Of Bees, Buttons, and Badgers
July 2, 2007

On our Saskatchewan Prairie, the nearest neighbor was four miles away, and at night we saw only two lights on all the dark rounding earth. The earth was full of animals--field mice, ground squirrels, weasels, ferrets, badgers, coyotes, burrowing owls, snakes. I knew them as my little brothers, as fellow creatures, and I have never been able to look upon animals in any other way since. The sky in that country came clear down to the ground on every side, and it was full of great weathers, and clouds, and winds, and hawks. I hope I learned something from looking a long way, from looking up, from being much alone. A prairie like that, one big enough to carry the eye clear to the sinking rounding horizon, can be as lonely and grand and simple in its form as the sea. It is as good a place as any for the wilderness experience to happen; the vanishing prairie is as worth preserving for the wilderness idea as the alpine forests.

Wallace Stegner
"Coda:Wilderness Letter"
from The Sound of Mountain Water

Lately people have been asking me how I became so interested in bees. I tell them it's the artist Aganetha Dyck who got me hooked on the world of honeybees. I'll never forget the first time I saw Aganetha give a talk on her work at a Carfac event in Regina. I saw slides of her shrunken sweaters and canned buttons and I thought, "Now this is an artist who speaks to me." She's one of us--by that I mean she's one of the prairie folk--a group of people who are born of and formed by the land. When she was showing The Extended Wedding Party at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon, I was invited to work with Aganetha to create a performance in the gallery inspired by her work. The result was a whimsical piece, popular with the children who visited the gallery called Cleaning the Hive.

As Aganetha shared her wisdom and knowledge of working with the bees with me, I became fascinated with these creatures. When I started volunteering at UBC farm a few years ago, I was drawn into a state of meditation whenever I visited the hives. That was where I conceived the ideas for the Beespeaker work. Aganetha has inspired and mentored many artists with her brilliant work and inspiring conversations. She just recently won a much deserved Governor General's Award in visual and media arts. I think of Aganetha often and a gift she gave me--a piece of blue fabric worked on by the bees hangs above the area where I do much of my writing.

Whereas Aganetha Dyck comes from Manitoba, I am a Saskatchewan girl. For the first sixteen years of my life I lived in a tiny hamlet surrounded by farmland and natural prairie. I spent much of my childhood playing on wild grassland. The prairie lives inside me, and I still dream of it. This Saturday, on the way to the garden, Ken Gregory was going to throw out a stem of silver sage from Saskatchewan. "Don't do that," I said. "I'll take it with me." And so a little piece of home came with me to bless the beespeaking. I have a big passion for the natural prairie, and so maybe that's why I have an even greater affinity for wild bees than I do for honeybees. The uneasy relationship between the wild and the domestic shifts within me. However, I still love organic farms and I believe we should try to farm in an eco-sensitive way, preserving as much natural prairie as we can. As long as there is enough pollen to go around, then wild bees and honeybees can co-exist as peacefully do in the syringa tree that graces the orchard in front of the apiary at Van Dusen Gardens.

Last week mom and dad sent me photos of a new badger family back home in Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. This is a rare treat--to be able to see baby badgers just several feet from the town post office. How I wish I could make it home this summer to see these shy critters, and to look up at that big sky and take a deep breath and breathe in all that space. I long for the place where I fell in love with nature and had the time, space, and solitude to sit still, smell the sage and listen to the bees with the unselfconscious mind of a child. That is where I first fell in love with the bees and other creatures of the grasslands.

Please visit Aganetha Dyck's web site: