The Bees and Me
ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION
My admiration for honeybees is great; I just don’t like taking showers with them. That had increasingly become a problem when a group of bees established a colony near the roof next to my kitchen and a bathroom.
According to the bee removal guy, the bees likely picked that spot because it was shady and presented an open space between the walls for them to build their city.
We had hoped to peacefully coexist with the bees, allowing them to use our home in turn for pollinating the garden in the back. But then they started working their way through a vent in the bathroom and, once in, they began colliding into a window thinking they were heading toward sunlight. (At first I thought this was an unusual situation, but the Internet is full of stories about bees in the bathroom.) Then there were warnings that a honeycomb would grow that would eventually permeate the inside wall. Another factor was the neighbors, one of whom was the victim of a bee flying into his ear.
When the bee guy came to analyze the situation he shined an infrared light that showed temperature variations on the bathroom wall. Most of the wall was about 70 degrees, but then there was a hot spot in the 80s. “That’s where the hive is,” he said. It had to come out.
Professional bee removers only work after sunset because that’s when most of the bees will have returned to the hive after a day of buzzing. So, one evening the bee guy and an accomplice donned full-body jump suits and gloves along with helmets that had mesh on all sides. Other than the spotlight they used, they asked that all exterior lights, including the neighbors’, be turned off, because once the bees were disturbed they would make a bee line to whatever light they saw. Then one of the men climbed a ladder and began to make an incision into the side of the house.
(There are lessons to be learned: When one of the bee guys momentarily lifted the mesh on his helmet to wipe sweat off his nose, a bee got in and stung him. Fortunately the man carried a bottle of meat tenderizer in his truck, which he explained was the perfect tonic for a bee sting.)
After about an hour, the grass next to the driveway was covered with rectangular honeycombs, each about two feet long, that the men had excavated from the wall. Each comb was gushy with honey and speckled with bees. The bee guy who had climbed the ladder said that this was his biggest withdrawal of the year, and estimated that there were at least 60,000 bees in the hive. From one comb we squeezed out a pot full of honey. One of the bee guys said he had jugs of the stuff at home. I hope he also has a good washing machine. Both of the men’s now-sweaty jump suits were splattered with honey.
As the men packed I was given an orientation. The hole they made on the outside wall was temporarily covered, but they would have to return in a couple of weeks to permanently fix the spot. The reason was that for the next few days there would be “robber bees” who would come by, sense what happed and devour the remaining particles of honey in the vicinity. These bees were looters, but looters with a purpose. They would clean up the residue honey.
We were also told that once a colony has been established bees would forever know that it had been there. “They can tell by the scent,” a bee guy explained. “They will know that that’s where Grandpa used to live.”
Later that night the kitchen was swarming with bees who must have already been inside the house when the remover men came and who were now making their last stand by dive-bombing toward anything in their sight. I wish I could have merely opened the door and ushered them out, but these bees were in no mood for détente or rehabilitation. All I could do was turn off the light, close the kitchen door and let them be bees.
According to a bee guy, this particular species was the three-ringed Italian honey bee. Somehow I found satisfaction knowing that if I was to have bees working in my kitchen, at least they were Italians. I can report that they had concocted a damn good honey; some of which was spooned over a bagel with peanut butter this morning.
Meanwhile, outside some robber bees still hover. To them, life is lined with honey, and this is the experience of a lifetime.