Sunday, January 19, 2014
I’m pretty content with most things about Florida, but one of my least favorites is that everything here seems to make me ITCH.
The dogs get poison ivy juice on their claws and later inoculate me with it.
Deep Woods OFF!® is fairly effective, but not against all mosquitos, some of which are small biplanes that leave bites the size of a dome light.
We were chased from a potential home purchase in Rotonda by a swarm of no-see-ums that pursued us into the realtor's car and continued biting us as he gunned it and roared away.
Fire ants don’t make their presence nearly obvious enough, given how intent they are on guarding their territory. You can be walking along on the grass in sandals and find them biting you before you know they’re there. Then you do the little fire-ant slappy-tappy dance, because the little buggers BURN! Up until now, I’d experienced no itchier bug bite than that of the Maine black fly—another species that gets you before you know you’re being gotten. Fire ants win that contest, pincers down.
A few days ago, the dachshund pups were nosing about on the grass, and I caught them poking at a honeybee. “No, no, girls! He bite you,” I chirped, and pulled them out of harm’s way.
This little bee was the least of our worries.
The next time we went out, didn’t they go to the self-same spot? Stubborn little tykes, I thought. This time there were a couple of honeybees crawling in the grass. Again, I pulled the dogs back, while brushing something off my neck that promptly stung me and, of course, itched like a bastard for days afterwards. My suspicions were now aroused. I looked all around the area, in the mailbox, in the staghorn fern hanging on our tree, in the grass. I didn’t see many bees, other than a few in the grass, which I steered clear of, I can tell you. I have a healthy respect for bees ever since my golden retriever and I stumbled across a ground nest years ago. His face was never quite the same, a permanent paralyzed sneer on one side. I’ve also seen "My Girl." (Spoiler alert: Macaulay Culkin is stung to death by bees.)
Later that day, I was horrified to see a notebook-sized clot of bees quietly attached to the side of Bill’s rusty green pickup truck. The only good outcome, I figured, was that it might be a good reason to get rid of that truck once and for all. A better idea was to call Hughes Exterminators, who have until now kept our property free of fleas, ticks, ants, fire ants, cockroaches, termites, and rats. My voice shook as I explained to the girl on the phone that we had a BEEproblem! “Hmm,” she said, which didn’t sound nearly helpful enough to me. “I’ll see if Ray can come by. Can he call you at this number?”
Ray called and came by at around 5:00, when it was much cooler and starting to get dark. I stood far away from the truck and pointed, trembling, at the bee clot, which hadn’t budged. The intrepid Ray didn’t even have a masked beekeeper’s suit on! He explained that the bees were now dormant and proved his point by swatting the lot of them onto the ground with his bare hand and stomping on them. He told us that, when colonies get too large, the queen kicks out a bunch of them, who then buzz off seeking a new place to set up housekeeping. These bees hadn’t settled in yet. He indicated an even larger mass of them huddled together inside the streetlight for warmth.
“They might leave on their own, but I can’t do a thing about them unless they form a cone,” he said. Though free of charge, this wasn’t thrilling news for me, having been stung once already. And Bill is slightly allergic, so a hands-off policy toward homeless bees really wouldn’t do.
The next morning, I peered up at the streetlight. They had gone off on their own! I was delighted! I took the dogs for a carefree walk.
As we crossed the lawn behind the truck, the pups began to show great interest in a large mound they’d found on the lawn. Of course they did. It was a massive squirming pile of honeybees!
We debated all day and night about what to do, consulting with locals about what they’d done in such circumstances. Did we really care enough about the endangered honeybee population to seek out a beekeeper who might take them in? Should we blast them with special bee- and hornet-icide that can shoot 20-foot streams, and then run like hell when it made them mad? Where would we run TO, exactly? Surely they would be hot on our trail, shaped into a single-minded, deadly missile like in the comics. Bill suggested taking a large paving stone and dropping it onto them, trapping them underneath to die of suffocation. I feared bees were clever enough to hold their breath, tunnel underneath, and build a vast underground colony. Plus Bill’s allergy was something to consider.
The next day, I pulled out the yellow pages and was amazed to actually find a “Beekeepers” entry. An Amish-sounding gentleman offered “Live Bee Removal, Don’t Get Stung Twice, We Don’t Leave a Mess!” I was all for live removal if it could be done, but he was apparently out removing bees somewhere or didn’t pick up the phone because the Amish don’t have phones. Earl Russell, of Russell Bee & Hornet Removal Service, “FL State Certified in Removal of African Killer Bees,” did. Earl explained that, though he was a beekeeper, he didn’t take in wild bees, lest they bring diseases into his healthy hives. Well, all right, if we must kill, that’s what we’ll do. They might be killers, after all.
For $100 it took Earl all of 30 seconds to do the deed, spraying the sleeping colony with stuff that he compared to napalm. It left behind a blackened, twitching mass of bodies, over which Earl proffered a complimentary jar of his own honey. The exchange had a kind of karmic serenity to it.
I guess a few scouts had left the colony before the massacre. That afternoon they were flying aimlessly about, but I let them be … so to speak.