Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.
Today, Ariel Gordon is championing Revery, by Jenna Butler. Gordon writes, "Books are built on the backs and shoulders of other books. I wouldn’t have written my book Treed: Walking in Canada’s Urban Forests, if I hadn’t read Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail back in 2015. Back then, I loved Jenna’s stories about building an off-grid farm an hour and a half north of Edmonton. But I needed to read about Jenna’s commitment to her land in an era when the effects of climate change were beginning to make themselves felt in Alberta, where she is, and in Manitoba, where I am.
Five years later, Jenna and her husband Thomas are still on the land, but everything has changed. They’ve moved the farm to higher ground after five years of flooding and are having to re-build their market gardens from scratch, both in terms of plants and the soil beneath them. But those five years have seen them take on another responsibility: Jenna and Thomas have become beekeepers. The book chronicling their practice, Revery, walks us through their seasonal tasks to keep the bees healthy. Along the way, Jenna tells us about her renewed commitment to the land, to helping keeping all the systems on the farm in balance. She confides with readers about her climate grief and the healing journey the bees have helped her make in those years.
This is smart and sensitive writing; Revery makes me ache for Jenna and for all of us. But it soothes me too—acknowledging how difficult life is and is likely to become under climate change makes me feel ready to fight for my own patch of land. It should go without saying, but I admire this book SO very much."
49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?
Jenna Butler: I wanted to talk about both honeybees and wild bees in Alberta and their role in the diverse ecosystem of the boreal forest in particular, and I feel the book has done that.
49th Shelf: Tell us about your ideal reader, and where you imagine them reading your book.
JB: I imagine someone who is not necessarily a beekeeper themselves, but who has been reading about climate change and saving the pollinators. Perhaps this is someone who has been through a deep trauma and is exploring paths toward healing and stories of recovery. If they have the chance to read this book outside, whether in a garden or in a wild space, with the hum of bees nearby, I think that would be the ideal place.
49th Shelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?
JB: Many, over a number of years, but in particular, Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees, by Lori Weidenhammer; Bee Time: Lessons From the Hive, by Mark L. Winston; Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture, by Ross Conrad; and Listening to the Bees, by Mark L. Winston and Renée Sarojini Saklikar.
49th Shelf: What’s something you know now that you didn’t know when you set out to write your book?
JB: How intimately and deeply connected the wild bees are to their ecosystems and ranges, and how susceptible they are to small shifts in climate. Even a few degrees’ warmth can speed up the flowering of a particular nectar plant and put it out of sync with a wild bee’s spring emergence, and that bee may depend on that plant for early season food.
Also, that it is possible to heal.
49th Shelf: Is there a species of bee that you’re connecting with most profoundly these days?
JB: Though I started off by focusing the book on domestic honeybees, I’ve actually become even more of a devotee of the wild bees of the boreal forest, particularly the many species of bumblebees. I’m fascinated by their pollinating skill and by their communities, and they’re much-loved companions out in the market garden.
49th Shelf: What bookstore are you most excited to walk into and see your book displayed on the shelf?
JB: It’s a tie! There’s Audreys Books, the strong independent bookstore I grew up with in Edmonton, that has been always incredibly supportive of the local literary community and Canadian authors in general. And there’s Glass Bookshop, which is phenomenally diverse and inclusive, focusing a great deal on LGBTQ2SIA and IBPOC writers, as well as independent publishers. Glass Bookshop is new and already a deeply important part of the literary world in Edmonton and beyond.
49th Shelf: Who are you most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?
JB: I’m always, always deeply grateful to my publisher at Wolsak and Wynn, Noelle Allen, who sees these books of essays in me when I might not always perceive the path to the finished works in myself; to Andrew Wilmot, my editor, for their fine and rigorous eye in the final drafts to make each chapter accessible and clear; to my husband Thomas, my longtime life partner and my growing partner on the farm; and to my family and my writing community, for being all-round wonderful and encouraging people.
"This is smart and sensitive writing; Revery makes me ache for Jenna and for all of us. But it soothes me too—acknowledging how difficult life is and is likely to become under climate change makes me feel ready to fight for my own patch of land.""
After five years of working with bees on her farm in northern Alberta, Jenna Butler shares with the reader the rich experience of keeping hives. Starting with a rare bright day in late November as the bees are settling in for winter she takes us through a year in beekeeping on her small piece of the boreal forest. Weaving together her personal story with the practical aspects of running a farm she takes us into the worlds of honeybees and wild bees. She considers the twinned development of the canola and honey industries in Alberta and the impact of crop sprays, debates the impact of introduced flowers versus native flowers, the effect of colony collapse disorder and the protection of natural environments for wild bees. But this is also the story of women and bees and how beekeeping became Jenna Butler's personal survival story.