Stung By The Digging Bug
by Rich Cross
Rich in a bee-less hole.

I’ve often pondered where my ‘need to dig‘ started and what inspires an adult person to spend their precious free time in life digging holes in the earth in search of intrinsic stones. A good friend once told me he knew he had the "jones" when one afternoon as he was returning to Austin by car from an interview he found himself digging a test hole along a creek bank all the while still dressed in his ‘interview attire’ of an Armani suit and patent leather loafers. “Hey,” he said, “It was just a test hole.” 

I became interested in what lies buried in the ground from early on by visiting historic sites as a child on vacations with my parents. They took us to old forts and other various excavations and I was deeply impressed with archaeology.  I was started digging for old bottles and such in central lower Michigan back in the 60’s . When I came to Texas 20 years later I spent some time pursuing the old bottle hobby, except that old bottles are hard to find here: Texas history doesn't reach as far back as, say, Detroit. 

I was first introduced to arrowheads at a Wild West auction that featured some old ranchers' collections of artifacts. “How do you find em,” I asked. “Do you just go out and start digging a hole and hope ya get lucky?” I mean, at least with bottles you’ve got some clues like foundations and stuff: That was about 15 years ago. I've learned a lot since then.

One day not long after that conversation, I was out hiking with my girl friend along a creek west of Austin when we came upon an area of numerous hills of recently dug earth not far off the trail. Upon walking around and over the mounds I found a pair of legs sticking out from under the ground at the bottom of a 5 or 6 foot hole of massive circumference. A knapsack was laying at the entrance of the hole where the legs were sticking out. There were 3 nice points laying on the pack. Then the legs started to move and a guy came crawling out from under the bank totally covered with mud and dirt. I talked with him for awhile and it was then that I started to learn a lot more about Indian mounds and where to find them. 

When digging, I used to spend a lot of time worrying about getting bit by a rattlesnake or scorpion, or getting buried alive or hit in the head with a pick, etc. But take it from the 'Rickman', you never know how nature will bite back. 

I got to the site, just inside a limestone quarry, about 8 in the morning and got set up to dig along a ravine that runs about 20 feet to the bottom of the bed.  I had to re-open up a hole I had dug by removing carefully filled-in dirt. This "throwback", already sifted through, protects the wall of the hole, the place excavation left off. 

There’s a couple of trees, one about 3 feet away from one side of the hole. After a bit I had to clean off the mud that was caked on the blade of my shovel by rapping it against the trunk of one. It wasn’t a big tree, measuring maybe 5 inches in diameter at the base. I was pretty heated-up from cleaning out and the dirt was sticky enough to make it a hassle to clean the tools. Suddenly something bit me on the right ear lobe. I flicked it off and saw it fly out of my peripheral vision as another bee nailed me on the shoulder. By bees, I mean the bumblebee: You know, the big yellow ones. Very quickly the situation became grim as the air around the hole I was standing in filled with angry swarming bumblebees. I was realizing fast that I was going to lose any war with these guys so I bailed out of the hole into the ravine in a single leap, screaming and terrified. I was covered with bees. 

I started running wildly down the bed of the wash toward the creek. As I rounded a curve in the twisting, turning spillway I fell down in a mud bed and caked mud on my face and shirtless shoulders. The bees were in full-frenzied attack. I had been stung dozens of times already and although the mud helped a little they were stuck behind my ears, in my hair, and all over my back and waist. At that moment another digger who was in the site area came running along the top of the ravine shouting “What’s the matter dude?” 

Too busy screaming to answer:  He jumped down along the wall of the spillway and plopped down in front of me, very concerned, and repeated  “What's the matter dude?” “Man!” At once he saw the bees: He backed away immediately and, like a movie running backward, scaled that steep wall in a heartbeat, yelling “Run dude, run!” I didn't need to be told! I ran all the way over to the creek at the mouth of the ravine and still the bees barely let up. I stumbled through dense foliage as it tore my torso now covered with big red welts, brush and mud. 

Cutting across a field to get to the creek, I finally reached the water and jumped in. The water was about 3 feet deep and I stayed under water for about 10 seconds. When I surfaced the first time, bees were still there waiting except their numbers were fewer. Over and over I surfaced and the bees flew sorties at me and I was stung again and again. 

Eventually the bees slacked off so I got up out of the water and ran to my truck, which was about 200 yards away. Stung almost to shock, I hiked back through dense rocky terrain, freaking out, terrified that at any moment I would die from the sting's poison.

The hospital is about 12 miles from the site and I had no time to lose! I was having extreme difficulty breathing and my face was all swollen. I’m just pretty damn glad I lived to dig again. The doctor stopped counting the number of stings at 100.

I’ve since read that when provoked bees will put a scent on the enemy and that’s why other bees joined the chase. I smelled a vanilla scent just before the bees swarmed and had not really thought about it.

A few days later I received a call from the guy that had hauled ass when I got stung. He had my pack and tools! I had forgotten all about them!

When it comes to nature, just bee-careful. Can you dig it?

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