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Adventures in the Woods -- Bees and such...

Back in the day, I was plenty more agrarian than I am now. My bro and I grew up in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee and spent every summer working on my Grandfather’s farm in West Tennessee. Hell, I went to College and majored in Dairy Science and actually worked on Dairy Farms for several years. Back then it was peace and love and communes and sometimes in the early 70’s, a bunch a extremely rural high school kids from Rabun County, North Georgia came out with a series of books called Foxfire which was compiled from a series of magazine articles they had written.   Their teacher later (1992)  plead guilty to molesting a fourth grade boy at his home but that is a matter better left to a sorry day when I am disenchanted with the State of Man and feel like shouldering the angst that goes along with black tales such as that.  Not tonight.  Tonight is for reveling in my youth and rejoicing over a full life well lived.

The first Foxfire (Wiki) book was published in 1972 and 11 more books would follow.  The basic premise was for the students to interview elder family and friends and to set the oral records of life in the Appalachian Mountains to print.  It enthralled me.  One of the book’s sections involved bee keeping and it was not long until I had read all manner of books regarding bees.  I ordered a set of bee hives and basic bee keeping  equipment from a catalog.   And some bees from a bee breeder in Georgia.  Back then,  they sent the bees via U.S. Mail in a little wire cage.  The queen bee was separated from the worker bees by a hard candy lozenge which the worker bees gradually ate away to reunite themselves with their Queen. Oh joyous day!   This event was supposed to coincide with approximately the time you received the bees at the local post office.  Well, something went a little haywire and the postmaster in Seymour, TN called my Mom very apologetically to tell her most of the bees had escaped within the confines of the small rural post office.   I am sure she was mortified and it was hard for her to go to Church that Sunday since bees in the post office was quite the news.   The Post Office made  good on the insurance and I just ordered me some more o’ them bees.  I can’t make stuff like this up.

The bees lived at the end of the house for years in their whitewashed hives.   Even after I left home for good,  my Dad tended to them. Feeding them sugar water to get them through the winter and robbing the hives in the summer, he did well with them.  My mom had little love for them.  She tended to mow too close to the hives on the red Snapper riding mower and more than once erratic trails cut through the grass evidenced pissed off bees chasing that red Snapper. She got pretty good at slamming that red Snapper into high gear and tearing outta there like Mario Andretti.

Over the years, any news item mentioning bees has caught my eye but I have had nothing to do with bees firsthand in 3 decades.    I always thought a few bee hives would be a satisfying endeavor for an old man and curious grandchildren.  I have that one filed away.

One of the parts of the Foxfire books I really enjoyed was the old time practice of finding a bee tree in the wild.  I found a more recent article when I was researching this post and it is a great read.  In real life, I had never seen a bee tree or known any one else that had seen a bee tree.

I wrote a recent post about clearing the woods, dead trees and all that here in Calvert and this is related.

Hill Country Dead Tree

I was just tooling down through the woods, crashing out stuff left and right when I ran up on this extremely funky old dead tree. It was 30′ tall if it was a foot and 4′ or more around at the base. It had no upper branches left, they were all laying on the ground around the trunk like dead old bones so I certainly know I was dealing with a dead tree. But man oh man, this old oak tree was something else, It was gnarly and warty like you could not

Tree Beard -- An Ent tree from Lord of the Rings

believe. It reminded me of one of those living trees from Lord of the Rings… an Ent, that’s what they called them. Those Ents scared the bejeezus out of me when I saw the movie. So Ent or no Ent; they ain’t paying me on this job for being a literary fellow or even close; so I eased the John Deere 750C up to that warty old trunk and gave it a good bump. Now most trees that are good and done  just pop right out of the ground. The roots are way dead and they have long since lost their grip on the soil. This one didn’t budge. So I backed up another 3′ and raised the blade a bit to give me more leverage and bumped it good this time. Nada! And then an odd thing happened…..

The front of that dozer just covered up with flying critters. I thought it was ground hornets at first. Now, just so’s you know, they call them ground hornets in Texas but I was raised up to call them yellow jackets. I was thankful as all get out that I was sitting inside a cab with good solid glass and steel between me and those mad critters. It gave me the opportunity to inspect them closer and they weren’t ground hornets at all. They were honey bees and I immediately made the logical brain leap that this gnarly old oak with so much character was a bee tree. Well, I’ll be damned!

I backed the dozer out the narrow cleared lane and with each foot of retreat, the bee beard in front of me diminished. I backed out to clear ground ( the rattlesnake rule) and got out of the cab. Ever so

Front door of the bee tree

easy, I stole back down that woody lane with my camera, trying to be really small. Sure enough, I saw a cloud of bees going and coming right out of the top of that old dead oak. It was quite a sight.

Saving the Old Bee Tree was a good thing.   I am glad I wasn’t on one of the bigger dozers that would have pushed this tree over easily the first try.  According to the Old Timers, bee trees may be active for decades.  Hell, who knows, this bee tree might have already been around for a decade… or more.   The owners here are sorta yuppie/greenie types so I am sure they will enjoy their bee tree of years to come.  I know if it was my bee tree, I could spin  all sorts of fabulous tales that would make a 6 year old’s eyes go wide with wonderment.

End Note: You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive by Patty Loveless from the Mountain Soul album.  A song fitting for a post with Southern Appalachia – it will haunt the back of your memory for days after hearing it for the first time.  If you want a stiff dose, find the version by Darrell Scott — who also happened to write the song to begin with.

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4 comments to Adventures in the Woods — Bees and such…

  • Ground hornets? Never heard of such a thing. They were always yellow jackets, or wasps. Never made a distinction between the two, though some wasps are red. Both were mean-ass stinging things that I hated, and they made me swell up like a bullfrog when they got me. To this day, I keep a can of Raid in every place I spend time: carport, deck, garage. I gleefully blast the motherscratchers, love seeing them die in agony.

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    • admin

      I Googled and ground hornets do = yellow jackets. Big difference between ground hornets and wasps. I’ll take a wasp over a ground hornet any day. And then there are the real hornets. You feel like somebody has hit you with a searing hot sledgehammer when a hornet nails you.

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  • That’s funny, because all my experience with “ground hornets” revolves around those what have nests in the rafters and such that are as big as pie plates. I get the shivers even thinking about those things, all crawling with pain. That’s my vision of a hellish alien invasion – freaking man-size yellow jackets who can fly. I’ve got cases of 00 12 guage buck, just in case.

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  • don

    Cool story! I’ll BET you are glad you were in an enclosed cabin; you could be dead otherwise. Life in the fast lane, huh. Take care.

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