Bees are pretty inspiring little creatures. Let’s all take a moment to agree on that. In the last couple of years I have become instinctively curious about, and inspired by the humble little bumblebee.
Now I could sit here with my mug of honey-enriched tea and discuss the impressive capabilities of bees that travel great distances to pollinate the vast majority of our food, or how urban landscapes are becoming unexpected safe havens for bee colonies, in contrast to the toxic, pesticide-ridden patchwork of monoculture that is quickly becoming the dominate reality of our country-sides.
I could tell you about the magnificent sting-less bee colony I encountered in Cuba and how I dipped my fingers into the sticky golden treasure-hive, fearlessly welcoming the busy little crafts-womyn to crawl over my hands and arms, as I tasted their most delicious recipe. We could talk about how within a year this colony had disappeared from the safe haven we strove to create for it – likely due to chemicals being introduced to the farm across the stream.
As it happens, we could talk about colony collapse until the bees come home… or rather, until they don’t.
Instead, I would like to take a moment to consider bees from a different angle. Let’s take a moment to imagine how bees and their hives provide inspiration for communities to not only become more connected to their natural environments and sustainable food systems, but how their model for community also provides an example for how we, as humans, can connect with our surroundings, both human and natural.
What bees ask of us is simple: a world free from poisons and other stressors, with places where they can nest and a sweet, season-long supply of flowering plants. In return, they offer to teach us their deepest lesson yet. Much as a honeybee belongs to her colony, so we humans belong to the living community of the Earth. The wild lies all around us, and we draw it in like breath. Our lives are indivisible from the lives of insects.
I devoured the delicious fashion in which Candace Savage can turn a phrase as I read this book next to a pristine (for now) lake in Northern Saskatchewan and was intrigued by this insight. I lingered thoughtfully on her description of the bee-model for consensus decision-making communicated through an intricate bee-dance. I paused to taste the prospect of a life totally motivated by creation, connection and community, independence and interdependence, and of self-actualizing the role in the web of life meant just for you, as defined by nature many millennia ago.
On that warm summer afternoon, I was inspired to search for the ways in which bees could provide a model for human connection as I set off wandering. The truth is, it didn’t take long – the examples are all around us, some more obvious than others.
A couple of weeks after coming to Montréal, I discovered a little community centre calledLa Ruche (French for ‘the beehive’) in the heart of St-Henri. This bustling little Art Hive provides the community with open studio time on the weekends, a collective garden during the warmer months, and a space for art therapy and community workshops throughout the year.
La Ruche is not just a place to work on your newest art project. It’s a place for community, for people to (re)connect with one another, to inspire and learn from one another. Its also a place for people to (re)connect with their surroundings, whether that means the materials on the shelves, the person working on an intriguing project at the table next to you, or the marmot that visits the garden now and then.
The sense of healing and creation that is fostered in this environment is absolutely contagious.
The moment I walked through the door of this hive, I knew I would be back, and often. This place has caused me to think not only about permaculture in terms of a garden, but also in terms of other gathering spaces.
Our human communities are often so disconnected that as individuals, we feel isolated even when we are surrounded by others.
This hive creates a safe space for people to ground themselves in human, artistic, and natural connection before heading back out into their city, ready to connect with their neighbours in other capacities. If you talk to the founders, volunteers, or attendees at La Ruche they will be quick to share with you all about how the hive works.. Just like a beehive, this hive is meant to inspire community members to set off into the world, creating new hives as they go.
Folks that observe the patterns of bees will tell you that bees love urban settings: cities provide a diverse buffet of plants and flowers for bees that they don’t have to travel so far to access. And if you take a look through the pages of human history, you will find that cities have provided a centre for cultural diversity for humans, too.
To realize our human creative capacity and to insure that our cities are connected to their residents and the Earth in a healthy and positive way, we would do well to look to the bees for a hopeful model for our for balance and community.