between Winter and Spring

    image

    The time between seasons–specifically the time between winter and spring–can be hard.  We are ready for daffodils and a bright sun cutting through the sharp blue cold air.  It is time for planting dried peas and opening the bee hives to see if the first nectar is in and queen is laying.  Each day brings a check on the weather and the almost physical yearning to pull aside the mottled straw stems of the phlox and bee balm to see the new growth breaking through the cold ground.  But the temperatures still linger near freezing and the dirty snow melts into a grey muck of a landscape–bare trees and tangled brush, last year’s flower pots in a jumble on a corner of the deck, a scattering of leftover leaves.  It took a brave sparrow landing on the pot of thyme on the top railing, indulging in an organic herbal feast to remind me–spring is budding whorls of tangy sweetness waiting for a discerning eye.