At the end of the world: Stories of hope, resilience, and truth


To the few gentle blog readers,

It’s been such a long time since I’ve written. I have to admit that the last thing that I swore (SWORE) to you I would write was about bees. I was excited to explore it as a place of resistance and resilience at the end of the world. I imagined long stretches of me gazing at my bees at one of those old school typewriters (which I don’t own but was planning on buying for just such a moment), occasionally sighing longingly while they took cute little bee naps with their bee bums in the air in the multitude of flowers in my garden. Yet, here we are….

SPOILER ALERT: Climate change killed my bees. I know, it’s a terrible ending. It’s not GoT last season's horrible ending or Joss Whedon’s sexist, racist behavior but it was still, as is the way of bees, decisively horrible. When orange skies blanketed the west coast for weeks on end, my bees found refuge in their homes. One of the first things we learn as beekeepers is that we smoke bees to make them think that there is a fire nearby and that they need to stay home to protect their queen. This allows us as beekeepers to check up on the hive or extract honey or honeycomb without a swarm of them attacking us. Now imagine if that fire and smoke lasted for weeks and the hunger that must have ensued. Bees, unlike the majority of their human counterparts, believe in the union and union democracy. They decided the leader, the Queen Bee, should pay that they were starving and so they killed her. When I next checked my former health colony, they had already regicided their queen and had created the spawning cells for a new queen. I urgently ordered a queen who arrived a week later. Her attendants and my formerly healthy colony was not strong enough to support her emergence. I watched my colony slowly die as they had no queen who could provide what they needed in terms of direction, leadership, and smell. This, I was told by bee experts, is the reason why you always get two colonies…..

And so, instead of bee knowledge, secret propolis, and queen intrigue, I offer this piece born of my soul and here for your careful consideration. Drop a line in the comments if it resonates…...

I’ve been struggling a lot with motherhood during these hard times. I am a working mother in a pandemic whose work is climate change preparation. As a mother with anxiety, I often struggle with the ways in which I am not there for my children, the places I choose to prioritize, the places where I pour myself out so that I may fill up my cup. Even before the pandemic, we normalize the pedestaling of individual stories of motherhood while our corporate and government institutions routinely deny us our humanity. I am profoundly grateful for the ways in which intersectional feminism rooted in race, class, and gender rejects the super-hero mom dynamic and at the end of the day, it is still a difficult reality.

COVID19 has exacerbated the already straining work of motherhood. (See NY Times amazing series on Motherhood in Crisis if you’re confused as to what I mean). The statistics of motherhood and COVID19 are serious and should be alarming (there are many more but without putting additional labor on myself, I will only share that 32% of women say childcare was the reason for their unemployment). Democracy Now reports that women lost 5.5 million jobs in the first 10 months of COVID19, more than a million jobs than men lost, as women bear the primary responsibility for childcare and are working in the hardest hit sectors. This amounts to what researcher C. Nicole Mason, President and Chief Executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research refers to as a 'shecession'. These alarming statistics don't take into account interlocking issues such as class, gender identity, and race which are a lot harder to report on. This ‘motherhood in crisis’ lies on top of Gen Zers and Millennials documented fear of bringing children into a climate challenged world as well as current parent’s fear of how climate change will impact their children. Readers, it's a lot. So, what to do with all of this?

I never imagined working with or even having children. My own mother personified traditional motherhood - selflessness wrapped in a hard working immigrant shawl. Her softness was shared for moments after long hours on feet in shoes that weren’t expensive enough to mitigate back pain. She was incredibly busy supporting not just me and my brother but in supporting to plant the seeds of what is assumed to be the American Dream not for herself but for her family. My mother planted her seeds with careful fragile hope and watered it with the sweat from her brow. ‘Here’, she whispered to the rest of her family escaping a civil war, ‘here, we will plant seeds.’ I have the honor to be the only one between my brother and cousins that I’m close to without a doctorate of some kind.

I couldn’t imagine selfless motherhood with a strong vision of the future the way that my mother can and does embody it. I was still too caught up in the places of my identity that were seen and not seen, invisibilized and marginalized to ever think of bringing a whole new being into the world. I fell in love with the worlds of feminist icons like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Anzaldua before I ever imagined creating a type of world for myself where motherhood could be explored.

Motherhood when it approached me came in the form of my partner. He was and remains absolutely effortless with children. It’s the kind of effortlessness that happens when you're watching people who are truly great at their craft at connecting with youth. I would watch him play or teach youth and be amazed at the ease of it all.

For years into our relationship, we would check in tentatively. Conversations would go somewhat as follows:

Me (after watching him play with children): You make me want to have children.

Him (watching me watching him): Absolutely no pressure. If and when you're ready, I’m ready.

Me: Let’s talk about if I’m ready to have conversations about possibly having kids in a year.

Him: Sounds good.

Cycle, rinse, repeat. Until one day eight years into our relationship where I looked at him and thought, ‘I’m ready.’

What does this mean for preparing youth for climate change? How are we supposed to support our young people unless we are fully committed to supporting our children unless we fully consent to the what this moment will mean for them and for us as parents?

This, for me, is interesting to consider as I go into the 11th month of a pandemic. We now know that the stories of dolphins returning to the Venice Canal were greatly exaggerated. Despite record drops in airline travel, we are still reaching scary levels of emissions that will stay cause us to go over the climate cliff. Everything we have been told about individual impacts of curtailing climate change are a lie.

Shockingly (SHOCKINGLY) despite lower than ever individual actions on climate change, we are no closer to mitigating our way out of it. It’s almost as if as a collective society, we need to give up our individual notions of climate mitigation and harm reduction and start applying attention to those who are politically and institutionally responsible for climate change and take actions to address this reality. Like I said, shocking, right?

What does this have to do with motherhood? Well, gentle blog reader, I’m glad that you are committed to keep reading to find out. As a mama with high levels of anxiety, with a mother who was, to be quite frank, selfless and giving oftentimes at her own expense and where we are facing a future in which young people are increasingly isolated and hopeless, to have children or not is a political choice that can have real implications. (Side note: parenthood is ALWAYS a political choice which is why certain groups work so hard to deprive us of that choice).

And so, motherhood comes hard to me. How do I balance the actions that are needed to ensure we are prepared for climate change and the needs of my children? As a person of pragmatic anxiety at times, I know that this is impossible. There is no preparation for climate change, just as we can’t prepare our youth for racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Parents since time immemorial have faced this issue and still those ancestors planted seeds with the hope that their children or their children’s children might be better able to respond.

It may be naive of me but I see the long arc of justice that we are on. I see what my family and so many countless others have given to plant seeds of future growth. I recognize the multitude of -isms that my kids will face because of their ancestral background, who they chose to love, or presentations of gender. And the idea that they can also be facing the end of the world is devastating to me. The fact that they can witness it for their children or their children’s children is abhorrent.

So I work, push, give. I dive into climate change news that is devastating day after day to find out how to prepare. I over-numb to let go of that anxiety so that I can show up for my amazing children in a way that is joyful. I constantly stress about their futures even as I do my best to inject meaningful presence into their lives and teach them to do the same. (I recognize the impossibility of this as a parent with anxiety. I am grateful to Gloria Anzaldua’s work on nepantla and the borderlands space that taught me that our lives are always at a crossroads with different realities).

Even if climate change hadn’t been a major consideration, there probably would have been some anxiety in me. I will never fit into traditional Western conceptions of motherhood. I am a working mother. I am an organizer / activist mother. I am a mother who loves to disappear into other worlds to imagine the impossible. I am a mother who rejects colonial nuclear family dynamics. I am a mother who has a hard time breathing in nature and breathes deepest when on protests chanting with others. I am a mother who believes Angela Davis as she writes that we need to act as if we can radically reimagine the world and that we need to do it everyday. I am a mother who is trying desperately to believe that this belief will be enough for my children personally, enough for my organization professionally, and that I will be welcomed in the hallowed halls of my kin after my death ancestrally.

Sometimes grace is easiest to extend to others. So this blog post is to you mothers. Who struggle beautifully, who fail tragically, who get up the next morning and feed the babies. We may or may not have chosen this life but we are here. We are doing our best. We are doing our best. May our fruits live long after we do in worlds better than we can ever imagine.

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Here we are at possibly the end of the world and I’m writing about bees…

Full Disclosure that Will Surprise No one: I’m a bit of a nerd. Growing up in a working class immigrant Latinx home, I was obsessed with comics, video games, and fantasy / science fiction. There was an absolute freedom in diving into a world not my own and feeling powerful even if the characters didn’t look like me. As I aged into high school, I discovered Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While there are very legitimate critiques of portrayals of characters of color, I appreciated it’s feminism. Female characters were written with a depth and complexity not seen elsewhere (check out Whedon on why he writes such strong female characters).

As I got older, I ‘branched’ out to Joss Whedon’s Angel. My favorite part of Angel is that the show explores the banality of evil (how I love you, Hannah Arendt). What is the most damaging is not evil acts done by evil people but everyday acts where people are ‘going along’ with the status quo. Angel taught me that our goal should be striving to resist, to commit to the struggle, and that, at times, the struggle is more important than the winning.

Case in Point: In Angel’s last episode, Not Fade Away, two characters, Gunn and Annie, are talking in South Central LA. She’s in the midst of packing up and moving from one location to another to provide psychiatric services and support to low-income communities and he’s asking her how things are going:

ANNIE: It's not so bad. We've had some really decent donations, and it's helping. (they hand off the boxes to the men on the truck) We actually have a part-time paid psychiatric staff.

GUNN: What if I told you it doesn't help? What would you do if you found out that none of it matters? That it's all controlled by forces more powerful and uncaring than we can conceive, and they will never let it get better down here. What would you do?

ANNIE: I'd get this truck packed before the new stuff gets here. (Gunn nods) Wanna give me a hand?

GUNN: I do.

Right there. What matters is not assured victory but that we will consistently fight against what is unjust to create something better. Why bring this up? Because here we are at what feels like the end of the world and I’m choosing to keep bees. Bees.

Why? There are few things more revolutionary than planting seeds and caring for life that is not your own even as the bombs are falling, the guns are blazing, when children who look like your children are locked in cages, and your community is dying exponentially from a novel disease. I’m choosing bees because in large acts and small, we must all continue to push towards life, towards the beautiful struggle that is resistance even if we are not alive to reap the rewards.

We have so much to learn from our bee relatives on what resistance, struggle, and cooperation look like. Did you know that bees are one of the most important species on Earth,70% of the world’s agriculture requires bees for pollination AND bees are the only living species who don’t carry any pathogens and they are dying off at an exponential rate, almost 90% in the last few years. The list of why bees are incredible and necessary to support all life on earth.

We must return to our plant and animal relatives and to our own ancestral knowledge. If we are to survive, we need to learn what has been lost during the violent process of colonization. Imagine a Puerto Rico where there were thousands of community gardens, where everyone knew how to rebuild, and water purification was the norm. Imagine a California where public education meant that youth were trained in creating defensible space against wildfires. Imagine a New Orleans where bayous were national treasures so that when hurricanes hit, they slowed down enough to pose minimal danger. Activities that should be as natural as breathing are now foreign, scary, and dangerous.

Beekeeping was one of those foreign activities. No one I knew kept bees and it wasn’t until I saw a post on Nextdoor (yes, they sell more than racist propaganda and surveillance) that someone was selling all new (not used) beekeeping equipment for $150 that I was sold. Beekeeping became an accessible reality to me. It was the equivalent of creating a beekeeping avatar of myself on a video game. All of a sudden that entire world became possible. While none of the images of beekeepers looked like me, I was well-versed in using my imagination to imagine myself in all kinds of different skins - organizer, academic, founder, and now beekeeper.

[Important Bee PSA: if you are looking into keeping bees NEVER buy used boxes and wax. There is something called American Foul Brood and there is a chance that your equipment can be infected with it. It’s not worth it.]

And now I want to share this knowledge with you so that I’m not the only person of color who keeps bees in the city. So, if you’re thinking of keeping bees, here’s some knowledge to get you started. Think of it like fairy dust in the form of bee pollen falling from the sky to transport you on the path to beekeeping:

  • Spring time is the best time to buy a nucleus of bees;

  • There are so many types of bees and so many places both in person and over the mail where you can get them;

  • Go with a reputable source - I got my bees from BioFuel Oasis. Their bees are bred for gentleness and are mite resistant. Also, if your queen dies within the first three weeks, they’ll help you out;

  • While you can catch your own swarm, I would leave that to the professionals.

  • Biofuel sold their bees either in a pre-assembled bee hive or in a nucleus box that I would need to transfer.

Feeling full of confidence (and possibly some wine), I paid for a nucleus that I would need to transfer in late 2019 and now here I am, a beekeeper at the end of the world in May 2020.

I’m not sure what’s going to happen - with Mycelium, my bees, family, and our larger community. What I do know is that every space I inhabit from here until I pass will be filled with life. You’ll find seeds stored, propolis and beeswax and chicken feathers in every space I inhabit. And I want to share this journey with you. I’m committed to growing together as a community. We are going to take back this space and plant a garden in it. This is our sacred right. Our resistance. Our ancestors died for us to be here. Let’s make it worthwhile.

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Before We Begin or Why It’s Hard to Commune in Nature

A Prelude

Trigger Warning: Heavy Content, Violence Against Girls, Rape, Colonization

Poem at the beginning by Andrea Gibson

Whew. It’s been such a journey already to keep bees and I’m only at the beginning of it.

I’m starting this blog because I realize that it is super easy to get overwhelmed by beekeeping. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been intimidated. Gardening, permaculture, beekeeping, earth stewardship is hard and not always for the ideas imagined. I’ve been reflecting on why it feels so difficult and I wanted to share these thoughts in the hope that others can find it helpful. I’ll also be sharing some poetry and musical links as they come up as they’ve also informed in in this process.

Before I start talking about bees (which I’ll do, I swear!), I want to dive into what informs my relationship to nature. My relationship to nature and care of it is fraught with the best and most traumatized parts of myself. As Audre Lorde said, “there is no such thing as single issue struggles because we do not live single issue lives.” The idea of beekeeping, communing in nature, and gardening are all difficult ideas for me for reasons based in race, class, and, most importantly gender.

When I was 7 years old, one of my cousin’s best friends and my friend, Raquel Fabre disappeared while living in the apartment complex of my cousin. According to her mother, she went out to take out the trash and never came back. She was found in the woods behind my cousin’s apartment complex, her hands bound together, her pants on her head, with signs of rape on her small body. She was the same age as my son is today. 7 years old. I only have vague memories of that time. I remember the smell of southern Louisiana grass and the beautiful blue-grey of a ready-to-rain sky and apartment buildings on all sides of us as we played in the hot sun. I remember laughter and feeling that invincible sense of youth. Before that last time, Raquel would often be at my cousin’s apartment, sharing food, jokes, and a story. To this day, apartment buildings are difficult for me.

Much later on, we found out that it was her mother’s boyfriend who lived with her who kidnapped, assaulted, and killed her. Of him, I have no memories. Of Raquel, I remember blurry images, a sense of friendship, and a curious mind. I wish with all my heart I could conjure up more memories, something that defines her beyond the bare details of her death. I am so tired of so many of us being remembered only for our deaths….

Growing up, Raquel’s story was one of those stories that was whispered about and quickly hushed up when kids walked into the room. My mother, always vigilant because of her own family history with disappearances, would talk about it with my aunts and uncle over our corded phone in the kitchen. She would quickly hang up whenever me, my brother, or my cousins would walk in.

When I called my mom to tell her I was writing this blog, her voice dropped when she mentioned Raquel’s name as if in prayer. I didn't even have to say Raquel's last name for my mother to remember. Despite distance, I can picture the sign of the cross my mother did when I mentioned Raquel and I know there will be another candle on my mother's altar tonight.

why can we never


about the blood.

the blood of our ancestors.

the blood of our history.

the blood between our legs.

- Blood

By Nayyirah Waheed

When my cousins and I heard she disappeared, I was devastated in the way that kids are devastated. I was sad, scared, and resilient. Resilient meant I learned to bury that fear under the watchful eye of my mother. This fear would later grow deep roots and manifest itself as a fear of being outdoors in nature, fear of apartment buildings, fear of the unknown, and what it meant to be a girl-child in a larger world full of danger.

Both of my parents were immigrants - from Caribbean Nicaragua and Pacific El Salvador, two completely different environments from southern Louisiana with it’s lazy summers and deep bayous. My mother, already aware of the damage men could do, was terrified of stranger danger. She closely monitored my every move, oftentimes not letting me leave the relative safety of the block. After Raquel's murder, we weren’t allowed to leave my aunt’s small fenced porch. I wasn’t allowed to be beyond the sight of my grandmother. We had to make believe entire worlds in my aunt’s 6 by 6 feet concrete space. My grandmother learned to plant vertical rose gardens using nothing but reused cartons and imagination. I became adept at running only in front of the space of three houses on either side of my own street.

My mother, not knowing what else to do, clamped down on my activities. While the world was my older brother’s oyster, I was even more confined and never, ever allowed in nature without multiple layers of adult supervision. As a female-identified child, nature was dangerous and unknown. My mother made it known that girls could disappear and never come back. This is a fear I still hold today. Travel alone comes difficult to me. I text really good friends my address when I go into unknown spaces. I shy away from men I don’t know.

On a class level, my mother was taught that in order to make money, she had to move away from the land. While my family came from a rich history of growers and caretakers of the land and sea, colonization had told both of them that progress meant moving beyond the outdoors into the city where jobs flowed freely even if money trickled down slowly. My father left Bluefields, Nicaragua when he was 14 with a 3rd grade education. Before then, his entire life had been surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. He was able to secure citizenship through multiple tours in Korea and then later received job security through the longshoreman's union of New Orleans. Both of these meant that he didn't have steady access to a sustainable relationship to Earth.

My mother left rural El Salvador and one of her truest loves behind when she was in nursing school to come play nurse maid to middle class and upper class white New Orleanians while she worked her way through medical school. Eventually, she was able to bring her brother, sister, and her mother away from the ravages of a civil war fought in the mountains and jungles of El Salvador to southern Louisiana. The past was woods, forest, and farm land. The future was the security of cities where bright lights illuminated the darkest places.

Growing up, my job was to go to college and find a good job, ideally in the city with the bright lights of promise and success while still remaining close to my family. It’s only been relatively recently that I’ve felt (mostly) comfortable in nature. Nature is quiet, still, and filled with unknown spaces that my anxiety fills in with all sorts of twisted, and plausible, possible realities. For friends that know me, I don’t watch scary or anxiety producing movies, especially if they involve violence against women. There are too many scary stories in my brain involving the evil of men. I don’t need another moment. Since Raquel Fabre, there have been hundreds of other Raquels, those who have lived and are friends of mine and those whose ghosts haunt my subconscious. I've had to learn how to breathe in that fear in slow deep breaths, self-deprecating jokes, and a thousand small prayers to ancestors.

And so, before I can begin on my modest gardening and beekeeping exploits, I must begin here - in this place of fear, trauma, triggers, and hope. Hope because I trust in my ability to plant these seeds in the earth full of the blood and history of our collective ancestors. I am the only one who can heal my own trauma and I recognize that I’m not the only one who brings these her-stories with them. We must voice these fears and bring them into the openness of day to move past them. The greatest power fear has over us is the power to kill our own dreams and limit our future.

I am tired of watering the ghosts of my memory. And when I plant this seed, I want you to understand how hard won it is. Every inch of it is hard won. Every. Inch. I'm planting these next seeds in my journey for you Raquel. May you rise in power. I'm sending you so much love baby girl. So much love.

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