Friday, April 17, 2015

Carpenter Bees

        My annual battle with carpenter bees is in full force. The pesky devils come out during March each year, sucking on the azaleas and boring holes in my log walls, porch railings and facia boards. They stick around for several months, buzzing, boring and driving me crazy.
I’ve done a good bit of research on these pests. They bore right through bare, varnished or stained wood of any type. Fresh paint will deter them, but the best treatment is to spray wood surfaces with an insecticide beginning in March and on through August or September. But March is too windy, and the spray flies back into my face, so they usually get a foothold before I can start.
Once they’ve bored a hole, the tell-tale pile of sawdust beneath it is the first clue  that they’re nesting in my wood. The momma bees bore perfectly round holes about an inch into the wood, then turn 90 degrees and make a long tunnel. Then they bore little rooms off the tunnel, and lay their eggs in those little rooms.The baby bees hatch in six to 12 months, and the cycle starts all over again. In fact, they come back to their old haunts every spring, making the tunnels longer and more intricate. If left untreated, they will tear up any board in which they nest. I haven’t figured out where they go during winter, but I’m working on it.
Spraying a liquid insecticide into the hole may kill the female bee, but the eggs are protected. Since liquids are absorbed by porous wood, they will be gone when the larvae hatch, giving them a strong chance of survival.
So I have to spray a dust called Drione into those holes and seal them with a caulking compound. Drione is a desiccant that dehydrates them. But if I don’t seal them inside their nests, the females will leave before the dust has time to settle on them.
A friend found a bee trap on the internet, ordered it and used it as a pattern to make some of his own. He’s given me several, and they really help. They look like small bird houses, but with a tiny hole on each side and a plastic peanut butter or mayonnaise jar underneath. The bees crawl into the holes thinking they are bee tunnels, gravitate downward toward the light, fall into the jars and can’t seem to fly upward to get out. To empty the jars of the bees, I simply unscrew them.
Their only known enemy is the woodpecker, who eats their larvae. Guess how he gets it? Yep, pecks around their tunnel entrance, widening the hole to a jagged maw. Great!
In some ways, they are smart. They don’t come out much during cool or rainy weather. And they prefer boring holes behind drain spouts and under eaves, where they are protected from the weather, the woodpecker and my prying eyes. Ever tried to spray into a hole behind a drain spout?
Mother Nature played a dirty trick on them, though. She made the males the guard bees, teaching them to buzz around a human’s head to scare him away. But she gave the stinger to the female, so the guard has no weapon. 
         Serves him right.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


U.S. Highway 79 is labelled a north-south route, but cuts more of a northeast-southwest  diagonal through the state of Texas. The section between Round Rock, about 20 miles north of Austin, and the Louisiana border is intertwined with two major country music tragedies. Johnny Horton (“Battle of New Orleans,” “Sink the Bismarck” and “North to Alaska”) was killed by a drunk driver on that road near Milano in 1960, and the Jim Reeves Memorial is on the same route near Carthage, Texas.
My friend, Annette, and I were unaware of the highway's musical significance when we decided to take the backroads part of the way home from Texas last month. We just wanted to see something besides boring interstate scenery. Our decision resulted in a series of serendipitous experiences we would have missed had we chosen the interstate.
Jim Reeves Memorial

It was the second day of our three-day return trip from Bourne (rhymes with journey),where we had been to the George Strait Team Penning Classic. A few miles from Buffalo, I saw a sign that encouraged us to visit “Historic Palestine.” Open to adventure, we stopped at the town’s visitors center. We spent a pleasant half hour winding through the streets of this old railroad town, looking at the magnificent architecture of the 1800s. We “oohed” and “ahhed" at the old homes from that era, some well tended to and others abandoned and falling in, most painted in pastel pink, green or yellow. We stopped by an old hospital building, picturing in our minds the lives of the nurses who had lived in the small cottage attached to it. 
       Then we went downtown and perused an antique shop. One side of the shop was the Magnolia Cafe, where we had chicken-salad-stuffed avocado halves and saltine crackers that we thought were dipped in olive oil and herbs. We found out after our internet research that they were called Ranch Crackers and were made with a packaged ranch dressing mix and vegetable oil, then baked. For dessert, I had an amazing Sopapilla Cheese Cake that was to die for.
After lunch, we hadn't been back on U.S. 79 but a few minutes when Annette blurted out, "Jim Reeves Memorial.”
"What?" sez I.
"That sign said ‘Jim Reeves Memorial,’" she replied.
       My brakes screeched, I  made a U-turn, and went back to see whether it was the same Jim Reeves I remembered. Sure enough, right out in the middle of nowhere was this little park with a full-size statue of the late country singer known as Gentleman Jim.
His memorial is in a one-acre, tree-covered plot of ground three miles east of Carthage, where he used to live. He was born in nearby Galloway, and died at the controls of his Beechcraft Debonair in a rainstorm near Brentwood, Tennessee, on July 31, 1964. The stone walkway leading to the statue had the outline of a guitar, and a memorial plaque gave some brief points about the man's life and death. I didn’t know until I was doing some internet research about the memorial that Reeves is buried beneath that statue, along with his favorite dog, Cheyenne, who died three years after his master.
We took several photos, then hit the road again. A few miles from the Louisiana border, we stumbled across a chain-saw artist and stopped to look at his wares. I bought a wooden cactus with a skull at the base, which looks great on my front porch. I’m still looking for a wooden Indian for the other side of the door.
       Annette and I are talking about doing a Route 66 road trip next year, following the famous roadway from its start near Chicago to its end in California. If that trip is anything like our Texas foray, we’ll have to rent a paneled van or U-Haul truck to carry back all the stuff we buy.