The Laughter of the Bees

Or why it's best to leave Mother Nature alone

Even now, six weeks later, it is difficult to write about it.

The pain, the shock, the horrifying fall. The huddled paramedics and harsh light of the emergency room.

But that was not the worst. The worst was the sound that echoed for days after and resonates still.

The laughter of the bees.

Our lake up north is small and humble. No outboard motors are allowed to roar. All we have is a little pontoon boat pushed quietly on the surface of our still pond by a battery-powered trolling motor.

Beginning on the Fourth of July weekend we noticed the bees. First there were a few harmlessly buzzing around the boat. But as summer wore on, their numbers grew.

That fateful day, summer was on the wane. The bride and I took an evening cruise, only to be greeted upon our return to the dock by a handful of agitated bees. I was stung twice. Enough was enough.  All living creatures deserve respect, but this problem had to be solved.

I am, after all, a man. And territorial imperative must be observed.

First, in an uncharacteristic moment of intelligence, I calmly observed the bees’ behavior. You did not have to be Chuck Darwin to see that the bees were gathering near a small fold in the closed canopy of the boat.

Just a tiny opening. Nothing to cause alarm.

Armed with a high-velocity can of bee spray, I fired. My aim was true. 

I waited an hour and repeated the same action. Surely the bees were gone by now.

Just as John Kennedy thought a quick jaunt to Dallas would be a good idea, I figured it was now safe to open and inspect the canopy.

Unfolding the awning is not an easy act. A large human male must hang over the boat seats, rump in air, and lift the apparatus with two hands.

This puts that male’s face very close to the canopy. Close enough to have a remarkably keen view of the massive hive that lay deep in the fabric, safe from effects of spraying, as it opened.

This hive was big. Big like a pineapple.

And not only was the hive huge, it had been ruptured, torn in half by the opening of the canopy. I knew this to be true because my face was four inches away from it.

What happened next will be etched forever in the natural memory of the North Woods.

I scrambled off the seats, backpedaled and sprayed the hive as I retreated. (Bad idea.)
Every one of the hundreds of angry bees in the hive simultaneously recognized that it was I who had torn the facade off their condo and was now irritating them with spray.

They came for me.

Reaching back through the decades, I summoned the last of the bit of speed I possessed, placed my left leg and all of my weight on the dock, and spun away from the hurtling cloud of anger.

My left leg buckled as if shot. Pain seared through my body. I stumbled trying to regain my balance, staggering across the dock, only to place my weight once again on a now useless left leg.

And then I am floating in open space, tumbling and falling off the pier into the lake (with a water level that is at an all-time low due to sustained drought).

Freeze the action!

Two years ago I had both hips resurfaced. As I am falling I wonder: do I land on the leg that is already hurt? Or fall on the undamaged leg and risk breaking that one as well? 

Too late. All of me, and every pizza I have consumed watching the Packers over the last four decades, tumbles into the meager seven inches of water beneath the pier.

Up in the cabin, the bride hears a splash and knows it is not good.

“You OK, John?”

“Uh. No. In a little trouble here. Think I broke my leg. And there are some bees coming at me. Oh … and I think my iPhone is in my pocket.”

The paramedics came and helped me up the slope. We headed to the emergency room.

The diagnosis was better than one could ever have hoped for; a torn quadriceps. My thigh muscle was rent asunder. Rest, ice and time. Gratefully, no break.

I know your question. How many times was I stung? The answer still echoes in my nightmares.

As I lay there in the lake holding my damaged leg aloft and drifting in and out of shock, the bees never stung me.

And why, you ask?

They were too busy laughing, my friend. They were too busy laughing.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write johneroach@mac.com.

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