It was the tail end of a 26-day camping trip that took us from Texas, to New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Home again. It was at the peak of the 2017 Phoenix heat wave — 117 degrees outside — and we were journeying toward a place known as the Valley of Fire.
I opened the car door at a gas pump 15 miles from camp. The wind blew the door wide open — as if it might rip it from its hinges. I stepped out into what felt like a giant hair dryer. I might have looked like Beaker from the Muppets if not for my shaved head.
When we arrived at our destination, the beautiful red-orange hills were a testament that we had entered the most beautiful desert we had ever seen. We had our pick of sites, because only fools enter the desert in those conditions.
We slept comfortably for the one night we were there thanks to the air conditioner. But, the next morning brought a different surprise.
When I awoke the next day, I heard a buzz outside our small camper. I peeled back the drapes and saw that a swarm of bees had gathered on and around the water spigot. The slow drip of water overnight had pooled and attracted the bees.
Like humans — bees in the desert need water.
We had a schedule for the day, so we needed to tear down camp. But, the prospect of disconnecting the water hose to pack up was a terrifying one.
Ever since I was a child, I have had a mild allergic reaction to wasps and bees. Ironic, because if anyone ever asks me what my favorite animal is, I always answer with “bees.” When I was a child, I would take glass jars out to a clover field behind the house where honey bees were always buzzing around. Sometimes, I would just sit and listen to them. Sometimes, I would gently put the jar over the bees as they gathered nectar and put the lid on. Then, I would lift the jar to my ear and listen to the sound of the bees vibrating inside. (I always let the bees go when I was done.)
To this day, if it is a beautiful Spring or Fall afternoon and the holly bushes are in bloom, I like to sit outside as the bees fly by my head.
Despite my love of bees, a swarm on a water spigot was a bit more than I was ready to handle. I covered myself with what I had available — my long, black cycling tights, a long-sleeved dry-fit shirt, several bandanas to cover my neck and face, and the nylon gloves my wife keeps in the potty cabinet to ward off the poo.
With the exception of the toilet gloves, I often refer to the rest of the clothing as my “ninja suit” because I end up covered head to toe in black dry fit. It isn’t the most flattering of outfits. In truth, I look less like a ninja and more like a lump of coal.
Before tackling the bee problem, I took a trip to the restroom facilities. Signs in the restroom warned about the bees and indicated that it might help to put bowls of water nearby.
Bowls of water didn’t work. But, it inspired a thought. What would happen if I poured water on the ground near the bees?
As I poured the water, the bees descended like a cloud, allowing me time to carefully wave away the stragglers on the knob as I turned off the water. I unhooked the hose.
Every few moments, I could hear when the bees were running low on water. When water was plentiful, they would calmly and quietly share. You would barely know they were around. As the water was consumed or evaporated, they would bump, fight and climb over one another to lap up the little that remained.
I even had a couple of desperate bees land on my forehead to lap droplets of sweat.
Soon, we were on our way, with another story to tell.