Monday, May 31, 2010

Beekeeper's Day Off - Sort of

I was accused of not being a very good Auntie. Last summer I didn't take my niece or nephew to the beach. Not even once. I was so busy with my bees I didn't do anything else.

In my defence, I reminded my family that last summer we didn't have a single weekend without rain or when it wasn't too cold for the beach. "That's true", my sister said.

When my niece asked if I'd take her to the beach I agreed. I'd be giving up my Saturday with the bees (it was time to do a 1 week inspection on the two nucs and also to check on comb building in the honey supers on the other two hives). Sometimes family comes first. Besides, maybe I needed a break from bees.

We filled the van with kids and beach gear and off we went. We went to Port Stanley for this trip. This would be Lake Erie, a nice sandy beach although it often has minimal waves.

It was nice and hot, but a mostly windless day. The water was like glass. I wondered how long the teenagers would take to get bored.

I was sitting on my chair enjoying the sunshine when my niece mentioned a lady being pestered by a bee. I glanced over and saw a lady standing eating a sandwich. Probably a yellow jacket I guessed. They're omnivores so anything from sweet to savoury suits their pallet.

I stared back at the water and the passing sailboats. Amber mentioned again a lady being bothered by bees. I didn't look. I didn't want to watch people battling yellow jackets, swinging and swiping - doing all the wrong things when around a stinging insect.

Amber mentioned again that those bees were really bothering that lady. Finally, I gave it my full attention and looked over. A young woman was coming out of the water where she'd gone in desperation. She was swinging and swatting her arms and crying out, "What can I do? They won't leave me alone."

"Stop swinging your arms," I yelled.
"What?"
"Stop swinging and swatting at them," I said. Then I saw them. This wasn't just one or two yellow jackets pestering a person. She had 20 or 30 insects circling and circling around her head like a halo.
"I don't know what to do," she said in a panic. "Can someone help me?"
No one stepped forward or said anything. Unfortunate but very typical.
I stood up. "Come here," I said as I walked towards her. The least I could do was try to figure out why the wasps were so interested in her and try to calm her down.

I took her hands in mine to hold them still and I told her to be calm. "There must be something that's attracting them to you," I said. I looked at these insects to get a better idea what they were up to. That's when I saw they weren't wasps at all. They were honey bees and they were very excited. They were landing on her head and licking her hair. No aggression at all. No bumping or threats of stinging they were very happy to have found this young lady and they liked her. A lot.

"These are honey bees," I said. "I'm a beekeeper and I can tell they're not interested in stinging you."
"I'm really freaking out she said."
"It's okay. Just stay calm. I think they might be thirsty and licking water from your hair. Either that or there's something like a perfumed soap that's attracting them. They're just landing on your head and licking your hair."
"I put mousse in my hair."

I kept a hold of her hands and reassured her to relax and walk calmly to the washroom and wash out her hair.

She returned a few minutes later, bee-less, and thanking me for helping her. I explained that the mousse probably had real honey in it which attracted them. I pointed to the miles of sand and dunes and commented on the total lack of flowers close by. The bees had such good noses I explained that they honed on the scent of that product. I suggested she may not want to use it again since any insect would probably find it attractive, but I could tell from the shake of her head that she didn't ever plan to use that mousse again.
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