Whenever I hear a buzzing around my head, I grab the fly swatter and flail away. To me, flies, wasps, and yellow jackets fit into the same category as chiggers, mosquitoes, and ticks: bugs to be annihilated. They are not welcome in my home. So when my youngest son, Carlos, became a beekeeper, it was difficult for me to understand his attraction.
Why would anyone willingly stick their hands into a mass of bees?
I ascribed some of his abandon to youthfulness. After all, at his age I was rappelling down sandstone cliffs and slithering through narrow passages in caves. (Today, just the thought of those activities makes me shiver.)
But age does not seem to endow beekeepers with caution. I sometimes listen to Carlos and his older beekeeping friends recount their courageous feats rescuing swarms of bees. They rationalize such exploits because of the economic gain. After all,
A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon.
Last May, while quietly weeding my broccoli, I heard a loud buzzing moving toward me. I knew Carlos was checking his beehives, so my first response was to flee from what I assumed were grouchy bees looking for a target.
But I've lived with a beekeeper long enough to know that bees swarm in May. So before dashing for cover. I looked up and stared at the spiraling mass of honeybees flying over my head. Cautiously, I followed the humming cloud that rose over the trees surrounding our house and paused outside Carlos's bedroom window.
I groaned. Naturally, these bees would come seeking my son. I trotted off to find Carlos, knowing that we had only minutes before this swarm took flight or settled in. Noting my hasty pace, John, my husband, hurried from the barn.
"Where's Carlos?" I asked. "There's a swarm knocking on his window."
John rolled his eyes. "Only for Carlos would a swarm come to him," he muttered.
At that moment, we heard the rattle of our truck driven by our son, wearing his white beekeeper suit. We blurted out the situation to Carlos, who followed us to the house.
The bees were spiraling into the characteristic cone they form in order to protect the queen as they search for a new home. Unfortunately, their choice appeared to be the side of our chimney and the overhanging roof of our cantilevered house. We watched a few bees investigating cracks, intrepid spies sleuthing for a way into our house.
"Do something!" John and I pleaded. "Don't even think of keeping bees in your room!"
Calmly, Carlos fetched a ladder and placed a hive body on the roof of our porch, a short distance from the swarm. He inserted a few frames of comb that held a little honey.
"There," Carlos said. "That should draw them down." He descended the ladder.
I ran upstairs. I could hear the beasties setting up housekeeping in our roof. A few of his nectar-loving friends were flying around inside Carlos's room, obviously feeling right at home in a room decorated with bee puppets, stuffed toy bees, and a large wooden bee hanging from the ceiling.
After dinner, we checked the swarm. It was smaller, but not because the bees had moved into the hive. Instead, they were crawling farther into our roof. John and I shook our heads.
"What next?" we asked.
"Well, I could wet them and stuff them into a paper sack," Carlos offered.
Oh, sure, I thought. More crazy beekeeping folklore that would only enrage these unwanted guests. Carlos outlined his plan and gathered his tools: paper bag, spray bottle, gloves. I would stand by, ready to open doors.
Climbing up near the swarm, Carlos misted the crawling, buzzing bees. Heavy with water, the insects began to fall, and he literally scooped handfuls into a bag while speaking softly to his little buddies. The scene resembled that of a kind fireman rescuing a kitten from a tall tree.
Finally, the last of the bees filled the bag. Carlos held it closed. The safest route for his descent was through a large skylight and down the stairs. I held doors open as he came through the house, clutching the buzzing bag.
"They're angry," he said in his understated way.
"Did you get stung?" I asked. It's a silly question that makes beekeepers wonder about the rest of us.
"A few times," Carlos said as I shooed him outside. He hustled off to deposit the swarm in an empty hive.
I inspected his room. As twilight deepened, a few bees were huddled in a little ball, up by the ceiling. No doubt Carlos would not even notice them later, when he collapsed into bed. After his exhibit of bravery, I supposed that even I could tolerate a few insects in our home. But only for tonight.