Well, it has been a while. I apologize, most sincerely, for my tardiness, but it seems that living in the woods without electricity and working 10 hour days doesn't leave much time for doing anything more than keeping up a minimal e-mail correspondence with a few friends and colleagues. Summer is almost over, and I hate to say it, but as usual I'm glad. I need a break from this kind of vacation. Someday I hope that my summers on the island will be a break for me just to be a writer, but until then, I grit my teeth and forge ahead until classes resume.
Speaking of gritting my teeth, I had an interesting drive home last night. Larissa and I watched A Room With a View in town, and headed out to the cabin at 10:00 or so at night. About halfway down Westside Drive, we came upon a log in the road. It was a six foot long section of a dead birch tree that had for some reason chosen to fall on a windless day. Moths swung and dove through the converging cones of light cast by our headlights. Being both a manly man and a gentleman, I got out to clear the road for other drivers.
By the light of the high beams, I could see that the log was punky and that the impact of the fall had split the papery bark along the top like an overcooked hot dog. I pushed it once with my foot, to see if it was light enough to pick up, or if I'd have to roll it instead. It was not all that heavy, but it was barely holding together enough to lift. Taking hold of the end of the log, I lifted and began to drag it from the roadway.
Perhaps if I had not been so intent on looking studly for my wife, I would have noticed that not all of the things flying through the beams of light were moths. If the car hadn't been running, I might have heard the angry buzzing earlier. As it was, it took me a moment to put the two facts together. "There shouldn't be so many flies out at night," I thought just before my instincts took over. Of course, you, Dear Reader, in the comfort of your soft chair, know exactly what I had failed to realize until it was seemingly too late.
Needless to say, I was no longer concerned about appearing macho as I fled down the road past the car waving my arms like an excited schoolgirl. Stopping a car length behind the rear of our Ford Escort, I watched the angry bees swarming in the headlights. I knew that the windows had been up, so I wasn't worried about bees getting into the car with Larissa and the baby, but it took me a moment to get the courage to sprint back to the driver's side door and hurry inside. Gravel scattered behind us as I accelerated, swerving around the log.
Here, faithful reader, is where the tragic hero reveals his fatal flaw--that one part of his personality that inevitably leads to his downfall. As we continued on our way, I thought to myself with a twinge of regret "This would have made a much better story if I had actually been stung once or twice." You see, I am a writer, and I fancy myself something of a story teller, and as such, I know that "near miss" stories almost never pack the punch that a "bullseye" does, metaphorically speaking. So here I was, after having narrowly escaped being stung within an inch of my life, and I was disappointed that the story would have been better if I hadn't gotten away so easily.
Well, the universe has a way of giving folks what they deserve sometimes, and as I drove along, my heart pounding, my mind racing, I got what I deserved. It started as a tickle inside my right pant-leg, which I attributed to that peculiar sort of hyper-sensitivity that often follows a close call. Then I felt another just above my right hip, beneath my shirt. Just as I reached to scratch it, the sharp stinger pierced my skin, giving me that odd chill that insect stings and hypodermic needles have in common. Swatting at my side like a mad man, I continued to drive, the car fishtailing as I jerked about in the driver's seat. When I finally understood what had happened, I hit the brakes and we skidded to a stop. I jumped out shook the side of my shirt. "Here it is," Larissa called, pointing to the motionless figure of the dead bee on the seat. I was reaching in to brush it away when felt another sting on the back of my neck. I fled into the illumination of the headlights, tearing my T-shirt off and waving it like a soccer player who has just scored the game-winning goal. A sting on my leg sent me hopping and slapping at my pant legs. After a moment, I decided that there was no way that any bees left inside my pants could have survived the bludgeoning, and I returned to the car, still cursing. A chilling thought occurred to me as I reached for the door handle: what if there had been more bees on me, but some had stayed in the car when I got out?
"Turn on the light!" I shouted through the closed window. Larissa misunderstood me and shut off the headlights. Darkness dropped like a curtain. "No! The overhead light!" The headlights came back on. Finally I managed to make clear what I meant: "The map light!" Both of the little lights came on, and sure enough, they revealed another bee, circling the ceiling of the car angrily. I wrapped my hand in my T-shirt, as though I were preparing for a knife fight and opened the door. I swatted at the agitated insect, and then tried to pin it to the ceiling. I shook my shirt out away from the car, but when I turned back the bee was walking across the driver's seat. I pounded him once and then did my best to grind him between the seat and the shirt. Shaking my shirt out again, it appeared that the crisis was over. Nonetheless, I drove home somewhat more quickly than I normally would, and then had Larissa take Lysander inside while I stripped down, just in case.
Three stings wasn't too bad, considering what might have happened. The rest of the evening, while alternating between sipping from a beer and holding the cool can against my wounds, I flinched every time I heard the slightest buzz from a fly on the window. It rained on the clothes I left outside, including my shoes. This morning, the stings felt better, but I was still afraid that there would be more bees in the car. There were none. On our way to town, I was relieved to see that the county trucks had already been out grading the road, and that the birch log had been shoved aside by the heavy steel scraper blade.
I love honey, and I worry about the fate of bees as their numbers dwindle due to the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder. If I weren't so scared of them, I'd even try to have a hive or two on our property. I'd be interested to see if the Disorder has affected Island bees as well, or if they are protected by the quarantine imposed by all that water. Pollinators are good--we all need them far more than we might realize. But damn, they can put a hurt on you if you aren't careful. So here I am, looking forward to the end of summer, the return of the rhythms of the school year, and being far away from angry bees.
And so, dear Reader, I leave you with this cool shot of a honey-tree, as our good old friend Pooh called them. "Tut, tut, it looks like rain."