Swarm Catching vs. Coronavirus Catching

Sometimes life, like swarm season, comes at you fast. I caught my first swarm of the year on March 23rd. I got the swarm call right before a department head conference call concerning our county’s response to the coronavirus. As the head of our local Soil and Water Conservation District, a county department of two, I’m required to attend these meetings. To be honest, it’s not my favorite job responsibility, and I feel a little out of place with the county higher-ups who wear neckties and shiny shoes. For instance, once having spent too long providing technical assistance (official government term for chatting) at a dairy farm, I made it to the county department head meeting just in the nick of time, right before the county manager gave some important update, the details of which I currently don’t remember. Mostly, I remember the sight of the Register of Deeds and Library Director sniffing inquisitively, and the smell of cow manure wafting from my boot. But I digress.

On March 23rd, about ten minutes before a county department head teleconference (in lieu of a physical meeting because of coronavirus), Lowry, my wife’s poppaw and my next-door neighbor, called me and said one of my hives had swarmed–“a biggun in the crotch of an apple tree.” Admittedly, my swarm control previsions had been little to none this spring. The bees had been on the back burner, as my wife and I are expecting a baby, our first after nine years of marriage. According to my wife, I now have other priorities than beekeeping, like insulating walls of our old farmhouse to make sure our offspring has comfortable environs outside the womb. At the rate I’m going, I figure our child will be thirty-four by the time I finish this task.

a never-ending project

Before Lowry’s call, I hadn’t thought much about the possibility of catching a swarm this early. Seemingly, all my brain could focus on was the possibility of catching coronavirus. But after Lowry’s excited dispatch, worries of catching coronavirus suddenly evaporated. The great philosopher Patrick McManus had his own theory for this phenomenon, a theory which he called the “worry-box” and summed up as follows: 

“I have this theory that people possess a certain capacity for worry, no more, no less. It’s as though a person has a little psychic box that he feels compelled to keep filled with worries. When one worry disappears from the box, he immediately replaces it with another worry, so the box is always full. He is never short of worries. If a new crop of worries comes in, the person sorts through the box for lesser worries and kicks them out, until he has enough room for the new worries. The lesser worries just lie around on the floor, until there’s room in the box for them again, and then they’re put back in.” (From The Good Samaritan Strikes Again)

Swarm catching had suddenly returned to prominence as the main worry in my worry box, displacing coronavirus-catching for the time being.

Of course, everybody who keeps bees knows that swarm calls always come at the worst time possible. For instance, there’s an old story that circulates about a beekeeper who got a swarm call an hour before his only daughter’s wedding. After weighing his options, the father made the only rational decision a beekeeper in his situation could. Since he didn’t have time to run home for his beekeeping stuff, he borrowed his daughter’s wedding veil.

Like that father, I solved my swarm dilemma with similar aplomb. I stuck in my earbuds, dialed into the teleconference on my cell phone, and hightailed it home to recapture my AWOL bees. I suppose many of us have recently learned the advantages of teleconferences–you can attend meetings in pajamas (or while swarm catching), plus the smell of manure doesn’t waft through the phone.

In any event, I’m happy to report that I did catch that swarm, a “biggun” as Lowry would say, and that for a while, even though I was dialed into a coronavirus teleconference, my mind was on something completely unrelated to COVID-19.

My swarm of bees marching into box. I should have got a bigger box

These are Strange Times

These are strange times. You may have heard that once or twice recently. Wal-Mart closed here, 24/7 Wal-Mart, just to restock. The fact that a Wal-Mart closed, even temporarily, ought to be a warning to most normal people, and yet my wife thought I was overreacting.

“You need to stop worrying so much about the coronavirus,” she said. 

“I’m not worried about coronavirus, just dying.” I said, as I unpacked $300 worth of groceries from a local grocery store that was substantially higher in price than Wal-Mart. My wife, who is usually in charge of buying groceries, seemed perplexed by some of my purchases for outlasting the apocalypse. I had ten bags of potato chips, five cases of Diet Cokes (Ginger Lime), five frozen pizzas, and enough double-bagged bags of Margaret Holmes Tiny Butter Beans and Seasoned Field Peas & Snaps that the tires on the back of the Toyota 4Runner bulged a bit. I basically went on a supermarket sweep for junk and canned food. 

“Do you think we’re going to starve?” she asked. 

“Yes,” I said, “If we have to depend on my farming ability to provide food, we will starve.”

“Why’d you get three different types of Chips-Ahoy?” 

“I just saw them and wanted them,” I said. 

After the physical exertion of unloading groceries, I went to the couch (it took about thirty minutes to unload everything and stack the pantry to my wife’s standards) to rest while binging on coronavirus news. I noticed that apparently people in New York City were going to bars for one last drink before all the bars closed down. In the rural south, home of many Baptists, we don’t really approve of public drinking at bars, which means most people have to drink in the privacy of their own closet, but I did notice a similar “last-call” phenomenon happening at the big-box hardware store. I went to Lowes thinking it would be deserted, and, lo and behold, there was a long line of men trying to checkout at the two registers near the lumber aisles. Best I can figure, all the men had the same idea: We’d better stock up with building materials one last time. For many rural men, there’s nothing more relaxing than swaggering through a hardware store, checking the straightness of boards, and standing proudly behind a full lumber cart. 

Maybe we all figured if we’re going to be sequestered at home soon, we might as well focus on home improvement. I bought enough installation, concrete-board siding, and OSB sheathing to re-side another section or our old farmhouse. That’s a more productive use of time than binging-watching news on the couch or, well, binge-drinking in a closet. 

Never-ending Home Improvement Project