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Monday, July 10, 2017

Invasion of the Honeybees

Mom and I Defend Our Home from Invading Swarm of Honeybees.

I write a week after a bee-incident at our house in June 2017. A swarm of honeybees came, to take up temporary residence in the ground cover in front of our house, then left, then returned, and, on day two got swooped up and vacuumed up by bee keepers--a mildly dramatic two days that do not compare in drama to what happened over two summer days at 1469 Van Buren in St. Paul.

My guess: I was somewhere between twelve and fourteen years old.

I was alone in the back yard, possibly cutting the grass with our reel lawnmower, possibly just goofing off. I heard a loud sound and looked up to a large elm in the back yard of our neighbor to the west. A huge swarm of bees was arriving. I noticed what was first a small ball of bees high up on a branch almost directly over our property line. I was awestruck as the cloud of bees slowly diminished and the ball grew from small to immense. I opened the back door enough to shout for the attention of my mom and, I believe, a sister or two. By the time they came out the ball was almost at full size. We watched in amazement for a while; none of us had seen this before. (My second time was just last week.) My mom or a sister called somebody at, I believe, the University of Minnesota extension division. That person confirmed that it had to be a swarm of honeybees. If it stuck around, it might be possible to get some bee keepers to capture the swarm. However, given the precarious position of this swarm, all agreed that that would be unlikely—especially since the swarm might move on.
Move on they did, the next day, but not far.

Only Mom and I are home. She is busy somewhere inside. I am out in the back yard watching the swarm. I notice they begin in small numbers to fly off--up and in the direction of the west side of our house. Our side yard on that west side is not a yard at all, but rather a few feet of space for a walk that connects the front with the back yard and with the door to our basement. In order to see what is happening I have to get onto that walk, then force myself through our neighbors' hedge into their side yard. Sure enough, the bees have started to accumulate at the very peak of our west facing gable. At the peak there is a narrow gap in the joint of the trim molding that one would not otherwise notice. As I watch, the small number of bees becomes a small ball. From yesterday, I am now afraid I know exactly what is happening.

I jump back through the hedge to the back door. In and then up the stares I run in leaps to my parents' bedroom. Our house is a small version of the classic American 4-Square design. One bedroom, in our case my parents' on the southwest side of the house, gives up a few feet to a small closet and stairs leading to the attic. What insulation we have is in the attic floor, so the walls and roof are bare boards open for inspection. At the top of the stairs I see what I fear; a few honey bees are beginning to crawl (not fly) through that crack onto the attic wall. I watch long enough assure myself that this is just the beginning of an invasion.

I rush down the three flights of stairs that take me to the basement where I excitedly tell my Mom. She is busy, but she will come and see. I rush back up to the attic. Now the bees are flowing—oozing forth as if they are suspended in an invisible slurry of honey. They flow down the wall over the panes of the small window onto the floor at the top of stairs. Now, as if it knows where it wants to go, the bee slurry flows over the lip of the floor, down the vertical surface of the top riser, and continues across the top stair to flow again over its lip. in full awe of this flowing stream, I am amazed not to be in personal danger. By the time Mom arrives the flow has progressed slowly but relentlessly most of the way down the attic stairs.

We throw everything hanging in the closet onto the bed and close the door. Quick thinking Mom calls (to herself and to me) for the vacuum cleaners. By the time I return with the small one that can be hung from the shoulder (hose always attached) bees have begun to appear under the closet door and onto the bedroom floor.

I perform a holding action with the door closed, I plug in my vacuum, chase down and suck up the forerunners—fore-crawlers—fore-oozers. I have the battle line back to the door by the time my mom has her large floor vacuum plugged in with its hoses attached.

Both of us pause in-the-ready. We nod to each other. I open the door . What we see seems impossible to believe and impossible to fight. It is a carpet of flowing bees that covers the attic floor and replenishes itself with moving the moving carpet coming down the stairway from as far up as we can see without falling forward onto that bees.

Mom on the left, I on the right, vacuums on, we begin our defensive battle. Just as I had felt at the top of the stairs, we are pleased-but-amazed that the honey bees remain oblivious to us and our threat to them—amazed that they crawl but do not fly nor attack. Our two vacuums (even as we became more adept at our task) can suck only slightly faster than the slurry of bees invades. It takes us us more than a couple of minutes to recapture the closet floor, turn right, and begin to consume the continuing flow coming down the stairs.

Once we have a few stairs cleared, Mom judges that I can finish the battle alone. She has to get back to whatever task she was involved with when I called her to the rescue. I can keep both vacuums in operation until the hose on the floor vacuum reaches its limit which will be near the top of the stairs. Gaining in confidence and running on adrenaline, I get a little giddy with the adventure of it all. Do I reflect on or feel sorry for the bees that are just trying to find a new home but happen to make a choice we cannot approve? Maybe. Maybe I will feel some remorse when I take the bags out of the vacuum cleaners and dispose of them and their lifeless cargo with our non-exotic trash.

By the time I get to the top of the attic stairs most of the bees have made it into the house. I do not have to try to lug the larger vacuum up stairs. Bee-flow has decreased enough that my small vacuum can out-duel it. The flow is a trickle as I work my way to the wall, then up it and over the window to the narrow opening at the peak. I linger there to suck in the few stragglers outside. I sit then at the top of the attic stairs—not wanting to leave quickly. I want time to reflect on this adventure and on how I could join my mom in telling everybody about it. We will do so, often enough and well enough for me to write it today. But, even as I sat on the attic stairs, the day's adventure was becoming hard for me to believe.

Can you believe me? 

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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