One of the good things about having a big back yard is the opportunity to hang your wash out on a line. My childhood was, as I’m sure everyone else’s, a combination of good and bad. Nothing takes me back to those good memories quicker than the aroma of baked bread cooling on the counter and the fresh smell of linen that has been line dried. My mother would hang linen all year long, even in the dead of winter. On the coldest days she would bring the sheets in, frozen stiff, and hang them over the rails of the loft where they would send wafts of winter kissed air across the house as they thawed. I’m not as ambitious as my mother. I usually start hanging out the sheets after the spring mud has dried and give it up around the first autumn frost.
I’m a live-and-let-live homeowner when it comes to bugs in the yard. It’s been my experience that for the most part bugs are important members of the garden cycle. This couldn’t be truer when it comes to the much-maligned wasp. Wasps are responsible for the demise of a variety insects (through some very unpleasant methods) that include flies, ants and grubs. Although wasps have a very nasty sting (burning fire under your skin) they are actually quite peaceable unless they or their nest is threatened.
There is an old mailbox bolted to my clothesline post that serves to hold my clothespins. For several weeks a yellow jacket had been doing her best to build a nest in that metal mailbox. On the advice of Internet authorities, I had been waving her away and removing her attempts at building a nest. The outcome of which, according to those same experts, should have been her desire to relocate to a new area. They were wrong.
I had gotten a bit behind in the laundry and she had taken the opportunity to get settled in the mailbox. A single female wasp can create a legacy nest with the potential to house anywhere from 1,500 to 15,000 members (depending on the species). Common sense would advise to simply stay away from an established nest if you can. I could just buy more clothespins and not use the box for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately its close proximity to the clothesline (being actually bolted to it) would bring me perilously close to the nest every week. As the summer unwound the nest would grow larger and an ever-increasing number of wasps would become more aggressive in their defense of that nest.
The nest was just started but she had already began to lay her eggs. A simple wave off was not going to scare her away. Believe me I tried. I had the utmost respect for her loyalty and bravery; her babies were in that box and she wasn’t backing down. I suppose I should have found some way to block her access to the inside of the box. I really thought she would give it up and go look for another place. Hindsight, as they say, is twenty-twenty.
Friday afternoon, high noon…the train has pulled into the station but I don’t feel much like Gary Cooper. Reluctantly I head inside to get the Bug-b-Gone. She is still on her nest when I return. I think regret is a pale term to describe how I feel as I raise the can. It’s over quickly. I know she saw me. I must have loomed absolutely huge as I stood over her but she didn’t move, resolute to the end. I push the button, her thorax stabs down, she stiffens and then she is still.
I had expected her to die. What I had not expected was for her to continue to cling to her nest even in that death. Her essence is gone but her empty husk remains as a testimony to her will and her heart. Three days later and she’s there yet with her babies lying still in her arms; now and forever. It would be the picture perfect definition of hubris to believe that the human species is the only one to cherish their offspring beyond life itself.
It’s dark now. Here and there out in the yard. They aren’t alone though and they never will be.
God bless the good mother.