IN CON­VER­SA­TION WITH MARK L. WIN­STON

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - UPCLOSE -

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?

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