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Birth of a Beekeeper

September 25, 2015 | By Melanie Kirby (SF97)

Melanie Kirby owns a beekeeping business in New Mexico.
Melanie Kirby (SF97) owns a beekeeping business in New Mexico.

I’ve travelled many a road, in the darkest of nights, serving as chauffer to beings of lightness and sweet, migrating with them as a fellow follower of the bloom. On other starry dappled nights, I ride as passenger, hearing the hum of the motor and the buzz of the bees, smelling the scents of warm beeswax and nectar being fanned to its essential and existential perfection. I hop in and out of the truck opening and closing gates, allowing the navigator to slowly ease over bumpy tracks to the distant land of milk and honey. I latch the gate behind the truck and realize that here in this darkest of night skies I am helping to carry tiny embers of pure starlight to their new fragrant pasture.

What am I doing? Transporting queen bees I’ve raised to their new hives, where they will form the foundation for a group of beings that ensure the existence and continuation of plant species, and in the process produce exceptional honey. My business, Zia Queenbees, raises queen bees, provides beekeepers with starter nuclei and assembled hive boxes, produces varietal honeys, and offers pollination services and community education about the wonders of beekeeping.

How did I get here? I recall as a 5-year-old wanting to be a nurse. I was intrigued with the biology of life and with the science that leads to healing. I wanted to be liked—and I wanted to promote wellness. A few years later, I wanted to be “interesting” and to become a writer of interesting things. I entertained a career as an anthropologist, so I could learn how people in other cultures live, what they strive to attain in their lives and how they celebrate. It was the celebration and power of music and dancing that I became intrigued with next, while at the same time pursuing the sciences. I had no clue that I would be able to include all of my childhood interests into one career path—that of keeping fuzzy insects for my livelihood.

Now, close to two decades after the bees found me, I feel a little more “interesting”—enough to write. After travelling the globe from farms to forest lands, following the bloom from flower to flower and from hive to hive, I recognize the pieces of my life’s puzzle. And, so, today I am a professional apiculturist, one who keeps bees. I am a specialist. I am a queen honey bee breeder. The heart of the hive rests with the queen, and in selecting and following Mother Nature’s lead, I help to nurse hives; by doing so, I immerse myself in their culture and feel their musical vibrations.

Keeping bees is very different from “having” bees. In order to keep bees, one has to constantly learn from the natural and man-made forces and their interactions. Synergy is the interaction of individual conditions that yields an effect greater than the sum of the individual effects. The interactions between a bee and its environment, between its colony and their environment, are ever-changing. Mother Nature’s dynamic interface requires the ability to adapt and the ability to relate to more than one stimulus.

The bees rely on the natural and supplemental forage that surrounds them. They are at the mercy of the elements. Their importance to plants is profound. Also known as the “winged angels of agriculture,” their efforts help to produce more than 90 percent of all food. As Hippocrates claimed, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.” Seventy percent of all cures are derived from plants, and it is this connection between horticulture and medicine that keeps the bees, and man, healthy.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my small bee farm, which is nestled where the Santa Fe, Carson, and Pecos National Forests “kiss.” The idea for the farm developed out of a love of books. When I met my partner Mark Spitzig (who runs Superior Honey Farms in Michigan now) while working at a bee farm in Florida, we started eating dinner together with a dessert of heated discussions about Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Books fostered our conversations and it was through books that we came to learn about each other and our passion for bees. Books and their musings inspired us to discuss. And books inspired us to plan and to act.

Books encouraged us to dream, to become inspired, to visualize and then manifest. How can learning to learn inspire others and inspire a sense of preservation and thus, sustainability? It is in thinking that we create. Creating is the reflection of what Mother Nature and Father Time have been molding us to do since time immemorial. It is this, and this alone, that moves the cosmos.

We see it reflected again and again, in the writings of Plato in the Meno: what is the bee? Is the bee a bee or is it a bee because it is part of a collective hive mind? Can a bee be a bee without his hive mind? And, does the hive exist apart from its bees? What, we daresay, what IS it? And WHO are we?

I’ve had a few epiphanies over the years, nothing short of miraculous for me as I am rather high-strung, scarcely slowing down to eat and sleep. It is my creative mind that I struggle to rein in on occasion. It takes me through the honeycombed labyrinths of reality. Yet, I find the calm when I am truly in the honeycombs, kneeling in the apiary. This calm is pervasive. You can hear it humming its maternal frequency. You can smell its sweetness and you can see its majesty. And it beckons you to preserve it.

These sensory experiences appeal to my thoughts, allowing me to reconnect with the exquisiteness of life and strive for a glimpse of origin. I did not know that beekeeping would become the professional and personal declaration for me that it has. I attribute that to my experiences as a student at St. John’s, learning to learn and wanting to learn. Wanting to learn has everything to do with manifestation. It is humbling to recognize that what one thinks, one sees—and what one does, one makes real.

My beekeeping journey began 19 years ago; it has been exhilarating. My vida loca has me travelling the speed of light in thought between the micro and macrocosmic perspectives as I follow the bloom from season to season. My life as a nectar nomad has fed me both in body and in mind. I see the bee. I AM the bee.

I see her working: visiting each blossom, sensing its perfumes, collecting its pollen and starlit nectar, and then returning home to transform these energy particles into more decorated entities of light and sweetness. It is that light, that sweet light, at the core of it all. It emanates from the source, radiating down from the heavens, shining down on a lonely planet. This lonely planet then absorbs light and is inspired to grow beings of light, beings that transform it into sweet and fragrant nectars. Other beings of light help transfer the glow, serving as midwives and pollinators, helping to deliver fruit full of this light energy, nourishing our minds and our bodies. From stardust to stardust, it is we who help to create the environment in which we exist.

About the Author: Melanie Margarita Kirby has followed the bloom with her bees to South America, North America, Eastern Europe, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean. She will venture to the Mediterranean this fall to visit French queen honeybee breeders in Normandy. She also serves as the editor of Kelley Beekeeping monthly online newsletter, with more than 40,000 subscribers. To learn about her farm, visit www.ziaqueenbees.com.

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