On the very same day that scientists announced that an alarming number of the country’s honeybees had gone missing, I found them. Not the scientists; the bees. They were in my garage.
Experts converged on New York last week to discuss a disturbing national trend: the unexplained disappearance of tens of millions of bees, who have abandoned their hives never to return. The mystery, dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, is being blamed on everything from genetically modified crops to the radiation from cell-phone towers. At worst, they said, it could result in ghastly food shortages since the insects’ pollination helps produces a full third of our daily diet.
I can’t pretend I’m a lover of bugs. Crawly, winged, “beneficial,” or otherwise, I’d just as soon squash them as look at them. Even ladybugs and butterflies trigger my gag reflex. So it is with some pride that I confess my evolution-throughout the years-from a screamer who would flee the house with arms flailing at the sight of a mosquito, to a cold-blooded sniper who can flatten a fly with a magazine or crush a spider in a Kleenex without so much as a break in my conversation.
But this was different.
My son was shooting hoops in the driveway when he heard the buzzing. A swarm of bees was hovering near the corner of the garage. The next day, an exterminator-whose motto is “Bees are our bees-ness”-revealed these droning, ominous pests had found a hole in our eaves, infiltrated our exterior wall, and built a sort of high-rise luxury estate in there.
Floor to ceiling, the wall was thick with solid honeycomb. These bees had been busy for six months. While we were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, they were nearby, extruding wax from their abdomens. As we were leaving cookies for Santa, they were chewing the wax to make it malleable. When we were exchanging Valentine’s Day cards, they were shaping the wax into intricate, hexagonal little apartments to house their honey, pollen, and larvae. Enterprising little bastards.
Our expert guessed there were ten-freaking-thousand bees in our wall-and advised we destroy them. Left alone, they might find their way inside our house in large numbers. Their honey would leak through our walls and attract ants, wasps, and rats, and if you think I’m squeamish about bugs, you ought to see me face-to-face with a rodent.
We were told there was no way to remove the bees without killing them, and to be honest, I didn’t give it a second thought. Eight hundred dollars later, the walls were flushed with poison and the workers set about digging out the once golden, gleaming honeycomb-now a dry, white bee graveyard.
Dead bees littered my driveway. And though the sight of a lifeless insect used to bring me some measure of peace, I was surprised at my remorse. It’s not that they were cute: They’re fuzzy and oddly jointed, with random black threads protruding from their crooked little carcasses. But they had been so : productive. And highly motivated. And scarce, for god’s sake.
What beeswax is it of mine if nature’s hardest workers-the very creatures that bring us watermelons, pumpkins, berries, and almonds-want to play house behind my drywall?
I had some Poe-like moments when I kept hearing buzzing in my kitchen. In my hair. I found one dead on the floor of my car and when I tried to fling it out the window, it bounced off the door and came hurtling back at me.
Our bee guy told us the bee shortage is worse in the eastern states; honeybees, so far, are still showing up for work in California’s fields. His words couldn’t wash the bee blood from my hands. But it did take some of the sting out of it.
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