grass clippings
20 August, 2000

Dear Friend,
. . . Usually when something painful happens to my wife, Barbara, she wails. Not so when she was stung Saturday. Barb calmly asked me to follow her into the bath, pulled her leggings down, and had me use tweezers to search the welt on her leg. She thought the stinger might still be caught in her skin. I looked, but could find no barb in Barb.
. . . She had been mowing the grass, the first time it had been mowed since we bought this house. If you're reading this letter on my website, the top photo is the massive pile of grass clippings from her efforts.
. . . When asked where she had been stung, Barb took me to a spot in the yard swarming with bees. They had built a hive in the ground, something we had never seen before. hive entrance[The photo at the right is the entrance to their nest.] Mowing the lawn, Barbara had trespassed into their turf, so to speak, and had paid the price.
. . . Some people believe in living in harmony with nature. Not my wife. Not only did she want all the bees killed, she wanted me to do it for her.
. . . If you are married, or have been, you know that certain chores are divided between husband and wife. Often this division occurs without discussion. Killing insects, for some reason as yet unknown, is my responsibility. I find this odd because I try to live in harmony with my six-legged friends and generally have no murderous inclinations towards them, although I do make exception for fleas, mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, and other blood-suckers. They all deserve death. With them, God made a mistake, a mistake I seek to correct.
. . . Bees are a different story. In spite of my wife's cry for revenge, I did not swoop down on the swarming bees, insecticide in hand. Instead I suggested that killing a bunch of worker bees would not get rid of the queen. "Then how do we get rid of them?" she wanted to know. A ready answer was not at hand. Perhaps you have one.
. . . The professionals put up signs. Last week, at Longwood Gardens, I saw two cardboard signs stuck in the earth near a footpath. They said, "Warning: Bees." There was nothing to be seen in the branches overhead or in the tree trunks. Did I look at the ground? No. Who would look for bees on the ground?
. . . Of course, warning signs are one way our civilization deals with danger. We don't get rid of the danger; just warn people. We do this with cigarettes, dangerous curves in the road, and obscene movies and lyrics. So why not bees?
. . . Actually, what we have aren't bees. True, there do exist "miner bees" which burrow in the ground but what we have aren't bees but distant cousins. short-faced yellowjacketWhat we have are short-faced yellow jackets. I know this because I recently purchased a 1970 World Book Encyclopedia for five dollars. It tells me all I want to know about bees, hornets, wasps, and -- bless their short little faces -- ground-dwelling yellow jackets.
. . . My twenty-volume encyclopedia contains over twelve thousand pages, many in color. Usually I'm happy if I can buy a good book for three cents a page. These books were a hundred times cheaper than that, on sale because a used book store couldn't sell them at a better price. Shoppers dismissed them as "out-of-date" -- as if our knowledge of insects, world history, literature, or disease has changed dramatically in thirty years.
. . . Not all wasps are social but yellow jackets are. Like honey bees, they have a queen, drones, and workers. "They build their nests of wasp paper," says the World Book, "which is a mixture of old wood and tough plant fibers. They chew this material to a pulp, using much saliva. Then they form it into feltlike masses. It is then real paper, made of cellulose . . . It is said that the Chinese invented paper after watching wasps make it."
. . . There are two types of American hornets and yellowjackets. The short-faced type build nests in the ground or in stumps. Since they feed on houseflies, stable flies, caterpillars, and other insects, they are generally considered beneficial to gardens. That's what we have, in great number. Aren't we fortunate?
. . . Any bets I can convince Barbara we're blessed?

RESPONSES:

"Suggest you go be overly solicitious to Barbara and keep your new-found knowledge to yourself. Offer Calamine Lotion or Benedryl or anything to make you appear useful. Quit being philosophical -- when you have been stung, no interest in an Albert Schweitzer philosophy. In fact, you should have been the one mowing." --Jane M.

"How do think someone from Delaware, relocated to Texas, reacts when they first encounter a scorpion on their bed linens?" --Milton P.

"In my recent Wilderness First Responder class we learned NOT to use tweezers to remove stingers. Use your fingernail or the edge of a credit card to gently ease them out. When bees sting the venom sac may detach and remain with stinger (which kills the offending little bastard, by the way). If you grab said assembly with tweezers, you may compress the sac and acutually inject additional venom in to the wound. I have successfully drowned underground nests of bumble bees (after they massively attacked the entire family) by easing end of the hose into the nest and letting it run for a long, long while. Sort of a flood of biblical proportions." --Trey B.

"For heavensake be careful - I happened upon a rotting log that housed a swarm yellow jackets on our woodland path last year. I was stung about 30 times, could barely crawl home, and thought I was truly going to die this time. My prayers pulled me through, as well as the loving concern of neighbors + the fact that, apparently, my time is not yet up. They are deadly - some older people (and children) - categories into which you do not fall - can die from one sting. I am MOST interested to hear that you are the designated killer in the family. As you know, I live really close to you and need such an all-purpose-killer at odd times, my home being devoid of such a convenience. I shall call on you." --Johanne

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