KAAT BYRD: How did your story with the bees begin?
JACQUELINE FREEMAN: My story with bees began in 1983. I was attending an educational course for a few months and each day I ate lunch near a swimming pool. I noticed a honeybee who had fallen into the water. I found a stick and scooped her up and placed her on the grass. Then I noticed another and did the same. And another. One by one, I rescued every little bee in the water. The next day I did it again. When I say this, you’d imagine I did it about ten times, right? I’m guessing I rescued nearly a thousand bees that spring, every day until every bee was okay.
I had zero experience with bees, but this was a powerfully driven call I could not ignore and became a daily task I felt drawn to complete. Until I took up with keeping bees 20 years later, that was my only connection with them, but geez it was a powerful one. I still check bodies of water anywhere I go to be sure they’re all safe.
KB: What is your focus and goal as a bee guardian?
JF: My work as a guardian is about helping bees live full lives free of worry, surrounded by love. I began with my first few hives, then I was asked to remove bees from an old one-room schoolhouse that had them there for about 80 years. Word got around and I started getting calls from nervous people about picking up swarms. I realized that fearful people kill bees, which compelled me to start educating people about their magic and inherent value. I’ve done many cutouts that qualify as rescues to prevent colonies from being harmed.
All through my bee life I’ve felt a deep connection with them. Because I started with bees before they came into fashion, there were very few places to learn how to care for bees the way I felt drawn to do it, cleanly, in ways that match how wild bees live. I spent the first half dozen years asking the bees to tell me how to care for them. At first that was just a thought, of course, wondering what they really want. And then one morning I suddenly “knew” something about bees that I hadn’t the day before.
And that continued. I believe I was being educated by the bees and I took detailed notes each morning as they explained about the nature of bees and how they live in our shared world. My book, “Song of Increase: Listening to the Wisdom of Honeybees for Kinder Beekeeping and a Better World,” evolved out of that.
KB: How does the local environment shape your work?
JF: I am blessed by living on this beautiful farm my husband and I are stewards to. We are organic, biodynamic, and quite rural so overall my bees are fairly safe here, though we have had three times when someone sprayed poison within my bees’ range and those hives died horrible deaths. This really disturbs me because we are not even close to big agriculture or urban areas, yet still the bees suffer from chemical exposure. It’s heartbreaking.
Which is why I wrote my book, with the hope that many thousands of people take up the call for protecting all of Nature, and it spreads to millions of people who do whatever it takes to keep our environment clean and natural. To that end I write, speak, teach and pray that all life is honored and respected, and I try to get that out as many ways as I can imagine.
KB: What are you working on right now?
JF: Right now my bee-buddy Susan Chernak McElroy (author of the NYTimes bestseller “Animals as Teachers and Healers”) and I are working on our new site, www.PreservationBeekeeping.com, and are taking our bee work to more natural hives. She’s weaving straw skeps and I’m hiving bees in trees rather than normal wooden box hives. We’re stepping away from beekeeping as a way to access honey and moving more toward providing bee homes that don’t require human interference.
KB: Can you share one of your favorite bee stories?
JF: As I write this, it’s mid-winter here on the farm. A few days ago I was up in the garden checking on the bees and, as is normal, found a few dead-looking bees at the front entrance with their tongues hanging out, and I found a bee who still had her tongue in her mouth. Just in case she might still be alive and chilled, I took off my glove and carried her in my closed hand, thinking I’d warm her up when I got back to the house. But as is usual for me, I did a few other quick tasks here and there and ended up in the cow barn. I’d become so used to carrying the frozen bee that I’d forgotten she was there and was surprised to feel a little tickle on my palm. Yes! She was alive and even though my hands were cold, my body heat was warm enough to rouse her. A short walk back to the bee house and I placed her at the entrance. With a perky saunter, she scooted back into the hive.
I’m a self-professed member of the “every bee alive” group and though I know most beekeepers would question why I put so much effort into one bee when a hive has tens of thousands Nonetheless, I try my best to treat every bee as if she’s a unique and special bee, each worthy of care, protection and love. These individual bees were my first teachers and even now, decades later, I feel a heartfelt affinity that they each get their moment in the sun.