I thought I had a bee problem, so I called my friend John Ackourey. He came a-runnin’, well actually a-roarin’. He pulled up on his motorcycle, graciously saying when I apologized for bugging him (pun intended) that he was just looking for an excuse to hop on his bike.
I had a bee, he confirmed, but not a bee problem. If anything, it was a bee blessing.
“See all these beautiful flowers,” he said, waving his arms over the hundreds of impatiens, zinnias, ageratums, and geraniums I had just planted, “well, they are going to remain beautiful all summer thanks to this bee.”
You might call John a “bee whisperer,” but that would be only partially correct. He’s an “animal whisperer,” a human being with a unique relationship with all living creatures. An accomplished video maker with an impressive resume in that field, in recent years John has become a nationally known wildlife preservationist. He’s dedicated to protecting God’s creatures (like bees) from the uneducated (like me) who at first want them eradicated. John fully understands how unwanted neighbors, such as bees, or snakes, or groundhogs, or skunks, unnerve and even frighten people, and he’s always willing to help. But he won’t “get rid of” such creatures as most ask of him. Rather, he relocates them. Gently and lovingly.
“They’re living beings, just like us,” he says. “All they want to do is live their lives in peace.”
Creatures seem to know John feels this way. He’s relocated tens of thousands of bees without being stung, has picked up rattle snakes in his bare hands without being bitten and walks right up to skunks who wouldn’t think of spraying him.
Regarding my bee, of whom I became aware only when I spotted sawdust on the ground near a window, John showed me where she bore a hole in the wooden frame to create a safe place to lay an egg. That’s what carpenter bees do, he said.
That term sent a shiver up my spine, but John laughed when I asked if she’d keep eating the wood until my window fell out.
He said all she wanted was to reproduce. “She will lay an egg in that little hole,” he said, “and when it hatches, she will be as joyful as any human mother giving birth.” He promised to come back with a scope attached to his smart phone and show me what was going on in there, which he did.
He also said the bee had no intention of stinging me. On the contrary, she wanted to get to know me. “You’ll be in the garden one day and you’ll notice her flying around your face. She’ll be studying you so she can recognize you as a friend.”
Did I find this hard to believe?
What do you think?
But I trust John. I’ve known him for more than 25 years, ever since he was a student of mine at the community college. He reminded me of the day in the TV studio when everyone was frantic because they saw a bee. John held out his finger, on which the bee alighted, and casually walked it outside.
As I said, John went on to achieve great success with a video camera. During a career in which he made numerous documentaries that aired around the world, he once spilled an entire cup of coffee on actor Anthony Hopkins, caught the son of singer Sting in his arms as he tumbled off a stage, and had a long chat with music icon Cher.
But now he’s more interested in talking to eagles and bats and deer and bees.
As we stood next to his motorcycle saying goodbye, a couple of bees buzzed around John’s head. “They must know you’re here,” I joked.
“Don’t be surprised,” he answered.
This all took place back in June and, as John predicted, our flowers were glorious all summer, with us living in perfect harmony with our mother bee and her offspring. The truth is, we barely noticed them.
Just the other day, I spied something else I had not noticed all summer: a nest, as big as a large watermelon, high up in one of my trees. I snapped a photo with my phone and sent it right to John.
“Wow,” he texted back. “How beautiful. A bald-faced hornets nest. Fantastic. They are architecture geniuses. They knew who you are the whole time and recognized you as non-threatening.”
I sent the photo to my daughter and son along with what John said, which prompted an immediate phone call from Greta.
“Dad,” she said, “everybody recognizes you as non-threatening.”
If that’s true, and I hope it is, it makes me just a little bit like John Ackourey. I like that.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.