Bee Bomb

In the late sixties the A-bomb was old news. The H-bomb was a thing. In the age of thermonuclear devices, leave it to Steve and Paul to develop a thermonatural device, the B bomb.

The device was crude, but effective, and I was certainly vulnerable.

I  was already terrified of the more creepy crawly aspects of nature. The swing-set by the A-frame playhouse in the deep back yard had been turned into a nightmare-inducing hellscape by the presence of velvet ants, which I learned at the time also bore the name Cow Killers for the wallop of the female’s sting. That did it for me … the deep backyard was now off-limits. Indeed I learned recently that these ants are not really ants at all, but some sort of wingless cicada-killer wasp, a fact that does nothing to reassure me retroactively.

Fortunately for me, the payload of the B bomb seemed only mildly threatening by comparison. My brothers would use an empty baby food jar to  trap a honeybee who was usually sitting on a dandelion or clover minding its own business. Slide the lid under the mouth of the jar, move to another clover and repeat. With a couple of bees inside the jar, the lid could be fastened ever-so-slightly, such that when lobbed at a younger brother or sister the lid would fall off when the jar landed, releasing its payload.

At first the B bombs had their intended effect and I was severely disadvantaged in the Backyard Sibling Wars. Soon I learned that the honeybees were fairly docile and unless stepped on in bare feet were virtually harmless. Indeed the swarming around on their release from the B bomb was more likely confusion than fission. Even I eventually began to assemble B bombs to return fire.

Paul escalated the arms race. If three bees were good, ten bees were better! As the number of bees in the small space of a baby food jar increased, the activity-density increased along with it. Then opportunity presented Paul with a Eureka moment. A large bumblebee briefly wandered into capture range. Seeing the opportunity to create a hybrid B bomb Paul seized the moment, placed an already full jar of honeybees over the bumblebee and slid the jar lid into place to close them all in together. Success! The jar began to vibrate with new energy.

Uh-oh, runaway reaction. Literally, run away! The mix of species proved more volatile than Paul expected and the tenuous attachment of the lid to jar failed in his hands. He dropped the device and while the honeybees’ swarming exit was somewhat more agitated than usual the catalyst bumblebee came out of that jar with anger and purpose: it targeted Paul who understandably lit out as fast as he could run. Bumblebees are fairly big and can appear slow-moving when they are meandering around the garden, but this one had little problem keeping up. It was so large it was easily seen and  we could stand back and enjoy the sight of Paul running frantically around the yard, trying to shake off the relentless pursuit of an angry bee trailing along behind him. Eventually the bumblebee veered off, leaving Paul chastened but uninjured.

Thus ended the Great Bee War. An unspoken disarmament treaty went into effect and we all retreated to conventional weapons: croquet balls, pinecones, and sarcasm.