Although I don’t barbecue all that often, when I do I like to be able to leave a platter of meat or oiled vegetables outside for a minute or two while I check the coals or do a last scrape of the grill. Too often though, in those couple of moments, meat bees or yellow jackets or whatever they are, swarm up from I don’t know where and want to share the bounty. I don’t like meat bees. I’ve been bitten a time or two, Georgette has been bitten a time or two with some pretty dramatic results and I’ve been plagued by them camping in the great outdoors more than once.
It’s not a huge problem by any means, and I really don’t mind sharing some of what I have as long as they’re willing to be neighborly and wait till I’m done. But they don’t. They buzz all around trying to intimidate me into letting them have first crack at my dinner. They’re pretty much one way, that way.
One of my strangest, creepiest encounters with meat bees was 10 or 12 years ago. I was cutting up a raw chicken at the kitchen counter next to the sink, the kitchen window about 20 inches from my face. I glanced up and my knees almost buckled. The outside of the window was practically blacked out (or yellowed out) by meat bees. They were all looking at me and smacking their nasty, little meat bee chops and trying to figure out how to get through the window and screen and devour my chicken. I hoped it was just the chicken they wanted and not me as a side dish.
Ever before and ever after that event, they’ve gone back to being just kind of pesky. A few at a time land in the platter or even on the electric grill, which I use more often than barbecue coals, and they try to act tough and make me back off, which I don’t like but will do if necessary for a few moments. I’ve whacked a few with a fly swatter, but mostly I leave them alone. Unpleasant to some extent but not much more than that. I tried a strategy that I’ve seen at parks and campgrounds where you might see plastic gallon jugs partially filled with some kind of liquid, whether sweet or savory I’m not sure. But it seems to work a bit. I put some meat juice in a smaller jug and stuck it at the end of the porch for a while. It didn’t work very well, so I gave up and decided I’d just have to live and let live.
Wandering through Home Depot one day a couple of years ago, I spied a bee trap thing that guaranteed to do the job or my money back. It specialized in yellow jackets or meat bees, and for $12.99 or thereabouts, I thought, “Aha, this is just what the doctor ordered.” So I bought one, took it home, read all the frightening instructions about not eating it or letting children play with it, and hung it on the outside rail of my deck — out of sight — and promptly forgot about it. It may have been before meat bee season or maybe I didn’t barbecue for several weeks. When I finally got around to checking it there were a few rascals down at the bottom. Some were dead while others buzzed and flopped around trying to get out. OK, I guess it does work. That’s about as many as I’ve been dealing with over the years, not counting the time on the kitchen window, but it looks like I’m done with meat bees for quite a while. Good job bee trap!
Again, I didn’t pay any attention to it for a couple of weeks. When I finally did check, it was about half-full. That’s a lot of bees, way more than I had ever had a problem with, way more than I imagined there were in my neighborhood. I began to wonder if I hadn’t “overkilled” the nuisance. Was I luring hundreds or thousands of meat bees to a gruesome death — meat bees that maybe had heard about a special “treat” on my porch and flown down from Camino or over from Diamond Springs? Meat bees that never had and never would bother me or mess with my barbecuing efforts? In legal terms, would this be considered entrapment? It was beginning to feel like that.
I pushed that stupid thought away. “C’mon, they’re meat bees for crying out loud. They’re a pain in the butt, and they bite when they get the chance, which I don’t want to give them. I just wanted to be rid of the bothersome ones, the ones who try to get my food whenever they can. Yeah, it’s a good thing to do, maybe save some other poor bbq-er some grief. Sure that’s it.”
Fast forward another several weeks. The death chamber was almost full. There were many dozens if not hundreds of meat bees squirming and fluttering near the top, gasping their last, trying to prolong that drop to the bottom, which had now become a pretty short drop. I was responsible for a “Meat Bee Holocaust.” What have I done to my karma? Probably guaranteed I’d die as a meat bee in some grisly fashion one day, maybe in a trap just like I had used for the yellow jacket Apocalypse. Shudder. Can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube. Can’t plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Can’t say I didn’t set out to dissuade (kill) a few meat bees, because I surely did. Can plead unintended consequences, but tell that to the hundreds of thousands of meat bee relatives left behind.
Then and there we decided to end the war on what may be some of God’s favorite creatures. Who knows? Who knows whether or not banana slugs and termites and pit vipers might be in the same category? We still joke about the great meat bee annihilation. Not so much “ha, ha, joke” though. More like “ha, ha. Wonder if we’re going to have to atone for this one of these days.”
The silver lining? Haven’t had many meat bees around my barbecue in a long time.
UPDATE: Bbq’d Wednesday night after this was posted. Salmon on the George Foreman Grill. It stuck top and bottom, so I had to kind of peel it away with a spatula and tongs. A minute or so into the process I was surrounded by at least three dozen meat bees who fought and scrapped and gouged each other for the salmon pieces. I got away unscathed, but there were even more of them later. I retrieved the grill plates after dark. They were there again when I went out with my coffee at 6:30 Thursday morning. I’m going to Home Depot later.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.