Apr 20 2013

A Bunch of Buzz

Melissa Crytzer Fry

There’s been a whole lot of buzz in the desert lately. And if you read my last post, you’ll know that I’ve got a bird’s-eye view of some of the zippity-doo-ing and buzzing going on at the hummingbird nest.

The camera that hubs set up has allowed me to peek right in the nest, using a fun little app on the iPhone. You can imagine my surprise when checking in on Humma Mumma, and I saw this on the other bird cam.

Inside the kestrel box. Click to enlarge.

Yep. Bees. Of the Africanized variety. Without our consent or nary a reservation, our kestrel box became a Bee Motel.

So many bees! Our Bee Motel needed a “No Vacancy” sign. Click to enlarge.

Within thirty minutes, this is the photo we got inside the Kestrel bee box:

Yes. Darkness. Total ... Because that box was filled with bees and, we later learned, honeycomb right over the camera lens.

When morning came, we saw this:

Jam-packed with bees. Nearly everyone inside now. Click to enlarge.

What to do? This might be a no-brainer to some, who might quickly conclude: exterminate them. But my science-writing background and nature-lovin’ ways have made me aware of just how important bees are to the ecosystem – even these Africanized hybrids that wipe out indigenous honeybees. I once wrote a story for Arizona Monthly about the craziest, most fascinating bee guy. (He removed about 50,000 Africanized bees from our property when we first purchased it. And yes, he did provoke a bee to sting him; he did eat one; and he did chomp on a piece of dirty honeycomb then excitedly searched for a rattler. “I heard a rattler out here. Mind if I look for him?” You know you want to read the story now, don’t you?)

I digress… that’s a different story. So, back to this one: I obviously experienced more than a tinge of guilt at the thought of destroying them (the solution offered by pest control companies). They’re pollinators and we need them. And could I fault these honey-makers for taking up residence? They simply found the best “house” they could… one that we’d inadvertently made available to them.

Enter the solution: “Honey Bear” Ray, who was ecstatic to take a swarm of bees home for his new avocation: beekeeping. (Thanks to neighbors Mark, Roxanne, Mel and Nan for hooking us up).

Ray in his new suit, only a week old. See the kestrel box – I mean, bee motel – in the background on the telephone pole? Click to enlarge.

Maybe it's just me, but this would be my least favorite scenario: wobbly ladder, bees in my face. Click to enlarge.

Emptying the bees from the removed kestrel box into his bee box (their new home). Look – in one day – they created the honeycomb attached to the camera. See them on Ray’s suit?

I’m happy to report that everything ended well. Ray came back for his bee box under the cover of darkness (when the bees had settled and all of the colony was inside). He enjoyed the experience so much – and the bees behaved so well – he asked if we’d put the kestrel box back up, in the hopes of attracting another swarm. Um. I’m not so sure about that.

I will forever be amazed by the geometrical precision of nature. Look at this one-day-old honeycomb. Click to enlarge.

For Writers, for Readers: Yes, there’s a writing lesson here! Over the past two days, it became apparent to me that I had two distinct plotlines running at once: 1) the bees themselves and the formulation of a game plan for their relocation; and 2) the activity at the hummingbird nest that prompted the bee discovery in the first place. Yes, one of our baby hummers made its way out of the shell on April 19! But that, too, is another story, one to be continued … (There just may be some fabulous one-day-old baby videos in a future blog post!)

What do you think about concurrent plot lines in the books you read or write? Do you like a subplot that is nearly as consuming as a plot? What books have you read lately that drew you in with their complex multi-plots? Or do you think too many storylines can get too confusing?


25 Responses to “A Bunch of Buzz”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I’ll admit to a certain love/hate relationship with bees — but still I’d never kill them, either, so this is very cool. Another reason I think you made the right choice, I know from friends who have chosen to exterminate that often the bees come back. As for reading/writing, I’m a huge fan of the concurrent plots, and one I read recently was by Erika Marks who did a really great job in THE MERMAID COLLECTOR with several plots, the two main ones in different centuries. (p.s. I’d not put the box up either!) And that story you wrote for Arizona Monthly was very cool!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes… as a kid, I was terrified of bees (and only was first stung by one when I was about 38!)… Now I can walk past them foraging in the paloverdes (we’re talking about LOTS of them) without flinching. Maybe writing the article helped me?

    Oh YES.. I loved The Mermaid Collector and tend to be a big fan of concurrent plotlines. I felt the same way about Sarah McCoy’s The Baker’s Daughter (two historical periods, too).

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    I love honey. But, Africanized bees (aka killer bee offspring) – Wow! Do they get less aggressive when they interbreed? I missed the earlier story of the bee keeper. Looking forward to reading it! I keep checking on the hummies, but so far only a nano second of one egg and a small feathery patch. Post pics soon!

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    Melissa Reply:

    What I’ve learned from my crazy bee guy (not Ray), is that they really are only aggressive IF they feel their hive is threatened (this could be trigged by a vibration, a scent, etc.)… The baby hummie is WONDERFUL; I will definitely share pics soon!

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    I’m amazed at the brave beekeeper! If I even see an ant, I have phantom creepy crawlies. I can’t imagine being a bee keeper. 🙂 (There’s a novel in there for sure.)

    Kudos to you for having the bees removed in a humane and compassionate way. What a terrific job they did on that honeycomb. Industrious little bees!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha. Phantom creepy crawlies … I guess I DO get those with certain insects (mainly the thin-legged, spindly spiders).

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Melissa –

    Holy Beehive! I’m glad that Ray came buzzing to the rescue — relocating them to a honey of a new home; turning a sticky situation into a very sweet ending, indeed.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Laurie – I LOVE your writing and humor. This is THE perfect response.

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  • avatar Lara Schiffbauer Says:

    The honeycomb is beautiful! I read Ace Lacewing, Bug Detective to my kindergarten groups, and then looked on the internet to see the pictures of the different bugs mentioned in the story. One of the pictures showed bees in their honeycombs. I wished I knew more to explain what exactly was happening, because it was an amazing photo. I love your posts!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I LOVE that you introduced your kids to insects. Ace Lacewing sounds like the kind of book I’d have loved as a child! Ok.. maybe not. Maybe my affection for creepy crawlies has developed into adulthood?

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    The African bee invasion is scary. I think you did the right thing, getting rid of them from your property. Not sure about letting them live though. But you’re right, we certainly do need bees to pollinate for us. We’d starve without ‘em. No one knows where the African bee dilemma will end, but I sometimes wonder if the benign bees of our childhood will be something our grandkids wouldn’t recognize.

    My daughter goes to ASU in Tempe, and several students have been attacked by swarms of African bees on campus. She has been stung and had to run for her car. Right now they have several large trees roped off like they are crime scenes, because they have been taken over by African bees and are too dangerous to go near.

    I love the hummie cam, Melissa, and your description of the babies as bigger then a tic tac, but smaller than a jellie baby really brought their size into vivid focus for me.

    As for your interesting question: I love a book with subplots, and think it all depends on the skill of the writer, whether or not it becomes difficult to follow, or not. And to some degree, on the comprehension ability of the reader too.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I don’t know if you read the article I wrote, Cynthia, but yes – the Africanized bees are more prolific here in Arizona due to migration up the Santa Cruz River Bed. ASU should REALLY consult the bee guy, Kent, in my story. He does all the bee removals at U of A (and by removals, I mean, exterminations. In urban areas with lots of noise and vibrations and colors to provoke them … as well as PEOPLE in close proximity, yes, I agree, that it’s the only option). The interesting thing about the bees that were removed from our place: really, really cooperative and pretty docile. There are thousands of them foraging in the paloverdes right next to the house; we walk right past them and they don’t care.

    Great point about multiple subplots and plots being both a combination of an author’s ability to MAKE them work and a product of a reader’s comprehension. I love these types of stories because I like stretching my mind/brain when I read.

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  • avatar Lisa Ahn Says:

    Wow! I love the saga of the bees and the hummies. We’ve been following the hatchings over here. My daughters love the videos. As for plots and writing, ugh, I’ve been sick for weeks and haven’t the brain power. Buzz buzz.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Stay tuned for a hummie update, complete with some pretty darn-tootin’ exciting videos!

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    I’m so glad you didn’t zap the bees! And I remember that story from when I first “met” you. I thought to myself: now, here’s one cool friend! 🙂

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer (@Hallie_Sawyer) Says:

    Very, very cool that you moved them and didn’t exterminate. I don’t know much about the African bee population but hopefully they stay out in the wild and away from people.

    I do like multiple plot lines and love it when they are tied in together in the subtlest of ways. Diana Gabaldon is a master at weaving multiple plot lines together; she says her newest novel coming out at the end of this year has 8! When I began reading her series starting with Outlander, the multiple plot lines are what made the story move along so well. I was so curious to see how each character handled the next dilemma. Her books have around 800+ pages and it doesn’t even phase me because of how masterfully she weaves everything together, not sticking with one plot line for too long.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ok, ok… I have heard you sing the praises of Diana Gabaldon a zillion times. I am going to have to break down and read one of her books, aren’t I? What’s your all-time fave? (800+ pages and you don’t even blink? That’s testament to the power of plot lines, eh?)

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    What a cool, brave guy! And good for you, for reacting so calmly and thoughtfully. Those pictures are amazing. Did you taste the honeycomb?

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    Melissa Reply:

    The honeycomb was still be constructed (one day old), so there wasn’t any honey in it! And, I learned, this was the reason they were not as aggressive as usual: had they had more to defend, they would have been angry!

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I LOVE a good subplot–it gives the story so much more texture and added layers to discover the more you read. Of course, they’re not nearly as easy to write. I usually work on my main plot in the initial drafts, then weave a subplot into it in subsequent revisions (I think that’s why I love revision so much…all the weaving!).

    I loved reading about your busy bee companions. Years ago, I visited a bee farm as part of a magazine story on honey, and found it so fascinating. This was when they were just starting to show signs of colony collapse disorder, and the story ended up taking a life of its own. I’ve had a great appreciation for bees every since.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love your approach to writing (envy it, really) because I work hard to get those subplots “figured out” from the get-go. Obviously new ones DO crop up as I move forward. And I really wish I shared your love of revisions. Ah hem. I know, broken record. You know this already.

    Your article sounds fascinating; I know the research I did for the story linked in this blog post was as well. SO sad about the collapse of the bee colonies — actually more SCARY than anything. Most people aren’t even aware of the issue (or how all these genetically modified crops are also contributing to the imbalance of nature and this problem in particular). Sometimes ignorance is bliss, I guess.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    It’s not just you–that pic does like a bad situation (the bees AND the ladder.)

    What a good point you’ve raised about subplots. I can’t think of specific example this second, but in some ways a strong or at least compelling subplot really can takes a book from good to GREAT. Come to think of it, I just finished Jeanette Walls new novel Silver Star. It was good, but it had no subplot, really. I suppose that’s what kept it from being so much better.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Such an interesting view: that subplots can be one of those ingredients that take a book from good to great. I think you’re right!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    I’m so glad you weren’t stung by your swarm. We had a swarm of (ordinary) honey bees in our living room. I have no idea how they got in the house, but my attempts at removal were unsuccessful, so I called in a bee expert. He relocated them to a bee farm. Whew!

    Looking forward to your next post about the hummers!

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  • avatar Lori P Says:

    Oh my word, I’m woefully behind. I’m so sorry! But this bee escapade is delightful. I’m with you – without bees we can kiss this planet goodbye – so well done. I really enjoyed the subplots in Sarah McCoy’s THE BAKER’S DAUGHTER because they made so much sense! Linking her father’s depression over Vietnam to the MC’s lack of identity to stumbling on the German story…. so well done. As for my own work-in-progress, that finesse is my struggle, as both storylines seem to love the spotlight.

    I’ve been missing your blog! So happy to now “catch up.”

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