May 2015 Archives

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A swarm of cold & hungry bees find refuge in our topbar hive: Photo by Nicole Herbert

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Sadananda and Michael installing bees: Photo by Nicole Herbert

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Ma and Akacia watch as Sadananda and Michael install bees: Photo by Nicole Herbert

For the last few years, we've been keeping bees at Alandi Ashram. The garden is fragrant with the scent of propolis and honey and abuzz with bees busily pollinating the garden. Yet keeping bees alive is becoming increasingly difficult.

We've all heard of neonicotinoid pesticides and how they precipitate colony collapse disorder in bees. Banned in the EU to save bees, this class of pesticides continues to be used in the US, where the Department of Agriculture has refused to ban it.

Today, I want to talk about another hazard that bees face. In our years of keeping bees, we've realized that bees are climate change victims, suffering even more than their keepers from extreme weather events.

Initially, we didn't have our own bees, but a neighbour placed a beehive in our garden to enjoy our flowers and help pollinate--with dramatic results in the garden's productivity. Then drought and forest fires began to plague the Boulder area. Watering restrictions made it hard to keep the garden in bloom. Our friendly beekeeper gave up keeping bees.

Next, we had our very own bees, with all the emotional upheavals that go with losing your pets. Beekeeping went quite well at first, but as CO2 levels have increased, so has extreme weather. Drought and forest fire made the local black bears hungry, short of berries for winter food. Some moved from the foothills into town. And so a neigbourhood black bear was one of the first unexpected hazards our bees faced. He, or she, broke down our fence in an attempt to get to the hive. We saw the bear's paw prints right in front of the hive. We'll never know whether a car entering the next-door parking lot spooked the bear, or whether the bees themselves fought him off.

Another extreme weather event that is becoming increasingly common is the polar vortex phenomenon. It's challenging to keep Italian honeybees warm when it's twenty below--and more so when this occurs unseasonably. The November 2014 polar vortex will have long-term effects on bee forage. Just yesterday our neighbour showed us two wild plum trees killed by that weather event. She said that many fruit trees around town were killed, lowering the amount of bee forage available in the crucial weeks of spring.

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2014 Polar Votex

Of course, our most extreme weather event was the 2013 Boulder Flood Disaster. I was so busy at the time taking care of flooded rooms and indoor mold that I did not realize that water had also entered the hives. The winter store of honeycomb moulded and we lost our bees yet again. In fact, Boulder County lost ninety percent of its bees as a result of the flood.

Fall of 2014 brought an amazing Indian summer. It was an enjoyable time in many ways, but disastrous for the bees. Instead of hunkering down in their own hives, local bees were out raiding other hives. All our three hives were raided and our bees slaughtered--a painful event because, as I've said, they are our pets.

Spring of 2015 rolled around, and our bee support person, Michael has brought us three swarms. But we have been having an exceptionally wet and cold spring, so there is little to no forage for the bees. Rainstorms keep knocking the pollen and nectar off the available flowers. And the newly installed swarms don't have any stores built up for rainy days. The swarm in the pictures had been out in the rain and cold for two days. In desperation, we've begun feeding our bees. And we've added the winter insulation to the exterior of the hives. The swarm that had been out in the rain was too exhausted even to make it to the feeder. Instead, we sprayed bee food on the bees, so they could lick each other clean and gain strength that way. We don't know if that colony will make it or not , but on the occasional sunny intervals we've seen some of them flying around.

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Feeding the bees, winter insulation in place in late May.

The environment is a system, a web of life. Extreme cold kills bees. Lack of berries means more bear predation. Shortage of forage makes for more bee raiding. Whatever affects the flowers affects the bees. Whatever affects the bees will in the end affect us, for we depend upon pollinators for food.

How can you help:

  • Don't use pesticides
  • Let your dandelions bloom, a crucial early food for bees and hummingbirds
  • Grow bee-friendly plants like members of the mint and borage families.
  • Let your bolted mustards and arugula bloom.
  • Grow some clover on your lawn and let it bloom.
  • Most of all--become a climate change activist!

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See Ma's speech on video!

See Ma's song on Video!

Honoured guests, faculty, staff, graduates and students, each of you in your own way a part of our Alandi family,

Today's graduation is a unique occasion, taking place, as it does, during our Silver Jubilee Year. Twenty-five years ago, we rented the little garden level apartment here. After looking at many depressing spaces, we felt sure that in this humble place we could make our dreams a reality. This vision has proved true--but not without challenges. When we first arrived we had a rock band, The Samples, as our upstairs neigbours. We had to listen to the same guitar riffs beings played over and over, all day and into the night! Next, a single mothers' collective took over. They were great neighbours--but children can sound like baby elephants when you are meditating and they are playing overhead. Finally, after seven years confined to the basement, we had the opportunity to take over the lease of the entire house and create the facility you see today.

We are located on a clay bank with no topsoil to speak of, so initially the garden yielded nothing but Canada thistles and bindweed. Then we discovered soil amendment and double digging. We created the garden patiently, by hand, lugging buckets of compost for the beds and wheelbarrows of rocks for the borders. We built the firepit according to Dr. Lad's instructions. We made our own ceramic vessel for bathing the shiva lingam--an Indian ritual honouring the union of form and emptiness. We started an Ayurvedic pharmacy from scratch.

Twenty years ago, we began weekly chanting for world peace and healing on Monday nights. Our initial inspiration was the then dire environmental situation at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant--now Rocky Flats plutonium-laced so-called Wildlife Refuge. From our inception, we have practiced an engaged spirituality weaving justice and peace concerns with contemplative practices. The Ayurveda gurukula gives us the opportunity to pass this approach on to younger generations of seekers.

So today, we celebrate twenty-five years of caring community. And we honour the contibutions Larisa, Matt and Nicole have made to this community. Larisa has always been ready to step in and support with everything from a new peace rose to a vegan chocolate cake. Our caring community has been a vital source of support for her journey through metastatic cancer, as well as the painful situation with conflict in Ukraine, her native land. Aland is a spiritual home for Larisa for the six years now and I'm sure she will continue to find ways to stay involved.

Nicole and Matt arrived at Alandi just in time for the 2013 Boulder Flood Disaster. Despite the stressful situation--sitting in class surrounded by boxes, with the Shivalingam in front and pharmacy behind us, they were unwavering in their commitment and always ready to take on responsibilities. One of the first things Matt said to me was, "If you need any heavy lifting, I can take care of it." The second was, "I can help with shopping." Both of these have been much appreciated--but Matt's abilities as a community builder have been an even greater asset.

When Nicole was asked if she was willing to take over as pharmacy manager, she said 'yes' even before she found out that the position carried a full work-study. She simply wanted to be of service and be more involved with the herbs. Nicole has been keeping pharmacy going with ease and tranquility. She gently nurtures the students' medicine making skills. We are delighted that she will be continuing her studies up to the degree of Ayurvedic doctor.

In an age that rewards greed and celebrates selfishness, creating caring community is both challenging and counter-cultural. Alandi is a microcosm of the reign of love and loving-kindness--the radical solution to the numerous social and environmental problems that plague us as a nation and a world. If we care about drought in the horn of Africa, we will take strong action on climate change--and thus save ourselves. If we care about conflicts raging in the Middle East and North Africa, we will demand global economic justice--and solve terrorism by love, not war. If we care about species extinction, we will nurture a more diverse and beautiful world for our children. If we create a caring society, we ourselves will have happier and less stressful lives.

In honour of this special jubilee year, I have written a song for you. Here is, the Caring Community Song.

The youngest girls are just thirteen,

They work all day, they sob all night,

Until the little matchgirls strike

And set the world alight.

A new day has dawned for us,

A fresh new song is in the air.

Join hands in community

For a world of sharing and caring.

A man is walking to the sea,

To make the salt is forbidden,

And thousands more shall march with him

In soul-force for freedom.

A new day has dawned for us,

A fresh new song is in the air.

Join hands in community

For a world of sharing and caring.

The cattle cars roll through the town,

The German wives are weeping.

They pour the water for thirsty mouths

And take their daily beating.

A new day has dawned for us,

A fresh new song is in the air.

Join hands in community

For a world of sharing and caring.

On Selma Bridge with heads held high

They walk into a sea of blue,

The future held in bleeding hands,

They march for me, for you.

A new day has dawned for us,

A fresh new song is in the air.

Join hands in community

For a world of sharing and caring.

So come, my friends and walk with me,

Where King and Gandhi have gone before

And by the little matchgirl's light

Let us live each for all.

Each for all and all for each,

A fresh new song is in the air.

All for each and each for all,

For a world of sharing and caring.

A new day has dawned for us,

A fresh new song is in the air.

Join hands in community

For a world of sharing and caring.

Black Spring

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Recently, my double cousin had her DNA tested, revealing that a stream of our ancestry comes from Benin or Togo, a centre for the Atlantic slave trade. Slaves from this part of Africa were mostly shipped off to Brazil. This does not come as a surprise--we all know that our great-great-grandmother was black. And Auntie Bertha, her daughter, told my grandmother we were descended from African slaves transported to Brazil. From there, our ancestor Richard Charnock must have been 'pressed' into the British navy, arriving in the port of Rochester.

My ancestor's slave collar has haunted from time to time in terrifying nightmares. I clutch my neck and try to rip off the collar. Then I wake up --and the nightmare is over. For my African ancestors, there was no waking from the nightmare of slavery. Today, too many descendants of slaves have their own waking nightmares of poverty, racism and police brutality.

Following events in Baltimore, a new hashtag has emerged on Twitter--Black Spring. It's easy to throw up our hands in horror and condemn actions such as those in Baltimore in recent days--especially if we have viewed these events through the lens of mainstream media. Other media sources, from Mother Jones to Al Jazeera, have pointed to converging provocations: public transport being shut down so high schoolers couldn't get home, excess police presence inflaming passions, even reports on social media of agents provocateurs who were actually undercover police.

We admired revolutionaries in Tahrir Square or Tunis; we gave military aid for the Libyan revolution; we supported protestors in Ukraine. We respect those who raise their voices and risk their lives for democracy in far away places. We honour our own revolutionaries who won independence from Britain. But black youth making themselves heard in our own cities are seen as troublemakers, not as fighters for a just cause. The words Black Spring remind us that recent events are not just an outburst such as we might see when a baseball team loses. The protests, peaceful and otherwise, that have been taking place ever since the killing of Michael Brown are symptomatic of something much larger--people are standing up for their rights and they won't sit down and take it any more.

We need a Black Spring because Black lives don't seem to matter to the world. We need a Black Spring in America, because we have yet to live up to our pledge of liberty and justice for all. Just this week, Israel's Ethiopian Jews launched their own Black Spring in protest against racism and police brutality. Perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them too. We need a Black Spring in the UK, where inordinate numbers of black youth are imprisoned, often for offences that would be better handled by restorative justice. We need a Black Spring in the other former colonial powers, France and Belgium. We need a Black Spring in our international organizations and our financial systems that force African nations into poverty to service debt. The world needs a Black Spring, because none of us are free until all of us are free, and justice for some is justice for none. I'll give the last word to Bob Marley.

Get up, stand up, stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight
Get up, stand up. Life is your right
So we can't give up the fight
Stand up for your right, Lord, Lord
Get up, stand up. Keep on struggling on
Don't give up the fight!

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