Spider Web photo by Todd
“That buzzing-noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without it’s meaning something. If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee.” A.A. Milne
Yesterday I went out to the woodshed to get firewood. The shed is fourteen-feet-wide and sixteen-feet-long with a high ceiling and a plywood floor. When I picked up a few pieces from the Small Log section, I heard the sound of small waves crashing on a distant shore. Then the sound stopped. So I picked up another couple little logs and the sound came again, only this time it sounded more like a choir of Tibetan monks singing far in the distance.
I carried the wood into the house and wondered what could be making those strangely beautiful sounds. So I returned to the woodshed and removed a few more small logs, and the sound came again, but only for a moment; and for the first time I thought the makers of the sounds might be bees. I then retrieved wood from another part of the shed, and this removal did not cause the bees to sound. Thus I was able to say with some assurance that the hive, if that’s what I had disturbed, was located in the southeast corner of the shed behind firewood created from a few small redwood trees we had felled last year.
Thinking Marcia might enjoy hearing the strangely beautiful sounds, I fetched her from her studio and we went to the shed where my removal of a log caused the loudest humming sounds yet. Marcia backed out of the shed and said, “I’m scared.”
And the moment she expressed her fear, a bee flew in through the open shed door and disappeared into the stack of wood. I was fairly certain this bee was not a honeybee or a yellow jacket, but a bumblebee of some sort. Yellow jackets and wasps are extremely aggressive defenders of their nests, whereas these buzzing beings seemed fine (for the time being) with my getting wood from the shed. However, we need to get at the wood where the hive is, so we called the local pest-control folks to come have a look.
The friendly woman who answered the phone at the pest-control place explained that they did not exterminate honeybees because honeybees are an endangered species. If they determined our buzzers were honeybees, they would refer us to a Beetriever who would come and capture the hive and give the bees a new place to live. I feared our bees were not honeybees, though they were probably valuable pollinators.
In the early afternoon, a pest-control guy arrived and I led him to the woodshed and demonstrated how moving a log or two caused the bees to sound. Thinking our bees might be carpenter bees, the pest-control guy asked if the bees I’d seen were solid black. “No,” I said, “the bees I saw were definitely yellow and black.” With that in mind, the pest-control guy began removing handfuls of little logs from on top of where the buzzing sounds were coming from, and out flew two bumblebees. This emboldened the pest-control guy to remove a few more logs, which allowed him to shine his flashlight onto the outer edge of a small hive of bumblebees.
By this time, several irate bees were zooming around us, so we stepped out of the shed and the pest-control guy said, “Here’s the situation. These bees are not usually much trouble. They don’t want to sting you because if they do, they’ll die, so they really have to feel attacked to attack you. If you’re not allergic, I’d suggest you just gently harass them a couple times a day by removing wood, and they’ll probably leave in the next few days. If they don’t leave and become a problem, we can come back and treat them.”
So that is the plan: daily gentle harassing and avoiding being stung.
Shortly after the pest-control guy left, Marion dropped by for tea, and when I told her about the bees in the woodshed she said, “That reminds me of a story Ann told me.” The story goes something like this.
One day when Ann was living in Oakland, she opened the kitchen cupboard where she kept her tea and found a large spider in residence there, a non-poisonous kind of spider. Rather than remove the large spider from the premises, Ann decided to let the spider live in the tea cupboard. She then informed the human members of her household about the resident arachnid, and the humans named the spider Lipton.
Lipton lived contentedly in the tea cupboard for several years until one day it became necessary for the humans to have the house fumigated to eradicate legions of voracious termites. The day before the exterminators were to arrive, Ann opened the tea cupboard and said to Lipton, “Dear friend, due to unfortunate circumstances and our desire to keep our home from turning into sawdust, we are having the house fumigated with a terrible poison that will kill you if you stay in the house. So I am going to open the window right here over the sink and hope you will skedaddle so you can keep on living.”
And Lipton did, indeed, skedaddle out the open window before the exterminators came to douse the house with poison.
With this story in mind, I now speak to the bees in the woodshed whenever I go to gently harass them. I say, among other things, “As you may have surmised, we’re starting to clear out the wood in here and I’m hoping you will take advantage of the lovely spring weather to find a new place to hang out. We greatly appreciate your pollinating efforts and want you to continue pollinating and proliferating—just not in our woodshed. Many thanks.”