Swarm

Just once in awhile I need to give myself a timeout and write something funny.

Last week I was tapped for jury duty on a criminal trial. There was nothing funny about it; eight charges stemming from three events running the gamut from attempted rape to rape to assault. The trial started on Tuesday, and by the end of the day Friday my head was so packed with sordid details and tedious testimony and legal wrangling that I thought it would explode on the drive home. To the best of my knowledge I covered the distance back to the house without harming any pedestrians along the way. Miracles are real.

Arriving home, my long-suffering wife of over thirty years asked me what I had in mind for dinner. Without thought, rancor, doubt, or tactfulness, I blurted it out: “Beer.” She told me that one of my beehives had swarmed and was balled up on the backyard neighbor’s side of the laurel hedge. “Sorry bees, the answer is the same: beer.” I grabbed my growler, a custom camo model that was a birthday gift from my brother, and she whisked me off to the local pub.

Filling glasses and the growler, we headed for a table out front to enjoy the last of the evening sunshine. One of my running partners and his wife were there. They politely asked us to join them. We did. We talked. A lot. I went in and filled my glass again. The evening was looking up.

If you have not served on a jury before, there is an imposition you should know about. Once you go into that courtroom and enter the box, you do not come out again until the judge has excused the panel to the juror’s room. This means that you may not leave even to relieve yourself. Dehydration became my solution to this difficulty. Coffee was the only liquid I allowed into my body over the entire day, and only just enough to avoid tipping over sideways during an afternoon of scintillating (not!) testimony. As a fellow juror quipped when they closed the door behind us for an afternoon break, “This ain’t CSI.”

You see where this is going. Normally a drink or two after work is well within my limits. But dehydration caused those two beers to hit my nervous system like a couple of stealthy torpedoes launched from a submarine lying just below the surface of discretionary awareness. The sun was dropping quickly. The bees were waiting. Kim took me home.

I walked around the block to chat with my neighbor about what needed doing with regard to the bees. Darkness was accumulating like exorbitant interest on credit card debt. I jumped into my bee suit, pulled up the netted hood, and began struggling through the laurel hedge with a stepladder and a lidded bucket for capturing the swarm. When I finally maneuvered the ladder under the ball of bees, I realized two things: 1) the swarm was still slightly out of reach, and 2) there was no way I could cut the limb that the bees were balled up on, a maneuver that could have dropped them conveniently into the bucket.

Some improvisation was necessary. Holding the bucket from below, I positioned it under that writhing mass of 20,000 or so of my closest friends and jammed it upwards as hard as I could. Many thousands of bees were dislodged and landed in the bucket. But my reaction time was a little … delayed. So before I could get the lid on, a large number of those many thousands that were initially in the bucket became airborne again.

At this juncture the bees quickly discovered what I had not yet realized—that in my beery haste to get into my suit and capture the swarm before dark, I had not completely zipped the base of my bee hood. “Close” may count in horseshoes and hand grenades, but not when it comes to closing the zipper on a bee hood. Normally a swarm is docile because they have no territory to defend. But these bees were ticked, and only seconds elapsed before several of them found this chink in my armor and were buzzing inside my hood. Picture it: a slightly inebriated tall guy in white coveralls trying to get off the top of a ladder holding a bucket of bees with several thousand of their pissed off compatriots swirling around him as he furiously slapped at his head because three or four kamikazes were inside his hood stinging the living daylights out of him. Someone should have been filming.

Poor judgement? Heck yeah. But I did make it down. I did pour the bucket of bees into a waiting hive box. And for about five precious pain-filled embarrassing minutes I did not think once about the disreputable and disgusting details of that rape trial. Not once.

Postscript: The following morning as the sun soared upward into a sky as beautifully blue as a scrub jay's wings, I made several more trips to the swarm with my bucket. I used a taller ladder, my bee suit was fully zipped, and although my neck still itched a bit from the previous night's stings, the beers had become only a funny memory.  Eventually I must have gotten the queen, because all of them left the laurel hedge and are now happily ensconced in their new box.