“There is a bee swarm in downtown Camas, right by the antique store. Do you have time to go gather it? It is up high…” Debby’s voice was hopeful. She is our bee swarm coordinator, and spends her whole summer on the phone talking to people about bees.
“Hmmmm, up really high, huh?” I don’t mind heights. I simply don’t have a ladder that will reach up 20 feet.
“The fire department’s only a few blocks away. Just stop by, batt your eyes and swivel your hips and maybe they will bring their ladder,” she suggested…
“These hips are nearly 70. These eyes are ringed with crow’s feet…But I’ll go give it a whirl.” So, I grabbed my husband John and friend—another Debbie— and my swarm collection basket and headed to town.
As fortune would have it, downtown Camas was packed with volunteers on Sunday, freshening up the planting strips and flower boxes. Everyone had their eye on the bees, swaying far above the city street lights, dangling gently on the tip of a tree branch.
Our first call was to the Fire Department. Bless them! The whole truck and rig came down the street, and now even MORE people were watching the swarm: “Bees!…Look, they are up there! Oh my, there must be thousands! What are they doing there!”
Bee swarms are such wonderful teaching moments. The swarm cluster is generally gentle as a lamb, and happy to go along with whatever program you have in mind for them. A swarm of bees is simply the way bees reproduce each spring. The hive splits like an amoeba with half the bees remaining in the hive, and the other half goes in search of a new place to live and to further their good work in the world.
“Our ladder is not that tall,” the fireman told us after assessing the situation. “We can’t help.”
“Who do you know who can?” I asked. “We really need to get those bees. Shall we call the police? Maybe they have some ideas.” In a matter of seconds, a police car arrived. All of us stood there with our phones, pondering who to call. “Can we find someone with a bucket loader?” I asked.
“It’s not easy today, on a Sunday. No one is at work. But let me call a friend of mine. He may be able to help…” The policeman tapped on his phone. How grand life is when things suddenly fall into place! In 15 minutes the man with the bucket loader was maneuvering past the police car, fire truck, and all the onlookers.
“I can get the bucket up under those bees, but I can’t go up in the bucket because I need to be in the truck, running it,” said the bucket man. (Forgive me, Bucket Man, Police Man, and Firemen. I was so focused on the task at hand, I’ll be darned if I can remember any names. And I should, because they were all handsome and wonderful.)
“Well, I’m not going up,” answered the policeman.
“I’ll do it!” I shouted a bit too excitedly. “I’m a professional!” I passed out my business cards for Preservation Beekeeping Council, our Camas nonprofit. “I do this all the time! Let me up!”
And they did! Mr. Bucket man outfitted me in a harness that was almost as big as I was. Then, he put a hardhat on my head. I must say, some uniforms and gear are like vestments: you put them on, and you feel the power of God moving through you. By the time I stepped into the bucket, I was feeling the power of serious machinery taking hold.
Look! Flying up into the sky! It’s a bird…a plane…No! It’s the Camas Bee Lady! Who would not want a ride in a sky-high bucket, into the blue sky of downtown Camas? Excuse me for saying that this was not just a bucket—this was a bucket-list item for me. I could see all of Camas below me, the river in the distance, and Mt. Hood like a delectable snow cone.
Below me, City Manager Pete Capell was snapping photos, and people were pointing and exclaiming: “Is she getting stung? Why doesn’t she have a bee suit on??”
I heard my husband answer, “Swarming bees are very gentle. Susan never needs a suit to collect them.” Like I said, swarms are such perfect teaching moments. Up in the bucket, I was busy maneuvering my gathering box beneath the heart-shaped cluster of bees. I made one clip of the branch, and lowered the bees gently into the box. Many swooped to the side and clung to the box, and I carefully gathered them in my hands and moved them inside. “No stings,” I called down. “They are the sweetest of bees.”
I signaled handsome and manly Bucket Man to lower us down, and then the second part of this wonderful story began. “What will you do with the bees?” someone asked.
“Well, the hive at the library perished over the winter. I’m going to drive these bees three blocks up the street and place them in the library hive.”
And so we did! I clambered out of the bucket, into our car, and then managed some less-than-graceful tree climbing to get to the library hive (remember I told you I’m nearly 70.). Pete came along and brought step stools and ladders for us. Opening the top of the hive, I saw the former bees had built out the whole hive in beautiful, long wax combs. The tops of all the combs were loaded with honey. “Thank you,” I whispered to the hive. “Thank you for this beautiful gift that will be such a help to your sisters.”
Although the bees there had perished, they had left behind a fully furnished “home” where these new bees would have a wonderful start to a very successful summer. Slowly, I poured the bees out of the box and into the top of the hive. They dove down into the depths of the combs, the whole swarm vanishing quickly into the receiving hive.
That evening, I would return to place the top on the hive and tuck the bees in for the night. Again hauling my old bones up into the tree, I was greeted by thousands of curious bee faces, all looking up and me and waving their antennae. I scooted one little bee back onto the combs and slowly lowered the lid, careful not to squish curious bees as I did.
I just have to say it: Best. Day. Ever.
When it was all completed and we were sharing a celebratory drink at Grains of Wrath, my friend Debbie said to me, “You were amazing, but what was even more amazing was how many people jumped in to help. Fire, police, city workers on their day off, and all the people who made the calls to you, who offered help. It was so…so…inspiring to see such community spirit!”
“That’s Camas,” I told her.
For those who’s curiosity is roused by all this, I want to let you know that the swarm of bees came from a hive hidden deep in the confines of a building right on 4th Street. You’d have to look pretty closely to find it, but it is there, healthy and vibrant, and may be tossing a few more swarms in the next couple of weeks. Keep on the lookout! AND—keep on the lookout for an announcement in May about making Camas a Bee City USA!