So Alfred Hitchcock made this movie called The Birds back in 1963 (and based on a story by Daphne du Maurier even further back, in 1952, for trivia buffs). So in the movie, birds start gathering together ominously, packing the telephone lines and twittering darkly at neighborhood kids and the like.
Then they start thwacking the occasional schoolyard youngster in the head with their beaks and claws. And later on they wind up performing acts such as flying en masse down people’s chimneys, bloodying them up pretty thoroughly.
I hope that’s not where this is going for me.
Look, we’ve always had honeybees. We have several pecan trees on our property, and four of those are massive and old, with trunks 4 feet or more in circumference, some 70 feet high. These large, older trees all contain hollowed out places where giant limbs once grew but then rotted out and fell.
So we’ve always had bees. For more than a decade, we had a hive high in a hollow in a big pecan in the front yard. You could see the insects flying in and out, and you could see the edges of a few honeycombs hanging up there.
We were glad to have them because we have fruit trees – lemons, satsuma oranges, three kinds of figs, something called fijoas (pineapple guava), persimmons and jujube trees (whose fruit is barely edible, but that’s another story). And so, yeah, bees, for pollination and fruit production.
One day a few years ago the hive fell apart out front and the bees disappeared. I don’t know what happened. But a year or so later we noticed another hive, this one about 25 feet up inside a hollow crook in one of the giant old trees out back. Good, we thought, pollination continues. Live long, we thought, and prosper.
So then a few months ago we noticed that several dozen confused bees sometimes could be found early in the morning buzzing around one or more of the fluorescent light fixtures in our big carport, which we sometimes turn on so the first people leaving on a dark morning can see. If we turned off the lights, the bees dispersed.
Fast forward to five days ago. It was maybe 9:30 at night. I’d been outside in back tending to dogs or chores or something, and as I walked up the back steps to go inside, I noticed a couple of confused bees hanging on the wall below the porch lights. As I opened the back door and walked inside, one of the bees flew in with me. And decided to sting me in the neck, under my chin.
I get stung by wasps with some regularity, given how many live around here and how often I’m trimming hedges or weedeating or otherwise disturbing their possible nesting areas. But the sting from that little bee was more intense and longer-lasting then the wasp stings of my memory.
So fast forward to two hours ago. I’m mowing the back yard in my hot new zero-turn machine, when I remember that, a day or two earlier, I’d pulled a bunch of vines off of the pecan tree in which the bees reside. And I’d left the vines on the grass. Not wanting to have the vines wrap around my mower blades, I stopped and scooped up the vines, then disposed of them. On the way back, I picked up a gas can, brought it back to the mower and poured in more as as I was getting low.
As I screwed the gas cap back on, I got stung by a bee. Then I felt a second sting. Then I noticed several bees flying around my head and arms. Shit! I was under attack! I ran off (not that fast; I’m an aging guy with a bum knee) about 20 yards to the shed where I kept the gas cans. Whap! I got stung again. They’d followed me.
I “ran” 40 or 50 yards to the house, shouting swear-words and trying to knock bees off of my neck with my baseball cap. I ran in the back door, pulled my shirt off and threw at on the floor in front of the washing machine.
I’d been stung probably seven or eight times, mostly on the neck, but also my arms and chest. And as I sat in the kitchen, shirtless and thinking about it, I realized I had to go back outside. I couldn’t just leave my riding mower under the bee tree.
So I did beekeeper lore and changed into a white shirt (bees feel less threatened by lighter colors, or so I have read). I put on a light-colored hooded sweatshirt, because I was pretty sick of being stabbed in the neck. Then I walked slowly and deliberately back outside, passing the mower at a fair distance just to observe.
It seemed as if the coast might be clear.
I hopped on the mower and started to drive away. However, the yard remained half-mowed. It seemed safe enough, so I started cutting the long grass, driving as quickly as I could. But after probably four minutes, I saw a bee flying toward my arm. Taking no chances, I drove straight (like in a beeline, heh) to the carport, parked the mower and trotted inside.
I took off the sweatshirt and threw it on the floor by the washer, on top of my shirt. Then I went into the bedroom to change. When I returned to the kitchen, I heard a noise in the laundry room.
Buzzing. There were probably 10 bees buzzing behind the window blinds, trying to get back outside. They’d evidently been trying to sting me through my sweatshirt.
I’m thinking about getting a lawn service.