CHAPTER XX Edit
THE mere mention of these words always brings to us memories of high hills, wound about by picturesque roads, bordered by rail fences, from the corners of which the goldenrod still flung its banners to the breeze, though September and, mayhap, frosts had come. Beyond the fences were knolly pastures, cropped close except where the mullein, the thistle and the immortelle vaunted their immunity from the attacks of grazing herds; and still beyond were upland meadows, green with second-crop clover; and crowning all were forests beginning to glow with autumnal hues. Forth into such roads, pastures, meadows and woodlands were we wont to fare of a sunny morning, to hunt bees with our father, whose woodcraft was not the empty accom- plishment of the man of this generation, but was attained on those same hills of western New York when he was a pioneer boy, and the deer and the wolves roamed those forests, and the beavers built their dams in the valley.
Our equipment for hunting was a bottle of diluted honey; a box with a sliding glass eover, containing pieces of empty comb; and a sharp stake, four feet high, topped with a cross-piece on which to set the box. When we were far enough afield, some un- wary bee was lifted from its goldenrod revel and imprisoned in the box, where one of the empty combs had been filled from the bottle for her special delectation. Like a worthy bee, she began to fill at once; meanwhile, the stake was pushed into the ground and the box placed upon it, the cover re- moved, and we all retired for a little distance to watch. When the bee finally lifted herself and our honey into the air, we gave her closest attention. To make sure of the exact position of her bonanza, she always arose in a spiral, each circle being larger than the one before, and finally turned the spiral in a certain direction. When she suddenly darted away with almost the speed of a bullet, it was always the eyes of our father, blue as the sky against which the bee was outlined, that detected her direction; for young eyes, however keen, counted little against trained eyes in this competition.
Then there always followed a time of anxious waiting for the return of the bee. Meanwhile we stretched out on the dry sod in the sun and listened to the chirping of the crickets, or the sweet notes of the meadow larks and idly watched a hawk circle on even pinions above our heads; or we told stories of other days of successful bee-hunting. If the bee returned within fifteen minutes, all was well and we were confident that the tree was distant not much nxore than a mile. But if we had to wait a half hour we usually caught other bees and started over again, hoping to find some nearer colony. If our first visitor came back soon, and especially if she was followed by her anxious sisters, we were satisfied. With several bees flying in the same direction, it was always easy to get the "line," which we marked by some peculiar tree or other noticeable object in the landscape. When several of our visitors were eagerly filling themselves with honey, the cover was shoved over them and they were carried for a distance along the line and then liberated, and the line from this new location ascertained. Thus were they followed, up hill and down dale, and even through woodlands; finally, we would come to a place in a forest where we could follow the line no farther, and then we took our first lesson in geometry by getting a cross-line. This was done by carrying some of the bees in the box for some rods to the right or left; and when they were established there we knew that at the apex of the angle made by the two inter- secting lines stood the bee-tree.
The triumph which filled us when we finally dis- covered that stream of black particles entering some knothole or the broken top of a tree, made us breath- less; and all the way home we tried to temper our excitement so as to make the announcement of our discovery with a nonchalance characteristic of in- variably successful hunters.
However, we were by no means always successful. Sometimes it would be too late in the day before we established a line; and again a line would lead us in a disgusting fashion to some unsuspected apiary; and now and then in a woodland tangle we crossed and crisscrossed lines, nearly breaking our necks gazing into tree-tops, all to no avail. Then, too, even our victory might be tempered by conditions. If the bee-tree were small, we judged it contained little honey; if the tree were valuable, we doubted if the owner would allow it to be cut. As a matter of fact, we seldom cut a bee-tree; and when we did, we wrested from it a combination of rotten wood, bee-bread, crushed brood and bees that made a potpourri which would prove disastrous to the enfeebled stomachs of this generation. But, though we rarely cut a bee-tree, bee-hunting lost none of its fascination. For what could be more delightful than long days spent in the autumn sunshine, en- livened by an occupation vitally interesting that needs must be lazily carried on! So we never gave it up until the October frosts had killed all the flowers, and the fumes of the honey-comb that we burned failed to entice an enterprising bee from her winter quarters to our box.