On Friday evening, my dad spotted something odd next to the veranda and gave me a buzz on the intercom. In the gathering dusk, it was a little difficult to tell exactly what it was, at first. A walnut branch was wearing an upside-down hat about twice the size of a Baltimore oriole’s nest: a swarm of honeybees! It rearranged itself as the branch bobbed in the wind, like no fruit you’ve ever seen. It hummed.
It hung there all day Saturday while the scouts searched for a suitable home. Consensus decision-making is never swift.
Now I thought of a thick tongue, and remembering the old saw —
A swarm of bees in June
is worth a silver spoon
— I thought of a rich person born with a swarming appetite for sweets.
Mid-afternoon on Sunday, as I was starting lasagna sauce for supper, I heard a shout from the veranda. The swarm had made up its mind. “It looked like a loaf of bread just crumbling to pieces,” said Eva, who witnessed the breakup — “the weirdest thing I ever saw.” In less than a second, the quiet hum had turned into a roar. We all rushed out to watch as the bees rose above the treetops and streamed away toward the east. I ran after them, but they traveled in a loose cloud that was hard to see against the blue sky, and I lost them when they entered the woods.
The only other time I’ve seen a swarm on the move, it was much more compact, and traveled only about fifteen feet off the ground — a hair-raising apparition. This one flew at least twice as high. It had probably split off from one of the honeybee colonies in the walls of a derelict house a quarter mile away; that might explain its initial attraction to my parents’ house. But its ultimate destination was probably some hollow tree, of which we have plenty on the mountain.
We used to keep bees back in the late 70s and early 80s, before the bears became too numerous, and twice I watched as my dad captured feral swarms and put them into waiting hive boxes. The first time he got all suited up and carried the smoker along, but the second time, he used nothing but a pair of pruners and a burlap sack, as I recall. Putting a hive of bees into a clean, white box full of frames seems a little like trying to lure a god into a shrine — or typing poems into a humming computer. Go forth and pollinate, says the maker to himself.
Speaking of swarms, be sure to check out today’s post at The Middlewesterner, where Tom describes his visit to Plummer’s Hollow, our road trip to Montreal, and the blogger swarm that followed.