It appears that nature continues on. Unabated. Oblivious, in a way, to the human drama unfolding.
Today on my solo, socially distanced walk in the neighborhood, I heard the familiar loud buzzy sound that honeybees make when swarming. My mentor TJ Carr always said that Palm Sunday was THE time for bee swarms to begin.
Looking up towards a pine tree as tall as a 12 story building, I watched a crescendo of bees whirling, swirling slowly upward. It was as though they were Elijah’s chariot come to transport him home to the heavens. A graceful and coordinated spiral, which appeared at first chaotic, they suddenly made a bee-line to the very top branch of that tree. It was though they had evaporated. As hard as I tried, I could not see where the pulsing orb of their sisters hung high in the tree tops. I would’ve needed a telescope.
This swarm would not be mine.
Last week, I received a call on the road. My husband and I rarely venture out these days except on bikes or foot. Kenneth had called from the West Side of Albuquerque for a pick up. His bike had a flat tire. On the way, I received another exciting phone call. A bee swarm had landed next door to the Rio Grande Co-op market in a low bush. Would I pick them up for my friend’s beeyard? Of course. I hadn’t had this much excitement to punctuate the homogeneity of my days for quite awhile.
Picking up a swarm for a beekeeper feels like the exhilaration and anticipation of the hunt. The good news is, nothing has to give up their life. Well, that’s the hope.
On this particular day, I pulled into the parking lot of the co-op where Dunia and her 6 year old son waited with eyes glowing above their face masks. The wonder of bees and children.
The security person kept a fair distance. We waited for our friends, slated to bring their box of beekeeping tools, to safely carry the honeybee swarm to their new digs.
Despite my assurance that bees are most docile in this state, gorged with honey, disoriented as they wait for the word to their new home, least likely to attack— everyone kept a safe distance.
What happened next, ripped a dull gash in our excited expectation.
A truck pulled up, screeched to a stop, and a man on oxygen in the front seat, in a state of undress, rolled down his window and began to yell that these were “his bees’. His two young daughters piled out and began to gear up. We were still waiting for our backup. He was clearly not going to get out of the truck, perhaps was not able to. Instead he threatened us from the cab.
The co-op manager came out to join the fray, stating he had called this man’s bee outfit from the East mountains, at least 45 minutes ago. He had found their website.
Just then, my friends rolled up, and began to unload their bee tools. Their eyes widened as the angry words reached a crescendo.
Finally, I calmly took the swarm box, still without any beesuit or protection, and began to gently nudge the ball of bees into the box. The cloud of anger that wrapped us so tightly that air was being squeezed out of our lungs‚—nevermind COVID 19— began to recede. The Co-op manager and my friends stepped up to help. A bee chased the child and he began to scream as his mother herded him in their car. I entered my own bubble. I was in that charmed state of absolute focus and calm and contemplation that accompanies my forays into the hive. The words flying around me became like the muted voice of the teacher in Charlie Brown. Background noise.
Before I knew it, somewhere on the periphery of my awareness, the man’s daughters had packed up. Throwing a final insult at myself, my friends and the manager, the unhappy group of bee swarm hopefuls drove off. We captured the last of the bees and happily hived them in a fruit tree paradise at my friend’s home. The next day they were dancing in the orchard and making beautiful combs.
I was left with the question…did I do the right thing? Should I have walked away? Given them up? Do bees really “belong” to anyone? This man thought so. Clearly he was in it for the biz. In the world of volunteer beekeepers, swarms are usually first come, first serve—unless of course there is an elegant and coordinated system of sharing, such as the Albuquerque Beekeepers (In Albuquerque, Call CABQ #311).
Meanwhile, there is an urgency of the bees in this season, as they swarm to new homes. Maybe there will be more parking lot fights over swarms. Bee keepers are intensely competitive about gathering swarms. Tempers are at a peak with the lockdown. Oh, such human folly, our need to possess the bees. Or, to possess anything.
I don’t have much else to say about this little bee tale. No wise words of wisdom or crystal clarity about “how to think like a bee”. Mostly I impart this story to let you know that it is honeybee swarm season. The bees will be right on time. They will do their thing to the best of their ability, despite plagues and firestorms and hurricanes and drought.
And if you see one dangling in your backyard from a branch, or your neighbor’s tree, please call a beekeeper who is local. The first one there deserves first dibs.
Anita Amstutz 5055144982. Yes, I do swarm calls:)