We have two wise and beautiful eucalyptus trees across our street in Hollywood Dell.
These trees can live up to be 400 years old. From my second-floor office, I get to gaze at them out my window as they stretch their branches to the open sky. She entertains the occasional woodpecker, who always seems to woody-wood-peck around 5:00 p.m.
Our neighbors decided to trim it. The following morning, I peeked outside my office window to see how much longer I would have to put up with the din of the chainsaw when, lo and behold, I spotted a cloud of active bees.
Eucalyptus is particularly valuable as a bee pasture because it blooms year round. And it gives honey a distinctive peppermint taste. I guessed that my bees from my very own hive were buzzing around there, too.
Upon further scrutiny, I realized there was also a man in the tree outfitted in a bee suit. He was nestled in the crook of the tree, balancing on a tall ladder.
He was not manning a chainsaw, but an apparatus I was first introduced to in Australia while documenting the transport of bees from down under to America for my documentary, Vanishing of the Bees.
These days, US beekeepers have to make up for losses from Colony Collapse Disorder by shipping bees in on a 747. To make the job quicker, they use a vacuum.
This man was using a vacuum, too. But he was also holding a spray can and dousing them. Was this company exterminating or relocating, I instantly wondered?
There are no accidents.
With that, I ran down the stairs out my door, down more stairs to the scene to investigate and intervene.
“What are you doing with the bees?” I asked sternly to the man at the bottom of the ladder, who was also in full bee suit regalia.
“Are you killing them?”
He looked at me blankly.
“I am sorry, you have to call office,” he responded with a thick Spanish accent and a deadpan expression. I could tell this man was no beekeeper.
“And what office is that? I need you to give me that number.”
“I am working now,” he responded with equal apathy.
“Working? You’re just holding a ladder. These bees shouldn’t be moved.”
I took a deep breath and tried not to become an angry put-on-a-show kind of girl. By this time, the first bee suit had turned off his Honeybee Hoover and climbed down the ladder. Since it was clear that I was not going anywhere, he fetched a business card from his truck and handed it to me.
The card was pretty. It featured a yellow, orange and green earthy color scheme. The company was called “Bee Green” and they were apparently “committed to the preservation of bees.” They assured “insecticide-free” removals and zero chemical use.
Their claims momentarily assuaged my concern, and then I spotted a clump of bees writhing to their death on the ground.
By this time, my other neighbor, a sweet, gentle elderly man joined the scene.
“What are you doing to the bees?” he asked with almost equal passion.
I was thrilled for the additional support.
He knew the house’s property manager, and called on her Hispanic housekeeper to get her on the phone, so we could explain that we needed to stop a potential bee travesty.
Within moments of getting her on the phone, I explained that I was the director of Vanishing of the Bees and that I firmly believed the bees should continue to reside in their hollowed hive in peace rather them displacing them violently.
Apparently the tree trimmer had warned her about the hive and strongly suggested she remove them.
“Do you mind telling me how much you paid these guys?”
She had forked over $250 to get them removed and—get this—another $500 to keep them alive and take them far away to a bee keeper in Santa Clarita or Lancaster. What a bunch of malarkey. This company was running a scam.
When I stated that this was as ridiculous as having to pay extra money just to buy poison-free food, she responded with a “oh, it’s just money.”
Wow, if we could all piss away nearly a grand with such aplomb.
Luckily, she was sympathetic to the bees’ plight and agreed to call Bee Green and abort the job. It had taken 40 minutes of explaining and negotiating, but I had managed to save the hive. So I thought.
My neighbor and I were thrilled.
Next, I called the company.
“If you are so ‘green,’ why don’t you educate people that not all removals are absolutely necessary?” I asked the young girl receptionist.
And then I asked her about the can. She maintained that it was organic, but could not tell me it was organic what.
So I requested to speak to Julio Morales, the supervisor and owner; I wanted the bees they had already sucked up.
Julio was defensive. He refused. When I asked him if it was a question of money, he called me rude.
He insisted that I could not have the bees on the basis that I could sue him if anything happened. He recounted how one woman had hired him to remove the bees, but not the honey. When she went to retrieve the honey, she got stung and filed a lawsuit.
I assured him that I was not going to sue. I had gotten hit by a Ford Explorer at 45 miles an hour years back and not taken the driver to court. I just wanted to save the bees.
By this time, the men had packed up. But we still did not know the fate of those bees in the bucket. They could not explain where they were going to take them or whether it was possible to return the bees back to their original home.
“These are our bees,” my neighbor emphatically stated.
Meanwhile, I fetched a super (a hive box) and my veil. This gringa meant business.
I could tell they were impressed by my bee gear, but they still would notbudge. I tried to get them to call back Julio, but he conveniently could not be reached. I tried to get the housekeeper to call Jeannie back too, but she was no longer interested in being involved.
And then my 60-something-year-old neighbor did the unthinkable.
He grabbed the sealed up bucket of bees and ran. Okay, it was more of a fast walk. But still! Bee Suit No. one grabbed the handle before he could give it to me.
“Give us the bees,” my neighbor shouted. “They belong to us.”
My neighbor was awesome! On the inside, I was laughing at the craziness of the situation. It was a surreal moment laced with irony. Two grown boys in a tug of war over a bucket of bees! Wasn’t this a symbolic moment?
Bee Suit No. one was breathing heavily and, to be honest, he looked as though he was seriously about to punch my neighbor in the face.
“We just want to do the right thing! Get your boss on the phone!” I shouted angrily.
For those who know me, I tend to have a righteous streak and intolerance for stupidity. But I was really working on keeping my cool.
Finally, they managed to get Julio back on the phone and within minutes relinquished the bees. My neighbor handed me the bucket.
We won! We won! We saved the ancient hive and now were going to save the remainder of the bees. I held the bucket down, slipped on my veil and got ready to dump the bees in the box.
But when my neighbor pried the lid open, there was only a mountain of near-dead corpses. The bees were all dying! Bee Green had claimed they were going to “transfer” the bees to a yard. But they had murdered them instead.
We were devastated.
“Maybe if we rinse them off,” my neighbor suggested, wanting to hold on to hope.
“No, they’ve already been soaked with something toxic. These bees are as good as dead,” I said solemnly.
I later found out that the can they were using was a peppermint spray of some kind, which you can buy without an exterminator license. A can that most certainly does kill bees.
I picked up my bee box and veil and returned with a camera. They had dumped the bees on the ground and split.
Within moments of getting back to my desk, Julio called. His tone had changed. Suddenly, he was stating how he had seen my film and how he was a good guy who had been in business for five years. He made it seem like his workers had gone rogue and killed the bees without his knowledge. I did not want to think of how many hives they extinguished.
I threatened to call the Better Business Bureau and write about this tragedy. My boyfriend even spoke to him and told him that this was an act of “premeditated murder.”
“Please don’t do this. We are good people. I have four kids,” he stated.
“Look, I’m not doing anything. You are the ones claiming you care about bees and then killing them.”
According to Honeybee Rescue, a company that performs live rescues on a daily basis, no reputable company will refuse to show you the bees when they are done.
Furthermore, the only way to remove a hive from a tree that tall is with a “trap out,” which can take up to three weeks for the bees to be transferred from inside a tree to the hive box.
“Why is this happening?” he asked more to himself.
“Because the bees work in magical ways,” I said. “It’s no accident that this happened across the street from my house.”
This may sound like fluffy New Age nonsense to you, but not to me. There are no accidents. Unfortunately, bloodshed usually precedes change.
I am hoping to meet with Julio in a few days. He will be donating a hive, and we’ll be talking about how he can incorporate our film into his business to educate his employees, himself and future clients.
But I am still calling the BBB.
Update: In a twist of irony, I found a press release dated August 2, 2012 (two days after this incident touting Bee Green). Perhaps they just had two bad bees working for them? What do you think?
This article, adapted from the original, was first published here.
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Assistant Editor: Jes Wright / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo credit: Irshad Rahimbux (Pixoto)