Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Farms Are For the Bees

Although I have never claimed to be a farm boy by any means, it still stands that at various times in my life I have found myself laboring hard on fence lines, mucking barns, or mowing fields. Yesterday found me mowing, raking, and pitching hay long overdue for a cut.

With the rains being what they were this spring, the grass in two small fields had reached an outrageous length and direly needed cutting. Furthermore, the clippings were so thick that they would require prompt removal to prevent smothering the live grass beneath. While tedious and at times arduous, it was a straightforward project. Mowing can only be so complicated.

But one of the sad facts of living in Central Virginia is the profusion of stinging, biting wasps and bees, many of which enjoy the seclusion of old logs, overgrown fields, low-lying branches, etc. Nearly every time I have undertaken a large mowing project, I have encountered a nest of these awful things – the hard way, which means not seeing their nest, mowing over it, and then getting immediately accosted by hundreds, if not thousands of bees all looking to singularly punish me for destroying their home. To say the very least, it is extremely painful. If I were to have a serious bee sting allergy, these attacks would easily kill me. Long story short, after years of accidentally mowing over yellow jacket nests, unintentionally disturbing old logs full of Japanese hornets, bumping branches with hornets nests, and even a few years of bad luck as a beekeeper, I am truly terrified of bees. I believe I would rather be shot at. Bullets hurt, just like bees stings do, but at least bullets aren’t mean and don’t chase me.

With this terror looming over my head, I undertook mowing yesterday. Thinking ahead, I wore long pants, boots and a thick shirt. Bees, yellow jackets especially, always manage to find their way into shirts, down pants, and occupying every shred of fabric one wears, commencing an elaborate dance that involves simultaneous sprinting and stripping. Though I cannot explain how, I have managed to move a few hundred feet in a matter of seconds, all the while clamoring out of a pair of pants. My hopes yesterday were that the pants I wore allowed no access to bees. I had tucked the cuffs into my boots. Clever me.

Though I was extremely skittish every time I saw any sort of winged insect, no bees attacked me as I mowed, leading me to the startling conclusion that after years of being stung here, they must have finally moved on. I should have withheld such presumptions until the end of the project. Three quarters of the field completed, I felt the familiar sharp pain of a sting to my arm, punctuated by another on my back a moment later. Next, the inside of my thigh. Panic set in. Run, drop clothing and kill whatever bees are still on me. Run FAST…

When I was a small child, our home would be frequented at random intervals by Jehovah’s Witnesses compelled to tell us about their faith. We always politely expressed disinterest, but they’d still persist. After a time, we discovered it was easier to simply let the Saint Bernard out and not answer the door. The dog, extremely big and loud, would keep them pinned in their car until they gave up and drove away. After a few more attempts met only with a large dog (which they never learned was a sweetheart), the Jehovah’s Witnesses gave up visiting us altogether. If I had to guess, they’d get together and say, “yeah, don’t bother going to that house; they have a huge, vicious dog and they never answer their door.” I realize it sounds discourteous, but it worked.

Well, after a 20 year hiatus, the Jehovah’s Witnesses chose to reattempt a visit to the house yesterday, and two well-dressed men and one woman were stepping from their car just as I streaked by, fleeing bees in terror.

When being chased by bees, I instinctively run for the house. There are fly swatters there, mirrors, showers, changes of clothing, and usually people there to assist me with getting the bees off of me. Yesterday, unfortunately, there were Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I had not simply shed my shirt this time. I was wearing pants that, while tucked in at the cuffs, had a button fly which apparently invited bees to swarm in. In horror, pain, and panic, I had flung them down to my ankles, beaten my groin with my hands to kill whatever I could see, and then proceeded to drop my shorts to kill those that I had missed. All this at a dead sprint, and my pants flailing out behind me. They were, after all, still tucked into my boots.

So when I ran through the parking lot, this is what the nice Jehovah’s Witnesses saw: a tall, pasty white guy, naked save for boots and inside-out pants flopping behind him, flagellating himself mercilessly with open hands, shrieking, cursing, and racing for the house. Additionally, I’m covered in Latin tattoos, so I look like a Vatican billboard.

So consumed I was with slapping bees off myself, I didn’t notice them until I was virtually upon them. In embarrassment I turned around immediately and headed back towards the field and the swarms of bees. I wish for no accusations of being a pervert. I heard but one remark behind me as I ran: “Oh my LORD!”

After some more running, smacking and stinging, I mostly got rid of the yellow jackets on me. I sought refuge in some bushes until the Jehovah’s Witnesses opted to leave (which was quickly), removed my inside-out pants (I could still hear the occasional bee in there), jumped up and down on them brutally, and stumped back to the house naked to nurse at least three dozen bee stings.

This is not the first time this has happened, by any means. Nor is it probably the last. This is, however, the first time that the whole ordeal has been witnessed by people who are completely unaware of what is happening and what I am doing. The stings certainly hurt, and between that, the Benadryl and the painkillers, I’m feeling dopey and disagreeable. But the worst part is that I’m fairly confident that the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t be visiting for another twenty years. Yet there’ll be no mention of a dog. No doubt they’re saying, “don’t go to THAT house; naked people will chase you.” And that, alas, is not how I wish to be remembered in this community.

*This post is fiction.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. I don't think I have ever laughed so loud at work. Sorry that had to happen..., but very glad for the humorous results!

  2. Maybe your best humor piece.

  3. Great piece of humor! Made me laugh out loud! What a crescendo!

  4. I think that is the best story I've ever heard about how to get the JW's to stop calling. Even if it was an accident! Sorry about the stings though. They suck. There's gotta be a way around that. What if you set the field on fire? The smoke would make the bees and all tired, and the grass would burn off. We do it all the time here in New Mexico. It works. And no bee stings!

  5. Did you eat bananas for breakfast? They attract bees.

    I think I am laughing a little harder than my rear view of you riding a Segway through downtown Chicago wearing your Bell saftey helmet. By the way for the record, pretty midwestern girls were staring at you not laughing at you.

    That was a hilarious story about you and the bees. Uncle Ceasar is right.

    We send out a JW alert in our neighborhood. The phone tree commences when they start knocking on the first door.

  6. You didn't have to tell us it was fiction. I would have preferred to think you were tromping around naked dragging your pants behind you like a, well, like a person getting stung by bees. Hahaha!

  7. I would say - terribly sorry about the bee stings, but wholly shit LOL!

    A pitty I am too far away to have seen that sight.

    Great post.