December 31 began cold and wet as usual, but I decided to check on my bees. I would hate for them to go into a new year without sufficient food, so I lifted the back of each quilt box a half-inch and peeked into the feeders one by one. Each stop took about five seconds, so no big trauma was in store for them or for me. I thought.
The first few were fine. Lots of feed, lots of bees. No discernable problems. But the fifth was weird.
I was wearing a men’s three-season jacket, one I save for muddy or wet winter chores. The bottom hem falls just above my knees, and I can tighten the Velcro at the wrists and neck. Over that, I wore a veil because I didn’t want a red and swollen face on New Year’s Eve—not that I was going anywhere, but on general principles.
When I raised the fifth quilt box, the bees flamed out of the tiny opening, reminding me of the burning gases that pop from an oxygen-starved wood stove when you open the door. Where no bees had been a second ago, there were now hundreds.
No matter, I had the veil. The feeder was full, and although I had difficulty lowering the quilt without squishing bees, I finally succeeded.
I continued my trek up the hill to number six, but as I walked, I felt a tickle on my back which, without thinking, I gave a little scratch. The result was instant, white-hot, searing pain. I felt like someone had stabbed me with a hot poker right on my backbone. In an instant, all the prior discussions of winter stings vs summer stings came back to me. I wanted to vote again and again.
A second shot
Once I caught my breath, I touched the spot again. Big mistake. I inadvertently hit the stinger, squeezing out the last bit of juice. The agony resumed, pulsing along with my heartbeat. The pain radiated from a single point then fluttered like an aurora, painting effervescent colors on my brain.
I squatted in the brambles for a while until the searing heat lessened. Before long, I stood, ready to resume my rounds.
When I got back to the house, I lifted my shirt and my husband said, “It looks like someone gave you a spinal tap. There’s even a hole in the middle!”
No surprise. It felt like that, too.
A few hours later
I didn’t find the bee until that afternoon.
But here’s the thing. While on the internet, I try to behave like a civilized and respectable member of society. I try to remain mannered and polite, and I even restrain my vocabulary. So admitting I found the deceased in my underpants sounds less than ladylike. “Must I really say it?” I wondered. But in the interest of scientific accuracy, I must confess the exact location of her demise.
And in the words of the Mayor of Munchkinland, she was “really, most sincerely, dead.”
The only thing I can figure is she flew beneath my long coat, walked up under my shirt, strolled along my backbone minding her own business until I gave her the little scratch. Then, after piercing delicate parts of my anatomy, she lost her stinger and either walked or fell into the inside of my waistband and proceeded from there.
I know, I know. Real beekeepers don’t complain about stings. Real beekeepers don’t even admit getting stung, so I must be a fake. Whatever. To my way of thinking, those wee injections can really mess with one’s composure.
Happy to see the new year
With all that’s happened in the past year, a final sting seems fitting indeed.
Here’s wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and safe New Year. Now that the holidays are over, we can get down to serious bee business once again, and I can stop having fun and be civil once more.
Honey Bee Suite