Debra Roberts: Creating and Loving “Bee Haven”

“You see, when one realizes that the bees receive very many influences from the starry worlds, one sees also how they can pass on to man what is fitted for him. All that is living, when it is rightly combined, works rightly together. When one stands before a hive of bees one should say quite solemnly to oneself: ‘By way of the bee-hive the whole Cosmos enters man and makes him strong and able.’” ~ Rudolph Steiner

beeDebra Roberts has spent years ‘sewing’ her spirit into the life of the amazing honeybee (Apis mellifera). Her dance with the honey bees began with a health crisis, a couple of jars of honey, and a quest to give thanks to native Hopi elder, Thomas Banacyca, who had touched her life years before.

“I got ill in the early winter of 2004. I moved through the crisis eventually and by the following February, when I was better but still recovering, I found myself thinking of Thomas, who someone had told me had died. As I was lying in my bed resting with my cat Bowie one morning, in the winter sunlight, I got the guidance to go to Hopi and thank Thomas’s family – to pay my respects to him by gifting them with something.”

The gift ended up being honey, which Debra purchased from a man down the road from where she lived. Debra was on a mission as she headed west to Hopi. Upon arriving at the elder’s home she was greeted by Thomas’s son and the son’s wife. After explaining why she was there, the wife commented that she had just mentioned to her husband that they were out of honey and was going to the store to get some. Coincidence?

“Talk about synchronicity… that is when bees slipped under my radar and into the heart of my life!” After that amazing experience Debra went to France where she had what she calls “bee encounters.” “Then I read The Secret Life of Bees and Rudolph Steiner’s book, The Nine Lectures on Bees, which was so dense that it was difficult to understand at the time. I saw a flyer for Bee School and that was it!”

The love affair blossomed and Debra soon found herself overwhelmed at the prospect of taking care of the honey bees, since every hive could have as many as 60 thousand ‘beings’ in it. She found a beekeeper to apprentice with and experienced the bees through all of their seasons. To her delight, this beekeeper practiced organic beekeeping and she learned a great deal that year, becoming very comfortable with bees.

Bee miracles kept unfolding… from being invited to teach at The Organic Growers’ School, to teaching beekeeping to students and teachers in Turkey. All of this transpired in what Debra calls “Bee Haven” – a sanctuary for her and her bees where her hives reside. Each hive has its own name… Sacred Coeur, Mama Malta, Eartha, and Imme.

“All paths led to the BEES! It was this remarkable thing that I never planned!” Debra exclaims. She now teaches chemical-free beekeeping and what people can do to help even if they don’t have bees. She builds bridges between conventional beekeeping communities, who might use chemicals, and those who are permaculture or organically-oriented, to find common ground.

Debra with her students in Turkey.

Debra with her students in Turkey.

“I teach 101 ways to help the honey bee in the hope that people will be inspired in at least one way to help. People want to help but it’s very difficult sometimes to know what to do. I taught this for the first time in Turkey on a four-day retreat called, Bee Love and Be the Love campaign. Our job was not to teach beekeeping per se, but was about the honeybees themselves, what goes on in the hive, about the fantastic life of a honeybee, how honey is made, and the total alchemical magical process in the day of a bee. The students’ jobs were to dream their own projects and take them back to their communities. It was fantastic!” (See a few of the 101 ideas below.)

“Giving these presentations opened so many doors. I started receiving so much interest from people around the world who wanted to tell me what they were doing to help the bees and to ask about my practices. I wanted to get that information out, so I created an online series called The Sacred Path of Bee.

“Bee keeping becomes a meditation and if we are calm, focused, and respectful the bees respond to this. Another way of seeing it is mindfulness. I practice these things day in and day out. One day I was having an ‘ah ha!’ moment in the yard. I was thinking about all these qualities I practiced and in the moments of awe, reverence, and devotion the result was this immense outpouring of love. This practice has all the common denominators of the main religions and spiritual traditions so that for me, beekeeping became a sacred practice and it was no longer ‘keeping’ but more like I was being kept by my bees! That whole transition led me to the presentation about The Sacred Path of Bee.”

The Hopi elder who so touched Debra spoke of the 5th World prophecy, when it was the woman’s time to step forward. “If I look at the bee community, there are more women than ever stepping up and out into that field. I think colony collapse initiated a compassionate response… it’s as if the bees sent out an S.O.S. and the feminine kicked in! The bees are one of the species whose loss has catalyzed such a compassionate response from people, a call to reconnect.

“We are in a relationship with the honey bees that enlivens something within us… something is going on and there is communication. It goes beyond the obvious of bees pollinating plants and providing food. That interaction, between bees and plants, is one of the most sensual and sacred relationships in the world. What happens in your life when you have a relationship that is non-human where you feel interconnected with life? You start to love yourself and others more… it’s like a spiral up!

“So if people as beekeepers can keep being better stewards of them or if other people – whose paths are not to have bees – can love them and amp up their appreciation in realistic ways for them, then that’s what changes the world for bees. And it’s not just all of us beekeepers… it’s about everyone having a relationship with the bees. It’s a big love conspiracy and I believe love is the ultimate activism! When I’m standing in my bee yard my heart is so open. I am in awe and weeping at the colors of pollen the bees bring home, the smells in the bee yard, and the sounds of the drones coming home in the afternoon… I am amazed!”

Last Year’s Pollination Celebration.

Last Year’s Pollination Celebration.

Thirty percent of our food is totally dependent on honeybee pollination… that’s one out of every three bites! Some of our most interesting foods we owe to the honeybee: fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Even the cattle that we eat are dependent on pollinated plants as their food source. Without the honeybees we would have a very limited diet (that we likely would not tolerate given the diversity we are used to).

And it’s not just about food. When we look out on our landscape we need to remember that pollinators are responsible for those trees and vegetation. Without them it would be just conifers, and no beauty of the flowers that the bees give us. We need all the pollinators but if we didn’t have the honeybees, we would notice the most change in our lives.

Debra is ‘sewing’ relationships internationally by writing, speaking, mentoring, and educating even if people can’t have beehives. One of the things she teaches is how to remove a bee stinger so it hurts less, and to know the difference between a honeybee and a yellow jacket. This empowering information brings the fear factor down in children and adults.

“We actually need bee appreciators even more than beekeepers because there are a lot of beekeepers in our region. People want to know how to help, to appreciate, and to actually understand the value of loving something. That’s where I feel that in some ways, I am an undercover lover going around the world!

“I’m simply besotted with my bees,” Debra said with a smile. I had to ask what that word meant since I had never heard it before. Once she explained the origin and meaning, I couldn’t have agreed more (infatuated, smitten, in love, head over heels in love with, obsessed). Debra’s bee love is reaping benefits that are touching lives around the world, not only creating love for honeybees but awakening the love of self and consequently, a love for others. It’s creating relationships with a capital ‘R’ and a sense of mindfulness as we interact with these remarkable life-giving beings.

Visit Debra’s web site to learn more about honeybees and her new online series due to launch by the beginning of April. Contact her by email at [email protected] and Debra Roberts on Facebook.

Ways you can help the honeybees:

PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF GARDENING: help support a sustainable wildlife habitat in backyards for birds, butterflies, bees, and small mammals. Grow hardy native and naturalized wildflowers that will attract birds, bees and butterflies to your garden. Please choose the regional variety best suited to your location.

There are also sites online that show how to make them (great project for children).

BUY LOCAL HONEY: And get a word-of-mouth recommendation for best honey in the community (it’s easy to find out if you ask around). I choose honey from beekeepers that don’t use chemicals in their beekeeping practices.

SUPPORT RESTAURANTS THAT USE LOCAL ORGANIC FOOD: This creates a greater demand and market for that food; the plants that produce that food need bees for pollination; and organic farmers have healthier plants to offer the bees. Win, win, and win!

PROVIDE A WATER SOURCE FOR BEES: Put a bird feeder or some shallow container with water out in the warm weather months and keep it freshened up. Put rocks in it so that when the bees come to get water, they won’t drown. Bees need water for lots of reasons – especially for cooling their hives and diluting stored honey to then feed to growing bees. Because they are drinking water away from home, they are not defensive. It is a lovely thing to see them drinking and a great service to the bees and the birds.

ASK YOUR LOCAL NURSERIES TO SUPPORT THE BEES IN TWO WAYS: Keep a list of which plants regularly have neo-nicotinoids applied to them (a form of pesticide that is dangerous for pollinators) and plants that are typically neonic-free (without those pesticides, which is good for pollinators). Unless labeled organic, the majority of plants in many places have these neonic pesticides applied for various reasons. Maintain a list of bee-friendly plants, especially for the months of the year when there is less bee food and fewer bee plants blooming (in our area, especially August).

Sophia Noll, a Professional Organizer and Organizer Coach lives in the Asheville area and has been organizing people’s lives for over ten years from Maine to Asheville. Sophia has a passion for nature and loves to capture it thru the lens of her camera. She also enjoys spending time with friends, interviewing people for WNC Woman, and gardening. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Sophia Noll

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