It's been a month now since Equilibrium Rites, and adjusting back to the quotidian is awkward at best. Here's a recap of the pain, the glory, the love. So much eternal gratitude for my friends who joined me on this adventure: Joanna Brook, Kaylee Holz, Giulia D'Agostino, Elizabeth Shupe, Patricia Algara, and Ryan Kittleson.
Day 0: We drove south, collected water from Mt. Shasta, the headwaters of the Sacramento River that feed into the California Aqueduct, providing much of the Central Valley's agricultural irrigation. When we hit the miles and miles of almonds come evening time, the white blossoms were turned violet. It was just in time before dark to see the fungicide trucks spraying along the roadsides where the bee boxes stood. It was the first paradoxical experience of profound and toxic beauty. For the first two nights we stayed at a farm house in an almond orchard, sleeping, windows open, with the pollen fragrance in our dreams.
Day 1: We awoke at 4:30 each morning to catch the sunrise. The wind blew hard that day fluttering through our yellow dresses. We did an interview for the Modesto Bee.
Truckers stopped on the side of the road asking us what we were doing, saying everyone was radioing back and forth about us. A man asked us if we were praying for the earth. We found dead hives, bee boxes piled high, lids off, a cloud of bees robbing the honey. We closed the day with a ceremony atop a hill with vineyards and a river below. The wind felt strong enough to fly us away and I shouted into the wind our prayers.
Day 2: The day's opening ceremony started on the side of a highway. We claimed our own space amidst the early morning routine of the world. The walk was in heavy monoculture. Joanna was out with a cold from the previous day's wind and one of our photographers Elizabeth stepped up to walk. The day was hot, the sun was brutal, our poor red head Kaylee burned, the fields felt endless and there was an edgy agitated feeling among us. We shouted, we cried, we chanted to Kali, we were in it all the way, alone with ourselves, our minds, the desert, our mission. Everyone shed layers, was eroded and made more completely a thing of the earth. We ended the day's ceremony at dusk with the headlights pointed into our circle in the orchards. Security came in from across the desert asking us 1-What we were doing? 2-Were we going to sacrifice anything? 3-Were we practicing witchcraft? Mostly he wanted to see if we were hive thieves, the ones who were getting away with hundreds of $200 hives.
Day 3: The day's walk was through many smaller farms of almonds, peaches, nectarines, vineyards. Joanna was back in action, Giulia walked and documented, and Patricia joined us, making us six, complete. The day before Patricia had just signed a lease for a bee sanctuary in Hawaii. We interviewed conventional and organic farmers, seeing their farms side by side, one barren of any green with trucks and men in white suites spraying chemicals, the other's understory covered with grasses and flowers. We had all cohered in such a way we began taking care of each other, we hived up. I would drum for hours keeping the group together, Kaylee held high an umbrella to keep us both in its shade. Lovely gestures like these swelled in me. We enchanted children. We sat in the shade of well houses. People stared from their porches. We barked down dogs. We were joined by artist and photographer James Stark who photographed San Francisco through the 60s and 70s, documented the early punk rock scene, and now farmed just a few miles away. We ululated when the sun dropped below the horizon. Everyone, though tired, was going strong. We made dinner over delirious conversation. I could only sleep till 3 am every morning, my mind walking even in bed.
Day 4: We were back in the thick of the monoculture, now in the Southern San Joaquin. At yesterday's advice from James, I quit with the printed papers of poems and incantations. I spoke from the moment, without reserve, with heartfelt feeling, exultation and anguish. Dead bees were littered around the boxes, proboscis out, a sign of chemical poisoning. The roads were empty. We walked in the raining white of blossoms, in the dappled shade of the trees, past fields of dead orchards uprooted because of the drought, past empty fields of soil ready for planting, past churning oil pumps. We got kicked out of orchards. We found and interviewed our first beekeepers, a family business with 800 hives who reported major shortages of bees because of colony collapse. We ate almond honey right from the comb in the twilight, walking east towards the waxing moon.
Day 5: Last day in the biggest orchard, the Paramount/Wonderful company who farms pistachios, almonds, POM pomegranate juice, extracts Fiji water. By this day the flowers were repulsive. A kind of aversion therapy set in, and the many thousands of trees and millions of blossoms we had encountered over the week reeked of pretty gluttony. The monoculture revealed itself as a supreme weakness in the intelligence of humanity, who would suck the desert dry, who would work the country's hives to death, who would turn the world to one homogeneous mass if it could. And for what? Always a fight against the instinct of nature. The rows seemed endless, terminating in surreal perspectives. Tumbleweeds rolled by. Then the almonds gave way to pistachios, not yet in bloom, and their gnarled branches seemed sinister in the vacant landscape. The end of the journey loomed immense in me, and I didn't eat or rest or take shade. I wanted the sting of the bee. I wanted the truth of madness, to give over everything, and as we walked the last miles past the orchards and straight into the vacant desert, with the hillsides and mountains in view, there instead grew something I can only describe as resilience. I knew our ending spot. It had been where I had found the hundreds of hives overwintering when I scouted in January. When we reached it I guided us to walk three circles around the triangular crossroad. They were victory laps but also my unwillingness to stop walking. I could have walked into the hills and straight into the ocean. James was there taking pictures. We trespassed into the green empty field and enacted our final closing ceremony. As we began, men on ATVs showed up and our photographers appeased them with simple answers. To trespass, to claim those roads, to claim space on this earth, to claim loyalty to earth, to love unabashedly, to speak without reserve, was immense. Joanna held scales and sword. Kaylee drummed. I shouted into the hills. We ate Patricia's honey. When it was over we stared blankly outward at the blue and the green. The landowner then showed up and we had to remember how to be human again. His three six foot sons postured, spitting tobacco. Appeased, he asked, "I'm curious why you chose this very spot? How did you know one of the country's largest beekeepers is in the next field over?" We watched the sun go down, chugged a bottle of mead made with bee pollen and oil of gold and meteorite.
Day 6: The drive up north through so many trees. We cover the distance of a day's walk in 20 minutes. Music blaring. We land in Ashland after dark and receive a hero's welcome by Laura Ferguson and Sharon Schmidt of the College of the Melissae and Oregon Honey Festival (or "Hera's" welcome in the words of Laura). They pronounce this the most important ritual for the bees in our lifetime. They ask us when the next walk will be. They feed us dinner and deserts and take us to the hot springs to soak our worn bodies, and we sit there in the steaming bath, with a couple dozen naked women of all ages, chatting, strutting, giggling under the full moon, and I wonder hard at this shoreline where reality meets myth.