Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Summer of the Bees

Bridget's post took me back to one terrifying summer here on Laurel Lane...the summer of the bees.

It was probably the summer of 1994, a drought summer for Oregon. Mark and I were still newlyweds, having just married in May of that year. We had a houseful of teenagers and pre-teens, and I was in college full time while Mark looked for work. We here happy and in love, but life was a little stressful.

Then the bees came...

Actually, they were yellowjackets, which makes it even creepier. We first began noticing a yellowjacket here and there in the kitchen. A little pesky, but no big deal. Then we were plagued by several critters in the kitchen every day. Then there were lots. Eeeek!! We finally noticed that they were coming out through the cupboard doors under the kitchen sink. The cupboard doors (dating from the 1950s) had little metal vents, I guess to make sure the under-sink area was nicely ventilated. We saw yellowjackets crawling out through the metal vents, into the kitchen.

Mark braved the crawl space under the kitchen and found a drip in the pipe that was attracting the yellowjackets. I forget what he did to fix the problem, but it involved manly dirty scary work. My hero.

By now the kids were pretty jumpy about yellowjackets, so when Polly and Kendra, who shared the attic bedroom, began complaining about bees in their bedroom, I didn't pay too much attention. The girls insisted that they kept finding yellowjackets up there, and they began sleeping on the living room couches at night. They only went up to their room to get a change of clothes, and they made those trips as fast as they could. It was hot up in the attic during the summers, so I didn't blame them for wanting to sleep downstairs.

After a couple of weeks of yellowjackets in the attic, Mark and I finally did a more careful investigation. We discovered that there were, indeed, yellowjackets coming through the fluorescent light fixtures in the peak of the ceiling. The fixtures had little holes at the end, near the ballast gizmo, and we actually saw a yellowjacket come crawling out.

Mark said he had done his share of manly dirty scary work, and he wasn't going after these bees. This is when I found out that he feels certain he has an allergy to bee stings. He has never actually been stung by a bee, and these weren't technically bees, but he still wanted nothing to do with this project.

Many years prior to this, my first husband had kept a hive of bees in our backyard for several years. Though that hive was long gone, I still had the beekeeper veil and long leather gloves down in the basement. Mark fixed up a tube of caulk into the caulking gun while I suited up. The kids watched with big eyes. Then I grimly marched up the attic stairs to do the deed.

It was hot sweaty scary work. It seemed to take hours, but I was probably up in the attic for all of thirty minutes or so. I was no expert at caulking, but in all these years, Mark has never criticized the sloppy application of caulk around those fluorescent fixtures. I laid it on thick and goopy. Three or four yellowjackets buzzed in the attic that summer afternoon, and I actually caulked one of them in place coming through the hole while I was doing the job. That'll teach 'em, I thought.

It took several days and a thorough vacuuming of the attic to convince the girls that the room was safe again. Trauma like that takes time to heal!

Thankfully, we have never experienced such an insect invasion again since then, but to this day, no one in the family likes to remember...the summer of the bees.

Other bee notes: Another time, when Mark was doing some electrical work in the attic crawl space above the kitchen ceiling, he shone his flashlight into a corner near the eaves and saw a huge paper-wasp next hanging from a rafter. It was about the size of a basketball. He freaked out for a few minutes until he was able to figure out that no one was home; it was an old, dead nest.

In 2005, when we gutted/remodeled the house, I was tearing out lath and plaster from the angled part of the ceiling in our bedroom. I ran into a whole section of honeycomb in between the studs. No bees, no honey but the scent of honey still lingered. It was a lovely discovery, and I actually relished the thought of that small hive of bees hidden in the walls. I wouldn't have felt the same way about it if the bees had still been home! They must have lived there pre-1980, when we had the vinyl siding installed. I was fascinated that the beeswax--it was old and dark--could retain the scent of honey for so long.


Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Ah yes...wasps are actually a fairly major post around here...and they're I guess we'll have to learn to deal with them. As I remember it, there were at least 6 or 7 in the window...a big one in the middle with a number of others kind of circling around it...that day we finally found out where they were coming from.

Is this part of your writing for your master's thesis? Nice job.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Kathy, I linked to your bee story from Bridget's blog. It brought back a terrifying childhood memory at my aunt's very old house in Pennsylvania. My cousins and I decided to explore the attic. We never got much of a look. Wasps the size of tennis balls were flying around up there and we took off screaming. Uncle Charlie thought we were imagining things and refused to check on it. Weeks later he got an eyeful when he went upstairs to put something away.

Just as creepy, my brother's rented house in San Diego had one wall full of bees. When they touched the wall it felt very warm and it vibrated from the buzzing of the bees. The exterminator found one heck ok a hive inside that wall.

Brave of you to don the bee suit and take care of the problem yourself!

Bridget said...

Aaaaahhhh scary! I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that.