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