Roping Wild Bees

One warm, late spring day I was with my uncle way up North Morgan creek in western Burnet County. Here the water runs clear between shear canyon walls riddled with natural holes and small caves. These openings in the rock walls make perfect homes for the wild bees that inhabit the area. Building their hives here protect  them from most of the animals, including men, that pray on their sweet honey. On top of the canyons, the land spreads out into level meadows, covered with bushes, clovers, and wild flowers loaded with pollen and nectar. These meadows were a perfect place for bees to harvest their needs.

That day we were in one of these meadows called Mud Flats looking for strayed cattle. The old pick-up bounced along the trail that we pretended was a road. Suddenly Uncle Luther slammed on the brakes, and pointed to an unusual looking something hanging from a sumac bush. It was a swarm of wild bees, out looking for another place to build their home. Uncle Luther explained that in spring, when everything was in bloom, and the bees were making lots of honey, the hive would split and the old queen and thousands of bees would leave the group, looking for a new home. In their search they would light on a limb to rest. This is what Luther had found.

There were hundreds of bees flying around and making me a little nervous, but Luther explained when bees were swarming they were very gentle and rarely sting. He got a burlap bag from the pick-up and carefully eased the open sack over the hanging bunch of bees. He closed and tied the top of the sack and had me cut the limb from the bush. Luther then had me take an ax and cut a cedar pole about eight feet long and tie it to the pick-up and sticking out the back. He then tied the sack of humming bees to the cedar pole. We drove hurriedly back to the ranch house and Luther put the bees into a box hive. He said that was what the bees were looking for and would stay there.

The next day Uncle Luther sent me back to Mud Flats to look for those missing cows. I saddled Pacer, a big paint horse gentle enough for a kid to ride. I was excited about the real cowboy assignment. As I was looking for the strayed cows, I spotted another swarm of bees. I remembered how excited Uncle Luther was with the first swarm of bees, I figured he would be proud of me if I brought one in by myself. I rummaged through the saddlebags and found some string and a burlap bag. I held my breath and eased the opened bag up and over the hanging swarm of bees. I tied the top, and cut the limb from the bush and stood there with a hand full of sacked bees. How am I going to carry this sack on a horse? Pacer, my horse looked at the sack and wondered nervously what I was going to do. I cut a stick about four feet long, tied the sack of bees to one end and the other end to the saddle. I mounted the now wide-eyed Pacer and started for home. We were doing pretty well, going down the trail until the stick came untied and swung under Pacer belly. In spite of Luther’s statement that swarming bees are gentle, several bees were able to sting Pacer’s tender underside. I dismounted, very unceremoniously, but was able to grab the sack of bees as Pacer hurried home without me. I needed to walk anyway. I boxed the swarm of bees in an unused hive and they lived happily ever after. Years later, when I was in college, Uncle Luther sent a jar of honey from ‘my’ hive. How sweet it was.

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