Download audio (MP3)
Steven Saum learns that when it comes to bees, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
By Steven Saum
At first we thought the bees were just visiting: lured by the sweet smell of jasmine blossoms on the side porch, they came and went throughout the warm afternoons in a spiraling insect dance, gathering nectar and winging their way back home.
I wondered what lucky beekeeper harvested the flowers' liquid fragrance. And I thought of the days when I served in the Peace Corps in western Ukraine, and I'd go to the open-air market where scarf-headed women stood behind their jars of honey -- pale gold and dark amber -- asking would-be buyers to taste. It's a sensually delicious experience: Hold forth your hand, palm downward, fingers clenched in a loose fist, while the seller drips honey behind your knuckles. Taste.
Bees had also been a part of our breakfast conversation recently, since our son had dreamed that he and I were in a library, where I was showing him a book on insects, and we heard a humming sound, low at first but increasingly louder, more insistent. We looked up and saw a shelf of books had come alive; a shimmering and buzzing wall of bees, moving across the room.
As for the bees visiting our porch, it only took a few days before I found their home -- our ceiling. It was a windy Friday afternoon, and instead of a handful of bees about, the air seemed to be filled with darting, swirling insects. There were thousands. They covered half a wall, and they crawled over one another into a crack where the wall met the ceiling and the seal wasn't tight.
It was, I learned, the season for swarms. Bees go looking for a new home when the old one gets crowded. I come from a big family. I can sympathize. But these guests couldn't stay. And we couldn't fumigate. It's not just concern about killing honey bees. If you spray them, you're left with a bunch of dead bees and their honey-dripping comb. So we called in a beekeeper. He suited up, tore out the ceiling, and vacuumed up the bees.
Happily, the porch ceiling was as far as the bees got. They hadn't made their way into the rest of the house. But they had built a comb about the size of a football. From that, we tasted a little honey. It was very light.
With a Perspective, I'm Steven Saum.
Steven Saum is the editor of Santa Clara Magazine.