As Busy as a Bee

Fuzzy Buzzy Bees by Delilah Smith

Fuzzy Buzzy Bees by Delilah Smith

Staying home to recover from a nasty wrenching of my knee, I was just thinking that my knee was starting to feel better when I noticed the first uninvited guest in the dining room. I opened the French door and he quickly took flight at first notice of the free air. However, two hours later, I found myself functioning as a bell-boy (or rather bell-girl) at a busy hotel; as fast as I could sweep one bee out of the door, four or five would take his place. Those released simply created a merry-go-round of sorts as they joined the swarm of bees flying outside of my dining room windows, awaiting their turn to alight on the cypress wall and climb through a crack into the space inhabited by their queen. I was quickly being overrun by their little pesky demands. This was the beginning of my experience with having a hive-on-the-move decide that the space above my dining room would be a perfectly cozy place to start a hive.

Such a close encounter with bees is bound to inspire a writer to reflect on it and wonder at the myriad of ways these tiny creatures have inspired other writers.

print_finding-a-home-for-the-queen-sm neill ketchum

Finding a Home for the Queen by Neill Ketchum

Bernard Mandeville’s controversial poem, The Fable of the Bees: Or Private Vices, Publick Benefits quickly comes to mind. In the spirit of his utilitarianism, perhaps I should view their rather rude intrusion by its consequences rather. The means justifies the ends, so-to-speak.

Traditionally bees have symbolized royalty and the productivity of well-governed industry. Mandeville’s poem capitalized on this cultural meaning. Scientists now view the hive as operating as a complex organism with the varied types of bees acting as similar to differentiated cells.  I can see how the queen bee threatened to usurp my sovereignty in this space. I do not think we could share the same space. Napoleon admired the bee’s might, as he made the bee his personal symbol.

napoleon's bee

Despite the invasion, the bees did not display any aggression. Truly, I was surprised by their restraint. Indeed, I pitied the little beings, finding themselves in harm’s way by entering my home. Unintentionally I injured several in my attempts to return them outside. After consulting the local beekeeper, I was also disheartened to learn that his only suggestion was that I must use pesticides to desist their homemaking above my dining room.  I wanted to have the beekeeper save the hive, but he felt the height off of the ground and the location within the wall to be too dangerous. Twenty-four hours after dusting the exterior cypress boards as instructed, the bees simply vanished. In the quiet peace of their absence, I felt powerfully affected by this close encounter.

In my guilt over resorting to pesticides, I began to research further on the meaning of bees, and I found that bees have long been associated with the soul. Ancient pagans viewed bees as emanating from divine beings, such as the goddess Artemis. Other records indicate that bees may have once represented the primordial Chaos. Indeed, new souls were thought to arrive via bees, and it was documented that souls were seen to exit person’s bodies in the form of bees. (I’m thinking of scenes from The Green Mile and Beloved). Perhaps these beliefs were a result of early apiculture, or beekeeping. Regardless, ancient people honored and respected bees. Bees are important figures in fables, serving as messengers of the gods. Honey was believed to be food from heaven.

The bees that invaded my home had left their previous home in a tight colony, and set out into the enormity of the world to find a new home. This is the way that bees reproduce hives, but in my case, despite being surrounded by woods, they mistook my home for a hollow tree. In our time their habitat is being continually diminished by development, and their health and survival threatened by human activities.

Not only did bees inspire people in antiquity, their continued meaningfulness is evident in literature. Two recent examples just off the top of my head–Gene Stratton-Porter’s The Keeper of the Bees (1991) and Sue Monk Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees (2003) are two highly acclaimed novels that feature beekeeping. Bees are mentioned in numerous poems. I found a list of them at Hive Minded.

I’m intrigued, too, by the connection that bees have to trees. Trees and bees are seen as expressions of nature. More and more, we are realizing that the survival of human beings are intimately interconnected with the survival of bees and trees. I just finished reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Like a Tree and applaud her efforts to encourage tree activism.  As a fellow “tree person,” I can relate to her spiritual connection to trees. In the face of a looming ecological disaster, meditation among trees is not enough. Truly the survival of trees and bees are interconnected. Many trees reproduce through flowers that depend upon bees collection efforts in order to achieve pollination. The hollowed out places in trees provide homes for bees.

Organizations such as Pollinator Partnership seek to protect bees through conservation, education, and research.  The work of Michael Thiele at Gaia Bees especially interests me because of his emphasis on changing the paradigm of relationship between human beings and bees.  Thiele calls for a bee-centered approach to beekeeping, as well as approach toward bees as teachers for humans, and as inspirations for spiritual renewal.

In conclusion, I offer appreciation to the bees who entered my home. In a way, I see their intrusion as a wake-up call, a motivating action for us to do more to accommodate their needs.  After all, since honeybees are a keystone species, shouldn’t we be deferring to them, rather than the other way around?

The Bones of my Ancestors

As a child I would spend a week of every year with my grandparents in the rural piney woods of central Louisiana. They lived in a Jim Walter home that my “real” grandfather built (he died when my father was seven years old). There was a neat chain-link fence around the yard, with a sidewalk patched together that swung around to the back of the house where my grandmother kept her chickens. I had mixed feelings about these summer visits, mostly because there were no other children around. However, the solitary experience perhaps made it all the more poignant.

I was ten when my grandfather died from esophageal cancer, and that summer visit prior to his death remains most etched in my young memory. I loved to help my grandmother clean the book shelves that were closest to his recliner. He kept his pipe and tobacco there, as well, and I loved the spicy scent. In my young way, I understood he was dying. I could see that he was wasting despite my grandmother’s attempts to cook meals that would entice his appetite. In the evenings we would sit together and enjoy ice milk. His digestive system reduced by the surgery could no longer accommodate rich dairy. After his passing, I still associate the smell of pipe tobacco and ice milk with his presence in my grandmother’s home.

After he passed, my grandmother became more talkative on my visits in the summer. We would sit up late into the night while she worked word-find puzzles and I quizzed her with questions about my family. On the wall above my grandmother’s rocking chair were pictures of her parents, my brother and I, my uncles, aunt, and cousins. After my grandfather passed, she brought out a new family picture of herself with my “real” grandfather and their first child who had passed at the age of five from cancer. Of course, this new photo elicited many questions.

grandma and pawpaw carver

During these evening visits, my grandmother shared with me my family’s story of love, suffering, and loss. As time passed and I matured, my grandmother shared more emotional details of her history. She told me how she eloped with my grandfather at the age of eighteen, and they wed in Virginia by “jumping the rail.” Truly for my devoutly Pentecostal grandmother, this was racy behavior! The happiness of new love was soon turned to sadness when she found a tumor in her toddler’s abdomen. Helplessly, she watched him suffer and die from cancer. I will never forget her terrible emotional pain when she told me, “I wanted to take his pain away. I prayed every day that I could lay in his place and bear his suffering.” She lived with her child’s looming death for three years, and confessed to me that she never wanted to have more children after the loss. Despite her misgivings, she went on to have two more sons, and then her husband tragically died from a heart attack at the age of thirty-seven. Her stories remain with me and remind me of the resiliency of the human spirit.

Many years have lapsed since her passing. A cousin shared this photo of my young grandparents just after the birth of their first child. I delighted in seeing the joy in my young grandmother’s face. Just like my grandmother’s smile in this photo memories of my grandparents surface magically and at unexpected moments.

Homer and Beulah

I carry around these stories and memories granted me by my grandmother just as Fleur Pillager in Louise Erdrich’s Four Souls carries with her the bones of her ancestors. The reader may speculate that Fleur’s power necessitates her proximity to her ancestors’ bones. My grandmother’s stories fleshed out the man who was my grandfather, and her remarriage gave me a living surrogate.

Linda Hogan shares in her memoir, The Woman Who Watches Over the World: “For myself, being one of those people who survived, my tribal identity has always been chasing after me, to keep its claims on my body and heart. I can’t escape and be whole and real. As if I am the lung and it is the air breathing me in and out like waves of the ocean, rhythms and cycles of wind. It is the blood; I’m just the container. It is the ocean. It carries me and I float. It is something Native people can never explain to those who don’t know it, and I have given up trying to do so.” Hogan shares how inseparable she is from her tribal identity. She describes a visceral connection to her ancestry. For Hogan, her blood becomes surrogate for the bones of her ancestors, and she is carrying them with her/ in her.

My grandmothers’ stories contained the bones of my ancestors and her sacred telling acted ceremonially as a handing-off of those bones. As I cherish these memories, I venerate my ancestors, remembering their joys, loves, sufferings, and losses.






The Magic of Coming Home

The Magic of Coming Home

This week’s five days of heavy rain and thunderstorms across the Southern states has taken a high toll on Louisiana residents in the western and central parishes, especially. At our home, the backwater from the Red River is posing a temporary inconvenience by blocking our driveway. We respond resourcefully with a four-wheeler and two small aluminum boats, skillfully transferring children and bags across the water. This change in our routine reminds me of the magic of “coming home,” especially to a house in the woods.

Our driveway
Our driveway

The water creates a liminal experience; time slows perceptibly. During the four-wheeler ride through the forest (the new shortest route home) last night I felt transported into another time and place. Liquid drops clung to the branches and leaves, and moistened the pine thatch that covered the trails. We chanced upon moss wrapped around the foot of a tree, it’s opening to the earth evoking thoughts of fairy creatures. My nine-year old and husband name it “Mrs. Tittlemouse’s house” after the beloved Beatrix Potter story.

Mrs. Tittlemouse

Finally, I see our home rising out of the landscape and feel that moment of elation, “I’m home.”

Passe Partout March 2016 017


Dissent in William Faulkner’s Light in August

Book cover
Book cover

The main character in Faulkner’sLight in August, Joe Christmas struggles for “peace” in a world unable to accept his troubling identity. Possibly patterned after the social dissenter, Homer Plessy, who gained national (if not international attention) in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, Christmas’s ability to “pass” for white particularly threatens a social order based on strict binaries–white/black, male/female, light/dark. Featuring fatalistic determinism, the novel yet leaves the reader yearning for fairness in a cruel world. Reared in an orphange for white children, and then adopted out to a white rural family, the reader remains dumbfounded by Christmas’s insistence on acknowledging his racial ambiguity. Deeply troubled, Christmas transcends through a series of failed relationships with his adopted father, his first love (a prostitute), several anonymous lovers, and finally and fatalistically with Joanna Burden, the daughter of an abolitionist turned “carpetbagger,” to rise finally in his death at the hands of Percy Grimm, “into their [the community] memories forever and ever” (423). Although all circumstantial evidence seems to lead to Christmas’s guilt, the reader may be uncomfortable with the mob’s fixation on Christmas’s racial ambiguity as proof of his guilt in the crime. Set during the worst lynchings in the South, the novel examines the dark underpinnings in a social order dependent upon racial categorization.

Work Cited
Faulkner, William. Light in August. New York: The Modern Library, 2012. Print.

A Book Review: Red Medicine

Now that my semester is coming to a close, I want to refix my gaze onto another text that a friend recommended I read. In Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing, Patrisia Gonzalesshares her formidable knowledge of herbals, indigenous birthing practices, oral tradition, storytelling, and symbol knowledge.

“In ceremonies, our prayers invoke the ombligo, a spiritual center where energy gathers and disperses deep in the fire of the earth. My interest in the ombligo (umbilicus or umbilical stub) began amid the element of the earth when mine was buried in the ground with special prayers, the ash from a hearth, and rosemary. It is powerful to know that a part of me is buried in the earth” (120).

As I study Native American literature, I am always peeling away another layer of understanding. As a non-Native, I realize that this will continue forever, because my understanding will never be complete. I appreciate Gonzales for sharing her knowledge in this text, as a deeper understanding will help me to better understand not only the texts I read and interpret, but also it will assist me in developing a holistic approach to healing in my current field of nursing.

I am familiar with the concept of the tree of life as I have read about it in several Native texts, but I had not read about it in context of the placenta before. Gonzales describes the tree of life in the placenta:

“I learned about the tree of life from other elders who saw the living tree in the placentas of their offspring. . . . Then I assisted as a birth attendant for a friend of mine who is Choctaw. When the placenta was expelled, I immediately saw the sacred story within the placenta and proclaimed, ‘It’s the tree of life!’ It looked just like a tree, with the veins as its trunk.

Though we came from different Indigenous traditions, my friend, in her postpartum daze, understood what I meant. There are many symbols and values shared by Indigenous cultures. One unifying symbol of Native knowledge, writes Cajete in his examination of Indigenous education and ecology, is that of the tree of life” (122-123).

I find Gonzales has so much to offer us in Indigenous wisdom about birthing and dreaming practices. I am reminded of my own family’s dream practice. When I was going into labor with my first born child, my mother told me she woke up from a dream of her deceased mother. Her mother came to her bedside in the dream and woke her, stating, “It is time for the baby”. Shortly after she woke from this dream, she received my call that my water had broken. She told me this story, and also shared a similar experience with her first born child. I think it is so interesting the connection that my maternal grandmother, my mother, and I have shared with each other in our birthing experiences. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to tell my grandmother about my pregnancy prior to her death. Even though she was aphasic from her stroke, she showed the elation in her face. Studying indigenous symbolism helps me to connect with the meaningful practices and patterns in my life, and brings richer meaning to my life.

Work Cited

Gonzales, Patrisia. Red Medicine: Traditional Indigenous Rites of Birthing and Healing. Tucson: Univ of Arizona Press, 2012. Print.

Transcending Traditional Opposition

Despite the traditional binary opposition of Cowboys and Indians, a group of people in opposition to the TransCanada pipeline have formed the Cowboy Indian Alliance, joining together in defense against a project that threatens their land rights as well as water quality.

The Cowboy Indian Alliance plans to demonstrate in Washington D.C. on April 26, 2014, just prior to the date planned for President Obama’s final decision on the TransCanada pipeline

The Cowboy Indian Alliance was preceded by the Black Hills Alliance formed in 1979 by ranchers and Indians in opposition to uranium mining. Once again, Indigenous peoples and local farmers ranchers have put aside past differences to try to preserve their land rights, and protect the environments on which they depend for sustenance.

I also want to share with you the following video of Sicangu Lakota Hereditary Chief John Spotted Tail because he gives such a great explanation of why the Lakota are opposing the TransCanada pipeline and why they resist, even against the tremendous odds.

Digital Rhetoric: Idle No More Website

In this post, I will be applying the methods of Mary Hocks’s rhetorical analysis of digital writing environments as explained in her article, “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments” to the indigenous website:
Idle No More to examine how this digital site is being used to build indigenous dissent and identity.


First on the webpage, my eyes are drawn to the running header in which visuals of people with indigenous facial features are combined with words or word phrases. There are four images that are automatically streaming one after the other. In one a seeming family is standing together, wearing sweatshirts with the slogan, “Got Land?” and the printed word over the image says, “Got Land?”. In another, there are children drumming/dancing together with the word printed, “Sovereignty”, In another, there is a group of people holding picket signs together combined with the printed word “Solidarite”. Additionally there is an image of young people dressed in street clothes and walking up a concrete staircase with the printed word, “Waskuhwee”. In all of the photos, there is a sense of community that is captured, usually with faces smiling or with the expression of deep connection.

If we left click over the word, “Got Land?”, the site takes us to a page ( where you can order a shirt with the slogan, “Got Land? Thank an Indian” or you can download a stencil to make your own. The site encourages the viewer to wear the shirts to “spark conversation” about Canadian indigenous land rights. It features the testimony of a thirteen year old girl of the Star Blanket First Nation in Saskatchewan. Her picture is posted next to her testimony, and she is proudly wearing her sweatshirt, as indicated by her smiling face. The site features a function to upload photos to instagram to “#gotland”, with encouragement to upload a photo of yourself wearing your “Got Land?” shirt. Widgets are located beneath with comments that have been posted on Facebook and Twitter in response to this page of the website.

Returning to the homepage, we note under the header is the site menu. Beneath the site menu, Idle No More’s purpose is clearly stated, “IDLE NO MORE CALLS ON ALL PEOPLE TO JOIN A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION To Honor Indigenous sovereignty And to protect the land & water”. Beneath this address is a digital box where you can submit your email address to “Join the Movement”. Next, your eye is quickly drawn to a stylized graphic of a hand holding up an eagle feather. Next to the eagle feather is a list of Idle No More events with the header as invitation, “TAKE ACTION NEAR YOU”. Below the events list is a graphic of the world map, which can be enlarged by scrolling up or down with the scroll button on the mouse. Event locations are pinned on the map. Scrolling further, we encounter a quote with a Canadian picture of mountains behind the quote. The quote is by Eriel Deranger of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, “OUR PEOPLE AND OUR MOTHER EARTH CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO BE ECONOMIC HOSTAGES IN THE RACE TO INDUSTRIALIZE OUR HOMELANDS. IT IS TIME FOR OUR PEOPLE TO RISE UP AND TAKE BACK OUR ROLE AS CARETAKERS AND STEWARDS OF THE LAND.”

Following the quote is a section of the page devoted to “Featured content,” or links to “news”, “videos”, “featured statements of support”, and “images and graphics.”

Next the phrase, “#IdleNoMore” appears with two icons symbolizing Facebook and Twitter invite the reader to remain connected to Idle No More through these social networks.

Next there is a section of tiles with artwork of indigenous peoples engaged in prayer.

Another quote precedes the bottom of the website, taken from the Guardian, UK: “First Nation’s Peoples–and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them– will determine the fate of the planet.”
At the bottom of the page is a sitemap menu.

Critical Analysis

Idle No More’s website, as a digital writing environment blends the graphic with the textual in a hybrid synergy where the two elements cannot be separated into binaries without losing the effect of the whole. The flow of the page includes the use of color to assist the reader in seeing the transitions between the sections and to identify opportunities for further interactivity. The hypertext links and linked graphics create a nonlinear and nonheirarchical experience of the website as the viewer clicks and explores the many links. The site offers information on the movement; but possibly, even more important to indigneous identity, it offers many ways to connect with the indigenous community through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The inclusion of photographs of indigenous peoples today combine with the textual quotes to create a sense of community. Concern for the environment provides a focus for the community, which is reinforced in visuals of nature that lead the viewer to seek more information through the links to news and videos. The ethos of the site urges the viewer to become a participant in immediate action, to join in a community of dissent against industrially driven ecological devastation.

Works Cited

Hocks, Mary. “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments.” College Composition and Communication 54.4 (2003): 629-656. JSTOR. Web. 13 Mar 2012.

“Idle No More.” Idle No More. Web. 3 April 2014.

Examining Rhetoric: Visual and Verbal in Digital Space

Mary E. Hocks makes some valid claims for composition studies in her article: “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments”. First, she argues that digital writing environments require different skill sets for critical analysis because “these digital writing environments make it difficult to separate words from visuals or privilege one over the other” (629). Further, she labels this particular characteristic of digital writing environments as “postmodern” (630). She emphatically asserts that “new technologies simply require new definitions of what we consider writing” (630). Hocks encourages the pedagogical instruction of critical analysis of digital writing environments, including teaching how to identify assumptions of gender, age, nationality and identity in these writing environments (630). She argues for the recognition of digital writing environments as hybrids: “We need to recognize that these new media and the literacies they require are hybrid forms” (630). By identifying the digital writing environments as hybrids, Hocks urges us to change the way that we view them: “Acknowledging this hybridity means that the relationships among word and image, verbal texts and visual texts, ‘visual culture’ and ‘print culture’ are all dialogic relationships rather than binary opposites” (631). I think this particular statement rests a profound movement away from dualistic thinking visual/print and into a recognition of the importance of what Hocks calls “hybrid literacies” (631). Since the totality of the visuals and print combine together for an inseparable “hybrid” effect for the reader, the webtexts should be analyzed with a holistic view. Hocks concept of composition as a discipline that examines hybrid literacies in digital writing environments applies to this project: Digital Dissent: Building Indigenous Identity, a webtext that can be viewed at The project consists of an analysis of indigenous websites addressing the issues arising from Tar Sands in Canada and the accompanying protests against the petroleum industry. Although the nature of the resistance in itself is fascinating and ultimately extremely important in the face of ecological disaster, in this project, I am specifically interested in examining how these “hybrid literacies” reveal dissent and assist in building indigenous identity.

Works Cited

Hocks, Mary. “Understanding Visual Rhetoric in Digital Writing Environments.” College Composition and Communication 54.4 (2003): 623-656. JSTOR. Web. 13 Mar 2013.

We Are All Tied Together by the Water of Life

In response to a comment that this project would be interesting to those concerned with the plight of indigenous peoples, I want to share some information on how Canadians, Americans, and other international people are joining the Indigenous movement to stop Keystone XL and Fracking. At the root of the activism is a deep concern for the health of our drinking water, which open mining for bitumen, fracking, and transportation of petroleum products place at risk. Idle No More, an Indigenous movement centered on stopping environmental destruction as well as other issues facing indigenous peoples today has been trying to raise consciousness of our need to protect water. Idle No More Water Ceremony Indigenous sovereignty rights may seem to only concern indigenous peoples, but the denial of any group of people basic human rights should send off alarms to all of us. Zygmunt Bauman argues in Liquid Times that globalization has led to a widening gulf between power and politics, which increases the chasm between those profiting from our natural resources and those who have to live in the aftermath. Environmental destruction, including drinking water pollution should be everyone’s concern. Check out this link to see how the petroleum industry has compromised water purity for people in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Fracking Pollution<

Digital Dissent as Postcolonial Resistance

My semester project is focusing on use of digital technology by Native Americans to write dissent and build identity. I was introduced to the concept of postcolonial resistance through Louise Erdrich‘s novel Tracks and especially through the trickster character of Nanapush. This trickster character takes on the tools of his colonizer in the form of reading and writing and uses these tools to bring Lulu back to her community from the Indian boarding school. While many indigenous peoples face the challenge of staying informed and connected when living off-reservation, digital “tools” can help them to stay informed and connected with their tribes, and also with the greater Indigenous community. The role of digital technology becomes formidable in the face of indigenous resistance being mobilized through indigenous organizations, including Idle No More and
Cowboy Indian Alliance.