A bee-lieve it or not tale of campers, bees
and Dr Pepper.
Just got back from a week in deer camp. Larry Anderson accompanied me this year; it was only his second time to camp. I brought along my "big tent," a huge affair with two doors and room enough for two real men to have their own space and also be able to stand up straight.
Directly forward of the front door lay a 10x12 nylon tarp, and upon that lay a 5x8 piece of artificial brown grass carpet whose edge was under the front door to wick away any errant dirt upon our boots. Over the tarp was erected our large dining canopy, its southern edge positioned over the top of our door.
On the east side we installed two card tables, and upon these was our "kitchen" along with cookie packages and plastic containers of fruit and so forth.
The west side was my six-foot camp table, and upon it was my two-burner stove, pots and skillets, coffee pot and assorted canned goods. Under this table sat my 100-quart cooler and inside it were our wild game meats, beverages, cheeses and other sundry goods.
On each corner of the ground tarp sat a five-gallon water jug and one container of 24 Dr Pepper soda cans.
To the north of the canopy we built our fire pit, about 10 feet out, and over it sat a tripod arrangement with a grill. Between this setup sat out two camp chairs.
It was a well-arranged and comfortable deer camp.
I tell you all of this to set up the real story of the camp.
Upon arrival and after setup, we had very little firewood available. That meant we had to go on a wood-gathering safari. Before we left, each had us a can of "The Pepper Juice," then left the empty cans sitting on the kitchen table.
Upon returning with enough wood to keep us for two days, we both noticed that about a half-dozen wild honeybees (we were on the edge of the Aldo Leopold wilderness) had discovered our Dr Pepper cans. No big deal, though.
The next day, we went hunting and upon returning we discovered about a dozen bees loitering around camp. They were quite enamored with our discarded soda cans in the garbage bag.
But it was on the third day that events changed drastically. Along about noon we decide to get a "real" supply of firewood and thus departed for an hour or so. We arrived back at camp to find our domicile inundated with honeybees. I mean, I'm talking about a thousand or so of the flying critters!
They were in everything and on everything and flying in-between, to boot. At first we were quite alarmed until we realized that they couldn't give a whit about us, and from then on we freely moved and sat amongst our uninvited guests.
The most alarming thing to me was that we had left our front door open. So the tent was quickly filling with frustrated bees who, for the life of them, couldn't figure out how to exit the tent! Hmmmmm?
Watching them, I realized that the hive must be to the south of us and the tent stood in the way. So I went around and opened the "back door" and soon the bees were merrily flying on their way. I went around to the front and closed it, then waited until the tent was empty and closed the back door, too. Problem solved!
I had also heard somewhere that honey-seekers will find bees watering, then follow their flight back to the hive and the honey. I could see that these bees were consistently flying to the south, so I decided to find the hive.
I traveled maybe a hundred yards, then stopped to listen. Soon a bee would buzz by and I would confirm the direction and off I'd go, until I eventually ended up above a deep canyon. It was way too deep for me to go farther, so I turned back. I'm quite sure that if I had descended into the bowels of the canyon, I could have found the hive.
The queen bee musta suddenly given a call, because along about 5 p.m. all of the bees, except for a few individualists, suddenly picked up and flew south.
Bee activity greatly diminished over the next two days. We seemed to have only the usual 50 or so hanging about, especially on the empty Pepper cans.
I allowed that these bees were really industrious and they needed some kindness. Since water was in short supply in these parts, I scoured out an empty herring tin, filled it with water and set it on the empty grill over the dead firepit. Alongside it, I also placed an empty Dr Pepper can on its side and an empty fruit cup with syrup still in it.
Those danged bees completely ignored the water and the syrup, but gorged themselves on soda pop!
I told Larry about it, and we decided to fill the tin with Dr Pepper. He also cut up a can, filled the pieces and placed them on the grill.
I arrived back in late afternoon to find Larry sitting there surrounded by buzzing, flying bees — I mean, hundreds!
On the grill was a horde of bees, each sucking thirstily at the sweet, brown liquid. Larry said they had emptied the containers once already.
The bees had changed their behavior, though. They fought with each other; they flew in tepid circles; they fell suddenly to the ground and lay there. The bees were drunk!
The scene reminded us of the sad estate of American Indians when they were first exposed to white man's whiskey.
At first the scene was funny, and we laughed a lot at their predicament. We also joked about all of that Dr Pepper-flavored honey in this particular hive. Then it became alarming: Torpid bees fell to the ground in great numbers. They lay, seemingly dead, in the liquid as their brothers slurped greedily along next to them. Bees began littering the ground! Drunk bees were everywhere!
The thought came: What if these bees stayed here all night? They'd surely freeze to death by morning. We agreed to empty the tins and dry up the supply, but was it too late for the hive?
I went on my evening hunt and upon my return, Larry related an amazing thing: Again about 5 p.m., all of a sudden, the bees revived from stillness, fanned their wings and en masse picked up off of the ground and flew southward — even the supposedly drowned ones! The hive was saved!
I wonder if they all had a hangover the next morning, because very few showed up to help us break camp. I imagine they despaired greatly when they once again were able to raid again and everything was gone. I felt rather sorry for the hive; after all, it had found nirvana, then lost it forever.
One last short story: One day there was a faint wisp of smoke rising lazily from a leftover errant coal in the firepit. A bee flew directly into the smoke at a terrific speed, but as it hit the smoke, it plummeted directly to the ground, smacking with a thud.
It lay there, apparently dead and unmoving for a minute or two; then suddenly it revived and took off furiously once more. And such is the story of our camp bees.
As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you too.
Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors exclusively for Desert Exposure.