Uncle Buddy probably ran across this tree while squirrel hunting, since he lived a short distance from the Patoka River In Winslow Indiana, and the tree was several hundred yards north of the river. He and we, often walked those banks during squirrel season, since the hunting there was good.
This is not the tree you will be told about,since that tree fell victim to certain circumstances. I was fourteen years old when these circumstances occurred, and that was very long ago. Try to imagine fifty years ago. I know most of you can’t. Now try to imagine remembering every detail from that long ago. I will do the best I can.
The tree was behind a ball field that was just north of the river.
Do know why they call them ball fields? It’s because long ago not every baseball diamond had a fence to knock the ball over. They were lucky if they had a backstop. If a player could hit the ball between the outfielders then they had a good chance for an inside the park home run. I’m not sure if you could call that inside the park, since there wasn’t anything inside. It was just a field. Well, anyway that’s where ball fields got their name.
I dwell on the ball field so long, because it is the place of my very first memory.
I was two and a half years old, and sitting on the hood of a nineteen forties something Dodge. My dad came to bat, and hit the ball between the outfielders, and being quite fleet of foot hit a home run. I remember my parents questioning me about this later in childhood, when I brought up the story of dad’s home run. They very much doubted that I could remember something at such a tender age, but when they grilled me on the details they were convinced that I most certainly did remember the event.
Uncle Buddy discovered a bee hive in a big hole in the tree. As I recall the hole was shaped almost exactly like the picture. It was in a most precarious position, in that it was too high to reach from the ground, and we were unable to reach it with the feeble ladder we had available especially with the threat of bee stings, if we were so foolish as to reach in to steal the sweet nectar the Bees were willing to die for.
Beech trees have very thin bark and are easily scarred. That’s why young lovers use them so often to carve art work to express their eternal love.
The problem is the scars make the trees prone to disease and such. This one looked like it may have lost a limb during a storm. A bad thing for the tree but an opportunity for the Honey bees.
Now, just how do we harvest this plentiful bounty?
Well, Uncle Buddy; half uncle and half brother because of age proximity always had a plan. These plans usually led to conundrums of one kind or another. The posse, as we called ourselves, were as usual oblivious to these conundrums. The posse was made up of boys ,thirteen and fourteen and fifteen, and Uncle Buddy who was closing in on thirty, so what could go wrong?
The plan was to cut down the seventy five or so foot tree. It would land perfectly with the honey bee hole pointing straight up toward the sky, and we would then work our woodsman’s skills.
Our tools as I remember were two axes. We started in the early afternoon.We took turns each until they were exhausted, and were just about to call it a day when we heard the crack of wood.
It was just about dusk and visibility was a problem. Uncle Buddy explained to us which way the tree would fall and where we were to stand, and a signal was given for when to take off running, since all Lumberjacks took off running when a tree was about to fall.
Somehow, a chop or two before things were supposed to happen a scary loud crack rang out, and we ran in four different directions. That big old tree came down fast and loud, and taking smaller vegetation in the way like it wasn’t even there.
I was certain I was going to die. When the quiet sat in, and I was still alive, I knew for sure, someone else had been crushed.
From the quiet came Uncle Buddies voice.” Everybody O.K.? Where are you?”
One by one we answered giving our position and announcing that we were alright. My cousin Steve was the slowest runner of us all, but announced he was about a hundred and fifty yards away. Turned out he was. Go figure.
Now we approached the tree, only to find that it had landed with the bee hive hole in exactly the wrong spot. It was flat against the ground.
Exhausted and dark coming upon us we decided to come back tomorrow with a new plan.
We didn’t get there as early as we had planned, since Uncle Buddy drank quite a lot of beer, and stayed up to the wee hours doing it. Uncle Buddy Liked his beer.
When we arrived a little after noon we had all the tools needed to complete our task. We had both axes from the day before and two splitting wedges and I think a maul.
The plan was to chop our way down from the top into the hive. It was Uncle Buddy’s idea, and since no one else had a better one, then that was the plan.
As we chopped and split and slowly made our way through the hive Uncle Buddy gave us a tutorial on honey bees and, how we would get the honeycombs out without being stung to death.
It seems that his expertise in beedom had taught him ,that there were different types of bees we would encounter. Most he said were worker bees and were harmless. There was a Queen bee that ruled the hive and was much bigger than all the others. The only ones we had to worry about were the fighter bees. I had never heard of fighter bees and was a little apprehensive about this news.Uncle Buddy of course had a plan to handle them.
Once we had chopped our way far enough to confirm we were approaching the hive, we would start a fire under the tree right where the hole met the ground. This would rile up the fighter bees, and draw them out of the hive in their effort to protect it.
Once we thought we were close enough, we lit the fire and carefully continued chopping and hacking, and all that other real careful stuff we had been doing to get us to this point.
Soon we reached the hive well enough to consider removing some of it. At the same time the smoke was so thick that we could hardly see, and were coughing and hacking. The bees didn’t seem to like it much either as scores of them began to leave the tree in all directions, causing some commotion and waving of hands and questions for Uncle Buddy. I don’t know if these were fighter bees or not, but they really weren’t much of a problem. I think they just wanted to get out of there. I sort of did too.
Then Uncle Buddy did a most amazing thing. He stuck his whole arm into the hole we had created, and grabbed a big chunk of honeycomb. He did this bare handed, and was immediately covered all they way up to his elbows with bees. ” See”, he said. “These are worker bees. They won’t hurt you”.
My cousin Steve was the first one of us brave enough to imitate Uncle Buddy. The result was the same. He was covered all the way to his elbow, and if either one of them was being stung they were not letting on at all.
So now, because of the age pecking order it was my turn to show bravery, of which I was totally lacking. I still remember the eerie feeling of hundreds of bees covering my hands and arms. It was the same for me, in that I felt no stings at all. After a while we got more cavalier about the whole thing and only an occasional ouch would be heard. I remember I was stung three times. Each time it was because I swatted at a bee on my ear or mouth or some sensitive spot. If you left them alone they wouldn’t bother you. Near the end we could even brush them off slowly and gently and they fell off like so much sawdust or some such thing.
We placed our bounty in a couple small buckets, and started across the ball field towards Uncle Buddy’s house.
When Aunt Nina saw how little we had after two days she laughed until she hurt. When she placed it all on the stove to work her magic and turn it into honey, only two four quart pans were needed.
It really didn’t taste as good as I had hoped.
But we did it , by God.
That’s the story of the Beech tree caper.