Return of the Revenge of the Afternoon of the Living Yellow-Jackets

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

5 September 2008 · I wrote some decent letters back then. Coming down off of two or three pots of Italian coffee with a couple of sneaked shots of Crown Royal in me on my Mac 5300cs Powerbook. Milanese skyline. Incomplete sentences. They do follow. You just have to be in the moment and let go of expecting it to be something they told you you’d want. How could they have been wrong about everything else but you still accept that?

I can’t remember the last good letter I wrote. It’s approached in the odd email to the odd Sciuridid—yesh, yesh, you can be my bodyguard, and I can call you Al—or former Amazonian who 1) knows to be scared but not worried, 2) lives in Greece and drinks as much as I do so it all clothes.

For some reason, it’s letter season. Four days early.

yellow jackets eating a dead mouse

When I was a kid in Oregon this happened—I like insects better than you #12. Last weekend my boy, several years younger than I was at the time of my task, also stepped on a nest of native vespula pensylvanica whose penchant for dead wood and dirt housing has surely been the bane of many Western boys in the last 10,000 years.

I’ve stood calmly in front a wild bear I surprised in the Taos foothills, carried a bull snake off the road that bit me for my care, caught wild tarantulas barehanded on several occasions, and have no problem tapping black widows with a finger, or a rattle snake with a my fishing pole to see what they’ll do. 30 years later, I’m still pretty fucking intimidated by yellow jackets.

It’s difficult for me to accept. My favorite book as a kid was a Time-Life® illustrated tome on insects. I could still read it in bed every night but when I got to that page—a blow-up of a wasp’s face—I knew not to turn it, not to touch the picture on the other side, but to carefully double it with the next page, hold the tiniest piece of the corners, securely though, and turn it quickly so the enemy was covered; untouched; unseen.

I brought him inside—the four year-old I would kill every single one of you with my bare hands to protect—with some wasps still on him. Ensuring the safety of the queen and nieces. I wasn’t sure at all I could protect him. I split the difference between the terror half a life could not extinct and the quailing screams of my boy, “There’s something in my hair!” I squashed them between my wrists so only my shirt touched them. No skin. One emerged from the cuff of the new goofily orange and yellow PJs he insisted on wearing all day. Halloween PJs with a big spider on the front that he loves so much he won’t take off. All I could see was my favorite flannel shirt I could never wear again. The 5 years I could not touch, let alone look at a picture of wasp.

A cool bath and an hour later and we were joking about being wasps. Pretend stings catalyzing laughter. Talking about how the poor wasps had their home trampled. Reminding them that I had shown them the fucking nest and asked them to stay away from it but what the fuck does dad know, am I right?

Right off his duck. Granted he got ≈ 15% of the business I received but that shit cost me. Just another fun day for him in the end.

The nest is next to the creek. Pesticides would kill crayfish, stone flies, plenty of other things. Plus the trout smolt that would not have food might starve. I put together mechanical contraptions in mind. I’m quite good at this. A man whose brain I admire, classical pianist, satirist, and lawyer, was, I think, stung when I concocted in 45 seconds a device with a ruler, a marker, a rubber band and a coffee cup, to hold a computer key down so he could play “Doom II” more easily.

Remembering the experiment of a glass placed over a burrowing wasp’s nest leads the wasp to try to get through the glass until it’s exhausted to death. A digging wasp. Her brain too simple to see the trivial effort that would circumvent death and starved larvæ. It was obvious to me the job could be done without harming the creek.

I went out to survey the rotten stump where they live. Knocked over. There had been severe provocation. It was no longer simple.

I spent a year or two killing every yellow jacket I could. I caught them off rotten apples in Miracle Whip® jars with acetone soaked cotton balls. It was punitive. It served nothing but to make me Jake with what had been taken. I saw that pointless, psychologically broken train for the first time for what it was.

I looked up the wasps online because they were not those pictured. They were smaller with a subtly different pattern. The ones in the photo sucking on a mouse carcass are different. The ones I and my oblique namesake, Ashley the VI, had met were also locals but smaller with tighter bands of black. For more than a million years they have belonged here. While my genitori were passing on a sharpened bone or two as the family treasure in Olduvai, these animals were here.

So, the jokes about wasps increased. The discussion about protecting family was clarified. Reminders of “there are no bad animals” softly placed. The fact that bathtubs kill lots of people raised. The companion snippet that yellow-jackets kill quite a few, though drastically fewer than slips at home, silently discarded.

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chris holmes

Re: Return of the Revenge of the Afternoon of the Living Yellow-Jackets

nice one. good pics and yr distinctive growly-bear style.

By chris holmes on 23 October 2008 · 02:43


Re: Return of the Revenge of the Afternoon of the Living Yellow-Jackets

That day is etched in my mind, also - thought we would never get that (lovely) flannel shirt off you - made really difficult 'cause you could not hold still or stop shrieking. By that time anticipation was greater than the number of new stings. I seem to remember you ended up in the shower clothed? I never could get the remnants of wasp body parts out of that shirt. Cornstarch bath and meat tenderizer...
Sorry Finn had to repeat the experience, but at least it sounds like he was waaay less traumatized.
We went to the library a day or two later to look up hymenoptera, but you would not participate. Sounds like Finn (and you) handled it better...

And, yeah, "They were here first" ;-)

By mom on 23 October 2008 · 07:50