why I love bees

* I wrote this little essay back in January. I've already told you some of why I love bees, but this is the whole story. Since I posted about the bee project earlier this week and have been spreading the news far and wide, I thought now would be a good time to go into the origins of my love for the little winged creatures.

In the 1970s and 80s, all, it seems, little Baptist boys and girls around Memphis were given small frameable cards with their name’s origins in greek, roman, or Hebrew. Mine is a derivation of the Greek word for honeybee. In mythology, Melissa was the name of a wood nymph who helped save young Zeus from his father, Cronus (a nice fellow who ate all of his other children), hid the young god in the hills, and fed him on milk and honey. When Cronus discovered Melissa’s treason, he turned her into a worm. Zeus took pity on the nymph and turned her into a honeybee. The card didn’t go into mythology, but stated that honeybees were hard working, diligent creatures. The name and its symbol are fitting: I have always been busy, industrious, bouncing from one project to the next (but finishing most of them!) like a bee gathering nectar and pollen from flowers in a garden. I have a bee’s inborn tendency to plan ahead and amass what I might need for a busy season: pottery for a festival or sale months away, a freezer full of meals to feed my family while I’m teaching a residency, six different books and knitting projects to fill my time on long trips.

After I had been making pottery for a year or so, I drew some designs to carve into stamps: a dragonfly, a bee, plus a few floral and leaf motifs- all reflecting my love for the garden and nature. I carved these designs into clay and bisqued them to use as stamps. Eventually I stopped using all but the bee. That original clay stamp still sees use in the designs of my pottery. I try to remember to stamp each piece while the clay is wet to leather-hard, even if the bee is not a part of the design of the piece. For those times when I don’t make it back up to the studio until the piece is too dry to handle, I had a rubber stamp made to use with an underglaze pad. That stamp, made in 2001, saw so much use it fell apart this year. Dear Gary had a new bee stamp made for me for Christmas this year.

The bee is now my signature, which made this summer’s bee die-off feel personal to me. I made an extra effort to plant bee-friendly flowers and plants in my garden, letting vegetables and herbs bolt, flower, and go to seed, and letting local wild flowers- clover, dandelions, and asters- pop up in my lawn to nourish the little bees of midtown Memphis who found their way into my garden. We use local honey from Peace Bee Farm in Proctor, AR (available at the Memphis Farmers Market downtown and at the Wednesday Memphis Botanic Gardens Farmers Market), and do our best to both grow and buy local organic produce and garden without pesticides. Interested in bee gardening? This is a great place to start, and, of course, the bee project.

This photo was from last summer- I had a bunch of sunflowers that volunteered in my little kitchen garden. The bees swarmed all summer- I liked nothing better than to go and watch the big and little pollen-covered bees gorge themselves at the sunflowers!