Yellow & Black Attack

We have this lovely Japanese maple tree that has been much overrun by weeds and looking pretty slovenly. People who love Japanese maples probably see our tree and wish there was an administrative department in place to remove such trees from their abusive homes. I hate to think I’m not worthy of such a glorious arboreal treasure, so I went out Saturday afternoon to separate the undesirable plants from the desirable ones. Elitist segregation is rampant in the plant world; dandelions and their ilk bring a bad element to the otherwise peaceful abode of a Japanese maple.

I was doing pretty well – probably ¾ of the way finished – when I suddenly realized I was surrounded by an inordinate number of flying insects. A second or two later, my brain acknowledged, based on the flying pattern*, that the insects were not flies but were, in fact, yellow-jackets.

The maple is surrounded on all sides by railroad ties (oh, how I hate them) and evidently one of the ties had rotted enough to form the perfect entry into a yellow-jacket nest. I obviously disturbed it with my trowel and was now being checked out by the recon team. None had alighted upon my person, which I took as a good sign; it meant they weren’t angry, only concerned. I slowly stood up and backed away, all the while watching a replay in my head of a summer day in 1975 when I found out first-hand what a hundred bee stings feels like…

…it was at a place called Haller Lake, near my childhood home. I was nine years old and had accompanied my stepbrother Rob, seven years my senior, to the lake on a fishing excursion. My role was simple: shut the fuck up, stay the hell out of the way, and don’t get wet. He didn’t say a thing about not getting myself covered in pissed-off yellow-jackets, mind you.

At this same time, Rob’s Boy Scout troop was doing a recycling drive. Rob had been collecting glass bottles like crazy, and I had been trying to impress him by helping however I could. I was constantly keeping my eyes peeled for discarded beer and pop bottles. Every bottle, in my mind, made me just a bit cooler to my older brother. One such bottle – a Coors bottle as I recall – was just on the other side of a tall chain link fence from where my brother stood fishing from the beach of Haller Lake. I pointed out the bottle to him and informed him I would go get it for his recycling drive. He muttered something dismissive and off I went to retrieve the bottle.

I was too small to climb the high fence, but just the right size to fit under it in one particular spot where dogs had obviously dug their way to freedom at some point. I was half under the fence when Rob noticed what I was up to and called to me to come back. I reiterated that I was getting the beer bottle for him, to which he replied that he could see the bottle had a broken neck and was thus useless to him. But by then, I was under the fence and picking up the bottle.

The next thing I remember was a buzzing, black cloud surrounding me, followed immediately by countless scorching stabs of pain. There had been a hive inside the bottle!

I dove under the fence, scrambling for what I was sure was my very life, but was stopped halfway under as the tail of my shirt became caught on the underside of the chain-link fence, creating a convenient gateway directly to my bare back, suitable to fit an entire hive of yellow-jackets!

Needless to say, that put an end to my brother’s day of fishing. After ridding me of my stinging assailants, he took me home, told me to get in the bath tub and soak, and called my mom at work to find out what to do. She came home and took me to the doctor, who estimated I had been stung upwards of 100 times and told me that my back had suffered most of the attack. He also informed me that it was almost certain that I had acquired an allergy to bee venom. Being only nine, I opted out of the ouchy blood test, especially considering my doctor’s assertions that bee venom allergy tests were pretty much hit-and-miss anyway.

I'm happy to say that to this day, I have not been stung again. I plan to keep it that way, so last night I went out after the sun had set and, aiming for the location of the hole from which I’d seen several yellow-jackets emerge earlier that day, I emptied an entire can of RAID Wasp &Hornet Killer.

Now, for those who don’t know, yellow-jackets can make their nests in obvious places out in the open like under awnings and hanging from rafters, but they can also make them inside hollow logs or even in holes in the ground. Because of this, I had no way of knowing if the railroad tie was hollowed-out and harboring the nest or if it served merely as an entrance to an underground hive, thus my decision to just unload an entire can in their front door.

This afternoon I overturned the tie to find it had indeed rotted out inside. Bits of destroyed nest were scattered about and only three living yellow-jackets remained. Their movements were laborious and they could not fly. They seemed to be working at rebuilding the hive, the three of them, even as the poison was slowly racking their bodies. I felt like a terrible monster just for a moment. It was odd. They’re nasty, stinging insects but I couldn’t bear to watch them crawl about in agony. I squashed them. It was them or me, after all.

*Yellow-jackets do this little hover-bob-and-weave thing that flies are incapable of.

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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13 Responses to Yellow & Black Attack

  1. Karyn says:

    Sounds like you were very lucky today. I've only been stung once, I can't imagine being stung repeatedly. OUCH!!

  2. Emmi says:

    Well Kirk I found out you and I have another thing in common – trying to impress my sister (9 years my senior) was just ducky also.
    And geez – 100 freakin' stings? How horrible. Most kids are traumatized by just one. I can't imagine. Then the doctor goes and stabs you, that must have made you feel better LOL!
    Last summer I found out the hard way that they like beer. Got stung quite a few times taking out the recycling. Now we actually RINSE our beer bottles before we recycle them. We still have a hive but since we're not getting 'em drunk any more they seem to have retreated.

  3. jaypo says:

    Yikes, bad luck there, my friend! I'm glad you didn't suffer
    their venomous ire again. I've heard that yellow jackets actually
    are carnivorous which is why they hang around picnics and stuff.
    When they want a bite o'yer bod…well, you did what you had to do.

  4. I-Luv-Eeyore says:

    Ohhh….you are lucky you didn't tick 'em off!
    Stings are a memorable thing. One of my earliest childhood memories (I was between 2 and 3) is stepping on a wasp/bee/hornet while barefoot. I remember spending the next ~forever~ sitting on the side of the tub soaking my foot waiting on the stinger to get pulled.
    I would have killed 'em, too.

  5. joshua says:

    "how many fish did your step-brother catch?"\:Joshua:

  6. bouche says:

    I was recently stung by a something… It had decided to fly between the tongue of my shoe and my leg — much to my surprise! I felt a sudden pain and saw something fly off as I threw my leg up to inspect. I saw the area was red and beginning to puff up. I grabbed my cell phone and called my sister and was freaking out. I said "I can't remember which I'm allergic to and I don't know what stung me. It's red and puffy! … Would I be dead by now?" She's a nurse and I stayed on the phone a little longer to make certain I wasn't going to go into anaphlactic (it's misspelled, sue me) shock. The sting did effect the rest of my leg, made it a little difficult to walk but I survived. I've had them land on me before and I let them do their thing short of pissing me off, but I had no clue this one had slipped in. *bam*

  7. Erin says:

    i think i may have nightmares. i am so afraid of bees hornets wasps you name it. someday i will tell you about the time i almost burnt down my house trying to kill a very large bee, or about the time i was chased down the driveway and stung very close to my eye…god there are more.none though, compare to 100 stings in 1 sitting.

  8. Kirk says:

    "how many fish did your step-brother catch?"Sadly, none. I started in on ruining his day pretty much the moment we got there. I don't think we were at the lake longer than a half hour.

  9. Brianne says:

    I read this article about wasps in some science magazine once, and it always stuck with me. Apparently, wasp hierarchy is determined by the number of black spots on their faces; for instance, the ones with more black on their faces are the leaders of the hive. Scientists decided to see what would happen if they painted spots on some wasps' faces, then introduce them back to the colony (or maybe a different colony, I don't know. By the way, it's "colony", not hive". Because wasps are hardcore like that, I guess.) Nothing enrages wasps like poser wasps, and they surrounded the fakers, taking turns stinging them until their deaths. But they did it slowly, or at least much moreso than with regular old intruders.Don't even get me started on the red hornets of Japan. Actually, consider yourself blessed that I keep quiet about that. You won't sleep for a week.

  10. Kirk says:

    That's some, er, interesting stuff, Brianne. I've always thought wasps had this inherent cruelty to them. The doctor told me that I was probably attacked by only 20 or 30 yellow-jackets, but that each of them probably stung me multiple times.As far as the red hornets of Japan, are you referring to the Yak Killers? Aaaaaiiieeee! Frightening doesn't even begin to cover it.

  11. Kzinti says:

    Had several run-ins with them little yellow buggers. Not nice at all.

  12. lizzy says:

    oh man. oh crap. you have lived my worst nightmare kirk.

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