On Sunday afternoon two weeks ago I drove home from a meeting and turned into the driveway. Then I stopped the car. Something was up.
Ahead of the car, right next to the house, where the neighbor's trees overhang the driveway and make a tunnel, there was a swirling cloud of little tiny dots, like a demonstration of Brownian motion -- particles in liquid. But this was air, not liquid, and even from 30 feet away I could hear buzzing.
I rolled up the windows and drove forward, very, very slowly. When I was right in the middle of the cloud, I could see they were bees. That made it unlikely that someone had decided to dispose of a dismembered corpse in OUR trash cans. In that case it would've been flies and wasps.
Disappointing not to have a murder mystery on the block, of course, but I like bees. They're vital to the ecosystem, plus they don't want to hurt me. My garden is designed to attract them -- sage, thyme, rosemary, African blue basil, alyssum, Tumbling Waters rose, flowering succulents.
It gets lots of bee visitors. But this bee armada wasn't in the garden.
Bee swarm? I asked Mr. Google. But the websites had tons of pictures of big balls of bees hanging off trees and lampposts. My apian guests, OTOH, were zooming around in a sphere about ten feet across. A couple hours passed, during which I got nothing done on my list of things that absolutely had to be done that day, and mostly looked out the window at the airborne bees.
Then all of a sudden they disappeared (I was distracted because someone was WRONG on the internet). Feeling as though I'd failed in hospitality, I went outside. And there they were, an official swarm, in a big bee ball. But they hadn't studied the websites, because they were sitting on the driveway. They had a few guys out exploring, flying around, but most seemed to be resting. What if they stayed there? They'd be squished as soon as someone had to go in or out the driveway.
The Pasadena Humane Society doesn't do bees. They referred me to Backwards Beekeepers (all organic, all natural, motto: "Let bees be bees!"). They rescue swarms and give them to wannabe beekeepers. I left a message. I read more Google. I called again. This time I got a live Bee Guy. He said, "Cut a hole in a cardboard box and put it down next to them. They want to go someplace dark and sheltered. If they go in, call me."
I took a disco ball out of its cardboard box and cut a little doorway (2 by 3 inches) in the box. Then I put it down next to the bee ball. Carramba! Bee guy wasn't kidding when he said they wanted someplace dark and sheltered. They went for it big time. Obviously I'd made the hole too small.
Bee Guy, when he got my report, said he'd come get them.
I went back out to my bees and gloated over their rush to the disco ball box. But oh noes! A reversal of fortune! Just as fast as they'd crowded to it, many were now scurrying away towards the trash can next to the house. Some stayed between the two, dithering.
"They're leaving the box!" I told Bee Guy, who was en route. "What do I do?"
"Just let them do what they want," he said ("Let bees be bees!").
When he arrived, the cats, the dog, my nephew and I were all in the driveway obsessing over the bees. Senior Cat Jeffersonian Democracy was distraught.
Our neighbor the botanist hippie came by. Our other neighbor the Rush Limbaugh fan came by. Bee Guy had a bee suit with him that covered his face and arms but not his hands. I guess it must be so bees don't get down into his shirt.
Bee Guy said the queen was probably on the trash can. He opened the disco ball box and cut a little window in it and taped screen over that. Then he took a big soft brush and casually brushed bees off the trash can into the box. He set the box down again and said let's see if the queen is in there now.
Some of the bees stayed in the box. Others went back to the trash can. Then about half of them went airborne again. Bee Guy said they were deciding what to do. He seemed pretty calm about it. While we waited, we discussed politics, Republicans and colony collapse disorder (Pesticides! Poor bee nutrition!). He didn't care for Republicans much. He said the bees were probably feral, because they were darker and smaller than most domesticated bees. Meanwhile I got two calls from other Backwards Beekeeper responders making sure the situation was under control, and Bee Guy got three or four from other people dealing with swarms. He doesn't get paid for this -- he's a house painter. He just likes bees.
Finally the bees decided they were okay with the box. In the space of a few seconds the airborne ones landed on it and the ones on the ground and the trash can headed that way.
Bee Guy put the box into a bigger box, to hold the bees who were clustered on the outside of the first, disco ball box. Then he brushed some more bees off the trash can into the boxes. Then he waited for a few latecomers. Meanwhile -- this was the best part -- about 20 bees got onto the top edge of the boxes and stuck their bee butts out and wagged them. It was so cool! They were releasing pheromones to let everyone know that there was a decision from the queen and this was the place.
Almost all the bees were in the box by this time. I was secretly worried about the few who were still flying around, but they might have been our resident bees monitoring the situation. Besides, it's the whole swarm that's the organism (as Granny Weatherwax found in Lords And Ladies), not individual bees. And maybe any that were Left Behind would go back to their old hive.
Bee Guy taped the big box shut (after cutting a net window in it so they wouldn't suffocate), gathered up his brush and his bee suit and the boxes and left.
It was awesome.