Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Worrying About Salal


I have been stitching my way through May and now it’s almost June! As I sew these meandering patterns on silk organza leaves, I work through my worries and my fears. I read an article in Hakai magazine that was written a few years back about the die-off of salal and it really triggered me because I have just seen the bees in the salal on Galiano Island. Some of us who were participants of the 2023 Bioblitz were staying at the Galiano Island Conservancy property. When I emerged from the tent in the morning to take the bleary-eyed journey to the outhouse, I passed clumps of salal criss-crossed with trailing blackberry. These places were buzzing with industrious worker bumble bees collecting pollen for their sisters back at the nest. Losing salal would be catastrophic for west coast bees, especially bumble bees.



I think, worry, fret, and stitch. Then I tie a knot in the end of the thread and leave those concerns behind like a ghost trail of thoughts. I like to start and end the day with meditative stitching. I even found that I could embroider on the bus. (I mean, since you’re sitting on your butt you might as well do something productive, right?!)  As I create a collection of these translucent leaves I also start imagining what item of clothing I can make with them---perhaps a cape and a hat. Maybe I can make a corset and skirt that looks like the bark of an arbutus tree. I was also thinking of stitching fine wires into some of the leaves so I can bend and shape them and give them some body.  That way they can be adjusted and look slightly different every time it is worn.



Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Desire Paths on Fabric


What is a desire path? It’s a concept I will be exploring in depth. The most common way I’ve heard it used is a path that is the shortest point between two distances, often created by foot traffic off the main trail. But that’s a human-centred definition. What about the desire paths of bees, butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, and larvae? There are human-defined roads, paths, and trails, and then there are the ones that nature makes without us. How can we pay attention to the paths of the creatures that were here before us? How can we accommodate them?




I want to explore the concept of “menditation” that Lois Klassen and I first explored in our Slofemist projects. I am inviting you to make your own arbutus leaves out of fabric and stitch your meditative desire trails on the leaves. These can be used to mend an item of clothing or a table cloth, or just used as decorative patches. I found this lovely square of quilting material that is inspired by city maps. It’s fun to contrast the squiggles of a leaf miner over its man-made patterns depicting roads.



There are also desire paths through time. I encourage you to listen to this interview from Emergence Magazine with writer Jenny Odell.

Arbutus Meditation


As we walk the trails in the Harewood Plains in Nanaimo, I find it disturbing that almost all the young arbutus, or pacific madrone trees show signs of a kind of black spot fungus that Brian Starzomski has identified as Phacidiopycnis washingtonensis. Sadly, there are many human-caused factors, including fire suppression, habitat disturbance and climate change that are causing arbutus trees to fail.  Eileen M. Stark has written an excellent article detailing these factors and also giving you tips on how to grow an arbutus tree if they are native to your area. 

Arbutus trees are an exceptional wildlife tree for bees. Honey bees collect nectar from the urn-shaped creamy blossoms, so you can be sure many native bees also rely on them for nectar, including bumble bees.  I’m very excited to go to Galiano this week for the bioblitz to visit a spot near Montague Harbor where there is an arbutus tree with blossoms low enough to the ground to observe the bees. And where there’s nectar, you’ll also find butterflies and hummingbirds, which also feed from the blossoms. At least two butterfly caterpillars also feed on the leaves: the echo blue and brown azure butterflies. Birds also nest in the trees, eat the caterpillars and feed on the berries which give the tree its name “madrone” or “strawberry tree”.


I’m working on a diaphanous cape of arbutus leaf-shaped pieces of silk organza. My plan is to create a series of costume pieces I can wear as I talk to people about the importance of protecting and propagating this key bee tree.



You can help researchers by documenting the bees, birds, and other insects you see in arbutus trees and posting them on iNaturalist. Next time you see a pacific madrone tree, spend some time with it, send it your gratitude. Have a conversation. Give the tree your blessing. And be sure to inhale the scent of the fragrant healing blossoms. Read what Diana Beresford Kroeger has to say about its antiviral and antibiotic properties.




Monday, May 22, 2023

Shell Contemplation


Find an object in your home that gives you a feeling of comfort and really take a close look at it. Examine it from different angles in the light. We all need these touchstones in our environment to keep us calm and grounded. Is there a place in your home and/or workspace that you keep a collection of natural objects that help you connect to your place of strength and hope? When you are out in nature, do you take the time to really appreciate some of the finer details of the beautiful plants, rocks, shells, and patterns around you? Remember to slow down to a snail's pace and contemplate these things fully with your senses.

I particularly love the colour palette of this shell--the pinks, browns and powder blues. I like the way the flesh tones come out against the skin on my hand. I appreciate the textured whorls and ridges I can feel with my fingertips. I like the scale of it in my hand. Its beauty calms and centres me.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Beespoke Cocoons: transformative community-based rituals to lighten ecological grief and process the loss of biodiversity.




Marriage, birth or burying,

News across the seas,

All your sad or marrying,

You must tell the bees.






As an advocate for native bees, I have always sought to be positive and convince people they can help the plight of pollinators by the actions they take in their gardens. But lately, the grief of insect losses and other environmental catastrophes has almost paralyzed me with depression and fear. I am seeking ways I can deal with this burden of grief through a series of creative rituals inspired by natural beauty.



 I am excited to announce that I am currently artist in residence for this project at the hcma Architecture and Design studio in Victoria BC!!!! I'll be doing a deep dive into the native bees and native bee plants of Victoria and Vancouver Island.  The theme for this residency is "Delightful Unburdening," and we'll be exploring rituals that lift the burden of climate grief and anxiety.


I'm starting a work in progress by creating arbutus leaves with desire trails from silk organza and some embroidery thread I found at a thrift store. You can read about the source of inspiration in the blog post below. Arbutus trees are fantastic bee plants and they are blooming right now on Vancouver Island. I urge you to spend time inhaling the scent of the blossoms and looking for the bees that drink the nectar. Take your time. Saunter. Dawdle. Bee idle with the bees.



Saturday, May 20, 2023

Happy World Bee Day!


Osmia in kwetlal (camas) in Lotus Pinnatus Park, Nanaimo, BC. 
Bee sure to read this fascinating article and video from chek news: Call it kwetlal, not camas: How to decolonize your garden. 

Monday, May 15, 2023

Desire Trails: From Leaf to Soil



I am fascinated by the patterns that the larvae of leaf and twig mining moths leave on arbutus leaves. I love the description of these trails in this PacificNorthwest Pest Management Handbook: “sinuous, serpentine mines”. There are two species mentioned: Madrone shield bearer (Coptodisca arbutiella) and Serpentine leafminer (Marmara arbutiella). These tiny moths must be some of the ones we see shimmering in the coastal forests around Nanaimo. They do not harm the tree, so no treatment is needed-- just adoration and appreciation for them as part of our richly biodiverse habitat. I am inspired to make some textile pieces inspired by these insects, stitching trails into leaf-shaped pieces of fabric.







The arbutus trees are blooming right now and they are very important for BC native bees at this time of the year. The exact species are hard to study without a cherry picker, but I do see bumble bees in the blossoms for sure. The pollinated blossoms are starting to fall from the trees and they lay on the ground like soft herbaceous barnacles. They will become compost at the base of the tree.




As we eat our way through life, we also create desire trails on the landscape. Our desire trails are not so benign. I listened to an amazing podcast on the science and cultural history of soil on the Emergence Magazine podcast: Dwelling on Earth by Jay Griffiths. The author describes the history of civilizations that fell because they depleted the local soil to feed their populations. And that made it clear to me—in order to save the bees, we need to save the soil. They rely on the plants that grow in it, and over 70 per cent of bees nest in soil. We have to learn how to protect the health and biodiversity of soil. There isn’t just one type of “ideal” soil as the European gardening model would have us believe. Native soil is the best soil for native plants and native plants are the best sustenance for native bees. What is your relationship to the soil? Are you a soil taker or a soil maker? What impact do your desire trails have on the soil? 

Where are your desire trails leading you?





Saturday, May 6, 2023

A Celebration of Bees on Camas



Let's start with this beautiful Andrena mining bee collecting pollen on camas at the Garry Oak Learning Garden in Fort Rodd Hill.


I saw many yellow-headed bumble bee queens nest searching and drinking nectar in camas in Beacon Hill Park and Uplands. This is one of the most common bumble bee species seen in Victoria.

Interesting to see this Nomada cuckoo bee hunkered down on a camas blossom when the day turned a bit cooler.

Blue orchard mason bees really seem to love camas nectar, diving right into the centre of the flowers.

So wonderful to see the little bumble bee workers drinking nectar and showing off their full pollen baskets.

Here's an adorable camas hugging Andrena with lighter coloration in Beacon Hill Park.

I also witnessed a little Bombus mixtus worker sipping nectar and then gathering pollen from the stamens.

 A thirsty Bombus flavifrons in the Garry Oak Learning Garden.

This Bombus californicus had pollen in her baskets too.


This B. californicus was gathering pollen in Uplands Park.


So grateful for the opportunity to see and hear the bees in the camas in spring.