I Cover Northern Westchester Progressives and Activists — # 5 – The Bees, The Bees!


My genius cousin Susy Sanders telepathically knew what last week's theme was. So she did bee paintings.

My genius cousin Susy Sanders telepathically knew what last week’s theme was. So she did bee paintings

Last week’s theme took me by surprise. It wasn’t the weather and climate change. It wasn’t transformation workers meeting and supporting each other. Or even that from tiny acorns of citizen initiatives mighty oak trees grow. Last week’s theme turned out to be the bees.

I’m glad it was the bees. Because, really, the bees stab me in the heart. Twice. And they’ve been doing it for years.

They stab me in the heart once because they’re in such scary trouble. In trouble because of us and how we’ve deranged their world. The stab me in the heart twice because of the people who’ve been working for the sake of the bees and who keep working. They are such menschy, reverential, practical and loving people that it makes me proud of them. And hopeful. Because they prove we humans really do have an undeniable capacity for right action, and transcendence, and for compassionate intelligence.

For those who don’t know: the bees are in trouble. And when the bees are in trouble, so is everyone else. The land-based food chain depends on the bees and their pollination services. Various toxins, parasites and diseases are jeopardizing those pollination services, and so the food chain, by making the bees die.

On Wednesday I went to Green Drinks Hudson Valley (organized by the dedicated and personable Jeffrey Domanski) at The Hop in Beacon. And while I was there I talked to Scott Tillitt and Ajax Greene, the leaders of ReThink Local and organizers of the annual Social Venture Institute / Hudson Valley retreats and David Dell who I met this summer at the first annual SVI retreat. (Since we’re talking, I learned that the second annual retreat is completely set up and accepting reservations. Perhaps you’ll attend this year), Jen McCreery, the lovely director of Garrison’s Desmond Fish Library who brought along a member of her board (they’re just embarking on a new solarizing project and have doing a lot of green and sustainable work right along). Heather Flournoy and Thomas Bregman of Energize NY ( I talked to a lot of people about a lot of things they’re working on, but what engaged my heart the most was the bees.

I met Chris Harp, who for 25 years has been Hudson Valley’s bee doctor. I liked him very much. Spending the last 25 years with the bees has obviously been very good for him. He was explaining to a fledgling beekeeper and friend why her bees died. They didn’t die because the farmers planted GMO corn. They died because this fall was the very driest since weather records have been kept. Which meant the plants produced pollen, but hardly any nectar. The bees need the nectar for food, and, being frugal, they wouldn’t break into their stored honey because it wasn’t winter yet. So they starved. Just another example of the hundreds of thousands of unintended consequences that come from all we’ve been doing for the last 300 years to change the climate. Oops. And I met a woman who moved to The Czech Republic and lived there for 10 years raising bees.


On Saturday I attended the Bedford2020 Energy Summit and Solar Day of Action. I was very happy to see many of my friends in attendance: Heather again, Stephen Filler, Don Raskopf, (an old friend who serves with Stephen on the Clearwater Board), Nikki Coddington, Haven Colgate (who has this to say: “The neonicitinoids are killing all sorts of pollinating insects: from honeybees to bumblebees to moths to fireflies. It is criminal, barbaric and completely suicidal.”), Herb Oringel, Donna Stein, Mary Beth Kass, Ellen Conrad.

And also, even more bee people. First there was Regina Blakeslee and her comrades from Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers. (they’ll be presenting a program with Chris Harp called “A Bee-Centered Approach to Beekeeping – Invite Bees into Your Life!” on February 28th at the Yorktown Grange.) (Check out the FB event listing here.) (You can also check out the organization founded by Chris Harp and Grai St. Clair Rice, I’ve heard Regina’s name for years because she kept her bees right next to Something Good in the World’s chicken coop where, for years, in all kinds of weather, I or Mary Stark went every Saturday morning to let the chickens out. Thanks to Karen at Rainbeau Ridge, Bedford’s favorite sustainable and bee-friendly farm for cluing me in about the event. You should definitely check out Rainbeau Ridge. And I met D.J. Haverkamp from Bedford Bees, another very good bee person. He gives classes and will set up a beehive at your house and take care of it and give you the honey

And what about those two different stabs in the heart?

What we’ve done to the bees may well be deeply catastrophic. The cumulative concentrations of agricultural poisons (oh, are they created out of fossil fuels?) are implicated in sudden hive collapse. Industrial bee operations decrease genetic diversity while increasing the risk of epidemic health risks. Genetically modified crops flooding the environment kills bees through literal derangement: neurotoxins degrade their navigational senses until they can’t find their way back home.

Our short-term machinations create systemic consequences we don’t understand. Damaging the deeply interconnected webs of life we need to survive leads to peril and death for ourselves and most other forms of life on the planet. That is fearful and distressing and enormous and disorienting.

On the other hand, these bee people are some of the best of us. They are deeply respectful and patient, as so many are who understand the connection between nature’s health and our own. Beekeeping is, by its very nature, deeply local. Beekeepers know each other, they teach each other, and they know the land and the plants that make up the world of their bees. Their work is suffused by deep love

The point is that the people who understand these deep threats to the bees are working, quietly and with ever-increasing competence, to do something about it.

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