Saturday, June 25, 2011

Beautiful Chaos

Peter Cowin, "The Bee Whisperer" checks the ceiling with a stethoscope.
Got bees?
Peter's contact info:
(207) 862-2080
cell (207) 299-6948

I asked for the suit in a light blue or sage, but apparently it only comes in white.

Peter prepares a bucket for the soon-to-be-sucked-up bees

It was a massive buzzing hive of honey bees in my studio ceiling!
Peter estimates 25,000.

I guess bees are not claustrophobic.

Once the ceiling was cracked open, some bees moved to the light.
Most bees, however, stuck close to home.

I even got to suck a few up myself!

Me! Holding a bunch of bees! Who'da thunk it!
And to think I panicked over three bees on Monday night.
I sure have come a long way.

A beautiful natural work of art!
This honeycomb was built in only four days.
Can you imagine if the bees had another week to work on it?

A sculpture I completed on Wednesday, which just happens to be painted with beeswax!
"Worlds: Seen and Foreseen"
Downtown Skowhegan
(Exhibit of globes in various building and business windows, organized by Abby Shahn)

The best way I can describe my life is "beautiful chaos". Something always happens that pops up last minute with an immediate and crucial deadline that throws all other schedules and plans out the window. Some things are seemingly unsettling but in the end, all seems okay and part of "the path". The past few months have been like this and just when I think there is a moment around the corner where I will be able catch my breath, something else deems my attention. I am juggling with the best of clowns and somehow hold my own. This morning feels peaceful at the moment and I plan to write this blog, work in the garden, then do some schoolwork, but I won't get too comfortable or attached to the outcome since it can all change in a flash.

This past week was one of those weeks where I had every minute mapped out from waking until sleep. My mom had been visiting from central Maine and after she left on Monday morning, my calender was filled with two medical appointments, completion of a sculpture/delivery to a show in Skowhegan, cookout with family in West Gardiner, and visitors to Lubec from southern Maine. All this was to take course over a period of six days. My biggest worry one week ago was how to get that globe sculpture done in time for installation.

Monday night it all changed (though I didn't know it at the time!) I had said goodbye to mom, hustled off to Machias to get a paint fleck out of my eye, and returned to Lubec to work madly on the globe sculpture. All seemed to be going well. I was in and out of the house, up and down the stairs to the basement grabbing tools. About 6:30 p.m. I opened the cellar door to find buzzing critters circling a light bulb. My long time phobia of things that sting kicked into high gear. I sent out a panicked email to friends asking what to do. I needed access to that basement but there was no way I could get down the stairs. I assumed wasps - they looked HUGE...MASSIVE...and they were aggressive and surely would chase and sting me. I kept walking to the door listening for the buzz. I taped the bottom of the door so that they cold not crawl out and come after me. Finally, I got a return email from a brave friend, Jerry, who offered to come over the next afternoon and figure out how the "wasps or bees" were getting into the house, and to plug things up. I felt relief knowing that soon help was on the way.

The next morning I woke to hear no buzzing noise. I cautiously opened the door and saw three small bees resting on the wall. I bravely (don't laugh....this was brave for me!) scooped one bee into a jar and went to an insect guide book. She appeared to be a honey bee.

Okay, so I have three honey bees in the house. Jerry will be over in the afternoon and this will all be taken care of.

Well, come noon time, I was sitting in the living room when I heard a banging at the window. I looked up to see 100-200 bees buzzing about! They were entering an opening where a board was not tightly sealed. Panic set in, more emails to friends, facebook posts. Someone knew of a beekeeper here in Lubec so I gave her a call. In the meantime I left a message with the Department of Agriculture. The beekeeper and her husband came over and confirmed honey bees. Shortly after they left, Dept. of Agriculture returned my call. It was laid out for me that time was of the essence in getting a hive out of the house since a population of bees can grow quickly and honey can cause major damage. While on the phone, and looking out the window at the 100-200 bees, the intensity and numbers of the bees increased to thousands. At the same time, Jerry (with a plan to help me with three bees, who is also allergic to bees) was driving up the driveway and witnessing the full view of the swarm that was moving in (described as looking like fireflies over my roof). The best way I can describe the swarm was that it was like a scene from a horror movie. There was a massive amount of buzzing insects circling and flying, peppering the board outside my window, crawling on top of one another, for about twenty minutes. Jerry hopped out the truck and quickly ran into the house. We watched out the window in disbelief, all the while the man from Department of Agriculture was listening me to swear profusely. I was informed that I had approximately 15-30,000 bees at this point and that I needed to do something about it immediately. The Queen lays anywhere from 1200-3000 eggs a day and soon the hive could be 80,000 strong. I was given names of beekeepers and a list of best pesticides.

That evening another beekeeper came over to take a look at the situation, and I had made calls to two extermination companies. One company flat-out refused because they said that the bees are on an endangered list. Another company said they'd do it, but for a high price. Meanwhile, a facebook friend knew of a "swarmer" in Hampden named Peter Cowin who is an expert at removing swarms of bees. I would rather see 30,000 beings live if possible, but would do what needed to be done. I called Peter right away looking for advice. Hampden is almost a three hour drive so I didn't expect him to actually come to Lubec, but he sensed the panic in my voice and the fear that Chris, who had been out of town and is allergic to bees, would be returning to a house full of them. We made arrangements for Peter to come to Lubec on Saturday. Needless to say, I had to cancel out my friend Becky's visit with her 3rd grade daughter Alice. It could be a potentially dangerous situation.

So, a plan was made, the globe got finished and delivered to Skowhegan, I got to see my niece Christine and new baby Caden, made it to another doctor appointment and returned to Lubec late Friday night to clear out the studio space and prep for the "Bee Whisperer." I had been color-coding areas of the wall and ceiling where I heard the most activity, but by Friday night, it had concentrated to just one area in the ceiling.

Saturday morning Peter arrived with bee suits and buckets. Drew, a building contractor, was on board to open up the ceiling and patch things up when done. Peter listened to the walls and ceiling with a stethoscope....and...there was zero noise! Not a bit of buzzing! Oh my. Suddenly it looked as though I had a very active imagination. To boot, it was raining outside and not a single bee was seen. Peter said that it was possible the bees had starved to death after the couple days of rain, or that perhaps they were just dormant due to lack of food. Talk about uneventful! After all the hype and hours I spent dealing with the situation, and for Drew to put aside his scheduled work to show up for the hive removal...I was feeling quite guilty. I saw the bees, I had a witness, I heard them buzzing all week....and come Saturday morning...not one bit of evidence!

Peter made a best guess where the hive would be based on entrance, where I had heard most buzzing, and the interior skeletal structure of the room. Drew cut open an 18"x24" chunk of sheetrook from the ceiling and there revealed a huge mass of buzzing bees. I had never seen a hive up close before. Anyway, why would I want to do that?!

I was suited up, determined to face my phobia head on. My heart began to race a bit as some bees began to swoop down from the hive and into the sectioned-off space of the room. But all in all, I felt okay. I had been reassured over and over that I would not be stung. I trusted Peter's confidence.

All in all, the whole operation took under three hours, and the bees have now been relocated to Peter's bee farm where I understand that they are very happy! I developed a new respect and fascination for the bees. The honeycomb, which I will save for a sculpture, is a beautiful artwork in and of itself. I am in awe of how efficiently and precisely the bees work as a community to build and maintain a hive. Their ability to work together toward a goal is a good lesson for humans.

That being said, I am glad that the hive was removed before honey production started and there was minimal structural damage. Drew was wonderful about doing his part, Peter was amazing, and it is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I am honored to have been a part of. It could have turned out much worse, and for that it didn't I am grateful.

Chris returns safely to a bee-free house and I am getting back to routine in a panic-free state of mind. I hope to reschedule my visitors for later in the summer, and plan to tackle that weeding in the garden a bit today, and re-open the shop which as been closed since Tuesday. Ahhhh....all so seemingly "normal."

I'm waiting for the next whirlwind of "beautiful chaos".

(I think it just occurred - no power in the shop!!! Could that be from the lightning storm yesterday???)


Owl Who Laughs said...

I haven't punned yet, like so many others, but maybe it is time for me to say un-bee-lievable. You have a deep spiritual link with bees, some kind of spirit guide for you, and this is just further evidence. Reminds me of the firewalk.


Lisa D. said...

I was wondering why the "closed" sign until I saw the paper. We're in town for a few weeks and I'll stop by soon and tell you about my brief career in beekeeping, Shanna. --Lisa D.


Hi Lisa-I didn't think customers would be too keen on a bunch of buzzing bees!

See you soon

argy said...

I enjoyed reading your bee story Shanna! I used to keep bees and my most vivid story is when my bees arrived in the mail and I needed to put them in the first hive. Someday when I see you I will share the story. I am curious how far into the ceiling from the outside wall did they swarm to and what did the beekeeper use to take them down?


Hi Argy. Yes, tell me your story!
The bees didn't go in too far - less than foot I would estimate. The hive was about 14-16" long and maybe 8" wide and deep when fully covered with bees. (I am estimating)

Peter used a contraption made of a bucket and a cover that acted as a sort of vacuum cleaner. In all he filled three buckets. Then covered them with mesh. The honeycomb was scraped off the ceiling with a chisel-type tool.

Andrea Q said...

I saw the article in the Bangor Paper. It's so awesome that you were able to face your fear and I applaud you for not killing the bees. Honeybees are a vital part of the food chain.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Wow! Trina and I are glad you survived to tell the tale! I've sent the story on to a beekeeper friend of ours in Vermont.

Barry Holmes said...

All hail the Bee Whisperer!

Molz said...

This was a very interesting story! I remember you explaining to me once about everyone having a spirtual animal to watch over us. We will know what animal it is because something will happen, or we will see this animal frequently. I also think that bees are connected to you somehow. Thanks for sharing Shanna. ~ Molly