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Luskin: Sweetness And Light

http://www.vpr.net/audio/programs/56/2012/12/12192012_vpr_luskin.mp3

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

(Luskin) 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 bees.

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 inattention.

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 mypart 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.

Even 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 muchI 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.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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