Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Royal Visit

Wiki Images
by Robert Giles

So you read about this lion had killed a man with his paws
But Samson got his hand in the lion's jaws
He rid that beast until he killed him dead
And the bees made honey in the lion's head

From the song “Samson and Delilah (If I Had My Way)”
Reverend Gary Davis

Say what – “… the bees made honey in the lion’s head”???

It’s the last line of that verse that grabs me. The song is even more arresting than the story in Judges 14, where the bees prosaically make honey in the lion’s “body”.

Actually, honey bees will do the bee thing and make a hive almost anywhere - like a branch of a tree - but they prefer a protected place like a hollow or a bee box (or a skull?).

When a hive gets to a tipping point, some sort of chemical signal goes off and ricochets from one bee to another until a large enough group of them get together and “swarm”. The swarm follows its scouts to its new home – the head of a lion might not be the last piece of real estate the scouts would select.

A long time ago, a brother ran up to another brother. Cain and Abel?

No, Dave and Bob. Dave ran up to Bob and exclaimed, “There’s a big bunch of bees on Mom’s lilac bush.”

I went to see. They were making quite a fuss, those bees. They were all in a riot like they were playing rugby or something. The bees on the outside of the scrum were beating their wings so fast you couldn’t see them (that is, you could see them but not their wings). There was a loud HUMM or BUZZ or WHIRRR. It was kind of scary. Some bees would leave the others and take off on solo flights. Right away, they would change their minds, come back and rejoin the tight ball. Then others would flit around in the same dizzying manner.

The bees seemed out of their minds.

A couple of them started to fly around my head. It was time to call a responsible adult.

“Dad has gone to work – go get Mom.”

“Boys, that’s a swarm. They’re swarming around their new queen. They’re looking for a new home, but they’re not going to find one in my lilac bush.”  Mom stiffened.

She continued, “Old Mike keeps bees. I’ll call Anna. Mike will come and get them. He’ll want them for their honey.”

We took shelter on our back porch and waited. The idea of a queen paying a royal visit to our back yard was kind of exciting, even though she might in fact be a mere humble bug.

Old Mike must have been off for a walk in the woods because it was his grown-up daughter Anna who came into the back yard. She had a shopping bag. She examined the swarm. It wasn’t too high to reach.

She backed up about ten steps and swatted away some bees with her free hand. She looked annoyed. She removed some garments from her bag and put them on over her usual clothes.

Anna stepped toward the swarm dressed in fine black mesh like the kind in a screen door. She had a broad hat with the same kind of mesh forming a dark veil down over her chin and neck. In the veil, she made an odd looking bride – like a bride who had made a wrong turn and gotten dressed for a funeral.

She had a small burner and bellows contraption. It spewed little squirts of smoke. The smoke seemed to settle even the more hopped-up bees and moderate their wild forays into the blue. After calming the bees, Anna put down the smoker and opened the now empty shopping bag.  She slid it over the branch until it just covered the swarm. With gloved hands, she started to shake the branch. Gently.

Pretty soon she had a whole shopping bag of bees. A few still floated around her head.

With an air of finality, she crossed the yard and exited stage left to the steps that led up to the front street. We ran through the house to watch her as she reached the sidewalk.

Off she went, still looking like a grieving bride. A number of straggling bees trailed behind her, like attendants at the wedding.

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