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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
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the city was destroyed
may 1, 2012
Many times, we don't pay enough attention to a problem right in front of us until it eats through the ceiling of our day-to-day routine.
Mary and I have ligustrum bushes across the red brick front of our home, on both sides of the concrete walk leading up to our front door.
We love them. They grow about twelve feet tall, thickly-leaved, great for privacy, in different pleasing shades of green (and is there any color more pleasing than green? Green is like the Mommy food of colors.) Early spring each year here in Texas, the leaf clusters produce spindly white blossoms that smell of honey and attract hundreds of tiny butterflies. Which is magical. When we drive home from an errand, they flutter like flirtatious eyelashes against our windshield wipers.
We've lived in our home here for a little over two decades, now. Over the years, we noticed bees starting to orbit around the ligustrums, but never gave it much thought. They weren't at all aggressive (most bees aren't, unless you're threatening their hive), and it was kind of nice to think we're nurturing yet another wildlife.
About a decade ago, I was walking upstairs, stopped on the landing between the first and second floor, looked out the window, and saw that there were a large number of bees circling in the air outside, by the bricks on the side of our attached garage. I looked closer. Between the top of the red bricks and the bottom of the white wood soffit of the garage roof (what some people call the eaves of the roof), bees were landing against the wood, then crawling inside. I showed it to Mary. Obviously, the bees were building a nest inside the roofline of our garage.
We could have gotten alarmed, but again, in a way, it was kind of charming. We have a bee hive inside our garage roof. We have a lot of flowers on our property, bushes and trees, so we figured, if anything, that the bees were helping pollinate our blossoms. We liked the country idea of our house holding a bee hive.
Sometime during that decade, the bee activity in the air outside the roofline grew so crowded, we decided we probably should do something about it. It was starting to look less like a fairy tale and more like an infestation. We bought several canisters of bee and wasp spray from Home Depot. I raised the window at the landing, and sprayed the bees, and their entrance, through the wire mesh of our window screen.
Bees dropping out of their orbits. Bees falling backwards off the white wood of the soffit. The spray was effective.
I felt bad, but at the same time, we were concerned as to what would happen if we allowed the hive to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
The number of bees outside the landing window decreased drastically. For a day or two. Then they twanged back. I saw, peering through the glass, that they had created a new opening in the wood, about a foot above their original opening.
Mental note to go outside, early in the morning someday, when bees are least active, probably one of the garbage days, and respray. We even bought new canisters.
But I never actually got around to that second attempt to exterminate them.
Other problems came up, as they do, I didn't really want to start my day, before breakfast, hauling a ladder out of the garage, killing hundreds of bees, and let's face it, the bees were outside, not inside, so it didn't really seem that urgent.
Years went by.
A few weeks ago, while waiting for the coffee to brew, and Mary to wake, I walked through our utility room, where our washer and dryer are, shutting the kitchen door behind me so our cats wouldn't follow, and went out into our garage.
Usually, our garage doesn't have any noises.
Barefoot, I flicked on the overhead light.
Hundreds of bees swarming against the sunlit windows of our wide, roll-up garage door, buzzing angrily.
In the white celling of our garage, near the door, a black hole. As I watched, bee after bee parachuted out of the hole, circling, then swooping to join the multitudes banging against the garage door windows.
The bees had evidently outgrown the crawlspace in the eaves, and had chewed their way down into our garage, to expand their hive.
I waited a little while after Mary woke before telling her. That's not something you want to tell someone as soon as they wake: Bees are swarming in our garage. They ate through the ceiling.
We had some leftover bee and wasp killer, so I sprayed that at the black hole. The spray itself comes out as a long, long, tight spray, I guess for safety reasons, so you don't have to stand directly under the area you're spraying. I was about ten feet away. It felt a little like urinating on the bees, except urinating up.
But as many of them that fell, heavy raindrops, on the top of the gray metal filing cabinets beneath the hole, even more came out. And although I waved my spray across the garage door windows left, right, left, so that dark bee bodies were piling up on the concrete floor of our garage like raisons, even more swarmed to the sunlight, until my canister gave out with a hiss, and we were no better off than before.
I did what we all do nowadays: I went on the Internet. Learned quite a bit. If you have a bee infestation in your home, it's not enough to just kill the bees you see. You have to go into the structure of your home to locate the honeycomb, and remove it. If you kill all the bees (if you could) and the honeycomb is still in there, under the rafters, outside bees will move in, and before long you're back up to infestation levels again (most bee hives inside the structure of a home contain tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of bees.)
I printed the pages for a couple of local companies that specialize in bee removal. (They don't exterminate any other insects - just bees.)
Mary and I didn't look forward to having someone come out to our home. It's a hassle. We have to make sure all our cats are secure in a room behind a closed door, so they won't run outside. We have to get dressed, and cock an ear to listen for the doorbell over, usually, a four hour window when the repairperson might arrive. Then once they do arrive, you never know how long their visit will take, or if the visit will be successful. On top of all that, there's the stress of having no idea whatsoever how much it costs to remove a bee infestation. Is it a couple of hundred dollars? A couple of thousand dollars? Do you know? We sure didn't.
One thing I've learned is that when you know you have to do something, and you dread doing it, the best thing is to pick up the phone and make an appointment. It's not a difficult first step. You're at home, a pleasant evening ahead of you. All you have to do is talk to someone for a few minutes, then you can hang up. It's all about "setting things in motion." Then all you have to do is drift towards the appointment.
The bee guy came out that Thursday, the latest in a long line of repair people to our home stretching back to infinity.
He was an older man, pot belly, big sincere smile.
I showed him the orbits of bees outside, by the edge of the garage roof. Took him inside, through the kitchen, through the utility room, to our garage, where he could see the black hole they ate into the white ceiling. Hundreds of bees swarming against the garage door windows, humming to themselves. "Fortunately, they're non-aggressive."
He nodded. "Well, that is fortunate. Most Texas bees these days are hybridized. Half honey bees, half Africanized bees." (Texas bees are valued for the complex sweetness of their honey, and in fact you can go to almost any farmer's market and buy a tub of fresh Texas honey.)
"Also, if you want, I can take you to the second floor landing, where you can see the entrance to the hive."
He drew in breath through his nostrils. "I'd like that a lot."
So up the carpeted stairs we went. I had already pulled up the mini-blinds earlier in the day, in anticipation of this moment.
He bent forward, looking through the window. "That's quite a few of them."
He stood on the landing for, I'd say, about five minutes, just watching the bees land on the white soffit, then blackly crawl inside the hive entrance. Which is a actually quite a long time, to be doing nothing other than watching bees. But I knew he was trying to decide how much to charge.
Mary and I had no idea how much the hive extermination would cost. While we're waiting for a repairman, we'll usually play a game, guessing what the fee for the service will be. Because we don't have a clue. To cut down a large tree in our backyard, remove all the limbs from our property? To replace an outside faucet, making sure it doesn't drip?
So while he was adding up costs in his head, silently, I was standing next to him, not wanting to interrupt the process, thinking, Four hundred dollars? A thousand dollars? Three thousand dollars?
When he finally gave a quote, I didn't immediately agree. I looked at the busy hive entrance, pretending to mull it over. "So, for six hundred dollars, you'll completely remove the honeycomb, kill all the bees, guarantee that for a year they won't come back, otherwise further treatment is free, and repair any damage to the house's structure you do getting to the hive?"
"I will completely remove the honeycomb, I'll kill ninety-nine percent of the bees, but the rest will leave in about a week or two once they realize they can't rebuild the hive, and I'll seal off the hive entrance. I will repair any damage done to the home's structure, but we don't do any painting. That has to be done by the homeowner."
We shook on it.
Part of the agreement (which you always have to do with contractors) was that he would receive no money at all until the job was completed to our satisfaction. (Never pay a contractor in advance. If you do, you lose all bargaining power.)
He couldn't do the extermination that evening, because he didn't have all the equipment he needed. He agreed he'd come back the next day, Friday, about two in the afternoon.
The nice thing about that was all the work would be done outside our home, so our cats could roam free through our rooms. We didn't have to round them up.
He showed up on time the next day, Friday. We chatted on the front porch a while, me wanting him to get started but not wanting to be rude, then I finally said to him, "Well, I better not hold you up any longer."
He came out of the reverie of whatever sentence he was next framing, gave me an alert nod. "You and your wife need to stay behind the windows while I do this."
Nothing happened for a long time, then we saw him approach our house from his white pick-up at the curb in a full-on white hazmat suit, beekeepers hood over his head. The sight of him crossing our green grass looked comical and serious.
He started off standing on the ground underneath the hive entrance, spraying upwards. I assume this was an insecticide. After about ten minutes of that, and you can imagine the urgent signals being buzzed about among the bees (dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dash-dot-dot-dot), he climbed a ladder to the soffit. Sprayed some more, then wafted smoke all around the soffit.
Using an electronic drill, he removed the screws holding the soffit in place. Pulled off the long white plank. Sprayed into the exposed interior.
Forty-five minutes later, he rang our front doorbell.
He was still in his hazmat suit, but he had pulled off his beekeeper's hat, and was holding it in one hand. His face was really sweaty. "Okay, we got it."
I went out with him to the back of his pick-up. There was one of those large, thirty-gallon black trash bags in the bed of his truck. He loosened the yellow pull tabs, so I could see inside.
The darkness of death, in the form of a long, long yellow honeycomb, something an ENT would pull out of an anesthetized nose.
And it was beautiful, thousands upon thousands of hexagonal honey cells, crammed one against another in rows and columns at the bottom of the bag, and up one black plastic side.
He said he needed to leave the plank of wood off the soffit, to let the interior of the roofline dry out (it was still wet with poison.) He'd be back Monday to screw the plank back in place.
We invited him inside, to sit at our breakfast nook table and have a few glasses of ice water, to cool himself down (it gets hot in that hazmat suit under the Texas sun.)
I asked him how long he had been killing bees.
"About three years."
I was surprised. I expected, "twenty years", or "since I was a little kid." It turned out, he was a handyman, and three years ago answered a Craig's List ad from a woman who needed people in north Texas she could train as bee exterminators.
Asked how many times he had been stung.
He grinned. "I don't know, but countless."
His worse extermination?
Right after he started, when he was out with his trainer, standing under the eaves without a hazmat suit, watching as the trainer used a screwdriver to pry off the bottom of a soffit. Unfortunately, the soffit was heavily eaten-through ("bees are worse than termites"), and as the bottom board of the soffit crumbled, about a hundred bees fell on top of his bare head.
He came back Monday early in the morning. Spent about two hours replacing the soffit's lower plank and sealing it. There were still a dozen bees wheeling about the now sealed-off entrance, but he assured us they'd soon be gone. He also sealed the black hole in the white celling of the garage. (On his ladder, squinting up at it, he said, "It's perfectly round.")
And indeed, two days later, we were down to one stubborn bee, crawling and recrawling where the entrance to its hive had been, and then the next day, that bee was gone. The city was destroyed.
April 17, 2012 was the tenth anniversary of Mary's stroke. At the time, the neurosurgeon at the emergency room told me he wasn't sure Mary would survive the weekend.
But she did.
She survived, we survived, and now we're stronger than ever, deeper in love than ever.
Thank you, dear God.