Because of him, I spent much of my life explaining that I’m not Lutheran. I’m Lithuanian. That my name isn’t Greek. It’s Lithuanian. That it rhymes with most inflammatory diseases (bursitis, hepatitis, arthritis and so on). I also blame him, at least partially, for what I choose to write about.
My father, like all fathers, wasn’t perfect. He made his errors, some serious, and there was much he didn’t teach me that he should have. But in one area he gave me a great gift: He loved the land, and taught me to do the same. He worked to conserve the wild lands in our county, and he believed in educating us about the need to steward the land well. Because of him I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Because of him I learned to pay attention to the creatures I shared the world with.
As a writer, that translated into understanding that The Muse doesn’t always appear in human form. Therefore, years of unusual bird encounters nudged me to write the novel These Dreams, as well as the nonfiction book Saving Eagle Mitch. Building a house in an area where human and animal encounters are normal inspired the novel Something Unpredictable. And my latest book, The Amber, certainly wouldn’t have been born without my Lithuanian heritage of connection to bees.
That’s right. I said bees. Here’s how that started.
I was swarmed by bees. Not once, not twice, but three times, and it was painful and scary. I was complaining about it to a friend and he said, “Well, you’re Lithuanian.”
“What’s that got to do with it?” I demanded.
“Lithuanians have a bee mythology. A bee god and goddess. I think,” he mused, “your ancestors want you to write about them.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure. I’ll do that.”
I meant to, but other projects, paying projects mind you, intervened. In the meantime, my husband and I built a house out in the country, which took some time away from writing about my ancestors’ painful and nonpaying imperative.
But as soon as we built the house, a swarm of honeybees gathered at one of our trees. Then, we had an invasion of wasps in the ceiling right above the pillow where I sleep. Finally, another swarm of honeybees decided to build their home inside the walls of our house.
After they settled in, they crawled through the walls, until one day, I heard a strange buzzing near an electrical outlet in the office where I write. Being totally ignorant, I unscrewed the outlet cover to see what was going on, and was greeted by WINGS. Lots of BEE WINGS!
I clamped the cover down, and took a breath.
Honeybees were trying to get to me.
Because my father taught me to pay attention to environmental issues, I was aware that honeybees were in trouble. Their population was being decimated by illness that seemed to be connected to a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. Thinking of my father, who made me read Silent Spring, thinking of all the good work honeybees do in the world, thinking how important it is that we pay attention to our imprint on the planet, I didn’t want to just kill them. On the other hand, I didn’t want to get stung a lot. After some thought I worked out a system of cardboard, tupperware containers, and duct tape that would allow me to capture and release the bees which were trying desperately to break through the ultimate human glass ceiling of my office. I spent four days fearfully manipulating my home-made rescue operation, until it seemed I’d gotten all I could. I remember the last bee lingering, and saying to it, “Go! Get the hell out of Dodge! Really.”
It continued to linger, and so I said, “I promise. I’ll write the damn book. Just go!”
When it was gone, I started research in earnest, and found all kinds of fascinating facts about my own heritage, many of which explained Why I am the Way I am. I did what writers do when the muse stings you. I fell in love with this world and its people, which were part of my DNA.
The result was The Amber, which pays homage to the Lithuanian bee goddess Austeja, and explores what it means to be dragged back into your own soul, your own heritage, just when you thought you could leave it all behind.
But you can’t. My father knew that.
The reason we celebrate holidays like Father’s Day, and Mother’s Day, the reason we search out our ancestors, is because their story informs ours, and helps to shape our souls. The more we know about it, the better we can make conscious choices about what we’ll keep, what we’ll leave behind, and where we want the story to go next. And that matters. A lot. So the honeybees would say.
When I finished the first draft of my novel, I printed it out and stood on my front porch holding it, saying thank you, as I always do for the completion of a first draft.
As I did, a swarm of honeybees flew down my country road, dipped briefly by me, and moved on.
I thanked my father. I thanked the home of his people, Lietuva. And of course, I sent my thanks to the honeybees, hoping we’d do right by them at last.
The Amber is now available in paperback and kindle format on Amazon.