Angry Bees

After a wonderful month spent with family and friends in our hometown for the month of seemingly non-stop Jewish holidays (Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hoshana Rabba, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah – – it’s a lot of praying, and lots and lots of eating), we took down our sukka and its decorations as soon as Shabbat was over, put everything away, did 3 loads of laundry and drove back up to Maine at 4:40 a.m. Sunday morning.  Fortunately we arrived several hours before sunset, because there was plenty to see besides the changing autumn leaf color.

The trees on our street in Maine

The trees on our street in Maine

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Now this is one of those “only in Maine” stories:  About a week before we left Maine at the end of August, I got an estimate to pave part of our driveway.  Unfortunately, this was one of the wettest summers on record.  Not only did it rain 25 days out of 30 in June, it also rained most of July, and it wasn’t just a sprinkle, either.   We’re talking driving, pounding, torrential rain of practically biblical proportions.  The result is that our poor, steep gravel driveway, already old and tired from numerous assaults from several winters of snowplow scrapes, began eroding to the point that the bottom was almost completely washed out.  Without a good running start from down the street, a two-wheel-drive car could not make it up the driveway in its current condition.  I called numerous excavation companies asking them for about 4 dump-truck loads of new gravel for the driveway, but everyone else with a dirt driveway was in the same boat and the contractors were swamped.  No one could even give me a date when they could start the repair.  Meanwhile, it kept raining and the driveway kept eroding and no solution was in sight.

I knew we couldn’t afford to pave the entire length of our driveway (about 500+’) but even the steepest part at the bottom, about 75′, would be better than nothing.  Pine Tree Paving came from a few towns away to give us an estimate.  It wasn’t cheap, but it seemed fair considering he’d have to bring several dump trucks worth of gravel to put a new base layer at the bottom, then the asphalt, then a roller – – lots of heavy equipment and hard labor.  But the only time he could do the work was when we would be back in our home town.

“No problem,” he said, “I will do it while you’re gone, and that way, you won’t be inconvenienced when we come, you’ll be out of our way, and you’ll be able to use the driveway right away when you get back.”  With that he tipped the brim of his baseball cap in my direction and took off in his pickup truck.

I didn’t really expect the driveway to be done, but sure enough, as we came up our street, there it was – – smooth and nicely paved blacktop!  He hadn’t even taken so much as a deposit from me, nor was there a bill in my mailbox.  I had signed no contract, nor received anything in writing.  My word was my word, and his was his, and that was that. Integrity!  (or as we Jews say, “ehrlichkeit!”)  I’ll be writing him a check today.   And that’s rural Maine.

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Meanwhile we saw that Billy, our sometimes handyman, had been busy with the log splitter.  We had discussed his chainsawing a bunch of fallen trees into logs and then splitting them into usable pieces of firewood, and sure enough, an enormous pile about 12′ high awaited us.

This pile is 12' high and growing . . . .

This pile is 12′ high and growing . . . .

(As did several scattered logs all around the property which he hadn’t gotten around to splitting yet.)

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It looks like my husband and I will be getting quite the strength training/cardio workout this week as we start shlepping and stacking the split logs into the woodshed.  It’s about 20,000 lbs.!  (Billy has been keeping track of his hours, and we know him to be honest, but so far no money has exchanged hands.)

I was quite delighted to see that the sunflowers I planted on the slope above the orchard and beehives were now in full bloom.  I knew they would be great pollinators for the bees since there aren’t many other blossoms around this late in the season.

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What I didn’t expect, however, were the tens of thousands of angry bees that greeted us when we drove up the driveway and tried to get out of our car!

Until this moment, our bees had never been hostile.  Other than foraging for nectar deep in the woods and nearby fields, they congregated only around their hives.  Never had they ventured close to the house before!   Not only were they close, the bees were dive-bombing everywhere and everything, including our car, the windows, and the front door, and their usual pleasant buzzing was more like an angry roar.  The only way I could unpack our car was to wear long sleeves, gloves, and a mosquito-net hat.  I felt like I was an actor in the middle of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous horror flick “The Birds,” only this was “The Bees.”  Miraculously, we didn’t get stung.

I called Bee Man to ask if he knew why the bees were so unhappy.  He mentioned that he had been by last week to feed them and wrap the hives in insulating tar paper for overwintering, and that sometimes they get unsettled for a day or so, but that by now calm should have been restored.

“If they don’t settle down, I’m going to have to come out and kill them,” he said resignedly.  Each hive is worth about $400 in materials, supplies, bees and honey, so I didn’t want him to face that kind of loss; but I also knew that we couldn’t live with angry bees on a daily basis.

The very next morning Bee Man’s truck made its way up my (partially paved!) driveway.

“I called another guy who knows just about everything there is to know about bees,” Bee Man said, “and he told me I had done something wrong.  You see, I only fed one of the hives, not all of them.  Apparently bees sense when there is a new food source, and if they are not fed equally, they go to war and start robbing from the neighboring hive.  At that point all the bees become very agitated and angry and sort of go berserk.  So the plan for today is that I am taking away all the feed I added so none of the hives have anything extra.  Then when they settle down, I will come back in a few weeks and feed all of the hives equally.  That should do the trick.”

And it did.  By the afternoon, the bees had indeed settled down.  Peace reigned.  The bees are happy.

And so are we humans, back in rural Maine.

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