I had plans. Planting the cuttings people have so generously given me – two, what I hope will be one day be glorious shooting star (Clerodendrum) bushes, and two Danish flag vines (I don’t know its grown-up name), except instead of red and white my clippings are red and pink. Don’t know why. Then I was going to write, write, write.
Instead what did I do? I sat. First at a chair positioned just so at our dining room window, then on the barstool in the kitchen, then upstairs at the hall window. All overlooking our neighbour’s garden. I had become a voyeur.
It was the men that did it. Two husky men with dreads and beards shoving their legs into white coveralls at the bottom of our drive. A young woman covered from head to foot in all manner of garb, including a tee-shirt draped artfully around her head, completed the trio. Her job, seemingly, was to shove greenery into a kettle-like contraption which was then lit by one of the men. She then pumped and primed it until smoke blew off in satisfying curlicues to dissipate on the omnipresent north-easterly winds battering St Croix this month.
Now you must remember I was not in close proximity and so I could be forgiven for thinking, when the masks came out, that the trio were heading to a fencing tournament. And then I twigged.
I am rather fond of bees and we are planting a garden to attract them and hummingbirds and bananaquits, the rather charming and cheeky little yellow-breasted birds – smaller than a British robin – who twitter around any flowers. I have though in the last few months been bitten twice by bees – not something that has ever happened before. I can report that they hurt like hell, then itch, then swell into an unattractive lump before disappearing. I am obviously not prone to anaphylactic shock.
But I digress. We had searched our property but could find no evidence of bees, neither had we noticed a great deal of buzzing next door. And so I was intrigued. Hence, the various watch locations stationed in my house.
Rather a lot of toing and froing took place. Boxes. Empty frames. Ladders. The kettle. And, I was pleased to see, long gloves. Clambering up the ladder in his ungainly gear went one of the men and with a puff of smoke the first surge of bees were evicted from the underside of the eaves. Plywood was ripped down and another flurry of activity showed the bees’ displeasure.
It was at this stage the attendant woman beat a hasty retreat and spent the rest of the morning lying in the sunshine. I can’t say I blame her.
I was though a little disconcerted to see, as the first wadge of bee-blackened honeycomb was torn from its sticky home, the second bee man remove his gloves and poke his finger along the dripping piece before dropping into a box and hastily pushing the lid back over.
“No, no,” I muttered from behind my glass seraglio. “Put your gloves back on.” But he didn’t hear me.
Smoke, swarming bees, intense studying of each piece of saturated honeycomb was the order of the morning. More plywood was removed, security lights were rudely displaced to hang like giant testicles, and a thousand bees tried to attack the men who dared take their home.
One section of honeycomb must have been eighteen inches long and it was then the larger of the two men clambered down, settled onto a step, took up one of the empty frames and began, after first shaking off more bees, to push honeycomb into the frame. Snapping off any bits outside the frame, he then tossed them into a bucket, and repeated the process five times. Each filled frame was carefully slotted into the box by the shorter of the men. (I admit my description of the apiarists is not full but you try describing men in white jumpsuits tucked into socks and boots, wearing full head masks and long gloves – well one of them anyway. I can tell you the gloveless man had black hands.)
And all the while bees dive bombed them. Outrage thrumming with every wing beat. The clumps of comb became smaller, chiselled away from the roof, and bees began to settle on the outside of the eaves. A crawling black mass to be swept into a Tupperware container and unceremoniously tipped into their new hive.
The entertainment was over and deciding prudence would be the order of the day I sat down to write – why risk planting when stray, and discombobulated, bees might still be at large? But I was restless and decided to go and run errands.
Sitting by the roadside were two men with beards and dreads and a woman in all manner of garb but without a tee-shirt wrapped around her head.
“Good morning,” I said through the car window, because no conversation on this island is started without a pleasantry. “Thank you. I’ve had a wonderful time watching you work. And you,” I accused the shorter chap, “you weren’t even wearing gloves!”
He smiled – his eyes were topaz by the way.
“Good mahnin’. Hey mon, we got de queen!”
“Great,” I said, “does that mean those bees still buzzing around will go away?”
“Yeah. It called ‘driftin’ – the workers will look for another hive,” said the main man, who I have since learned is Roniel Allembert, aka the VI Honey Man. And now his mesh face covering was removed, I can report his beard was greying, and plaited. His eyes were a muddy brown and his smile was as wide as Niagara.
“You want the best honey on the island?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Thank you.”
Languidly he rose, delved in the flatbed of his battered truck and returned to my car. Leaning through the window he gave me a piece of dripping honeycomb.
It was good. And I had a honey of a day!