You say “montane,” and we say “ultra.” Anticipating, as we so often do at chez Nussbaum, the Vatican’s every move, my husband and I bought a bee frame last fall and began preparing to welcome approximately 18,001 (the “one” is the queen) bees in the late spring.
Being Americans, our preparations to save the environment began with shopping. My husband bought a smoker and brush and a sprayer bottle and a full, white protective beekeeper suit. We ordered books and DVD’s and learned not to eat bananas before handling bees. (Bees, who apparently haven’t gotten the word on gluten, believe bananas are out to kill them). We went to a class led by a veteran beekeeper that swears that multiple bee stings will cure rheumatoid arthritis. (I did not, and still do not, have rheumatoid arthritis, but I now have experienced multiple bee stings. More about that later).
We were warned away from southern bees, which are more likely to be “Africanized.” So, we ordered Carniolan bees, which come with pacifist bona fides. Whereupon, I, struggling with yet another slur on the southland, asked my husband, “Where do these peaceful bees come from?”
Being Americans, our preparations to save the environment began with shopping.
He said, “The northern Balkans. I think they’re Slovenian.”
Well, that information laid all my fears to rest, the Balkans being such an oasis of calm and good feelings in a hostile world. I mean, the Balkans! Thank God they’re not from Mississippi!
The Gandhibees arrived and we planned to release them into the hive. Our son-in-law came with his son. Our neighbor came with four of his seven children. My brother and sister-in-law came with two Italian houseguests who wanted to add a bee release to their American experiences. Only my husband was wearing protective gear because, hey, these are Balkan-bred bees. What could possibly go wrong?
I should pause and remind those of you who don’t know, that my husband is a litigator (from the Latin, litigare, meaning “to battle with briefcases”). So, the instruction to “gently shake” the bees into the hive means something different to him than it would to, say, a pre-school teacher.
We gathered around the hive. I was working the camera. My husband took the box of bees, got the queen settled in her cage (from which she would be released, once the others had gotten used to her scent and realized she was not from someplace scary, like Louisiana).
My husband “shook” the bees. I would say he pounded on the box, but he would argue (which is what litigators do) that I am “Africanized,” and so can no longer tell the difference. All of us learned that evening — and on this we are agreed — the literal meaning of the word “beeline,” as in “to make a.” A beeline is a direct route, travelled quickly, which is just what those bees did. They went for every bit of unprotected skin, and fast. (My husband, who was having a fine time communing with nature, albeit doing so encased in armour, says he first realized something was wrong when he heard screams. I told him that is generally a good indicator of trouble).
Later that night I counted 12 stings, all on my head. But my first task was to ignore the swelling and to care for the wounded. I began by making ice packs, finding Benadryl, getting tweezers and setting out to remove the stingers. I promised to keep every stinger for the neighbor kids to take to school the next day, which proved to be a powerful analgesic. The adults, as it turned out, really didn’t want to keep their stingers, even as a souvenir of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to America. Most of them wanted to recline quietly in the living room, ice packs clutched to their throbbing bodies. Between the cries of the children, I could hear soft moaning in Italian. “Mi dispiace,” I said over and over again, using one of the three Italian phrases I know, and which I am hoping means, “I’m sorry!” and not, “Gotcha!”
Meanwhile, blocks away, my daughter was releasing her Carniolan bees into her hive. She is a poet and takes language very seriously and so shook gently when instructed to “shake gently.” Small children watched as the bees flew into their new home. No one was stung. They have a video of the event, a video that makes one want to follow the bees back to the Balkans and there settle down.
I have photographs, the last of which shows a swarm of bees preparing to strike.
It turns out that we were the first and last to be stung. I don’t know any folks from the Balkans, but these bees seem very Texan to me. They just want be left alone to roam. We are trying to keep our yard pesticide-free this year, which means the roses are surrounded by rue (the herb, not the emotion) and nasturtiums and French marigolds and garlic chives, all of which are said to be distasteful to rose-eating pests. And, praise be, the bees are making honeycombs. I’m just hoping Pope Francis can stop by here the next time he visits to see his encyclical in action. I’ve got “Perdon” down pat.
– Melissa Musick