Feeling the sting of summer

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, July 12, 2020 in the Gaston Gazette.

It hurt. I’m not going to lie. It literally stopped me in my tracks, right in the middle of cutting the grass.

Now I don’t know if it was a honeybee or a yellow jacket, but whatever it was, it was small and it only got me once. It stung me right through my sock, straight into the center of the bony bump on my left ankle.

I guess if I didn’t know it before, I know it now. Summertime is officially here.

Summertime is for swimming pools and beach vacations. It’s a time to hang outside until the sun goes down. It’s about eating hot dogs and ice cream and cracking into an ice-cold watermelon on a hot day.

And then there’s the other side of summertime. The one that brings about spiders and snakes and other things that can bite or sting you. It’s about sunburns, scrapes and stubbed toes too.

That’s how summer works. You pick up the stick and you get both ends. The good, the bad and, in my case, the painful.

It’s been a long time since I was last stung by a bee or any other kind of stinging insect. It’s been so long, I can’t even remember when it happened last.

But I know it happens, especially in the summer. lt’s part of the summertime experience. A rite of passage of sorts.

As a kid, I used to be terrified of bees. I didn’t get over that fear until right before my junior year of college. I took a summer job working with a N.C. State University vegetable specialist helping him conduct research on various crops including squash, zucchini, watermelon, sweet potatoes and corn.

In order to conduct this research, you had to collect data on the plants from seed to harvest. We had one trial where we had to harvest the squash and zucchini every morning for 28 days straight. And every morning we were out there, so were the honeybees, buzzing from flower to flower. They were there to do their job, and we were there to do ours.

But initially, I was hesitant to reach into those huge plants and grab a squash when a bee was sitting on an adjacent flower of the same plant. I didn’t want to get stung.

Dennis Adams, one of my bosses that summer, had to coach this city boy on the way country boys did things. He told me not to worry. Just reach in, grab the squash, twist and pull. He flat out told me – the bees won’t sting you. They only care about the pollen and the nectar. They don’t care about you.

I worked that job for three straight summers and not once did I get stung. There were other instances of nature attacking me, like the time I was bitten by horseflies in Kinston, NC that mistakenly took my bald head for a landing pad. I even got swarmed by gnats in a watermelon patch out east in Edenton, NC. But Dennis was right. I was never stung once by a bee.

So it was a bit surprising that I would get stung mowing my lawn earlier this week – a lawn I’ve mowed hundreds of times over the last 15 years. And that’s my first bee sting?

Bee stings can happen to anyone at any time. It just so happened to me. I harbor no ill will towards the honeybees. In fact, I love them. I’m their biggest cheerleader.

But it was a nice reminder. For some reason, this summer hasn’t felt like a true summer. It’s felt…off. That is, until I got stung by that bee. At that moment, it was like Mother Nature was trying to get my attention. It was like she was trying to tell, “ Hey, I’m still here! Did you forget about me?”.

I feel like I’ve been so consumed with coronavirus madness and everything that goes with it that some of these summertime traditions have escaped me. Outside, the seasons have changed, but inside our heads, we’ve been stuck in this season of COVID for what seems like forever.

The virus doesn’t stray too far from our minds. It’s always there, lurking, hanging over us like a giant dark cloud. If we’re not thinking about it, it means we’re probably sleeping.

So in that brief moment, it felt good to be forced to think about something else for a change. Even if it stung just a little.

Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. You can email him at [email protected] and read more from him at www.TheBenDungan.com.