In doing some cleaning out today, my husband ran across this piece I wrote back in 2004. We thought my readers, if I still have any, might enjoy it.
I have to admit that when I read the first chapter of The Secret Life of Bees by sue Monk Kidd, I discounted the realistic possibility that bees could or would actually take-up residence in a person’s home. I shouldn’t have; I know better now.
One of the things I learned when we moved to a home that backed up to a large lake was that the critters who had formerly lived there regarded us as the interlopers to be ignored. They would just as soon share our domicile with us as not. This can be a little disconcerting or a city girl. Co-existence was never an option for me. I don’t think I was aware of the many varieties of spiders, ants, crickets, cockroaches, waterbugs (I refuse to call those huge 2-1/2 inch monsters cockroaches!), wasps, hornets, etc. that God in His wisdom has created to populate the fields of nature. Despite where God intended them to be, they all seemed to feel my home was fair game. I learned to deal with them with appropriate cans of bug sprays and bombs that managed to keep most of the invasions to a minimum.
I did acquire a grudging appreciation for them, I admit. One morning not long after we moved in, I stepped out onto the deck at the back of the house, which was surrounded by a rail composed of 2x4s nailed together to form rectangular frames about every three feet. In every space where two rails joined, a spider had created an intricate web. I wouldn’t have realized how total was their victory over my deck if we had not had a heavy dew that morning. Every strand of every web was draped with beads of moisture, glistening and twinkling as the rays of the rising sun fell on them. The effect was magical; it was as if I had stepped into a fairyland. Okay, I thought, you can have the deck, but you can’t have my house! I continued the battle, and continue it twenty years later, I might add. They never give up!
Of course mice loved our home, much to my oldest daughter’s chagrin. Those we fought with mouse traps and bait. I can tell you that the only thing pleasant about the odor of a bait-dispatched mouse in the wall behind your dish cabinet is the knowledge that one more has bit the dust.
In tackling the repairing and remodeling of our fixer-upper lake house (which, by the way, is a never-ending process), my husband discovered that we had other guests. After his excursion into the floor joists between the two floors, he proudly displayed two snake skins, each about four feet long. No, I don’t know what kind they were–nor do I care! Obviously these creatures had decided to strip right under my bed! Where did the go next? I immediately began an inventory (which I repeat periodically) to locate any possible hole or crack in our living quarters that a snake might conceivably crawl through and stop it up. Snakes can crawl through some mighty small holes. The scariest days are the ones when my husband leaves the garage door open for extended lengths of unattended time as, I suppose, an open invitation to any curious snake, some of whom have accepted the invitation, to have a look-see or find a safe house. My husband, you see, does not have the same feelings about snakes as I do, but I’ll save the snake stories for another day.
The attic of our house had, early on in its existence, been taken over by mud robbers, a kind of wasp that makes a new of mud. Some of their nests were as big around as baseballs. When we replaced the roof a few years ago, we threw so many mud robber nests into the back yard that it looked as though we had had a gray hail storm. I hesitate to estimate the sheer weight they added in the attic. Mud robbers, by the way, can literally make a nest anywhere–handlebars of bicycles, stored water hoses, under the edge of irregularly stacked magazines. The only thing good about these ubiquitous wasps is that at the center of each compartment of the nest is one dad spider.
The cedar siding that our house was originally covered with apparently had a number of gaps at the edges, which various mammalian varieties found attractive. I have watched squirrels duck into holes and heard them at night in the walls. I suspect rats as well, though I can’t prove it. In an effort to combat these invasions and improve the energy conservation of our home, we decided to install vinyl siding. We were very pleased with the result. The crisp, white siding looked wonderful, and we were sure we had foiled the critters. Not so much. One night last winter as I sat soaking in my bath tub, I began to hear a kitten mewing. It sounded as if it were coming from directly beneath me. Sure enough, a wild housecoat had given birth to a litter of kittens right under the bathroom floor! We watched for the mother cat and determined where she was getting in, but didn’t want to stop up the hole until the kittens could be moved. The last thing we needed was the smell of decomposing feline bodies permeating the house. So, for several weeks my baths were serenaded by mewing kittens. Finally the cats were big enough to begin to move around, so we were able to get to them, remove them, and close up their entry hole. We thought we were done with them. Wrong!
A few weeks later, I was keeping my seven-month old grandson and had laid him down for a nap on a blanket in the living room floor. When he woke, I picked him up and noticed that he had several odd little brown specks on him–fleas! Yes, the entire house had been taken over by fleas, upstairs and down. Apparently the cats had left their own unique version of a thank-you note. It took two bombings to get rid of those pesky fleas.
It was the Saturday before Memorial Day the the Bee Saga actually began. My husband was looking for something on the back porch under the deck. Something brushed his arm and he looked up to see a bee, which had bounced off of him and buzzed on its merry way. He noticed that the bee had a number of compatriots and they all seemed to be entering and leaving a small space between the top of the downstairs siding and the underside of the upstairs deck. In fact, they appeared to be swarming!
He went inside the house, removed a portion of the suspended ceiling, and shown a flashlight between the floors down toward where the bees were entering the house. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of bees, busily working a large, white honeycomb.
After the Monday holiday, we called the county extension agent, who gave us the name of an exterminator who was supposed to be skilled in bee removal. Yes, they said, they could do it. There would be a $75.00 trip fee and the total process usually averaged around $300.00. Pretty expensive bees, I thought. In the course of the conversation, the lady on the other end of the phone explained that what they did was to vacuum the bees out of their hive using a special vacuum that did not have a propeller so the bees would not be hurt. Once the bees were gone, then the comb with all the eggs, larvae, and honey would have to be removed by hand. This would probably involve tearing a large hole in the ceiling or wall, depending upon where the bees had lodged. Their fee did not include repairing the hole.
As we evaluated our options, my husband began to think that perhaps he could do the job himself and even salvage the bees to set up in a hive in our back yard, (I should tell you that my husband missed his calling. He should have been a farmer or a wildlife management agent.) The next day he stopped by the vacuum cleaner shop and learned that most shop vacs operated without a propeller, so he could conceivably use his shop vac to remove the bees. He began to make elaborate plans for a bee rescue operation. He went to the library and got a couple of books on bees, the names of which I had found in the bibliography of Ms. Kidd’s book. We looked on the Internet for prices of bee-keeping equipment. A complete bee-keeping outfit would set us back only about $499. And that did not include a bee suit. Now the price of the bee operation had shot from $300 to $500+! Something was definitely wrong with this picture.
Later in the week we made contact with an ancient beekeeper who, we were told, might sell us an old used beehive. When my husband explained our bee problem and what the bee remover had planned to charge for his services, the beekeeper said, “Shoot! I can get ’em outta there a lot cheaper than that. I can do it for $175.” In my husband’s mind, he was thinking–bees out of the house, set up in a hive, for only $175–what a deal!
The beekeeper came out sans beehive, much to my husband’s disappointment. Going in through the ceiling of a ground-floor room, he poked in a piece of insulation soaked with a substance with an odor that bees do not care for. The idea was to drive the bees off. This procedure was about 50% effective. The bees seemed determined to stay with the hive.
Plan B was to use an insecticide. This was not what my husband had hoped for, but since he was not “the expert,” he acquiesced. The beekeeper sprayed the hive from the outside with the insecticide. In an effort to escape the deadly fume, the bees flew into the house, only to die in droves on a window sill. With the bees finally dislodged, the next sep was to remove the honeycomb. My husband pulled it out, piece by piece, while the old beekeeper sat in the porch swing and watched. There was about five pounds of honey and honeycomb–all unusable because it had bee sprayed with insecticide.
The beekeeper took his $175 and went on his way. My husband was left with the job of plugging up and caulking all the spaces where the bees–or other creatures–might try to get back in. I was left with the dead bee clean-up. The bees were left without a home. I suspect the beekeeper was the only one who came out unscathed on this one.
So, I am left wonder about (dread?) the next episode in the on-going saga. What creatures will next invade the sanctity of my abode? Possums? Raccoons? I’m just lad I don’t live next door to the Black Lagoon!