I love swarm calls. Particularly when there’s no way it could possibly be my bees, I love swarm calls. I get to be the hero, rescuing the people from the bees and the bees from the people. I get free bees. Best of all, I get to play “Ambassador for the Bees” to a public both fascinated and fearful. Anywhere there’s a swarm, that group of bees just established an embassy for “Apistania,” and I’m ready to hop in my van and negotiate a happy ending for everyone. My last swarm call took me to West Seattle.
West Seattle, for the uninitiated, is the result a military test in psychological warfare via city planning. 51st AVE intersects with 51st Place, 51st Street and 51st Court. Combine that with the fact that the tall trees and buildings make it a GPS Bermuda triangle and the question is no longer if you’ll reach your destination, it is whether or not you will return home. Every time I venture over there I envision myself winding up on a one way dead end street lined with the rusted hulks of pizza delivery people who starved to death when they ran out of gas.
The good news is that West Seattle is apparently confusing to the bees as well, because despite the number of times I located the wrong 51st, they were still at the right one when I finally arrived. Bee #1: “Does three waggles mean 51st avenue, 51st place, or 51 degrees from the location of the sun on the 51st day of the year?” Bee #2: “I think I’m just going to stay here.”
It has been raining for days and was overcast and they educated me that this was a swarm not in a mood to move. So I suited up. I don’t often wear a suit but my lightweight jacket has a torn veil so I went ahead and donned my “I envy the Hazmat Team” gear and went to work. On the way from my van a lady approached me.
“Are you a beekeeper?”
“No. I have this irrational fear of mosquitoes that causes me to wear this suit everywhere I go. You aren’t going to bite, are you?” – Ok, I wanted to say that. Instead I said “Yes.”
“I’m a real estate agent. We’re trying to sell that house. We’re having a real bee problem here and I need them gone. Can I pay you to hit them with a rake?”
I paused. I thought. I’m mostly deaf in one ear and I spent some time deciding if what I thought I heard was really right.
“You want me to hit them?”
“Yes, just hit them until they leave,” she said.
I heard right. More thought. I’d like to say that my years of diplomatic training took over and I gently explained to her the nature of honeybees and swarms and that we laughed and talked and drank cocoa together. Instead what came out was:
“I’ll do it for free, on one condition: For every time you want me to hit them with a rake, I have to hit you with the rake.” Now it was her turn to try and figure out what I had said. She paused. She blinked, then said, “I don’t want to be hit with a rake.” That was a good thing. I didn’t actually want to hit someone with a rake.
“Neither do they. How about if I just put them in this box and take them home with me?”
Back at the pear tree I shook them in and then waited for the stragglers. I had attracted quite an audience of neighbors at this point and decided that this was an opportune time for public education. To you and me bees are cute but to most people they are a stinger with wings that somehow drips honey when you squeeze a wasp nest. So I educated. I explained about swarms and bees in general. I answered questions, I listened to their stories about wasps and bumble bees, and I learned. I learned that the parent hive was right next door in a giant willow. I learned that it has been there for years, throwing a couple swarms a year. I went over and took a look, and they were right.
When I came back there was a new lady in the group.
“Is it your tree?” I asked.
That willow is twice the height of the two story house. There’s a tree house for the owner’s kids in the top, and the ladder to it goes around the entrance to the parent hive. They have a swing hanging from the lower branches, and picnic tables under the trailing branches. The willow shades the entire house. From what I can tell they’ve lived in peace with these bees for years.
I explained that to remove them that quick I’d have to remove a section from the middle of the tree. That it would kill the tree. That the homeowners would not be amused when they returned home and that I wasn’t going to do it.
“Would you do it for $400?”
Ambassador for the bees, I told myself: Be Diplomatic. Sometimes I wish this job came with diplomatic Immunity.