On this Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I think about Mabel McKay, Pomo basket weaver and medicine woman. Recently, I went to see an exhibition of her work at The Autry Museum in Los Angeles and was struck with the serenity and with the spirit of healing and strength her baskets exude. Greg Sarris’s biography of McKay, Weaving the Dream, recounts a lecture where a student asked her if it was her grandmother who taught her the art of basket weaving. Mabel responded: “It’s no such a thing art. It’s spirit…..I only follow my Dream. That’s how I learn.”
Art, spirit, and dreaming have always been linked for me, and I could feel that in Mabel’s work, even though it was all safely housed in environmentally controlled glass housings. Such work, such medicine people, like Mabel, have so much to teach the rest of the world. In an era of such profound disconnection from spirit, from the earth, from each other, these are people whose work can help weave us back into the fabric of life, back to a place where we can awaken and realize our place within the original web of connections.
Joe and I spent some time this weekend at The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, CA. It’s a beautiful place containing a deep stillness felt only in the presence of distant history. In the wake of contemporary political tumult, it was a balm to the soul to wander among the antiquities, a reminder that this, too, shall pass. I don’t know why, but I am particularly drawn to these female figures from the Cycladic civilization from 6500-1650 BC. According to what is known about some of these figures, they were, at one point, covered in bright paint. Time has stripped them to their essence. Distant history has stilled them, offering a place to pause and find respite from the brightly painted present.
I never thought I’d have the chance to learn beekeeping, particularly in the Los Angeles area, but the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association offers classes on beekeeping. Who knew? For $10 per household, which procures membership in the association, you have free access to these classes, most of which are held at Bill’s Bees, Bill Lewis’s bee yard in the hills of the Angeles National Forest. I was amazed at how many people showed up for the class on the first day. Bill’s Bees is tucked back into a canyon, down a narrow, winding, partially paved road, and yet we found ourselves in a long convoy all heading for the same destination. After the cluster of chairs in a barn-like structure filled up, it was standing room only for everyone else, close to 100 people altogether.
Bill and his fellow beekeepers are experts on bees and there is much to learn. Many attendees took notes, including myself. The first two classes were mainly instructional with some demonstrations on how beehives are constructed. It was the third class that I was longing for, where we would have to wear bee suits as we’d be introduced to the bees themselves.
Mark Winston says in his book, Bee Time, “Walking into an apiary is intellectually challenging and emotionally rich, sensual and riveting.” He’s not kidding. It’s a full-body experience, walking up to an open hive where hundreds of bees fill the air with the vibrations of their buzzing, where you smell the thick, sweet aroma of wax and honey. It’s hypnotic, watching the intricacies of their flight patterns as they exit and enter the hive. They are all around, bumping into my netted hood, landing on my suit, although miraculously, they don’t bump into each other. It was hard to get close to one of the many hives for very long given how many people were there in their suits. One woman started hyperventilating with panic in the midst of so many bees. I wanted to sit down and let myself be lulled into a nap by their collective hum. When I was finally able to get close to one of the open hives, I got to hold one of the frames, covered with bees and wax. There were bees attending to newly emerging bees…..bees being born before my eyes. Leaning in closer, we got to hear the individual song of the queen deep in the hive.
Although it’s not practical to keep a hive on our own small property, it was worth it just to stand in the midst of so many bees, like being invited into an exclusive club. I’ve been able to do that, on a less numerous scale and with less fear of being stung, with hoards of hummingbirds flying in and around our backyard feeders. The bees are a more intense crowd, driven by a collective purpose. I was merely a privileged observer.
As much as it has almost become a cliche, peace on earth, as a reality, remains elusive, but we have to believe it’s still possible. Big peace takes time, but little moments of peace are always possible–like not getting enraged every time someone cuts you off on the freeway, or someone butts in front of you in a line. I try to remind myself I never know what’s going on in another person’s life that drives their behavior. Yes, I still yell at bad freeway drivers, but I try to reign in my animosity and give other humans the benefit of the doubt. I know I’m grateful for every time someone does that for me. Little moments of peace–we can all create those, and perhaps they will begin to add up, so that rudeness and lack of compassion become the exception and not the norm.
Ah, when to the heart of a man Was it ever less than a treason To go with the drift of things, To yield with a grace to reason, And bow and accept the end Of a love or a season?
Robert Frost, “Reluctance”