Don and Naomi examining a frame with possible Varroa mites at the Mark family residence on Old Alaska Highway at the end of the bee season in 2016. (Submitted/How to Bee)

Learning how to bee

‘It’s about learning the values of an elder generation, about how to prioritize.’

In 2015, Naomi Mark thought she was just flying home for a summer to learn to keep bees with her ailing father on their Whitehorse area property.

What started as a summer getaway from her metropolitan Vancouver life stretched into three summers of memories and those three years have now been captured indelibly in an 82-minute film: How To Bee.

It all started with a 2002 diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for Naomi’s dad Don — a diagnosis he hid from the family until 2012.

“He was a man who had an eclectic array of hobbies and interests that defined his life,” said Naomi of her father, a proud man who didn’t want his life to be defined by his illness.

“He used to be a dog musher, a trapper, he’s a big gardener, and then beekeeping was one of his passions.”

Originally, Naomi thought she would spend one summer learning how to beekeep from her father — the bee expert — and make a short film about that learning process, but she found herself returning over the next two summers to continue filming.

“In the first summer my dad didn’t let me touch the bees for about a month or a month and a half,” Naomi said. “A lot of the film is me watching and annoying him with questions.”

Don welcomed the presence of the camera and opportunity to teach Naomi and the world about the bees.

“While his health was best in the first year of filming, he was totally on board and he became like my filmmaking partner,” said Naomi.

She, or a family member, was filming so frequently that he began to understand what types of shots she was looking for and would repeat steps when she requested.

“You can really see our relationship dynamic in that first year because he was so comfortable with it that it was like the camera wasn’t even there,” Naomi said.

But the change to his health happened quickly — changing not just her father’s relationship with his bees and her film, but their father-daughter relationship as well.

“From the first summer to the second, my dad slowly gets further from the bees,” said Naomi.

As Don’s illness progressed, so did his dependence on Naomi to help with the bees. During the second summer, he was giving directions standing next to her and by the third he was sometimes sitting in the car while she worked.

Naomi realized early on in the filming process that the project was going to be more than a video about beekeeping.

“It was a lot of coming to terms with illness and my relationship with my dad, but it was largely about both him and I coming to terms with the fact that he was severely ill and was likely going to pass away from it,” she said.

In September 2017, Naomi was just weeks away from starting post-production on her film. And then, Don died.

“I feel very lucky to have been able to have created this thing that is a celebration of my dad’s way of being, in a way that people will be affected by it,” said Naomi.

It’s been hard, Naomi said, but she’s still grateful for the few years they spent together.

“We became closer than I had ever been with him,” she said.

The documentary’s title came to her as she began to realize that while beekeeping was at the centre of the storyline, it wasn’t the film’s premise anymore.

It’s “How to Bee because it is about just that,” said Naomi. It’s about learning the values of an elder generation, about how to prioritize, how to put family first, how to be a good person, and just generally how to be.

And not only that, but how people can be when they are faced with a less than ideal situation in life, like Don. He didn’t give up, but continued to care about the people in his life and, of course, his honey bees.

“He remained fascinated by the world despite his dire circumstances,” said Naomi. “And I think that is one thing I found really inspiring about him.”

Naomi and her team plan to debut the film in the Yukon sometime in the next couple months. Until then, the curious can check out the trailer at howtobee.ca.

Contact Crystal Schick at

crystal.schick@yukon-news.com

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