IN CONVERSATION WITH MARK L. WINSTON
VANCOUVER-BASED Mark L. Winston won the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Non-fiction for his sixth book, Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive.
Winston, who is the director of the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University and a professor in the department of biological sciences, will be in Winnipeg for an event celebrating his GG win hosted by the Winnipeg International Writers Festival, Feb. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Joining him will be visual artist Aganetha Dyck.
Winston took the time to speak to Ariel Gordon.
AG: What do you want people to know about
MW: Bee Time is about more than bees, reflecting on the lessons we as humans can learn from the extraordinary communication abilities, collaborative capacities and mutually beneficial interactions with nature that characterize our species at our best, but are too of ten not expressed in how we deal with each other and interact with the environment around us.
AG: Now that you’ve written six books, what have you learned about writing? What have you learned about your own process?
MW: Good writing is about clear thinking, simple ideas expressed with passion and clarity, and perhaps mostly about telling a story. As to process, my other books were written early in the morning, at home, usually for a few hours beginning at 5 a.m. until I needed to move on to my professor responsibilities. Bee Time was dif ferent, written mostly in the waning hours of af ternoons, at cof fee shops. Perhaps the social nature of coffee shops was a more appropriate setting for this book than being solitary at home, or maybe it was a switch to decaf, but the Bee Time process seemed to fit this book better than the early-morning alone hours.
AG: You’re an academic who writes trade books and regularly gives lectures. Do you ever find it difficult to move between your roles: researcher, writer, communicator and pundit? Or is it just a matter of shifting the language you use, depending on whom you’re addressing that day?
MW: Oddly, I have no dif ficulty transitioning between these very dif ferent cultures. It’s something else I’ve learned from bees, how to be present in the moment, and I adapt easily to what’s going on around me by slowing down and responding to the environment I’m in. And I find the same personal qualities work well in all of these diverse environments, being clear, brief, passionate and interactive.
AG: You’re known as one of the world’s leading experts on bees and pollination. What do you think is the most pressing issue facing bees these days?
MW: Agriculture. If there’s one overriding reason bees are dying, it’s how we farm, and our heavy dependence on pesticides coupled with vast monocropped acreages with insuf ficiently diverse
flowers for honeybees and wild bees to thrive. MW: There’s quite a bit that each of us can do. First, if you must have a lawn, don’t mow it so of ten, and let dandelions and clover bloom, both excellent bee forage. Reduce or eliminate use of pesticides around the yard, especially if you have a garden or a larger farm. Leave some wild areas in your yard for wild bees to nest in, particularly areas of bare soil and brush piles. And in Winnipeg there’s a big one: advocate strongly to eliminate spraying against mosquitoes. It’s an ecological tsunami for bees, and from the evidence I’ve seen is barely ef fective, if at all.
Honeybee colonies are generally pretty easy to coexist with, and require very little space. Even an apartment balcony can be home to a colony. Coexisting mostly involves appreciation, recognizing that honeybees are highly beneficial, and living with them in our midst requires very little adjustment for the very large rewards of urban pollination and honey production. Many cities have developed bylaws that Winnipeg could use as models, but it’s the rare city today that isn’t actively encouraging urban beekeeping. It’s also an essential element in the bigger movement of urban farming and local food production. MW: I just finished Elizabeth Strout’s book My Name is Lucy Barton, and found it exquisite. Richard Wright’s memoir about writing, A Life with Words, is another excellent read, and Paul Kalanithi’s book When Breath Becomes Air is simply stunning. What am I writing? Mostly occasional posts to my blog (winstonhive.com). I’m beginning to reflect on a larger project, either a magazine piece or perhaps another book, focused on ecological farming, and why we farm the way we do, but that project is only in it’s very early stages. My mind, and energy, are still very much on ‘bee time’ for the moment, though.
Ariel Gordon is a Winnipeg writer.
AG: If people want to help bees to survive climate change and environmental degradation, what can they do? AG: The City of Winnipeg has just voted to allow beehives downtown. Any advice on how to coexist with beehives in urban spaces?
MW: AG: What are you reading right now? What are you writing right now?