I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a beautiful small town in Southern Vermont. The house in which I was raised sits on a pretty good-sized plot with a nice big front yard and acres of field in the back. Certainly the land was big enough to farm but my parents (more gray flannel than Carhartt) opted to use the land for other things. Like a vegetable garden that provided countless summers of wonderful fresh produce but sometimes fed more deer than family. A somewhat short-lived chicken coop provided some entertainment for all of us, some nice eggs and, occasionally, some hearty meals for wild animals.
To this day, there’s always some discussion of what could be done with the extra land. Ideas have ranged from a shooting range to a swimming pool to a red clay tennis court to a paddle tennis court to a curling rink. Nothing’s ever come of it, of course. And, when I journey home to that house I can tell you my heart warms so much more as I watch my little boys trudge through acres of natural fields than it ever would hearing them splash around in a pool or, god forbid, shooting clay pigeons.
My Dad’s a “hobbier”. If that’s not actually a word, suffice to say he’s had a lot of hobbies. And not small piddly hobbies like coin collecting or stamps. No, no. He got his solo pilot’s license. He can build a mean duck decoy. He’s a fly fisherman who ties his own flies and wraps his own rods. He built gas-powered model airplanes large enough that I believed him when he offered to send Dick the Cat out for a test flight. He can smoke his own meat for dinner, top it with his own batch of hot sauce and enjoy some of his home-churned ice cream for dessert. I kid you not.
Eventually, the large field behind their house combined with my Dad’s never-ending hobby quests led to his longest lasting venture yet. With a little help from some dear (now, sadly, deceased) friends, roughly 15 years ago he became a beekeeper. Which probably sounds sort of scary and threatening but it’s really not. Honey bees really don’t want to sting anybody and no one has ever gotten stung anywhere on my parents’ property that wasn’t screwing around with the bees’ hives in some way. My Dad’s bees have produced countless bowls of honey-topped cereal and countless jars for clients and friends. They even provided a little gift for our wedding guests.
** A little story for you as an aside. Husband and I gave living in Vermont a whirl a few years back. Full-time jobs, I worked weekends, and no one was making any money to speak of. Still, we were near my parents and it was a great Vermont life while it lasted. My Dad even got us set up with a few hives and Husband successfully kept his own bees. Our house was across the street from a Catholic church. One Sunday morning, Husband was tending to his bees just as church was letting out. He’d neglected to properly tie up the wrist bands of his beekeeping suit and, consequently, learned his lesson the hard way when he discovered he had a dozen angry bees inside his suit. I looked out the window (and church goers stopped in their tracks) to witness Husband leaping around the lawn, arms flapping, stripping off his bee suit with a fabulous array of filthy expletives flying out of his mouth. It was hilarious. Well, except for the fact that the doctor told us to just keep an eye out for any indication that his tongue was swelling and we had to spend the next two hours checking on it every three minutes. “Tho, howthitlooknow?” … “Howthitlooknow?” **
Anyway, there have been some lovely midsummer days, when my Dad’s had as many as five hives buzzing with 50,000 bees each. You doing the math? We’re talking 250,000 busy bees who spend their days enjoying sweet Vermont clover, crisp clear water from nearby ponds and fresh air before returning to their happy hives in my parents’ back yard. Idyllic, dontcha’ think?
There’ve been some bee challenges in the past. There was a terrible virus that struck hives across the United States not too long ago and it wiped out a bunch of my Dad’s bees. There’ve been some really bitchy Queens that have produced Angry Hives. And, there’s always the small issue of how much the local post office just loves receiving packages marked “BEES ENCLOSED. HANDLE WITH CARE!”
“Um, Mrs. Hills. You can tell your husband his bees have arrived. Tell him he can pick them up out back.”
So there’ve been challenges. But none like this guy…
Yup. They’ve got a bear. And, as you know, bears love that honey. This picture was taken with a motion-sensitive camera.
And, when the bear shows up, he wreaks havoc on the hive, killing thousands and thousands of the bees.
Here’s a hive pre-bear.
And, here’s the hive post-bear.
Yeah. So, he’s no Gentle Ben.
So, after speaking to the local game warden, they were given permission to shoot at the bear. Which bothers me a little bit (ok, maybe more than a little bit) but I figure the game warden knows better than I, right? And, plus, the choice for my Dad is either to give up beekeeping or get rid of the bear. Clearly, as you can see from the pictures, the two cannot co-exist.
But, keep in mind fellow animal lovers. The bear comes at night. And my Dad, despite motion-sensitive alarms and relocating his bed to the living room, continues to SLEEP at night. He’s slept through the alarm a number of times and, although he’s gotten off a shot twice, he admits he was shooting in the direction of the bear’s obscenely potent stink of BO, rather than at anything he could actually see. The odds are clearly tipped towards the bear here.
They did have one fabulously inspired idea that I was convinced would do the trick. Sure, camera-flashes, ear-piercing alarms and gunshots didn’t faze this guy but this next idea was bound to send him running.
A first lady in a pantsuit?
No. Apparently, in Vermont, even the bears are democrats.