Luskin: Sweetness & Light

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(Host) Commentator Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist,
educator – and beekeeper, an activity that she says comes in handy this time of year.

I might have a mild case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I find
December dim, dreary and dull, especially if there’s no snow to amplify
what little daylight feebly breaks between a late dawn and early dusk.
December’s darkness colors my mood. It’s the one month during the year
I’m slow to rise – perhaps because I also stay up uncharacteristically
late, my circadian rhythm thrown off by too many hours of light from
artificial sources and not enough from the sun. With my sleep disrupted,
my concentration is fractured, and it’s hard to get anything done. The
hoopla around the holidays doesn’t help.

Again this year, I
celebrated Hannukah with gratitude for each new candle on the menorah,
the increasing light the true miracle this time of year. And now I’m
impatient for Christmas, because that marks the earth’s tilting back
toward the sun. I even welcome the distraction of preparing gifts for
family and friends. December, in fact, is one of the reasons I keep

I wanted to keep bees first because my name in Hebrew
means bee, and second, because the poet Sylvia Plath made beekeeping
seem both literary and romantic. I was given a hive in 1985, and romance
quickly turned to survival – for both the bees and for me. If it wasn’t
mites threatening the colony, it was bears, or – on occasion – my own

Nevertheless, I’ve persisted. I like having bees
around. I like the way they make the crabapple in the front yard hum,
adding a musical dimension to its spectacular spring bloom. And when I
see bees working the squash blossoms, I’m reminded to get busy and do my
part to help the vegetables prosper. I’m grateful to the bees for our
substantial raspberry crop. And I love to watch them dance in front of
the hive or crawl through the entrance, their legs packed with pollen.

after all these years, I still find opening the hive a thrill. I’m
amazed not just by the activity of so many insects, but also by how much
I can learn by standing still and paying attention.

I don’t
like how hot I get inside my bee suit, nor do I like getting stung. But
it’s all worth it when there’s honey to harvest. This was a good year: I
filled a couple of five gallon buckets with honey and a couple of ice
cream containers with beeswax and left it all in the basement – until
December. Last week, I bottled and labeled the honey, and I cleaned the
wax, which I dipped into candles. These are sticky, messy, tasks I
enjoy. They allow me to remember the heat of the summer, the scent of
the orchard, the hum of the bees on the buckwheat planted for cover.
These tasks keep me busy at home just when December darkness and holiday
hysteria threaten my peace. And next week, I’ll have the bees’ gifts to
offer my family and friends, the twin gifts of sweetness and light.

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