13 April, 2011

13 April 2011

Though each of them had fixed the location of that bee tree in their minds, there would have been little doubt as to its general location even had they started up the trail entirely ignorant of its existence. The stream of bees journeying to and from the tree was nearly constant, a general humming reaching them from the area around it, and as they approached Einar checked his coal carrier, blowing a gentle stream of air into one side and nodding in satisfaction when smoke wafted out the other. Ready as they’d ever be; hope this works

To the tree, then, Einar first--before they went any further, got in any deeper--checking near the base of the tree where they had previously found the ooze of honey, hoping there might be more. Wasn’t. Nothing more than a slightly sticky, ant-encrusted smear. He brushed some of the ants away, ran a finger over the tree’s rough bark and tasted, getting a few ants in with his tiny snack of honey. Energy. He needed energy. The little taste helped, as did the ants he had inadvertently scooped up along with it. Had not been very long at all since breakfast, but it seemed his body was already wanting more. Demanding more. That was the problem with eating again after going very nearly without for so long--the body, not knowing when the food supply might be cut off again, or for how long, always wanted to make things up in such a hurry. Would just have to wait.

Liz wanted to climb the tree. He could tell by the way she was staring up into its branches, its heights, up to the spot where the bees disappeared, measuring the thing, planning. No. He couldn’t let her do it, let her be the one. Aside from the risk of falling--probably just about equal for each of them, all things considered, but the potential consequences were so much greater for her--was the issue of the bees, themselves. Whoever went up that tree was bound to get stung a few times, possibly quite a few if the smoke-making device--censer? The fragrant incense of its smoke rising as a silent prayer to the Lord of the bees and of all, please let this work, this honey harvest of ours, we need it so badly--did not work properly, and he did not know what such a mishap might do to her, to the baby. Had no reason to believe she--or he, for that matter--would have a severe reaction to the stings, but given enough of them, anyone would be adversely affected, and she certainly didn’t need to be experiencing anything that might impact her breathing just then, with the baby relying on her for his oxygen supply. He had to be the one to climb the tree, motioned her aside and began inspecting it for the best route. Lots of branches down low there; the climbing would be easy. Different situation up high, up there near the spot where the tree’s trunk split to reveal a hint of the honeycombs that were his aim--a hint only, for the angle very nearly blocked his view of them--for the tree was partially dead up there, some branches missing and others appearing to have been lifeless for so long that they might not support a man’s weight, and he knew he’d have to be very careful once up there. Best get started.

Taking between his teeth the end of the cord that held the smoke-maker together he grinned at Liz, checked the basket to make certain it was adequately secured to his back, started up the tree. And stopped. He’d forgotten something. Had meant to bring along a stick, something fairly long and sturdy that could be used to reach into the tree and pry at the honeycombs, free them, aid him in removing them from the cavity in the tree. Found one in a dead but sturdy branch that lay nearby beneath the tree, broke it to the appropriate length and secured it by looping a length of cordage around it, and around his belt. The stick got in the way as he began the climb, kept getting stuck on branches and requiring him to reach behind and free it, slowing his progress but it did not much matter; he would have been slow, even without the hindrance. Ribs hurt, arms just weren’t working properly, hands still going somewhat numb if he tried to reach too far above his head, a motion that really is required, when climbing a tree… He managed to keep at it though, concentrating on his grip as he worked his way up to the spot where the branches began thinning out, the next move becoming more difficult, tenuous, and then there he was, balanced precariously on two long-dead but seemingly still sound branches and staring right into the place where the tree split. Right at what appeared to him to be an enormous quantity of honey, potentially.

So far the bees hardly even seemed to have noticed his presence, their buzzing perhaps a bit more persistent, frenzied around his head as he neared the opening, but so far he’d not even been stung, and was beginning to hope that the operation might go more smoothly than he had expected. Figured he’d better start releasing some smoke though, just in case, because surely the bees would begin to grow more agitated once he stuck a stick into their home and started prying… Who wouldn't become agitated, after all, at such an assault? Hopefully bees that are all slow and sleepy from smoke, that’s who! And he blew a bit of it into the hive, carefully, watching for a reaction from the insects, but seeing little, except that some of them moved back from the front of the first comb that he saw inside the tree cavity, back into the tree. Ok, good. If I can get most of them off of there, maybe it will be time to reach in and try to free that first comb, see what’s behind it. Not taking everything even if I can reach it, because I know they need a good bit to see them through the winter, not sure how much but gonna leave them plenty, because we really want them to live, keep on producing for us

More smoke, more bees making way, leaving the first comb and retreating further back into the tree for shelter, moving slowly; success, it appeared, was within his grasp. Maneuver the basket around, get it ready, spread out the plastic bag in its bottom so any leaking honey wouldn’t be lost…there, good, ready…and once more he secured the smoker in his teeth, hanging onto its cord, needed both hands to deal with that honeycomb, prying gently with the stick and reaching in with the other, got a couple of stings on his knuckles doing it, but nothing disastrous, kept moving, slowly, steadily, more smoke, need more smoke, but of course he couldn’t reach the device, didn’t have a free hand with which to grab it, both of his fully occupied with freeing that honeycomb, holding onto it and the bees were starting to get upset--the ones around the edges who hadn’t got much smoke to begin with--were stinging his hands, crawling up his sleeve where one of the cords he’d used to cinch them closed had come loose in the climb, and he tried to concentrate, to ignore the creatures, breathe through the hurt and stay on task, succeeded, got the comb into the basket but by that point the bees had grown very angry and were swarming at him, going for his face and he tried not to react violently, knew it would only agitate them further, calmly--he hoped, couldn’t really tell, at that point--took the smoker from his mouth and blew into it, surrounding himself with a small cloud, and the bees backed off, most of them, calmed down some, and he could breathe again without fear of inhaling several dozen of the small, fuzzy insects… Liz was staring at him, had come to the base of the tree and was looking like she intended to climb up and help, and he shook his head, I’m fine, got it under control, just give me a few more minutes here, and I’ll be heading down with a basket full of honey… and she backed up by several steps, abandoning for the moment her intended rescue mission. He clearly didn’t want it, seemed to be holding his own, more or less.

Smoke was helping, calming things down significantly, and after a good two minutes of smoking the place--hands were on fire, left cheek beginning to swell and interfere with his eyesight on that side, but he tried hard to ignore it--he was ready to try for the second comb, repeated his previous action with the stick, reaching in with his left hand to catch and support the heavy mass of wax and honey, again having to temporarily suspend smoke dispersion operations, as both his hands were quite thoroughly occupied. He didn’t know at the time--and indeed was not to be certain later, either, when he thought back on the moment--whether the thing that happened next was due to carelessness on his part, a momentary lack of focus as he directed his attention to freeing that second comb, or whether all the stings to the left side of his face--their burn and their swelling; it was beginning to grow quite noticeable, even to him--had simply caused him to lose the ability to fully control his jaw for a short time, but in either event the cord by which he hung onto the smoking device slipped from his mouth just as he freed the second comb, and he lost it. Bad timing. Real bad timing. The bees were mad, and he had little way to calm them. Started blowing on the creatures--air, not smoke--as he had heard of tribes in…oh, forget where, doesn’t matter where, just keep blowing! But he was pretty sure it was Uganda…calming bees with their breath, alone, but it wasn’t working, was too little, too late, and he would have left them, scurried down from the tree to escape their growing wrath, had he been in any position to scurry, but he wasn’t. Couldn’t move at anything but the slowest crawl without risking a serious fall, and besides, he could see several more honeycombs in there, in behind the one he’d just removed, wanted to get ahold of at least one more of them, if he could. For Liz, and the baby. For the winter. Was perhaps beginning to think a bit less than clearly by that point due to all the stings, didn’t know it, wasn’t thinking about anything like that, every ounce of his focus having been thrown into maintaining his tenuous position there in the tree, and then--was beginning to get just a bit dizzy, or maybe he had been all along--he started swaying, listing to one side, caught himself just in time on a branch but wasn’t entirely sure what to do next, clung with one hand to the tree and reached into it with the other, determined to get one more of those honeycombs, wouldn’t be coming back, not anytime soon had to make the most of the opportunity…

Liz was shouting at him, starting up the tree, and he couldn’t have her coming up the tree, facing that angry, agitated cloud of bees and getting stung, as he was, shook his head violently, motioned her away with his free arm but still she was coming, and without even realizing what he was doing he shouted, voice hoarse with disuse.

“Liz! No! Go back!”


  1. What a sticky situation to be in. :(

    And what's this, Einar can talk again, Liz will be happy about that.

    Now throw that smoke maker back up to him...

  2. What a mess E gets himself into.

    Thanks for the new chapter FOTH.