To Bee Or Not To Bee
by Norris Chambers
The bumble bee paddle was a conventional ping-pong type thing with a bunch of small holes drilled in it for faster manipulation. Because bumble bees are large and colorful, they are relatively easy to see and swat with the paddle. The problem arises when the nest is thoroughly disturbed and they start streaming out in swarms and make a "bee line" for the forehead of the attacking warriors.
Sometimes you strike wildly at an approaching defender and he has a couple of buddies, one on each side, just far enough apart for the paddle to miss them. You then have only two choices - stand and have a stinger hit you in the forehead, or turn and hope that you can outrun them before they find the back of your neck or make a nest in your hair.
If you hesitate and let one pop you, it is just about like being hit with a baseball bat and caressed with a coal of fire. A bumble bee sting does cause "excruciating" pain!
If you run, you may escape injury. But your dignity has been damaged.
The battle doesn't end until they quit coming out and you dig up the den with a spade. The honey isn't a prize to be sought after. Why did we do it? Just stupid! Today, we would never even think of such foolish waste of life. Even the life of a bumble bee is sacred, at least to the bee. And I am sure that bumble bees play their part in the eternal balance of nature and our environment.
The other type of bee - the one that bears like for the honey they produce - is another story. We didn't fight honey bees with paddles. From time to time we searched for bee trees and removed their honey for "home consumption".
There were two types of honey bees in our wilderness - the yellowish ones and the darkish ones. The yellow bees were gentler and some said their honey was better. Personally, I could never tell any difference, but the black bees were more vicious. They were not the presently highly advertised KILLER BEES of today.
We found the bee trees by observing bees where they gathered juices at watermelon rinds, flowers and watering holes. The bee, after filling his compartments, made a quick circle and headed straight to his colony. That is why you are said to take a "bee line" when you go directly to a destination. A few of us would string out in the general direction the bee took, and would alert each other as a bee started his journey. Then we would watch him as long as possible. Next time we would move farther away in the same direction until we found it. Ordinarily, bees chose a tree that was hollow inside and had an opening through a knot hole. Sometimes this opening was near the ground and sometimes high in the tree.
The first tree we tried to rob had the opening about ten feet above the ground. The tree was approximately 100 yards east of our sandy field and in thick brush. We had heard much advice on the science of robbing bees, and someone had told us that smoke helped to calm the bees and keep them from being so aggressive. We built a small fire (the temperature was already approaching 100 degrees) and piled old rags on it to make smoke. It did make smoke!
Clifton put cloth over his head and face and cut two eye holes. He tied his pants legs at the bottom and wore gloves past his sleeves. He looked like a poorly dressed Arab. I was more inventive about my attire. For ventilation purposes, I took screen wire and made a circular cage to fit over my head and shoulders. I bent the wire in at the bottom at about the middle of the rib cage and fastened it to my shirt with safety pins. My pants legs were tied and my gloves well above my shirt sleeves. We were a weird looking couple as we approached the tree with two big zinc buckets and a couple of axes. Before we started chopping, Clifton was already complaining about the heat. I was enjoying the 95 degree air circulating through my screen mask.
Our first object was to cut the tree so that it would fall with the opening up, It was a tree of about a foot in diameter, and required quite a bit of strenuous chopping. This produced more heat, and Clifton continued to complain about the heat. I smiled through my screen and continued to sweat and chop.
With the first stroke of the axe, the bees started swarming around us. There must have been over a thousand. But we got the tree down without incident, and started chopping a hole in search of the honey. The smoke was stifling, and for all practical purposes didn't seem to be helping in calming the bees. They buzzed and swarmed and covered us relentlessly. But our gear was working fine and the process continued.
There was a nice supply of comb and honey. We filled both buckets and there was some left. We decided to leave it for the bees. After retreating toward the field for a hundred feet or so and losing the angry warriors, we stopped to take off our fighting armor. The first order of business was to taste the new honey supply. I reached in and pulled out a small piece of comb that seemed to be thoroughly saturated and began to lick on it like an ice cream cone. Clifton did the same. We did a lot of "oohing" and "ahhing" about how good it was. An occasional bee came buzzing by to see what was going on, but didn't bother us.
One more thing about fighting stinging insects. We sometimes fought wasps with paddles. They are faster and meaner than bumble bees, and you always get stung in one of these battles. If you must fight wasps, the red wasps are easier than the yellow striped ones. And a word of warning, never, NEVER fight those yellow jackets that live in a nest in the ground. That battle is lost before it begins.
The moral to this story, if there is one, is leave the stinging insects alone and they will usually leave you alone.
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