I could not rightly tell you how it came that I had some empathy for them. My wife had been stung four times that summer. It was a time of high water, scads of frogs, snakes…and bees; many, many bees. I have always liked the jumbos, those big old bumble bees who lift up off a flower as if at Cape Canaveral (or is it Kennedy again??) But for all their brethren’s poor reputations, they are mostly as gentle as the black bear inclosed in an animal center. Sure they could sting (bite) but Vegas odds are stacked against such a happening. They, however, were the exception. Wait, Honey bees are top listed as well.
We had a friend bring a hive over and I spent time learning much about the nature of these fascinating workaholics. I saw for the first time what a queen actually looked like and was surprised that she was half again the size of her subjects. I was thinking of her being colossal and commanding, but she is similar sized and demurring. The white hive kept extending higher as the honey being manufactured needed more room, until it resembled a Russian tenet building in a Moscow suburb. I wish they would have made it through that following winter, but the harshness did them in. I’ll blame the Russians.
There is something mesmerizing when I watch them work on a sunny day. Languidly refreshing as if sitting on a bayou on a hot Mississippi day. Lazy but not tired. Me not the bees. They are nothing of the sort. Brown fuzzy chain gang members never wavering in their work, the buzzing their work song.
Even the leg-hanging wasp brings indifference more than urgency. By September’s Fall summoning, the night air becomes cooler and when the sun is exposed the wasps swarm to the heated yellow siding, ingesting, it seems, all the warmth being reflected; holding onto life as long as possible. They will sting, but you have to step on one or perhaps have one fall on you first. Their movements are slow and only become quickened if the heat maintains consistency. The irritation with wasps is going about finding their little abodes where they are attempting to make little wasps. Look for corners. One can usually spot where they live.
It is the devil bees that bring consternation, the ones you don’t see until you get stung. Hornets are the most visible if not most annoying. Black and yellow sting masters who have no objection to “digging in” on soft tissue. I am not including the slum hornets. These hang out at the neighborhood picnic area, looking for freebies to soak in and slurp up. They are usually too sugared up to cause much trouble beyond perturbation. It is their country cousins that get you. They have a way of living exactly where you want to plant a tree or flower, perhaps cut some weeds down. They are matrixed inside of the ground, walls, or any habitat that allows them to stack their eggs in paper-like holding racks. The bigger the space the greater the possibility to expand. More hornets!
Now, just so you don’t mix these up with the vicious cartel which goes by the name of “ground bees,” let me tell you about these psychotic killers. They are the piranhas of the air, willing to take on any animal and attack in droves. They are like the proverbial pack in that they know they are deadly when they outnumber their victims. Unlike their look-alike cousins the honey bee, they are more compact with a stinger which doesn’t tear apart once it is embedded in flesh. They have the gift that keeps on giving! They keep digging in with that little sticker as long as they can breathe, even if the venom is totally dispensed. And they don’t just stay around their “digs,” they will attack and follow.
I had the wonderful opportunity to find one of their apartment dwellings in our burn pile a few years back as I was using a tractor to compact it. I thought at first the deer flies were on the attack, but then there were more “bites,” faster and quicker; distinctively more of the “ouch” factor included. I looked on my arm and saw the brown fuzzy insects from hell all over my sleeves (yes, I wear long sleeves in the summer to keep all types of insects that have a tendency to bite away.)
Aristotle, one of Plato’s boys, said that “nature is everywhere a cause of order.” Well, these guys are everywhere and there is certainly an order that rockets them to the attack. Even covered head to foot with clothing, the stings came in bunches. I ran the tractor at full throttle over small birch trees while crossing the property. The swarm stayed in pursuit. Yard after yard of vegetation became scrunched in my attempt to escape. When I finally hit the gravel road some two hundred yards departed, I slowed and hazily analyzed my condition. The bees had “retreated,” (as if I had anything to do with that!!) I had to extract a few that had gotten down my shirt. I would have relished crushing them, except that I was almost mindless at this juncture and needed mothering by my wife. We burned the pile a few days later.
Recently, the hornets have delivered a new respect to me, one that my wife does not fully understand. I don’t blame her, as she spent the better part of a day, twice, recovering from hornet stings. No one likes being stung. I don’t either. But it was in the prevention of this possibility which gave me pause.
I came across the nest, in the ground just under the semi-buried two by four that is used to station the chicken wire in the ground for our chickens. I was in the process of completing the weed whipping on our property when I felt something on my hand. My mind was in cruise control at the time. It broke free after the second sting. Being an expert on these matters now after so many years in the country and beguiled with confrontations, I did my shuffle back step and made sure I was free of further plight. With confirmation, I looked to see where they had come from. And sure enough, I had agitated a nest and they were stringing out and curling about above the entrance with “red” in their eyes. Unlike ground bees, hornets tend to keep a short distance from their entrance hole to combat any enemy in that proximity. My distance was past the “police tape” so I was able to watch their sorties. After a few minutes, I concluded that my weed whipping was done.
My wife had seen the nest earlier but had forgotten to tell me about it. We were out of wasp killer and we had guests arriving soon for a barbecue. I thought of what I could do short of running into town (it is never a good time to spray a nest midday as the bees tend to get riled easily in light, best to wait until dark.) I concluded that I would throw a shovel or two of dirt on the hole and suffocate them. I proceeded “cover up” and give them two spade loads. Stepping back, I looked at my work. It was good.
When, after lunch with our friends, I and some others ventured out to see the chickens and horses. A middling cluster of yellow and black hovered over my dirt. I warned the guests to watch out for our “friends” and we more or less quarantined the hidden hive. Hours later and friends gone, I went out to tuck the chickens in for the night. It was still daylight and the cluster had become a swarm again. Shaking my head, I figured they would disperse for the night and that would be it, knowing they would not be able to “hive” for the night.
The next morning a chill had settled and when the morning chores began the hive was checked. A few drowsy bees were fluttering over the filled-in nest. But, and this is what got me to thinking, as the day warmed, I swear the earlier ones had gone out for reinforcements. The bees seemed as thick as ever. To town I drove and supplied myself with four cans of wasp killer (25% more wasp killer per can!) Daylight or not, I was going to do open battle. Upon return, I prepared myself with the distance from can to bees being the length of lethal ejection. I let loose when several decided to land. They squirmed, with some jazzing off with loose “rudders.” I sprayed some more, killing again. Then again. As it calmed a bit, I looked, and it seemed that there was a small hole that they were trying to enter, or perhaps get out of! Had they really trenched down? I dared not get close, but let fly with more of the liquid death. I emptied most of the can and lay it down by my foot. Some bees were still hanging around, but I felt the residual poison would be picked up by any bee that was fool enough to land. I went on about my day believing the hornets would now be gone.
That evening, bees were about the dirt, with earlier carcasses littered on the ground. I saw two new places that looked as though they had begun tunneling again! I chose just to leave them alone. I watched the same scene that I had witnessed the day before, but this time without taking action. For some reason I admired the little stingers. For the time being.
Morning found the hornets shaking off the chill and trying to muster energy to continue their spade work. I left them to their own design and mustered on through my day. They were at the scene that night. I thought highly of their DNA which produced this tenacity. But they were hornets and they needed to be gone. I gave them one more night. Sure enough, they were hanging about the next morning, so while they were in the chilled state, I moved a rock over the newer entrance hole, smashed it in the dirt and emptied a can of wasp killer on the area for the next half hour, aiming specifically at incoming bees but making certain that I got any that were already landed. All was quiet that evening. No hornets circled the caved in hive.
Several days later, I was taking down a neighbor’s old tree trunk, wearing the correct protective gear. Suddenly, something fell down inside my safety glasses. Rote movement removed the glasses immediately and a hornet fell with the glasses to the ground. At the same time I felt the familiar stings on my neck and I shuffled back sweeping the tormentors away. Standing back, free from further attack, I saw the swarming black and yellow over a small hole that existed where an older limb been removed from the trunk. I left the chainsaw in the trunk, running, and drove home. I double holstered two cans of “killer” and headed back to interrupt their lives. They had interrupted mine. Besides, my chainsaw might have cut the trunk down my now.