fire versus Yellow Jackets
Tuesday, August 17 2004
Some of the stone steps in the path leading down from the house to the Stick Trail have developed a bit of a wobble, so I replaced one today was a much bigger, blockier rock, one that required much initial excavation. As I was doing this excavation, a Yellow Jacket hornet buzzed up to me and began inspecting me. I thought it was doing its typical food search routine so I more or less ignored it in hopes it would fly away. But then it landed on my left arm and stung me before I could do anything to stop it. Evidently my excavation had disturbed a Yellow Jacket nest somewhere in the ground nearby. This wasn't good, because these steps get heavy use and a hornet nest that is trouble at this time of year is only going to get worse as the season wears on, until and somewhat beyond the first frost. After recovering from the initial shock of the sting (which wasn't as painful as the Bumble Bee sting had been), I stood near the bottom of the steps and watched for Yellow Jacket activity. Eventually I saw one fly out from under a rock and then another return. One was coming or going every ten seconds or so, implying a nest with dozens if not hundreds of hornets. There wasn't much I could do in the daylight with so many hornets out in the field, but later tonight I would have to take some sort of action.
Meanwhile my left forearm swelled up noticeably, turned red, and suffered from a persistent burning itch. The lingering effects were much worse than the Bumble Bee sting had been, perhaps because it had been impossible to suck out the poison with the only suction device readily available: the part of my anatomy that, on Alan Keyes, produces the most preposterous utterances imaginable. And I mention that, of course, only because he is a member of an oppressed minority group and I am an insecure white man.
Last night Gretchen and I had seen Tootsie again, this time with full awareness that some scenes were shot in Hurley. The "upstate farm" scene midway through the movie was filmed at the picturesque farm on the corner of Hurley Mountain Road and Wynkoop, about a mile and a half from our house. The upstate bar scene late in the movie was shot at the Hurley Mountain Inn, back when the ugly women's fitness center across Wynkoop was still the Hurley State Police barracks and featured a prominent antenna tower. I met Gretchen and the Hurley Mountain Inn tonight for a high-carb dinner of pizza, freedom fries, and beer, and while there I paid careful attention to the look of the place. Subsequent remodelings have done nothing to conceal its aura of unintentional humility. We were joined at our table by Toni the pasta-sauce-making fly fisherman. He's hired Gretchen to sell his sauce business for him, and, as something of an advance on her payment, he paid for our dinner. He's a very nice man and he needs a proper girlfriend. Gretchen is working on that for him too.
On the way home, Gretchen stopped to pick some of Hurley's famous corn, which is free for all Hurley residents (at least as we understand it).
Late at night I decided to do something about the Yellow Jacket nest under the stone steps leading down to the woods. Hoping to kill them off without also killing a huge swath of local insect life, I decided to attack them with one of man's earliest technologies. I had the assistance of the Saudi royal family, something Neanderthals had to make do without. I carried with me a lighter and a jug of gasoline. So much rain has fallen lately that I wasn't concerned about setting the forest on fire. I glug-glugged about a cup of gasoline (enough to drive my truck nearly two miles) into the nest through its one access hole and then held my lit lighter near. Whoomp! The ground was very much on fire! I ran off to fill a bucket of water should it get out of control, but in a few minutes it had died down to a few jets of blue flame shooting out from various places beneath one of the rocks. The inferno must have done the trick; I never saw any more Yellow Jackets emerge from that hole.
Mind you, I hate killing innocent creatures, particularly when the reason is my need to usurp their space. It's very 19th Century Manifest Destiny. Most other creatures (ants, beetles, mice, spiders) don't have the means to defend themselves and in a situation like this can safely be ignored. But large colonies of stinging insects just cannot be tolerated in a place where painful conflicts can so easily occur.
I'd have to say that, judging by the sheer numbers of painful insect stings, this year is starting to measure up with some from my childhood in terms of contact with nature.
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